Car Reliability Is Hurt By Some New Technologies

Transmissions and infotainment systems knock down several brands

While problematic car infotainment systems continue to be among the top issues reported by new car owners, Consumer Reports has identified an emerging trend of increased troubles with new transmission systems developed to improve fuel economy.

The recently launched Jeep Cherokee has had persistent problems with its nine-speed automatic transmission. Despite several rounds of software updates, complaints of rough shifting or getting stuck in one gear continue. The six-speed dual-clutch transmissions also created problems for the Dodge Dart and Fiat 500L.

Nine-speed automatic and eight-speed dual-clutch transmissions are responsible for many of the problems reported in the new Acura TLX—key toward knocking the brand into below-average reliability.

Even Nissan, which has been using continuously variable transmissions (CVT) for awhile, has been plagued by issues with the new CVT introduced on the redesigned Pathfinder and Altima.

Jeep Cherokee

Ford's’ PowerShift six-speed automatic proved to have a small fuel savings over traditional manual transmissions when introduced on the 2011 Fiesta and redesigned 2012 Focus. But they have brought reliability headaches since.

“We’ve seen a number of brands struggle with new transmission technology, ” said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of automotive testing. “Whether it’s a complex system such as a dual-clutch gearbox, a continuously variable transmission, or one with eight or nine speeds. Many vehicles require repair and replacements because of rough shifting among the gears and slipping CVT belts.”

Not that all new-generation transmissions are troublesome. Audi and BMW have shown solid reliability from their respective eight-speed automatics for awhile, as well as Audi and VW with their shared dual-clutch technology. And the CVTs in Honda and Toyota hybrids have been strong performers.

Then there are manufacturers, such as Mazda, whose Skyactiv engines get great fuel economy while using a traditional, reliable six-speed automatic transmission.

“It really depends on the diligence of the manufacturer,” Fisher said.

Acura TLX nine-speed automatic transmission

Acura Acura

Infotainment Troubles Continue

Meanwhile, the number of complaints associated with infotainment systems has increased. Common issues include unresponsive or crashing touch screens, or a reluctance to pair a phone. AcuraLink, Cadillac’s CUE, and Infiniti’s InTouch systems have been particularly problematic.

A close look suggests that cars with in-car electronics issues usually have other troubles, too, such as build-quality issues, squeaks, and other noises.

Some manufacturers are improving. Updates to Ford and Lincoln’s MyTouch systems have made them less troublesome year by year. Ford is replacing it with the Sync 3 system, so we’ll have to wait until next year to find out if that system turns out to be trouble-free.