Consumer Reports published its first reliability chart in 1952, based on responses from 50,000 subscribers. The survey, conducted by a third-party organization, covered most major brands sold in the U.S. at the time, including Nash, Packard, and Rambler.
The chart expanded from 35 different models in 1963 and to 44 cars in 1967.
In 1972, we took the survey in-house, and have since consistently published automotive reliability surveys for our readers, making ours the oldest vehicle-reliability survey of its kind. The results contained reliability history charts showing which cars required more than average repairs in different problem areas. (In more recent surveys, we ask about problems, not repairs.) We received responses on 350,000 cars and 124 different models in the 1972 survey, including such obscure cars as the Renault 16, the Rover 2000, and the Simca 1200.
Datsuns, Mercedes-Benz sedans, Toyota Coronas and Corollas, the ubiquitous Volkswagen Beetle, and the Dodge Dart proved to be among the most reliable. However, the Ford Thunderbird, Jeep wagons, International Travelall, Mercury Cougar, and Pontiac Tempest were among the least-reliable models in that survey.
The trend of vehicles with Japanese nameplates being overall more reliable than domestic makes in our survey continues to this day.
In the 1980s, some of the most reliable cars in our survey were made by Honda, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota. In 1984, our 294,000 responses allowed us to rate the reliability of 198 models. New problem areas included engine cooling and ignition systems. In 1991, our responses rose to more than 800,000. We had reliability data on 360 models. The most reliable models of that decade continued to be from imports such as Honda, Toyota, Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus. Most, but not all Nissans did well. Meanwhile, GM's new Saturn division entered the market as a reliable American brand.
But the Hyundai Excel, Ford Tempo and the Pontiac Sunbird all had dubious reliability. SUVs such as the Ford Bronco and Chevrolet Blazer also did poorly. Ford's new small van, the Aerostar joined Jeeps among the worst in reliability.
At the end of the '90s, Mercedes-Benz introduced the unreliable M-Class, beginning the brand's decline in our surveys. Results from our 2011 survey shows that while Mercedes-Benz has improved, their results were inconsistent.
In 2004, we added a survey for our Web subscribers. That year we received responses on almost 810,000 cars. In 2011, the results ballooned to cover over 1.3 million vehicles, allowing us to report on more than 300 models.
Our latest survey shows that for new car reliability German luxury brands such as Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW have improved; while Scion, Toyota, Lexus, Mazda, and Subaru are the most reliable. Some domestic models continue to show improvement, with Cadillac becoming the most reliable domestic brand.