New car quality continues to decline, study finds

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J.D. Power has recorded a record increase in problems

For decades cars and trucks have gotten better. From planned obsolescence to cars routinely lasting 200,000 miles or more, the quality of vehicles has improved.

But the latest J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (IQS), an annual snapshot of new vehicle quality, has revealed a troubling trend. Buyers are increasingly reporting trouble with new cars and trucks.

J.D. Power’s main metric for this study is the number of problems per 100 vehicles (PP100). Over the last two years, they have risen by a record 30 PP100.

According to the J.D. Power 2023 U.S. IQS, the rise in problems is 12 PP100 greater than in 2022, which follows an increase of 18 PP100 in 2022 from 2021. In 2023, the industry average is 192 PP100. Just as in golf, a lower score is the objective.

Part of the troubling trend might be explained by the auto industry’s growing use of technology, specifically in dashboard systems. J.D. Power researchers have traced some of the problems to the continued integration of known problematic audio systems into other new models.

But reported problems aren’t limited to technology. In the 2023 study, they include things like poor-sounding horns and cupholders that don’t serve their purpose. The study finds new models have 11 PP100 more than carryover models.

‘Wide range of quality 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. "The industry is at a major crossroad and the path each manufacturer chooses is paramount for its future.”

Hanley says the negative trend may be growing because there are persistent problems carrying over from years past as well as an increase in new types of problems.

“Today’s new vehicles are more complex, offering new and exciting technology but not always satisfying owners,” he said.

New sources of problems

In a breakdown of the increase in PP100, J.D. Power found some unusual and unexpected sources of problems, such as door handles.

“Opening a door was once a non-discussion point – an aspect of a vehicle that had been examined, engineered and mastered,” the study’s authors wrote. “The basic touch point of door handles is now a percolating problem area as manufacturers attempt to redesign them.

Owners also reported problems with basic safety features, Android infotainment systems and smartphone charging features.

Quality issues may also be showing up in the form of increased recalls. ConsumerAffairs recently reported that automotive recalls were up 3.4% in the first quarter of 2023, with electrical systems the leading cause, followed by equipment and airbags.

So far in June, there have been 16 automotive recalls, six by Ford, and two each by Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz. Honda, BMW, Kia, Toyota, Land Rover and Jaguar have issued one each.

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