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Old 03-09-2004, 02:39 PM   #1
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Consumer Reports and Reliability

This does not pertain to safety, but it is an interesting view of the CR reliability ratings. CR would have us believe that a car with a half-black circle for reliability (below average) is much less dependable than one with a half-red circle (above average).

Unfortunately, few people ask, "How much less dependable?"

According to CR's 2004 April auto issue page 17, the average problem rate for new vehicles in the last 12 months is 0.17 problems per vehicle. For 3 year old vehicles, it is 0.54 problems per vehicle in the previous 12 months. For 5 year old vehicles it is 0.79 problems per vehicle. For the sake of discussion, I calculated the rates of 2 and 4 year old vehicles to be halfway between the others.

Problem rates averages:
First year: 0.17
Second year: 0.36 (estimated)
Third year: 0.54
Fourth year: 0.67 (estimated)
Fifth year: 0.79

So, the average vehicle has only about 2.5 problems after 5 years of ownership.

A model that is given a half-red circle and an "above average" rating can be from 20% to 40% above the average. A model with a half black circle can be from 20% to 40% below the average. Again, being conservative, I will use the middle of the range and assume 30% better or worse than average.

Total problems for a typical "Above Average" model: 1.8
Total problems for a vehicle 30% below average: 3.3

Taking the difference, we find the typical vehicle rated "Above Average" with a half-red reliability rating from Consumer Reports will have about 1.5 less problems over 5 years of ownership than one rated "Below Average" with a half-black reliability rating. For example, according to page 79, the difference between a Honda Odyssey (about 30% above average) and a Dodge Grand Caravan (just over 20% below average) is probably even less.

Personally, I don't find that to be all that much, even with the rounding and any flaws in my math or logic. Overall, the problem rates are quite small for the average vehicle. Unless you buy one with a full black circle (Much worse than average), you will probably find most new vehicles to be quite reliable over the first 5 years of ownership. I think new cars are so reliable overall that CR and other evaluations of reliability probably exaggerate small differences to hype themselves.

Of course, the other question is how serious does a problem have to be to be considered by a Consumer Reports subscriber that returns a reliability survey. I don't have an answer to that one, and one can debate the scientific merits of the ratings all you want...
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Old 03-10-2004, 12:22 PM   #2
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That and....what IS the reliability problem?...and is it covered under the warranty? Are you buying it used withOUT a warranty?

For ME, if I were buying something new, and I planned on getting rid of it before the warranty was up....sure...it probably wouldn't matter.

If I planned on keeping it longer than the warranty, it would matter. A LOT. I wouldn't want to be replacing the transmission (a COMMON Dodge/Plymouth problem), especially not multiple times. That's EXPENSIVE. I know. I spent $18,000 on car *repairs* (not upkeep) on a Caravan in 5 years. Reliability matters a lot to me.

Also, buying a used car (usually without a warranty) this would matter. Sure....the car may only have 1.3 more problems, but if those problems cost $2000 or more each....well....that's a problem! LOL!
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Old 03-10-2004, 12:53 PM   #3
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CR does break down its results for each car into categories. They weight problems like engine and transmission more heavily.

One problem with the surveys is that it is up to the recipient to decide how serious a problem must be to include. CR admits that brake problems are among the most common at 3 years, and electrical problems at 5 years. This makes me wonder if routine brake pads and battery changes are listed as "problems" by many respondents...

Carpoint has some interesting reliability reports that might be complementary to the ones at CR. Polling independent mechanics, they have compiled a list of specific trouble spots on each make and model year. While it is not necessarily a good overall inidcation of how likely you are to have problems, it might give you an idea of the type of problems you may see on a used vehicle:

http://autos.msn.com/home/reliability_ratings.aspx

Using the CR ratings, Carpoint ratings and the JD Power long term dependability ratings together might give a reasonable idea of a used vehicle's reliability.
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