Consumer Reports is no longer recommending Tesla's Model S and is panning the reliability of the new Model Y.
The Consumer Reports' annual Auto Reliability Survey, released Thursday, also dropped a Toyota brand from No. 1 for the first time in 15 years, although the Japanese automaker's vehicles maintained high reliability scores overall.
Tesla's Model S had problems with its air suspension and main computer and touchscreen controls, according to Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. The Model Y had body hardware and paint problems, he said.
Consumer Reports in 2015 ranked the Model S as its top-rated vehicle ever. Now, Fisher said, "We see a variety of problems on that car. It's wavered throughout its life cycle" as Tesla has consistently updated the Model S, which was introduced in 2012.
Typically older models fare better in reliability as companies tend to address problems as the vehicles age, but Tesla has continued to update the cars without much change to their exteriors, including over-the-air, or remote, software updates — an emerging trend in the auto industry led by Tesla.
Overall, Tesla ranked second to last in the reliability study. It was down two spots from a year ago due to the issues identified in the Model S and the Model Y, which went on sale earlier this year. The Model Y has "well below average reliability," the publication said.
In a recent, widely reported incident, the glass roof flew off of one owner's brand new Tesla Model Y.
Many of the problems identified by Consumer Reports have been ongoing for Tesla. The company notified owners of older Model S and Model X vehicles that Tesla will some refunds for repairs if the owner previously had to pay out of pocket to fix a problem in their main computers. That problem manifested as a blank touchscreen, and drivers losing access to temperature controls, rear view cameras and other glitches. It was related to memory-device failures in the computer that stores data from the vehicle.
After Tesla sent that notice to owners, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expanded a safety probe into the issues with the main computers in Model S and Model X vehicles made from 2012 to early 2018. Depending on results of the engineering analysis, the federal probe could prompt a mandatory recall that goes beyond Tesla's warranty adjustment. According to NHTSA documents, approximately 159,000 vehicles may have been effected.
Consumer Reports' Jake Fisher said, "We continue to recommend many reliable EVs such as the Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf, and Hyundai Kona Electric that have lower operating costs than traditional gas-powered vehicles. The initial problems we are seeing in some of the latest EVs are still covered under warranty and may improve over time. We will continue to monitor the reliability and costs of EVs over the long term as more models hit the market."
Of the 26 brands ranked in the Consumer Reports reliability survey, Japanese automakers fared the best.
For the first time, the Japanese brand Mazda ranked at the top of the nonprofit organization's reliability list. Toyota vehicles ranked second and third. Toyota products had always topped the reliability rankings since the survey began in 2005, Consumer Reports said.
Buick, Honda and Hyundai were No. 4-6 on this year's reliability list. Ford Motor's Lincoln brand, down 11 spots from a year ago, ranked last in the study, behind Tesla.
The survey, which covers the 2000-2020 model years, is based on data collected from owners of more than 300,000 vehicles. The nonprofit then assigns a predicted new-vehicle reliability score to various nameplates based on their amount of reported problems and other measures.
The reliability rating is a key element to Consumer Reports' overall score of a vehicle and whether or not it's "recommended" for consumers. The overall score also includes road-test performance, owner satisfaction survey results, whether a vehicle comes with key safety systems, and results from crash tests, if applicable.
Here are the ratings:
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that this was the first year for the Model Y ranking in the list and the Model S fell in its standing.