2016 Vehicle Dependability Study: Beyond the Bluetooth
J.D. Power released its 2016 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) last week, heralding the news that long-term car reliability has slipped over the past year (today’s 3-year-old vehicles have slightly more problems than last year’s 3-year-old vehicles). This erosion in long-term quality is driven largely by problems with the audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation (ACEN) systems. Boiling it down even further, the decline in quality of ACEN systems is largely due to Bluetooth systems that have frequent pairing and connectivity issues and voice-recognition systems that don’t recognize or that misinterpret commands.
Many consumers hear about balky Bluetooth and voice-recognition systems and say, “So what? It’s not like the transmissions are falling out of the cars. That’s where real dependability matters!” While Bluetooth and voice-recognition problems are, in fact, legitimate reliability issues—the same as if your transmission hesitates while shifting or if your engine burns too much oil—there is more to the 2016 VDS than issues with Bluetooth and voice recognition.
The 2016 VDS brings largely good news in several areas. Problem categories with more physical build-quality characteristics—interior, engine/transmission, exterior, seats—improve their problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) scores. Automakers are crafting interiors that stand up better to the rigors of everyday use. Engines and transmissions not only operate more efficiently, they also offer better usability and fewer quality issues. Exterior components are put together with better fit and finish. Seats are constructed using higher-quality materials and are less prone to having abnormal squeaks or rattles. Indeed, today’s 3-year-old (2013 model year) vehicles have better physical build quality than last year’s 3-year-old (2012 model year) vehicles.
In addition to asking owners about problems they have experienced with their vehicle, the Vehicle Dependability Study also asks owners what, if any, components they have had to replace during the past year. The percentage of components replaced in this year’s study has decreased from last year. Across the industry (all nameplates), owners had to replace 1.2% fewer components this year, excluding wear items like brake pads, tires, and wiper blades. Similar to last year, the car’s battery is the No. 1 most replaced component during the third year of vehicle ownership. But the good news is that in the 2016 VDS owners report having to replace their battery 2.1% less often than in the 2015 VDS. The lower incidence of replaced components is, once again, a strong indicator that the physical build quality of vehicles has improved this year.
While problems with such features as Bluetooth and voice recognition have increased on 3-year-old vehicles, there is still much good news to be shared—improved interiors, better engines and transmissions, higher-quality exterior fit and finish, and more durable seats, to name a few. Beyond the Bluetooth, the 2016 VDS shows that today’s 3-year-old vehicles are as mechanically sound as ever. But in order to meet all of today’s car owner expectations, a vehicle should do everything well—audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation system included.