A straight and simple review

This is my attempt in trying to review things that seem to get a lot of attention - especially in the engineering world. Not necessarily bad reviews, more like constructive criticism. I provide reasons why I make the claims and make equivocal arguments. I typically pick topics that I have a background in, or have gathered a lot of information. 2 articles a week is my goal - will keep it that way .

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Auto Reliability Analysis – not so reliable

JD Powers

JD Powers is a company that analyses and rates reliability of cars (apart from other things). They supposedly help customers purchase cars, get insurance estimates etc. Essentially, they are consumer information resource,

They conduct an auto survey every year – out of 100 cars that come to the service station, hoe many defects are reported. So basically this is what they do – they goto a Toyota dealer (say), gather the total number of Toyotas that came in for service in the year of 2005 and also get the total number of faults or defects reported. Then they divide the total defects that year / number of Toyotas that came for a service and provide the result – ‘defects/100 car’. Finally, they rank car companies based on defects/car – lowest being the best.

I support any automobile venture. This is supposed to be helping people – but by providing raw data, I think they have made a mistake. Before I point out what I mean, let me show you the results. I will go every 10 ranks to load it quicker. I took the data from a website (source in the bottom) and plotted the graphs myself in i’Works’ Keynote (Apple).

Default Fault (DF)

What JD does here is fundamentally wrong. When they sort if by companies – they ignore that fact that there are several models of cars in every company. For example, the Mercedes C class is known to be very unreliable and comes in to the service station all the time – but with minor mistakes. The S class comes probably once in 2 years with not that many faults. So basically, by dividing defects / number of cars a year, they are not really doing justice to the good models.

Severity Fault (SF)

It doesn’t discuss how severe some of these faults are. If you own a Benz – you are likely to take it to the service station even if you hear a minute sound/rattle. It’ll probably be a rubber pad or something like trivial and that might be counted as a defect. If you own a Dodge, you probably will avoid visiting the station just to save some Benjamin (money). You wouldn’t know something is wrong when you own a Honda as the road noise will be louder than the rattle – so basically severity is an issue. Did the engine blow up, is it the transmission, is it the rear wiper blade.

Results Discussion

The raw data doesn’t help - honestly. If you follow that it just says – buy a Porsche if you can afford it, or settle with a Huyndai. It also shows that VW (Volkswagen) and LR
(Land Rover) are the worst cars in the market today – not true – totally not true. Here is MY observation/discussion.

1 – 10

Porsche belongs there of course. They are really good cars – hardly any defects, even the Cayman – justified. Lexus has been in the list for decades.
Companies like Lexus, Cadillac, Infinity and Acura belong here. They cost a lot more that their parent cars (Toyota, GM, Nissan and Honda respectively) for the very similar engines/transmissions. So I assume the extra cost goes to the reliable parts and the nicer looks. Acura has a sports RSX which some blokes might have trash which is why its on the bottom.
Hyundai opened a factory in Alabama 3 years ago – since then their cars have indeed been doing well. I am not sure how they will do 4 years down the line (and beyond).
I’m surprised to see it above Toyota and Honda – haven’t reached a verdict on it.
Honda and Toyota – definitely up there – Honda even with it super sporty S2000 and Si Coupe which are easy to crash. Jaguar is truly wonderful – big price tag, superb looking and functioning (read the XK article below) and very reliable. Happy to see that.
GMC (General Motors Company – mainly truck division) now I totally surprised to see this. I think a GMC owner is more likely to fix a problem than take it the service station. That’s why its here ! That’s my conclusion.


Whats surprising is almost everything here is an American car. Remember – American cars fail only after 3 years and this survey mainly focuses in 1-2 year old models. Chrysler is owned by Mercedes group – so some signs of success there. Nissan, which should have been 3 places above, is probably incurring some SF error as they are essentially good engine/transmission people. Audi – is a superb company – if you ask me it belongs in the top 10. But – the problem is that they have a lot of Quattro vehicles (4-wheel drives) and I am not sure if that is smooth. I think Audi is in an upward trend – very reliable, not too expensive and a luxorious and good driving experience. All the other cars you see in this list are same – first 2 years they all perform well.


If you did this survey for 4 year old cars – this exact list would be in 11-20. I don’t know how Kia made it this high – it’s the really the worst car company. Mitsubishi, Mercedes and Mazda are probably incurring the DF error mentioned above – purely due to the number of different models they make. Like Honda, these companies make cars in all classes and that’s bothersome. About Mazda – if you are planning to get a Mazda passenger car (sedan/coupe), go for it. I think they are reliable and inexpensive and good. Forget its minivans and SUVs – those are the Dfs.
Mercedes, BMW and the Mini – I really don’t know. I think it’s the electronics – they have too many gadgets in them, which is a bit risky. Even water (heavy rain , spilled coffee inside etc) can wreck some of these gadgets (a combination of DF and SF). Also, I guess you are more likely to get things fixed quickly – if you own one of these three. So its not unreliable – its just that owner care for it more.
Subaru and Scion are going up in the list – both owned by Toyota. They belong higher definitely – it’s just a slow period I guess. I personally would trust both companies as much as I would trust Toyota.


Seriously – Isuzu and Suzuki have been causing some trouble lately. They have to work on that. I can’t believe Hummer and Jeep are this high, they belong even lower. After GM took over Saab, they have successfully managed to kill it. Do you know they actually use Saab parts in Cadillac almost entirely? Coming to my toughest discussion….

LR – if you know me well you know I love Land Rover. Recently, after Ford acquired them, they have brought down the cost but have paid a price. LRs are superb cars – very reliable really, but their reliability is in completing the journey. They can be driven off road on any terrain like a tractor. But when you do that, you are likely to break a part of 2 – I mean small ones like tip of a bumper or something. LR owner don’t use it for shopping for clothes – typically they are rough&tough people and off roaders. This is likely to happen – it doesn’t mean LR is unreliable as a car – its probably MOST reliable. It just takes the beating for you.

VW – what a company it is. They own Audi, Bentley, Skoda, Lamborghini and Buggati. VW is the single most important company to the automobile industry I would say. Truth is, lots of VW cars seem to fail now a day. Clutch, transmission, cooling system etc – these are not small. Problem is, they make a lot of their cars in Mexico and Portugal and I am not thoroughly convinced by their production methods. More over, the costs seem to be reducing a lot – good thing yes – but not with cheap parts. Good news is, VW of 2006 is really doing well – good that they learnt some mistakes. I hope to see them much much higher next year.

OK now that’s my stand on the issue. Probably a long blog – but I think a lot of you guys are car enthus. I welcome comments / suggestions etc – especially in this regard.

The survey was conducted by JD Powers. I found the numbers in Business Week (http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D8I3IQJO0.htm?sub=apn_home_down&chan=db) (Associated Press)


Blogger BATMAN^V^EXILED said...

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3:12 PM  
Blogger BATMAN^V^EXILED said...

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4:07 PM  
Blogger BATMAN^V^EXILED said...

Totally new info for me. A little extra knowledge for my personal dbase. Qool chart templates. I hope just keynote alone is available for Xp. I dont know what else to comment on.. this blog is unchartered territory for me :D.

4:12 PM  

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