17 Trouble Spots That Signal Car Reliability Problems

CR's surveys reveal the recent models most likely to have issues in key areas

mechanic tool car Photo: iStock

Consumer Reports rates and ranks cars based on the reliability data collected from members through its large-scale surveys. There are detailed insights behind those top-level scores, with problems broken down by 17 key trouble spots. This allows car buyers and owners to see how a car compares overall with others from the same model year and find out what types of problems owners are reporting.

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Below, we spotlight the most problem-prone 1- to 3-year-old models in each of those 17 areas, based on issues experienced over the previous 12 months. Each is listed with the percentage of affected vehicles, as well as detailed issues shared by the owners.

Because these are all fairly recent vehicles, it doesn’t take a large percentage to stand out. After all, cars are expected to be problem-free during their first few years.

The problems signaled by these reports can portend an even greater percentage experiencing the issue in the future as the cars age and rack up miles.

Consider this a taste of the information available on the car model pages for most models, where CR members can find the ratings for all 17 trouble spots on each car.

The trouble spots below are organized based on the typical seriousness of the issues. Each includes a list of what is encompassed by the trouble spot category.

Engine Major

Potential problems: Engine rebuild or replacement, cylinder head, head gasket, turbocharger or supercharger, timing chain or belt.

Problem rate: 4 percent

Owners of the Silverado 1500 and Sierra 1500 (they’re tied because they’re the same trucks sold under different brands) submitted multiple reports of engines being replaced along with cylinder head-related issues.

Engine Minor

Potential problems: Accessory belts and pulleys, engine computer, engine mounts, engine knock or ping, difficulty filling up gas tank, fuel leaks, oil leaks.

Problem rate: 3.2 percent

GLE owners reported problems with the engine computer along with software issues.

Engine Cooling

Potential problems: Radiator, cooling fan, water pump, thermostat, antifreeze leaks, overheating.

Problem rates for this category are very low and therefore we don’t have a specific vehicle that’s problematic.

Transmission Major

Potential problems: Transmission rebuild or replacement, torque converter, premature clutch replacement.

Problem rate: 6.5 percent

Kia’s first CVT went into the 2019 Kia Forte. It was problematic in last year’s report and it remains so this year. Owners reported that the transmission requires replacement or rebuilding due to slipping.

Transmission Minor

Potential problems: Gear selector and linkage, transmission computer, transmission sensor or solenoid, clutch adjustment, rough shifting, slipping transmission, leaks.

Problem rate: 5.7 percent

Mustang owners submitted surveys complaining of rough shifting and gear hunting with the automatic transmission.

Drive System

Potential problems: Driveshaft or axle, CV joint, differential, transfer case, four-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive components, driveline vibration, electrical failure, traction control, electronic stability control (ESC).

Problem rate: 7.4 percent

Some Audi owners reported electrical failures with the drive system.

Fuel System/Emissions

Potential problems: Sensors (O2 or oxygen sensor), emission-control devices (includes EGR), fuel-injection system, fuel gauge/sender, fuel pump.

Problem rate: 7.1 percent

Some RAV4 owners reported fuel pump and fuel gauge issues, as well as difficulty filling the fuel tank.

Electrical System

Potential problems: Alternator, starter, hybrid/electric battery replacement, hybrid/electric-battery-related systems, regular battery, battery cables, engine harness, coil, ignition switch, electronic ignition, spark plugs and wires failure.

Problem rate: 6.7 percent

Some CR members who own a Kona Electric reported that they had to have the battery pack replaced.

Climate System

Potential problems: AC compressor, blower (fan) motor, condenser, evaporator, heater system, automatic climate system, electrical failure, refrigerant leakage.

Problem rate: 6.9 percent

The Mercedes-Benz and Tesla tied with the same problem rate. GLE owners reported problems with the blower motor, AC compressor, and automatic climate control. Model S owners told us the automatic climate control didn’t work and that temperature sensors didn’t operate properly.

Suspension/Steering

Potential problems: Shocks or struts, ball joints, tie rods, wheel bearings, alignment, steering linkage (includes rack and pinion), power steering (pumps and hoses, leaks), wheel balance, springs or torsion bars, bushings, electronic or air suspension.

Problem rate: 10.6 percent

Owners reported steering wheel vibration and problems with the tie rods, steering linkage, and ball joints. They told us they felt wobbles, and there were also reports of premature wearing of the steering components.

Brakes

Potential problems: Antilock system (ABS), parking brake, master cylinder, calipers, rotors, pulsation or vibration, squeaking, brake failure, premature wear.

Problem rate: 7.8 percent

Multiple Encore GX owners reported excessive brake squeal when engaging the brakes.

Exhaust System

Potential problems: Muffler, pipes, catalytic converter, exhaust manifold, heat shields, leaks.

Problem rates for this category are very low and therefore we don’t have a specific vehicle that’s problematic.

Paint/Trim

Potential problems: Paint (fading, chalking, peeling, or cracking), loose interior or exterior trim or moldings, rust.

Problem rate: 7.2 percent

Owners continue to report mismatched and blotchy paint on body panels, along with scratches and dimples in the paint that they noticed when the vehicle was being delivered.

Body Integrity

Potential problems: Squeaks, rattles, wind noises, seals, and/or weather stripping, air and water leaks.

Problem rate: 10.4 percent

Common complaints include squeaks and rattles, air and water leaks, and wind noise. Members told us they often heard noises because the doors wouldn’t properly seal.

Body Hardware

Potential problems: Windows, locks and latches, doors or sliding doors, tailgate, trunk or hatch, mirrors, seat controls (power or manual), seat belts, sunroof, convertible top, glass defect.

Problem rate: 7.1 percent

Numerous owners reported issues with body panels not lining up correctly, which sometimes resulted in difficulty opening and/or properly closing the doors and/or the tailgate.

Power Equipment and Accessories

Potential problems: Cruise control, clock, warning lights, body control module, keyless entry, wiper motor or washer, tire pressure monitor, interior or exterior lights, horn, gauges, 12V power plug, USB port, alarm or security system, remote engine start, heated or cooled seats, heated steering wheel.

Problem rate: 10.1 percent

Owners told us of issues with the keyless entry system, various warning lights illuminating, and the electric door lock switch not working.

In-Car Electronics

Potential problems: CD player, rear entertainment system (rear screen or DVD player), radio, speakers, in-dash GPS, display screen freezes or goes blank, phone pairing (e.g., Bluetooth), voice control commands, steering-wheel controls, portable music device interface (e.g., iPod/MP3 player), backup or other camera/sensors, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, infotainment hardware replacement and software fixes.

Problem rate: 14.3 percent

Multiple owners reported issues with infotainment screens freezing and going blank, sometimes requiring replacement of the system.


Jon Linkov

I owe my career to two fateful events: my father buying a 1965 Corvette and my purchase of an Audi A4 rather than a Chevy Tahoe. The Corvette jump-started my love of cars, and the Audi led me to automotive journalism, track days, and amateur car repair. In my free time I cycle as much as possible, no matter the season.