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Vehicles more dependable than ever, study says

Lexus, Porsche, Lincoln, and Toyota owners reported the fewest problems. Above, the Lexus IS 300h.

Paul Sancya /Associated Press/File 2013

Lexus, Porsche, Lincoln, and Toyota owners reported the fewest problems. Above, the Lexus IS 300h.

DETROIT — If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s your car.

Vehicles are more dependable than ever, says J.D. Power and Associates. The consulting firm’s latest study, which measures problems experienced in the last year by owners of three-year-old vehicles, found that reported problems fell 5 percent to the lowest level since J.D. Power began collecting this data in 1989.

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Lexus, Porsche, Lincoln, and Toyota owners reported the fewest problems; Jeep, Mitsubishi, Dodge, and Land Rover owners had the most.

Owners reported an average of 126 problems per 100 vehicles from the 2010 model year, down from 132 in last year’s survey. Problems can be anything from engine failure to excessive wind noise.

For the first time, cars and trucks that were new or redesigned for 2010 performed better than those that were unchanged from the 2009 model year. Owners of new models experienced 116 problems per 100 vehicles, compared with 133 for models that weren’t new in 2010. That challenges the conventional wisdom that it takes one or two model years to work out glitches in new cars.

‘‘The rapid improvement in fundamental vehicle dependability each year is more than offsetting any initial glitches that all-new or redesigned models may have,’’ said David Sargent, who leads J.D. Power’s global automotive operations.

Among the models that were new or redesigned in 2010 were the Ford Mustang, Buick LaCrosse, and Toyota Camry.

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Chrysler’s Ram brand — which introduced a new heavy-duty pickup in 2010 — saw one of the biggest leaps in the rankings. It rose to the 9th spot in 2013 from 29th last year. Suzuki and Mazda also jumped. Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion brand dropped 13 spots, and Cadillac, Audi, Volvo, and Mitsubishi all dropped 11 spots.

US-based brands continued to narrow the ‘‘dependability gap’’ with foreign brands. This year the gap fell to 10 problems per 100 vehicles. It was 13 problems in 2012 and 18 problems 2011, J.D. Power said.

For the third straight year, excessive wind noise was the top problem, said Raffi Festekjian, director of global automotive research operations. Noisy brakes came in second, and problems with chipping or fading paint were third, also for the third consecutive year.

But trouble with dashboard electronics is on the rise, especially in the premium segment. People reported wrong or missing directions in navigation systems, and voice-recognition software that doesn’t recognize commands. The voice problem made the top 10 for the first time.

In J.D. Power’s study last year, owners reported more problems with audio, entertainment, and navigation systems than with any other feature.

This year’s study found the Toyota Prius was the most reliable small car and the Hyundai Sonata was the most reliable mid-size car. The Toyota RAV4 was the highest-ranked small SUV and the Chevrolet Tahoe was the most reliable big SUV. The Lexus RX mid-size SUV had the fewest problems of any vehicle, at 57 per 100.

Sargent said the results should give buyers more confidence in older vehicles, whether they’re keeping their current car or shopping for a used one.

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