Motorists aren’t lovin’ their cars. Here’s why.

by | Feb 15, 2024 | 1 comment

Vehicle owners aren’t happy. They’re seeing more technology problems, aren’t happy about continual warnings and alerts, and EV owners may just be the least happy of all.

Data on U.S. owners, according to the J.D. Power 2024 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) found that three year old vehicles are seeing more problems than usual, across nearly two-thirds of brands.

Notably, the rate at which problems have increased between 90 days and three years of ownership has increased to 17%, up 5 percentage points from 12% in 2023.

Study authors say that it’s a cautionary tale for automakers who area adding new technology, but also that build quality might have declined over the pandemic. The car driving public used to talk about not wanting a car built on a Monday or a Friday, but what do you do when you have a year of Mondays?

“Historically, VDS model results mirror the results of the respective model year in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, so a deterioration of vehicle dependability is unusual,” said Frank Hanley, senior director of auto benchmarking at J.D. Power. “This can likely be attributed to the tumultuous time during which these vehicles were built, and owners are keeping their vehicles for much longer. In fact, the average age of vehicles on American roads today is approximately 12 years, which underscores the importance of building a vehicle designed to stand the test of time. Automakers must ensure new vehicle technology introduced today will still meet the customer’s needs years down the road.”

The study, now in its 35th year, covers 184 specific problem areas across nine major vehicle categories: climate; driving assistance; driving experience; exterior; features/controls/displays; infotainment; interior; powertrain; and seats.

Despite the breadth of problems covered by the study, it’s technology that’s driving down satisfaction.

Infotainment system woes continue to plague owners

 As vehicles roll off the assembly line with increasingly more technology, it is not unexpected that the most problematic vehicle category is infotainment (49.1 PP100)—nearly twice as many problems as the next-highest category, which is exterior. This has been a perennial issue for some time. Among infotainment issues, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity (6.3 PP100) is the top problem, followed by built-in voice recognition (6.1 PP100). The issue on that front has been so persistent it’s even spawned an entire genre of comedy. But car owners aren’t laughing when a feature designed to maintain their attention on driving causes more distractions.

Annoyance with driver assistance alerts grows over time

Anyone who drives a sensor-laden vehicle will, at least from time to time, experience more warnings than they feel necessary. While this is particularly acute when a vehicle is new, it may be surprising that people don’t get used to it.

According to the study, the number of problems related to driver assistance system alerts has increased between the 90-day ownership period and the three-year ownership period.

“Many would think that after three years, owners would become used to the alerts on their vehicle,” Hanley said. “However, that is not the case. Increased problem levels are experienced across multiple driver assistance features including, but not limited to, lane departure warning/lane keeping assistance and forward collision warning/automatic emergency braking.”

Electrified vehicles more problematic than others

While it may not come as a surprise to aftermarket shops that have been working with them, owners of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) experience more problems than owners of gas-powered and hybrid vehicles.

From the study it is difficult to see whether it is a question of a higher degree of problems, or if they are apt to point them out more than ICE vehicle owners.

BEVs are most troublesome (256 PP100), followed by PHEVs (216 PP100). Hybrids (191 PP100) and gasoline vehicles (187 PP100) fare significantly better.

A particular area of unhappiness is the rate of tire wear. A whopping 39% of BEV 39% owners saying they replaced tires in the past 12 months—19 percentage points higher than owners of gas-powered vehicles.

The reasons for this are, or should be, well-known among automotive service professionals:

  • BEVs tend to be heavier than an equivalent class of ICE-powered vehicle, adding to ongoing wear.
  • BEVs display higher torque than ICE vehicles, perticularly from a standing start. A characdteristic of electric motors is that they have 100% of availalbe torque available from 0 rpm. Though this may be mitigated with control systems, torque is still a significant wear factor.
  • BEV drivers, enjoying the high-torque characterstics and features such as Tesla’s “Insane Mode,” reduce tire life significantly.

Understanding the ongoing dissatisfaction with advanced vehicle features and the specific concerns of EV owners, and working out strategies to address them with service offerings and effective communication approaches are likely to become more important to attracting and retaining service customers as these technologies become more prevalent in the overall car parc.

1 Comment

  1. James Weil

    Regarding Infotainment System Issues:
    One of the major issues with infotainment systems is voice recognition, often which it fails to properly do. This can result in frustration and distracted driving, leading to collisions. I am disappointed that the NHTSA does not seemly pay more attention to this issue and hold vehicle manufactures more accountable for better reliability of this issue. However, given the history of voice recognition, it does not surprise me that it is problematic. Historically several companies, including IBM a company called Nuance and others were developers of voice recognition technology (VR). VR is complex and historically required sophisticated programming with fast and powerful computers. Through mergers and acquisitions Nuance, which in my opinion, with its jaded history, became the prominent provider to the public of VR. Their products have generally been unreliable with mediocre support. The result is that since many if not most vehicle manufactures are likely using Nuance’s technology thus providing the current unreliability. This is especially true with speech impediments, due to health issues, birth defects, and injuries such as experienced by military veterans.

    Not too long ago, Nuance was acquired by Microsoft. While I was hoping to see some improvement in VR, so far I have not witnessed it.

    The bottom, line of all of this is that, in my opinion the core VR technology is not as yet ready for prime time as it is still not sophisticated enough for general use and will not be until the issues with the core technology is improved. I believe that part of the reason for this is Star Trek. In Star Trek it seemed to work flawlessly and set peoples expectations as a viable and reliable tool. Unfortunately technology providers have attempted to migrate the 23st fully reliable technology into the 21st century with the resulting outcome.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *