As automakers move faster toward smarter cars and trucks with more electronics and connectivity, car owners are saying many of those high-tech features fail to work on a regular basis.
In fact, J.D. Power’s 2016 Vehicle Dependability Study found a 3 percent decline in the reliability of cars and trucks after three years of ownership, with an average 152 problems per 100 vehicles.
That represents the second time in the three years that vehicle dependability has dropped.
“There’s no doubt the problems people are finding with their vehicles have increased,” said Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive quality at J.D. Power. “You can tell the consumer is frustrated.”
How frustrated? J.D. Power surveyed more than 33,000 owners of 2013 models, and their comments ranged from issues about spotty navigation systems to poor connectivity.
“I stopped using it completely because it was a big pain …. to scream at people while I was driving,” one owner wrote in their survey response.
“I would speak commands, it responded with something else. I ended up giving up,” another person told J.D. Power.
The comments and poor scores highlight a major problem for automakers, dealers and technology companies that have targeted the auto industry for growth. Over the last five years, millions of Americans have bought new cars and trucks, in part because those vehicles came with the promise of letting people stay connected while driving.
“Their expectations are based on everyday experiences with their smartphones where they work in lots of different areas, but in some vehicles, they don’t work,” Stephens said.
Still, there were some bright spots. For the first time in the 27 years J.D. Power has been tracking the dependability of vehicles after three years of ownership, a nonluxury model has been deemed most reliable.
According to J.D. Power, the 2013 Buick Verano had just 77 problems per 100 vehicles, the fewest number for any 3-year-old model in the survey.
“The fit and finish of the Verano is excellent, and it shows given how few complaints we saw from owners,” Stephens said.
The title validates moves by General Motors management to dramatically improve the quality of its vehicles after emerging from bankruptcy.
Most Reliable 2013 Models, per J.D. Power
1. Buick Verano (77 problems per 100 vehicles)
2. Lexus ES, Nissan Murano (83 problems per 100 vehicles)
3. Chevy Equinox (85 problems per 100 vehicles)
4. BMW 1 Series, Porsche 911, Porsche Boxter, Toyota Corolla (90 problems per 100 vehicles)
When GM went through bankruptcy in 2009, many in the auto industry were skeptical the country’s largest automaker could improve the reliability of its cars and trucks. In 2015, sales of Buick brand vehicles fell 2.9 percent while industry sales were up 5.4 percent.
Overall, the study paints a troubling picture of the reliability of certain brand vehicles, most notably Ford and Dodge.
Ford, which had the second-worst score in the 2016 survey with 204 problems per 100 vehicles, has been a big proponent of in-car connectivity with its Sync infotainment system. The system has been incorporated by millions of Ford buyers since the first version of Sync came out in 2007.
“The current Vehicle Dependability Study results relate to specific issues encountered more than three years ago and we have been making significant progress to address them,” Ford told CNBC in a statement. “We have been directly responding to customer feedback, and rapidly implement solutions to improve quality and enhance the user experience.”
Meanwhile, Dodge ranking dead last in reliability, with 208 problems per 100 vehicles, is another blow to the brands run by Fiat Chrysler. On Tuesday, Consumer Reports ranked Jeep as the second-worst brand in its annual top picks of autos. Fiat Chrysler declined to comment on the J.D. Power study.
Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.