Ran­kle file

We lift the bon­net on re­li­a­bil­ity statis­tics car mak­ers want to keep se­cret from buy­ers

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - COVER STORY - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

THERE’S lit­tle more frus­trat­ing than buy­ing a new car that starts throw­ing tantrums.

Life would be sim­pler and less stress­ful if, as part of your car buy­ing re­search, you could find out which makes and mod­els are re­li­able and which ones give their own­ers grief.

This in­for­ma­tion is avail­able here but the car com­pa­nies have an agree­ment among them­selves to keep it top se­cret.

You have prob­a­bly never heard of the Au­to­mo­tive Re­tail and Man­u­fac­tur­ing Syn­di­cate (ARMS), a coali­tion of more than 30 car mak­ers that runs an an­nual sur­vey of car buy­ers to find out how they’re get­ting along with their new car, from ini­tial pur­chase through the first three years of own­er­ship.

It asks about prob­lems and faults with the car it­self, plus the buyer’s opin­ion of the dealer’s cus­tomer ser­vice and the over­all feel-good fac­tor — or oth­er­wise — of their ex­pe­ri­ence with brand X, Y or Z.

Brands are ranked, from best to worst, and the re­sults shared among ARMS syn­di­cate mem­bers — but not with the peo­ple who buy new cars.

Cars­guide has tried to ob­tain the re­sults of the lat­est ARMS sur­vey, with­out suc­cess.

Hyundai is a mem­ber of ARMS. As a pro­ducer of high qual­ity cars, backed by a fiveyear/un­lim­ited-kilo­me­tre war­ranty, and one of the mar­ket’s boom brands, is it in favour of re­leas­ing the re­sults?

No. “They’re not re­ally meant for pub­lic re­lease,” says Hyundai Aus­tralia’s Tony Hut­ton. “Some­times what is per­ceived as a qual­ity is­sue isn’t re­ally a qual­ity is­sue and there are also va­garies with new cars that some­times mean faults aren’t faults,” he says.

So there you go. If you think your new car has a prob­lem, it may not be a prob­lem at all. You’re prob­a­bly just imag­in­ing it.

In the car busi­ness the strong usu­ally de­vour the weak but, when it comes to ARMS sur­vey re­sults, even those brands that con­tinue to make un­re­li­able cars are pro­tected by the syn­di­cate.

“Rule 101 says you don’t get far by point­ing out the prob­lems of your com­peti­tors,” says Hut­ton.

We don’t have the make and model rank­ings from the ARMS sur­vey but a Cars­guide source has pro­vided some de­tails about trends and the over­all qual­ity per­for­mance of new cars in Aus­tralia.

“It is im­prov­ing,” he says. “There are a lot fewer en­gines blow­ing up to­day and many of the nig­gles now are more to do with new tech­nol­ogy, such as in­fo­tain­ment sys­tems and smart­phone con­nec­tiv­ity.”

“Price and qual­ity are def­i­nitely not re­lated. If you want to know the re­ally bad cars, just use the net and so­cial me­dia.”

There’s an un­of­fi­cial, but pretty ac­cu­rate, qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity peck­ing or­der in new cars, based on their brand’s country of ori­gin.

The Ja­panese mak­ers are at the top, closely fol­lowed by the rapidly im­prov­ing South Kore­ans (“who are cer­tainly get­ting close to the Ja­panese,” ac­cord­ing to our source), then the Euro­peans (“they all have their idio­syn­cra­sies”), fol­lowed by the Amer­i­cans and then, at the back of the pack, the Aus­tralians, Ford and Holden.

If ARMS won’t hand over its re­sults, let’s see what we can find else­where.

Ac­cord­ing to the 2016 Lemon Car Re­port, pub­lished by consumer ad­vo­cate Choice, 68 per cent of Holden own­ers had a prob­lem with their new car in the first five years of own­er­ship, the high­est in the sur­vey, fol­lowed by Ford on 65 per cent. Mazda was the best brand in the Choice re­sults, with 44 per cent of own­ers hav­ing a prob­lem.

“Aus­tralian brands are ac­tu­ally get­ting a bit bet­ter,” ac­cord­ing to our ARMS source — cold com­fort given both are about to shut the fac­tory gates.

Choice’s re­port also backs up ARMS re­sults in iden­ti­fy­ing Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity as the most com­mon prob­lem area in new cars, fol­lowed by bat­tery and electrics, the in­te­rior then the en­gine.

The in­dus­try bench­mark in new car qual­ity an­a­lysts, US firm JD Power, runs an­nual sur­veys of more than 30,000 Amer­i­can new-car buy­ers to mea­sure ini­tial qual­ity — how their car per­forms over the first 90 days of own­er­ship — and re­li­a­bil­ity over the first three years.

JD Power cau­tions against us­ing its US re­sults in the Aus­tralian con­text. How­ever, its Ini­tial Qual­ity Study (IQS) and Ve­hi­cle De­pend­abil­ity Study (VDS) rank­ings, based on prob­lems per 100 ve­hi­cles, are the most ac­cu­rate pub­licly avail­able in­for­ma­tion about the rel­a­tive qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity per­for­mance of new cars.

Its 2016 VDS, which cov­ered 32 brands, also iden­ti­fied voice recog­ni­tion, Blue­tooth pair­ing, con­nec­tiv­ity, and nav­i­ga­tion is­sues as the most prob­lem­atic ar­eas on new ve­hi­cles.

Lexus was the most re­li­able brand in the sur­vey, for the fifth con­sec­u­tive year, fol­lowed by Porsche, Buick (a GM brand not sold here) and Toy­ota.

Dodge took the wooden spoon, be­hind Ford, smart, Land Rover and Jeep.

Consumer Re­ports in the US is feared by the car com­pa­nies be­cause its opinions count among Amer­i­can car buy­ers. It anal­y­ses new cars based on road test per­for­mance, pre­dicted re­li­a­bil­ity, safety and owner sat­is­fac­tion, then pub­lishes the re­sults in its car brand Re­port Card.

In its April 2016 Re­port car man­u­fac­tur­ers,” it says.

“The ACCC would have some con­cerns when a busi­ness seeks to im­pose con­fi­den­tial­ity clauses as a con­di­tion of pro­vid­ing reme­dies a consumer is en­ti­tled to un­der the consumer guar­an­tee pro­vi­sions of the Aus­tralian Consumer Law.”

Tony We­ber of the Fed­eral Card, Consumer Re­ports also ranks Lexus as the most re­li­able brand, along with Toy­ota. Its “Worst” pre­dicted re­li­a­bil­ity rat­ing goes equally to Land Rover, Jeep and Fiat.

Choice found that 66 per cent of new-car buy­ers had prob­lems with their cars in the first five years of own­er­ship. Cham­ber of Au­to­mo­tive In­dus­tries says that car buy­ers have ex­er­cised their rights un­der the consumer law in a “very low pro­por­tion” of new car sales.

A re­view is un­der way on the ef­fec­tive­ness of the leg­is­la­tion. Have your say — pub­lic sub­mis­sions are open un­til May 27. View con­sumer­law.gov.au. Given the ad­vanced, com­plex state of cur­rent au­to­mo­tive tech­nol­ogy, which has pro­duced cars that are in­fin­itely safer, more ef­fi­cient, re­fined and so­phis­ti­cated than ever be­fore, that’s not a bad re­sult.

But the lemons are still out there, pro­tected in Aus­tralia by the syn­di­cate’s code of si­lence.

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