New car quality has vastly improved in recent years, despite the record number of safety recalls issued by a variety of manufacturers. Recalls do not necessarily reveal a lack of car brand quality — with thousands of parts found in most cars, the chances of a defect or other problem occurring at least once is high. Still, if you are shopping for a new or used car, chances are you will be attracted to brands that have a reputation for outstanding quality, in a bid to ensure that your investment is a good one and that its reliability is not an issue.
Toyota’s luxury brand regularly finishes first in a number of car brand surveys. Consumer Reports — an independent consumer products and services organization — regularly has Lexus finishing on top in its Annual Auto Reliability Survey. That survey asks owners about their first-year ownership experience. Notably, Lexus models have the fewest number of complaints among all car brands.
Another respected survey is conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, a McGraw Hill Financial company. Its annual U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study focuses on the overall dependability of a vehicle after three years of ownership. In particular, the survey covers 177 specific problems and groups these into eight major vehicle categories. As a result, it assigns a score for each nameplate and model. Again, Lexus routinely finishes at or near the top. The Lexus CT 200h, Lexus ES and Lexus GS models are among the top vehicles for this brand.
It should be no surprise that the Toyota brand itself routinely ranks high in reliability surveys. Consumer Reports placed Toyota second, recognizing the Toyota Prius C as its best model. J.D. Power & Associates had Toyota in the third position and found that the compact Toyota Corolla sedan and the Toyota Sienna minivan were the top models for their respective categories.
In another J.D. Power study that measures initial quality (what new vehicle owners encounter during the first 90 days of ownership) Toyota finished in tenth place. All in all, Porsche finished first and was followed by the Kia, Jaguar, Hyundai and Infiniti brands.
American brands usually do not fare that well in most surveys, but GM’s Buick brand is an exception. At the same time, GM brand quality is higher than its U.S. competitors — Ford and Chrysler — and Buick routinely outpaces Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.
Consumer Reports notes that Buick has been steadily climbing in the rankings in recent years, finishing in sixth place just behind Audi and ahead of Subaru. J.D. Power placed Buick in the No. 2 spot just ahead of Toyota. Furthermore, Consumer Reports identified the Buick Verano as the best Buick model, with J.D. Power recognizing the Buick LaCrosse.
The Honda brand continues to enjoy special affection from consumers and researchers alike. Likewise, Consumer Reports says that the Honda Civic Coupe is that brand’s best model and ranked Honda fourth among all car brands, just behind Mazda and ahead of Audi.
Moreover, Honda tied with Porsche for fifth place in the J.D Power & Associates Vehicle Dependability Study, finishing just behind Cadillac and ahead of Lincoln. Equally, the Honda Fit and Honda Civic were among the highest rated models in the U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study.
In general, the Japanese brands rank amongst the highest car brands in the world, while their American and European counterparts typically lag. However, Porsche continues to receive recognition for both its build quality and dependability.
Indeed, Consumer Reports placed Porsche in the ninth position, while J.D. Power ranked the brand in sixth place for vehicle dependability. The Porsche Cayman was the top model for Consumer Reports. At the same time another Volkswagen Group brand, Audi, finished fifth with Consumer Reports, but it didn’t crack the Top Ten with J.D. Power, appearing in the fifteenth spot just behind Nissan and ahead of Mazda.
Although Consumer Reports and J.D. Power & Associates measure quality problems for newer vehicles, what concerns many used car shoppers, including certified pre-owned (CPO) buyers, are the long-term quality trends for each vehicle.
Once again, Consumer Reports examined older used cars, concentrating on the eight major manufacturers and extending its data to 10 years. Finishing on top was Toyota (including the Lexus and Scion brands) with the Volkswagen Group appearing in eighth place. The second through seventh places was respectively held by Honda, Nissan, Ford, Hyundai/Kia, GM and Chrysler.
Your Personal Confidence
Of course, if you are in the market for a used vehicle, that particular car’s quality may not be indicative of the brand. Other factors weigh in here, including its previous owners, mileage, maintenance and repairs, whether it has been in a wreck, and other considerations.
Obtaining a CARFAX Vehicle History Report will provide a lot of useful data about your car. Furthermore, you should test drive the vehicle and have it inspected by a qualified mechanic. Verifying recall information about the vehicle is important too, something you can confirm independently by visiting www.safercar.gov. Alternatively, you can log onto myCARFAX, which will keep you up to date with recall alerts on your specific vehicle.