New car owners still struggling with technology

The 2014 Chevrolet Malibu.


New car owners reported more quality problems than a year ago in the annual J.D. Power Initial Quality Study. As in recent years, the biggest issue was using new technology -- especially voice recognition, cell phone connection and audio systems.

The survey of 86,000 car buyers about problems in their first 90 days of ownership found these problems were especially troublesome in new or redesigned models. While trying to introduce new technology that buyers want, "Almost all automakers are struggling to do this flawlessly," says David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. "Some consumers are indicating that the technology is hard to understand, difficult to use or simply does not always work as designed."

Problems associated with harsh winter weather also added to complaints by owners in the North and East. These problems centered on the heating system, engine and transmission and exterior body. In severe cold, "Heating and ventilation systems have more to do, engines and transmissions aren't as smooth when cold and exterior moldings and paint all take some punishment," says Sargent. "Consumers generally understand this but still report problems when their vehicle does not wholly live up to their expectations."

GM has most model winners

In the Power rankings of individual models, General Motors had six winners -- the most of any manufacturer for the second year in a row. GM winners were Buick Encore, Chevrolet Malibu, Chevrolet Silverado HD, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Terrain and GMC Yukon.

In overall brand rankings, Porsche repeated as the winner, followed by Jaguar, Lexus, Hyundai and Toyota. Chevrolet was sixth and Lincoln 10th -- the only two Detroit-based brands in the top ten. However, among other Detroit brands, Chrysler, Cadillac, Ford and GMC all ranked above average. Buick and Dodge ranked below average. Chrysler Group's Jeep was next-to-to-last of the 32 brands ranked.

The study also found that problems with a new car can affect how loyal that owner is to the same brand when buying another car a few years later. Of those who reported no problems, 57 percent of owners stayed with the same brand. With one problem, it slipped slightly to 53 percent. But with two or more problems, that loyalty rate dropped to 48 percent.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.