Car News: Dependability

Your weekly guide to all that’s rotten about car ownership, plus some good bits


The badge of arguable the most reliable cars made – Toyota

The most automobile magazines will tell you about the car you plan to buy is how well it drives, what space there is inside, and how good it looks. A few provide a bullet point run down of miles per gallon, and value for money usually long after the car has been in production. They are slaves to car manufacturer press release and free test drive.

For the majority of us whose car is the second biggest purchase to our house, (for students its their higher education racking up tens of thousands in debt) we want to know how much value remains in a car come time to sell it, and how reliable it is.

It might surprise readers to learn that automobile manufacturers build a car to last a certain number of hoursnot years or miles driven – but hours after which parts need replaced. It’s calculated on the fact that you car sits unused 90% of its life. A Mercedes offers 150 hours of trouble free driving. For years most British cars offered no more than 80 hours, or fewer. This was the reason British drivers traded their car for the latest model ever two years. They guessed correctly when it would begin to be a money pit.

Some status brands, premium models, are the least reliable “in the world” – as the belligerent Jeremy Clarkson might say. Range Rover is one such brand. Not all models in a brand’s output are lemons, but there is a tendency for a car manufacturer to have failings in most models wherever they are built.

JD Power

The independent institution J.D. Power tests cars annually and publishes a chart of which brands are good investments.  The Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) examines issues reported by original owners of 3-year-old vehicles sold in the USA, but many of the cars are also sold in the UK, and made in the UK.

This study measures car reliability such as: features and controls; engine and transmission; entertainment and navigation; heating and cooling; the overall driving experience. It ranks them bad to average to good and excellent.

Top of the list is Lexus, followed by Porsche. Porsche will never tell you how many Japanese parts it uses for fear of undermining the carefully constructed myth of German super-efficiency, but install Japanese parts it does.

Jaguar has pulled its socks up from its days of iffy build quality and now holds a place in the top ranks, demonstrating improvements that benefit the buyer – and by reputation and greater sales the manufacturer – can be achieved. BMW hold the average ground, with Audi struggling below. The humble Mazda MX5 sports car is a long time winner of JD Power’s survey, as are most of Mazda’s products. Mitsubishi is at the bottom.

The Toyota Prius reaches high marks consistently for reliability. No wonder so many Über taxis are a Prius.



Japan’s high speed trains given inferior engine parts, and some British locomotives

More reliability woes

After Diesel Gate comes Kobe-gate. Now that you are aware your German owned or built diesel car or SUV is a confidence trick polluting the environment when you were told it was emission friendly, it transpires Japan’s third-biggest steelmaker, Kobe Steel, is embroiled in a deepening scandal over the quality of products including aluminium and copper used in cars. (And aircraft, space rockets, trains, and defence equipment.)

The company said it had found a case of falsified data on iron ore powder – mainly used in vehicle parts such as gears – “that had been shipped to a customer”. It follows Kobe’s admission that it had falsified figures about the strength and durability of its aluminium and copper products, which are used in the transport and defence industries. The company is checking its records going back a decade. Be warned, admission of cheating by corporations always begin by minimising them.

The steelmaker has begun an investigation into Kobelco Research Institute, which tests products for the company, and found 70 cases of tampered data on materials used in optical disks and liquid crystal displays.

The company supplies materials to carmakers Ford, Toyota, Honda, Mazda and Subaru as well as aircraft-makers Boeing and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Exactly how you can find out if your car is affected means relying entirely on the goodwill of those manufacturers to advise you in a timely fashion to take your car to a dealer to have the faulty parts swapped for sound parts.



The Toyota Hybrid Prius, ugly but one of the most reliable cars you can buy

Don’t by non-brand parts’ was their slogan for years, after-market copies were inferior. You can see what good following that advice to the letter has done. It makes matters so much worse to know Westminster has long since dismantled the UK testing facilities to ‘save money’. Car manufacturers, like banks, have been deregulated.

I believe we are seeing the results of misplaced employee loyalty, and big business intimidation. In an effort to reach strictly imposed targets – and probably receive a large bonus – employers falsify their research, just as VW employees did with diesel engines.

I don’t see the difference between that and a balls-high vanity personified Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin omitting to carry out due diligence when buying the toxic Dutch Bank ABN, surely the worst take-over in corporate history, and ruined the Royal Bank of Scotland’s reputation and existence for all time.

Kobe executives explain their problem this way: “Data in inspection certificates had been improperly rewritten … products were shipped as having met the specifications concerned which was improper conduct”. Improper conduct? Who knows what deaths or injuries have been the consequence of improper conduct/ And how many car owners have had to pay up for replacement gearboxes not realising they are ill made with inferior metal.

Kobe, one of Japan’s oldest industrial companies, said it was contacting its customers and working to establish whether the products it had supplied were safe. You, dear reader, are not a customer – they mean the car parts manufactures they supply.

Remember, car makers are one of the biggest lobbyists of government on the planet. They also pay billions in advertising revenue annually to television companies. Broadcasters are not quick to tell us about manufacturing failings. Instead we get inane car shows such as Top Gear. And magazine publishers are just as slow to point up concerns. They keep car enthusiasts buying useless car magazines by seducing them with photographs and breathless prose of the latest super car they can’t afford to buy.

I hardly need to add that Kobi has set up an external investigation. That ‘external’ investigation consist of Kobi employing a firm of lawyers. Yoshihiko Katsukawa, a senior official at Kobe, told a news conference: “We can’t rule out the possibility that the external investigation will find other cases.”

Kobe is under pressure from the Japanese government to resolve the crisis quickly. You bet it is, just as the Royal Bank of Scotland was ‘under pressure’ to put its house in order, given fifteen years and no sanctions to do so by George Osborne, the then chancellor of the Exchequer.


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5 Responses to Car News: Dependability

  1. Andy in Germany says:

    Given the Japanese Gov’ts idea of ‘putting pressure’ on Tepco, the company behind the Fukushima power station, seems to be to instruct the directors to say sorry and try to look like they mean it, Don’t hold your breath.

  2. Oh dear. I see trouble ahead for all those shiny new bi-mode trains coming out of the Hitachi factory in County Durham…

  3. Grouse Beater says:

    We’ve all heard of chocolate engines but this might well be a first for chocolate gears.

  4. Falsifying test results isn’t anything new.

    Many years ago, in the late 70’s, I worked in the defence industry. My employers had manufactured a system which allowed the army to test and repair it’s missile systems, in the field. One problem was that the power supplies in the test equipment continually failed when they were put in the back of trucks, to be used in the field.

    It transpired that although the American manufacturer of the power supplies stated in their “Certificate of Conformance” that they had ‘bump’ (essentially what it says – putting the power supply on a test machine and submitting it to a series of controlled shocks or bumps) tested the power supplies they had done no such thing.

    So when it was installed in the back of an army truck bouncing and bumping over the terrain, it failed. Yet the ‘Certificate of Conformance’ said it would survive such treatment. This wasn’t a problem on anything like the scale you’re writing about, just an example of where what’s promised and what’s practiced aren’t the same.

  5. Grouse Beater says:

    And I bet there’s many another ‘anomaly’ one could recount about missing ‘tests’. Many thanks, Andrew.

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