How is Car Reliability Determined?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Images By: Nyky, Sachin Agarwal, Phrysphotos
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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Car reliability is determined by examining a variety of data about motor vehicles in order to figure out the frequency of problems for each make and model. Several different organizations release reliability ratings, but they all evaluate similar data. Some of the factors that are studied include the frequency of repair visits and complaints as well as the types of problems that vehicle owners experience. The car reliability predictions for both new and used car models are based on the rate of reported problems for previous years. When considering reliability ratings, it can be useful to review detailed reports to see what types of problems and repairs have been reported; some issues can be more serious and expensive to fix than others.

Usually car reliability ratings are determined by examining data about motor vehicle performance and the frequency of problems and repairs for each model being considered. Several different organizations compile and publish reliability ratings that consumers can consult while making car buying decisions. A few examples of these organizations include Consumer Reports, JD Power and Associates,, and Kelley Blue Book. In most cases, these ratings are available on the Internet and are often published in print as well.


To determine car reliability ratings, these organizations examine a variety of data from various sources. The precise combination varies for each group, but there are many of similarities. Generally the evaluators look at how often the car models require repair services and what type of work is necessary. They also consider how many instances of each specific complaint occurs for a particular sample size of cars, i.e., the number of engine problems per 100 cars for example. Each organization looks at a slightly different list of potential problems and gathers the data from various sources including car owners, repair shops, and parts suppliers.

Ratings of car reliability are usually available for new and used models of most vehicles and are based on the data from previous years. As long as the model hasn't had a major overhaul, it's possible to predict the reliability of a brand new car based on the data from prior years. When compiling ratings for used cars, organizations typically consider data from the specific model year and a few previous years. Consumers can consult the car reliability ratings as a tool to compare different vehicles when deciding which one to purchase. It can also be useful to look at detailed breakdowns of the types of problems a specific car model tends to have and avoid those vehicles that are prone to significant breakdowns and expensive repairs.


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