- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

If you want to buy a new vehicle and keep it for a while, if you want a used car, or if you just want a vehicle that will spend more time on the road than in the service bay, a good place to start your search would be the Consumer Reports annual April auto issue.

The April issue is devoted entirely to automotive topics, one of which is in-depth information on reliability. The staff looked back in time to compare how the vehicle lines from the major manufacturers fared in terms of reliability as their vehicles aged. They combined data from their 2001 to 2005 surveys and were able to include approximately 3.5 million vehicles.

When they compared vehicles from Asian, European and domestic manufacturers, they found that vehicles from the Asian manufacturers start out more reliable on average and continue to be reliable. The European manufacturers start out with more problems and get even more unreliable, said David Champion, who heads up automotive testing for the magazine. “The domestics are in the middle,” he said.

On average, five-year-old Asian vehicles had 44 problems per 100 vehicles; vehicles from the domestic manufacturers had 89 problems per 100; and European makes had 97 problems per 100.

Consumer Reports also looked at how the vehicle lines from the six major manufacturers — Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen — fared in terms of reliability.

Toyota and Honda models have significantly fewer problems than cars from other manufacturers, the survey found. Among U.S. automakers, Ford consistently showed lower problem rates than Chrysler and GM for older vehicles.

To determine the reliability and predicted reliability of individual models, Consumer Reports subscribers were asked in the 2005 survey to report any “serious” problems they had with their vehicles during the previous 12 months. The responses to the 2005 survey were the highest to date, covering 1 million vehicles. Each subscriber is able to report on two vehicles.

The magazine uses these responses to present reliability ratings for models from 1998 through 2005 and to predict the reliability of 2006 models. When it comes to the predicted reliability of 2006 models, Lexus ranks first. Last year it was second, behind the Scion brand.

Honda took over second place; up from fifth last year. Toyota is third, Mitsubishi fourth, Subaru fifth, Acura sixth and Scion fell to seventh.

Last year Mercury was in 16th place; this year it is ranked eighth. It is the only domestic manufacturer to make it into the top-10 standings for predicted reliability of 2006 models. Mazda is up eight places to finish ninth. Suzuki ranked 10th.

The “bottom 10” for predicted reliability of their 2006 models are Audi, Infiniti, Saturn, Lincoln, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Land Rover, Hummer and — dead last — Porsche.

Interested in knowing which vehicles for the past eight model years had the most and fewest problems? Here are some of the findings:

• Four percent of survey respondents who owned a 2005 Toyota Prius or Honda Civic Hybrid reported problems. On the other hand, 40 percent of owners of a 2005 Infiniti QX56 had problems.

• Five percent of respondents who owned a 2004 Mazda MX-5 Miata had problems. It gets worse for the owners of a two-year-old 2004 Infiniti QX56; 67 percent of them reported problems.

• Nine percent of respondents who owned a 2003 Toyota Highlander with the V-6 engine had problems. Life was not as good for 56 percent of the owners of the 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle convertible and the Land Rover Range Rover who reported problems.

• Twenty percent of the owners of the 1999 Toyota Tacoma with the four-cylinder engine and the Lexus LS 400 reported problems; that was much better than the 77 percent of owners of the 1999 Volkswagen Jetta with the V-6 engine.

• Twenty-four percent of the owners of the eight-year-old 1998 Tacoma and an eight-year old Infiniti Q45 reported problems. However, 72 percent of the owners of an eight-year-old 1998 Volkswagen Passat sedan with the 1.8-liter turbocharged engine had problems.

When it comes to words of wisdom probably most often ignored, this survey once again shows that it doesn’t pay to buy the first model year of a vehicle. Of the worst models in the predicted reliability ratings, about half were redesigned or newly introduced in 2005.

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