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    J.D. Power dependability survey is out, but you shouldn't depend on it


    J.D. Power has just released its latest automotive dependability survey, which of course has usual suspects Buick and Lexus ranking high. Those are safe and solid findings, surely. But when you look a little closer, there are curiosities. Our Consumer Editor, Jeremy Korzeniewski, offered an explanation a couple of years back for why this survey should be viewed with a degree of skepticism, and his take is worth a re-read.

    The thing that jumped out at Jeremy was the relatively low spots assigned to Mazda, Subaru and Scion and among the ranking of makes. Back in 2016 when he wrote his piece, they were ranked 21st, 23rd and 24th respectively. In this year's survey, Mazda ranks 15th and Subaru 26th, both below the industry average of 142 reported problems per 100 vehicles. (And Scion, of course, is in car-brand heaven.)

    Now, part of what is going on here is surely the fact that all automotive brands are producing dependable vehicles for the most part, so the degree of variance between the best and worst on the list is not as great as it once was. "For the most part, automotive manufacturers continue to meet consumers' vehicle dependability expectations," Dave Sargent, a J.D. Power vice president, said in a statement. "A 9 percent improvement is extremely impressive, and vehicle dependability is, without question, at its best level ever."

    That said, when a brand like Subaru, long regarded as mechanically bulletproof, ranks 26th, it leaves people who know cars scratching their heads. Something there does not compute.

    The problem, as Jeremy pointed out, is one of methodology: When he wrote his piece, there was no weighting assigned to the problems reported in the survey. And that still appears to be the case. Therefore, a problem with an infotainment system or a loose piece of trim is deemed as serious as a blown engine or leaky transmission. (And yes, infotainment is still the biggest problem across the board.) Jeremy's point: If the categories of problems were weighted, you'd get a really different picture.

    When you look at the Consumer Reports brand rankings (subscription required), you get a very different picture. in CR's rankings, Subaru is No. 6 among brands, which, well, sounds a lot more like it. CR singles out the redesigned 2017 Impreza as a car with a few new-model problems. (The BRZ had the fewest.) The two surveys jibe a little more closely when it comes to Mazda, which CR ranks 12th, a drop of six places. There, the CX-9 is the model with the most issues.

    The pools of those surveyed are different — J.D. Power asks those who've owned a vehicle for three years, while CR's survey is limited to 400,000 owners of 640,000 vehicles with no restriction on length of ownership. But they are CR subscribers, presumably a discriminating bunch.

    And keep in mind that these are satisfacton surveys, meaning human feelings and biases come into play. For example, Lexus and Porsche are great cars and surely deserve the high rankings they receive. But if you spent Lexus or Porsche money, a self-fulfilling prophecy might come into play: The car you paid dearly for is worth every penny.

    The bottom line here is this: J.D. Power, which probably irrelevantly is owned now by Chinese investors, does a lot of surveys and hands out a lot of awards (so many that they must have their own bronze-and-lucite manufacturing facility). CR has a robust car testing and rating program. There are many sources for automotive information, including Autoblog's reviews and buyer pages. Rankings and lists are fun to read. Just cross-reference your information.

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