In what could turn out to be a stunning reversal for the auto industry, late-model used cars have gotten less dependable for the first time since 1998, according to J.D. Power's Vehicle Dependability Study.

The widely watched report card on how well cars hold up over time says owners of three-year-old vehicles (2011 models) reported 6% more troubles than owners of three-year-old vehicles (2010 models) did last year.

Power says it's the first time quality has declined since the 1998 survey.

Brand rankings and a list of category winners follow this story.

Automakers, especially the Detroit Three, are striving to convince buyers that quality is continuing to rise and that their vehicles will run a long time without problems.

A Honda TV ad, for example, shows a proud Dad pointing out to his blase daughter that the car just hit 100,000 miles. And Chevrolet's tag line asserts that its trucks are the longest-lasting, most-dependable.

But such claims will become hard to swallow if the latest Power VDS isn't simply a hiccup, but instead shows the start of annually declining dependability.

That's possible. Problems that showed up in the 2014 VDS suggest a continuing challenge for car companies in maintaining quality as vehicles age, said David Sargent, Power's global automotive vice president.

Some of the changes that automakers implemented for the 2011 model year have led to a noticeable increase in problems reported, he said.

Biggest contributor to the decline: engine and transmission issues. Those accounted for nearly 6 of the 7 additional problems per 100 vehicles reported in this year's study.

The 2011 models had 133 problems per 100 cars, while a year earlier, 2010 models had 126 problems per 100.

Among engines/transmissions, The decline in quality is particularity acute for vehicles with four-cylinder engines, Power reports.

In the move to smaller engines as a way to boost fuel economy to meet federal regulations tightening to an average 54.5 mpg in 2026, automakers have saddled drivers with engine hesitation, rough transmission shifts and lack of power.

Building new cars and trucks that remain largely free of troubles is worth repeat sales to automakers. Power data show that 56% of owners who reported no problems stayed with the same brand next time they bought a new car or truck.

Too, shoppers are much more likely to avoid models from brands with low dependability rankings, Power data show.

The survey is based on responses from more than 41,000 original owners of three-year old vehicles.

It is different from Power's Initial Quality Study, or IQS. That measures the number of things gone wrong with new vehicles during the first 90 days of ownership.

The VDS scores gives brands overall scores -- Lexus was by far the best -- and also breaks out the results into segments based on size and type of vehicle.

General Motors was segment champ, tops in eight. Toyota won seven.

Brand scores: The number indicates problems per 100 cars for 2011 models; lower is better.

  • Lexus (68)
  • Mercedes-Benz (104)
  • Cadillac (107)
  • Acura (109)
  • Buick (112)
  • Honda (114)
  • Lincoln (114)
  • Toyota (114)
  • Porsche (125)
  • Infiniti (128)
  • BMW (130)
  • Subaru (131)
  • Chevrolet (132)
  • Jaguar (132)
  • Mazda (132)
  • GMC (133)
  • Ford (140)
  • Nissan (142)
  • Audi (151)
  • Kia (151)
  • Volvo (152)
  • Scion (153)
  • Chrysler (155)
  • Volkswagen (158)
  • Ram (165)
  • Mitsubishi (166)
  • Hyundai (169)
  • Jeep (178)
  • Land Rover (179)
  • Dodge (181)
  • Mini (185)

Segment winners: Top three 2011 models in each category, starting with best.

Subcompact car

  • Honda Fit
  • Kia Rio
  • Nissan Versa

Compact car

  • Chevrolet Volt
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Honda Civic

Premium compact car

  • Lexus ES
  • Lexus IS
  • Lincoln MKZ

Sporty compact car

  • Mini Cooper
  • (No others scored high enough to include.)

Midsize car

  • Toyota Camry
  • Buick LaCrosse
  • Honda Accord

Sporty midsize car

  • Chevrolet Camaro
  • (No others high enough to include)

Premium midsize car

  • Lexus GS
  • Mercedes-Benz E-class
  • Lincoln MKS

Large car

  • Buick Lucerne
  • Toyota Avalon
  • Ford Taurus

Premium large car

  • (tie) Cadillac DTS, Lexus LS

Subcompact crossover SUV

  • Honda Element
  • Jeep Patriot
  • Kia Sportage

Compact crossover SUV

  • Honda CR-V
  • Toyota FJ Cruiser
  • Toyota RAV4

Premium compact crossover SUV

  • Acura RDX
  • Mercedes-Benz GLK
  • (No others high enough to include)

Compact multi-purpose vehicle

  • Scion xB
  • Kia Soul
  • (No others high enough to include)

Midsize crossover SUV

  • Honda Crosstour
  • Toyota 4Runner
  • Nissan Murano

Premium midsize crossover SUV

  • Lexus RX
  • Lexus GX
  • (tie) Acura MDX, Mercedes-Benz M-class

Midsize pickup

  • Honda Ridgeline
  • Ford Ranger
  • GMC Canyon


  • Toyota Sienna
  • (No others high enough to include)

Large SUV

  • GMC Yukon
  • Chevrolet Tahoe
  • Toyota Sequoia

Premium large SUV

  • Cadillac Escalade
  • Mercedes-Benz GL

Fullsize pickup, standard duty

  • GMC Sierra
  • Toyota Tundra
  • Chevrolet Avalanche

Fullsize pickup, heavy duty

  • GMC Sierra HD
  • Chevrolet Silverado HD
  • (No others high enough to include)
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