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New-car reliability hits record high, but some features struggle: study

June 30, 2017
The good news: New-vehicle quality is at its highest level ever, improving a significant 8 percent from last year, according to a J.D. Power study released June 21.
The bad news: Consumers are complaining more about driver-assist features, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and collision avoidance/alert systems.
Power’s 2017 U.S. Initial Quality Study measured the the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership, with a lower score reflecting a higher quality. In this year’s study, quality improves across seven of the eight categories measured, with 27 of the 33 brands in the study improving their quality compared with 2016.
"The industry has improved significantly in each of the past three years," said Dave Sargent, a vice president at J.D. Power. "Today’s vehicles have more things that could go wrong but fewer things that actually do go wrong."
The survey, based on the answers of more than 80,000 consumers, measured complaints about 2017 model vehicles 90 days after they were purchased. For the second straight year, Kia was the brand with the fewest problems.
But, "There appears to be a lack of understanding by customers about how these (driver-assist) features should work," Sargent said about the consumer complaints.
The complaints about driver-assist systems are significant given the race within the auto and tech industries to develop semi and fully autonomous-drive vehicles. State and federal regulators have wrestled with how far automakers should be able to push driver-assist technology.
Advocates for the technology say it is helping reduce car crashes and highway fatalities, while skeptics say the various systems in use are not always intuitive and drivers may be more confused when the systems are sounding alerts.
"There are people who think some of these technologies are not working as they expected," said Sargent. "But some of these systems leave you feeling like you’re wrestling with the car."
Sargent said that frustration is particularly evident with some lane departure warning systems.
The surge in complaints about driver-assist technology comes as some automakers, most notably Tesla, are developing features that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel for brief stretches of time.
Tesla is not ranked in the survey because the automaker does not allow J.D. Power to contact Tesla buyers through the motor vehicle departments in New York and California; the two states are responsible for the majority of Tesla’s sales. As a result, J.D. Power said it did not have enough responses from Tesla owners to include in the survey.