American car brands received a mixed bag of results in Consumer Reports' latest round of reliability ratings. The 2011 Annual Auto Survey predicts the reliability of new 2012 car models. Knowing a car's long-term reliability is helpful for shoppers buying a car because less reliable cars tend to cost more in repairs, often increasing the overall cost of ownership significantly beyond the cost of the initial car loan.
Recently, ratings for Ford cars and trucks were high, competing nicely with the Japanese brands that have dominated reliability for decades. For this year's ratings, Ford slipped from number 10 to number 20, which Consumer Reports attributed to the launch of the new Explorer, Fiesta and Focus models, which all had below-average reliability.
While cars often have reliability issues in their first year of production or right after a redesign, Ford's drop in the ratings is also due in part to problems with the new MyFord Touch "infotainment" system and the new auto-manual transmission used in the Fiesta and Focus.
Chrysler fared better in the ratings, with all three of its brands moving up. Jeep is the most reliable American brand, ranking 13, a jump of seven spots. Chrysler also experienced a jump in its score, but its rank is based only on two models, the 200, which scored very high, and the Town & Country minivan, which scored low. The new Chrysler 300 is too new for Consumer Reports to have sufficient data to rate it. Dodge jumped three spots in the survey.
Although General Motors saw an increase in its reliability ratings last year, this year it declined slightly overall. While the Chevrolet brand held its rank and GMC dropped just one spot, scores for both the Buick and Cadillac brands fell.
Overall, 64 percent of American car models rated average or better. Japanese models continue to set the bar for reliability with 96 percent receiving reliability scores of average or better and 24 of 91 Japanese models receiving the highest rating possible.
Consumer Reports calculates its annual reliability ratings using responses it gathers from 1.3 million car, truck and SUV owners each spring.
Tara Baukus Mello writes the cars blog as well as the weekly Driving for Dollars column, providing both practical financial advice for consumers as well as insight into the latest developments in the automotive world. Follow her on Facebook here or on Twitter @SheDrives.