Despite the millions of vehicle recalls made due to safety issues caused by mechanical problems, most customers are actually griping more about their cars' infotainment systems more than anything else.
The latest Auto Reliability Survey report, conducted by Consumer Reports on 1.1 million vehicles, shows customers are more concerned about the problematic in-car digital infotainment systems which allow drivers to access navigation tools, media and contacts without having to reach for distracting devices such as tablets and smartphones.
However, automakers seem to be having trouble developing software for their homegrown systems, as Consumer Reports says most consumers frequently complain about problems such as unresponsive voice recognition and touch control, malfunctioning pairing with Bluetooth devices and freezing screens.
Jake Fisher, automotive testing director at Consumer Reports, says the unreliability of auto infotainment systems is a symptom of bigger problems for the vehicle.
"We reanalyzed how these cars would do if we ignored those systems," he says. "What we found is that for the vast majority, the unreliable cars stay unreliable. It's not a case of 'these cars are fine and it's just this system that's the problem'."
Among the top ten most reliable infotainment systems, four Japanese carmakers took over the top spots, with Lexus and Toyota claiming the first and second positions for the second year in a row. Mazda crept up from two spots down last year, while Honda jumped four positions to move up to No. 4. This is among 28 total brands surveyed.
Fisher says Toyota's consistent reliability rankings are likely due to the Japanese automaker's conservative approach to its redesigns. The Scion xB, which received the honor of being the most reliable car of the year, was incrementally improved for seven years until Toyota got it right.
"It's paid off for Toyota being very conservative," Fisher says. "Maybe not making the most exciting vehicle but making sure the reliability is there."
However, while the Japanese took over the top spots, another Japanese brand was also named for having the least reliable infotainment system. Nissan's luxury arm Infiniti developed the In Touch system found in the Infiniti Q50, which was found to be the least reliable car with more than one out of five drivers telling Consumer Reports that the luxury sedan's electronic system did not work at all. This, along with other problems with Infiniti's QX60 SUV, pulled down Nissan's ranking 14 places down from No. 6 last year to twentieth position this year.
As for U.S.-based carmakers, General Motors showed the biggest improvement in reliability, with vehicles such as the Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Impala V6 and Chevrolet Corvette listed by Consumer Reports as reliable. Buick, however, is the only GM brand to make it to the top 10 most reliable brands, ranking sixth and beating out all the other U.S. brands. Fiat-Chrysler, on the other hand, sits at the bottom of the ladder, with Fiat, Jeep, Ram and Dodge winning the four bottom spots.
European carmakers are scattered on the list. Volkswagen's Audi remains in top the five behind the four Japanese automakers, dropping one spot from the fourth place last year. However, Daimler AG's Mercedes Benz is not enjoying a similar position, with consumers complaining about the CLA 250 compact sedan.
Aside from infotainment systems, Consumer Reports notes that drivers also complained about their vehicles' problems with water leaks, door latches and windows, noise, power equipment and paint and decorative hardware.