Aaron Turpen: New Car Reliability Sucks. And It’s Getting Worse

Columnist Aaron Turpen writes, "Quality issues with new cars have doubled since 2010. Every automaker has lower reliability now than it did 14 years ago. We can mostly blame technology."

Aaron Turpen

April 29, 20243 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Not often talked about in the hubbub of automotive is the reliability issue. Currently, most are wondering why the cost of new cars has jumped so much since the pandemic. This distraction has led most of us away from looking at what may be a bigger issue: new car reliability sucks.

Quality issues with new cars have doubled since 2010. Every automaker, without exception, has lower reliability now than it did 14 years ago. The average new car will have at least two problems reported inside of its first three years on the road. There was less than one per vehicle in 2010. We can mostly blame technology.

Most measures of quality are based on surveys of consumers and warranty claims. And most of the issues that new vehicles (defined as less than three years old) go into the shop for are not drivetrain or serious safety issues. They’re for annoyances.

Problems with infotainment, advanced safety equipment (radars, automatic braking, and the like), cameras, and other technology items are the most common with newer cars.

After three years, there’s less data as many new cars change ownership or go out of warranty at that point. Most data collectors like J.D. Power and Consumer Reports are thus limited to three years. Online data sources such as RepairPal and similar are based purely on user data and aren’t as objective. Complainers are more likely to go online to vote/vent than are those who are happy.

J.D. Power & Associates has an annual survey of new car buyers that covers recent purchases as well as longer-term (up to three years) ownership. Short-term issues were stable until the pandemic. From 2019 to 2020, they jumped after a low point in 2018. These three-months of ownership surveys went from a slightly downsloping plateau of 1.21 per vehicle in 2018 (the trend before was a slow climb since about 2010) to a jump to 1.92 problems per in 2019. That stayed steady until 2023, the last year of the survey so far.

Longer term data for up to three years of ownership was a lot more volatile. The average was about 1 problem per vehicle in 2019, growing from less than one (roughly 0.65) per to that nearly 1 (0.9) in 2019. It then jumped quickly to 1.66 and then 1.92 problems per vehicle in 2020 and 2023.

But we can’t blame everything on the pandemic. What appears to have happened is complacency. We expected more problems with cars during the pandemic due to supply chain issues and the difficulty of making vehicles when workers couldn’t be relied on to keep working. They were getting sick and protocols required quarantines, after all. So consumers seemed to be willing to cut some slack during those years.

Now? Well, having issues with a new car is apparently the norm. Every brand is affected too, not just the ones people love to hate for reliability. Even those brands with solid reputations like Toyota and Honda are suffering from a doubling in dependability issues.

My advice is to pay more attention to your warranty. If you are buying with the expectation of owning the vehicle beyond three years (the industry standard warranty period), then you should be looking at brands with longer warranties. Any brand not listed below will only have a three year bumper-to-bumper warranty. This includes most of the Detroit-based brands as well as Toyota and Honda.

Five-year Bumper-to-Bumper Warranties:

  • Hyundai

  • Kia

  • Mitsubishi

  • Jaguar 

Four-year Bumper-to-Bumper Warranties:

  • Acura

  • Alfa Romeo

  • Audi

  • BMW

  • Cadillac

  • Fiat

  • Infiniti

  • Land Rover

  • Lexus

  • Lincoln

  • Mercedes-Benz

  • MINI

  • Porsche

  • Tesla

  • Volkswagen

  • Volvo

For most brands, powertrain warranties are usually five years, with a few exceptions that go beyond; namely Hyundai, Kia, and Mitsubishi at seven to 10 years depending on the model.

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Aaron Turpen