Car brands with the most problems – and the results might surprise you

 ·2 Jul 2023

J.D. Power, a provider of consumer insights, advisory services and data and analytics, has published its 2023 US Initial Quality Study – showing top German brands are becoming more problematic as new technology is adopted.

The annual study, which has been ongoing for 37 years, gathered responses from 93,380 individuals who purchased or leased new 2023 model-year vehicles. The study aimed to identify issues that occurred during the early stages of ownership.

The report details the number of reported problems per 100 vehicles (PP100) for each car brand, with respondents covering nine vehicle categories, which included:

  • Infotainment;
  • Controls and displays;
  • Exterior;
  • Driving assistance;
  • Interior;
  • Powertrain (engine);
  • Seats;
  • Driving experience; and
  • Climate.

According to J.D. Power, there has been a significant decline in the quality of cars over the past two years. The average number of complaints has increased by 30 points, bringing the industry average to 192 PP100 – meaning for every 100 vehicles on the road, there are now 192 reported problems.

“The automotive industry is facing a wide range of quality problems, a phenomenon not seen in the 37-year history of the IQS,” said Frank Hanley, senior director of auto benchmarking at J.D. Power.

He added that while problems with driving experience are flat year-on-year, quality declines in all other categories. The largest year-over-year increase in the number of problems is in the features, controls and displays category (+3.2 PP100), followed by infotainment (+2.3 PP100).

The brands with the most reported problems

Surprisingly, the brands well-known for their reliability and top-tier engineering – Volvo, VW, and Audi – came out on top as having the most problems, according to the report.

Volvo presented 250 PP100, followed closely by VW (249 PP100) and Audi (221 PP100). Other well-respected German carmakers, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, also found themselves on the list, reporting 201 PP100 and 191 PP100, respectively.

Similarly, Mazda, Toyota, and Mitsubishi, three well-established Japanese automakers, were all named despite their well-established reliability status.

In contrast, the most reliable brands South Africans have access to, according to the survey, are Alfa Romeo, Porche, and Kia.

These brands, according to the report, registered 143 PP100, 167 PP100, and 170 PP100, respectively.

The list of the most problematic car brands based on problems reported per 100 vehicles is given in the table below. Brands marked with a (*) are those not offered in South Africa.

Car brandProblems per 100 vehicles (PP100)
Land Rover203
Alfa Romeo143

Despite the surprises at the top of the list of most problematic cars, Hanley attributed the increase in quality issues to the greater use of technology in modern cars, such as infotainment and audio systems.

“A driving force for the dependability disparity between the two segments is the new technology introduced in vehicles. Premium brands usually have more technology, which increases complexity and the inherent likelihood of additional problems,” the report added.

The key problems identified by the report include the following:

  • Vehicle basic –door handles– are increasingly problematic — The basic touch point of door handles is now a percolating problem area as manufacturers attempt to redesign them. Owners are having issues with high-tech approaches to this basic function; seven of the 10 most problematic models in this area are battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
  • Safety systems causing problems — problems owners encounter in the driver assistance category have increased by 1.8 PP100 year-on-year. The most problematic areas are lane departure warning/lane keeping assistance (7.2 PP100) and forward collision warning/automatic emergency braking (5.0 PP100) for those that have these features.
  • Android Automotive Operating System (AAOS) issues — A 21.5 PP100 gap exists between vehicles that have an Android Automotive OS without Google Automotive Services (51.1 PP100) and those vehicles that don’t have this system (29.6 PP100). This is only for the operating system for in-vehicle infotainment, not for the smartphone mirroring systems of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
  • Smartphone charging becomes the most deteriorated problem — Across all 223 problems measured in the study, the wireless charging pad not working properly has increased by a sizable 1.1 PP100 and is driven by both increased penetration and more usability issues with the technology. Users are experiencing several problems, including poor location; phone overheating; and intermittent charging, if at all. “This is the area where manufacturers really have the opportunity to delight customers with this convenience, but instead are creating a problem for them,” Hanley said.

Read: Updated Alfa Romeo Stelvio now on sale in South Africa – pricing and features

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