Cars and trucks set record for dependability in JD Power survey

Key Points
  • The dependability of cars and trucks shot up almost 10 percent to reach a record high, J.D. Power's annual survey finds.
  • Owners of 3-year-old vehicles showed a 9 percent drop in complaints, the survey says.
  • The gap between luxury and mass market car dependability narrowed.
A customer speaks on a mobile phone while passing a Lexus RX270 vehicle for sale inside a Lexus automobile dealership.
Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The dependability of cars and trucks shot up almost 10 percent to reach a record high, J.D. Power's annual survey found.

Of drivers who own 3-year-old vehicles, J.D. Power found a 9 percent drop in complaints.

"A 9 percent improvement is extremely impressive, and vehicle dependability is, without question, at its best level ever," said Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power.

On average, the survey found 142 problems per 100 vehicles. It is the first time in five years the number of reported issues had dropped. The survey of 36,896 original owners of 3-year-old models was conducted late last year.

While vehicles seem to be holding up better after three years of ownership, certain areas continue to problematic. For example, the number one complaint remains the audio, communications, entertainment and navigation systems. In particular, owners had issues with built-in voice recognition systems and Bluetooth connectivity.

"By far, this is the area that has the most complaints," said David Amodeo, a J.D. Power senior manager. "These systems are slowly improving, but they still have problems."

This year's survey also shows the gap in dependability between luxury and mass market brands is becoming smaller. For years, owners of luxury models have reported fewer issues with their 3-year-old cars and trucks. That's still the case, but the number of issues with mass market models is declining and not far from the average number of problems with luxury models.

For the second straight year, Lexus owners reported the fewest problems. Buick climbed one place, to number three, to finish as the highest-rated mass-market brand. Tesla was not ranked because of too few responses. Also notable is the improvement in dependability for Infiniti, which jumped from 29th in the 2017 survey to number four in 2018.

By comparison, Chrysler models plunged in the vehicle dependability, ranking dead last among the 31 brands in the survey. A Chrysler representative contacted by CNBC declined to comment on the survey.