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Understanding car reliability ratings

Look beyond initial quality to see how cars perform over years

Last updated: October 2014

Reliability Ratings show you how well vehicles have held up compared with competitive models, and the odds that you could be inconvenienced by problems and repairs.

A vehicle's reliability can seriously affect how satisfied you'll be with a car over the years, and it can significantly influence resale value when you're ready to replace the vehicle. Important as it is, reliability is a difficult—and expensive—quality to evaluate, because the information has to come from vehicle owners. The more, the better.

Consumer Reports provides the most available to consumers (available to subscribers). It's based on CR's annual surveys of our over 8 million magazine and website subscribers. These surveys ask about any serious problems they've had with their vehicles in the preceding 12 months. They generate hundreds of thousands of responses—the 2014 survey, for instance, provided information on about 1.1 million vehicles—which give us a solid foundation for our reliability Ratings.

We provide reliability information in several forms. For used-car buyers we give Ratings for 17 different trouble areas over ten model years, so you can see a model's individual strengths and weaknesses. We also provide a Used Car Verdict for each model year that sums up its overall reliability. The verdicts are weighted to emphasize areas such as the engine-major, transmission-major, cooling system, and drive system, which can be more serious and expensive to repair.

For new-car buyers we provide a Predicted Reliability Rating that indicates how vehicles currently on sale are likely to hold up. To create these Ratings, Consumer Reports averages a model's Used Car Verdicts for the newest three model years, providing it wasn't significantly redesigned during that time. Predictions are made for some new models if the manufacturer's track record or the model's history has been consistently outstanding. All of these Ratings are included in the Reliability History charts and in the vehicle overviews.

Other sources of reliability information are available online. Even if they lack the reach of Consumer Reports' data, they provide a supplemental source of information.

The most widely known of these services is J.D. Power and Associates. The Power survey that would be of most interest to new-car shoppers is the Initial Quality Survey (IQS). Designed to help automakers gauge the initial quality of the vehicles they're producing, it is based on about 60,000 responses. But it covers only the first three months of ownership, a period in which relatively little goes wrong. It also asks owners about many subjective impressions of their vehicles, not just serious problems they've had.

J.D. Power surveys are also the source for reliability data on some other sites, such as Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book, and CarFax.

Some websites provide reliability scores based on feedback from consumers who visit the site and fill out questionnaires. The number of reviews for a particular model, however, can range from only a handful to hundreds.

MSN Autos provides service data based on input from master service technicians. This gives you details about common problems and estimated repair costs for a particular model.

You can also post and read messages on a wide range of model and brand focused forums. But remember that gathering anecdotes about particular vehicles is not the same as consulting a scientifically designed survey.

Guide to reliability

   

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