2006 Buick LaCrosse (© General Motors)Click to enlarge picture

With the fewest number of problems in the midsize car segment, the LaCrosse helped move Buick to the top of the J.D. Power and Associates Vehicle Dependability Study.

For the first time in more than a decade, Lexus is no longer at the top of the J.D. Power and Associates Vehicle Dependability Study, having been bested by both Buick and Jaguar.

With many consumers experiencing economic hardships, vehicle dependability has become even more important to car buyers. “In the current economic climate, consumers are delaying new-vehicle purchases and keeping their vehicles longer. The average age of a vehicle at trade-in has increased to 73 months in 2009 from 65 months in 2006,” says David Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates. “This makes vehicle dependability even more critical.”

The 2009 study has Buick and Jaguar tied for the top spot. This is a considerable improvement for both brands — Buick moved up from sixth place in 2008 while Jaguar jumped from the 10th spot. Lexus follows in third place, with Toyota and Mercury rounding out the top five.

View Pictures:  Most Dependable Vehicles

“Buick has ranked among the top 10 nameplates each year since the study was last redesigned in 2003, while Jaguar has moved rapidly up the rankings,” says Sargent. “Lexus remains a very strong competitor in long-term quality. In particular, the Lexus LS 460 sets the industry standard for dependability, with fewer problems reported than any other model in the study.”

The study’s rankings are based on the number of problems experienced by original owners of three-year-old (2006 model year) vehicles. For 2009, J.D. Power has redesigned the study to include 202 different problem symptoms across all areas of the vehicle. Overall dependability is ranked by the level of problems experienced per 100 vehicles (PP100); a lower score reflects better reliability.

How important is dependability when making your vehicle purchase decision?

While the changes in the study for 2009 make it impossible to compare actual numbers from previous years, dependability on average has increased between 8 and 10 percent, according to Neal Oddes, director of product research and analysis at J.D. Power and Associates. Oddes told MSN Autos that J.D. Power has seen this sort of improvement every year since 2003.

Suzuki holds the dishonor of earning the highest score of 263 PP100. Land Rover held that position for the last three years, but moved up two positions from the bottom in 2009.

J.D. Power also found that vehicles with a lower instance of problems or need for component replacement garner stronger loyalty. According to the study, just 11 percent of customers who had to replace engine components intend to purchase or lease another vehicle of the same make, compared with nearly 40 percent among owners who report replacing no components.

Breakdown by Vehicle Segment
Buick may have led the list of most dependable brands overall, but it only topped one category in the individual vehicle segment rankings, with the Buick LaCrosse capturing most dependable midsize car. Sadly, it is also the only model from General Motors to receive top honors.

Ford (including Lincoln and Mercury) led four of the segments with the Mercury Grand Marquis (large car), Lincoln Zephyr (entry premium vehicle), Ford Ranger (midsize pickup) and Lincoln Mark LT (large premium multi-activity vehicle).

Chrysler topped the van segment with the Dodge Caravan.

For years, Toyota has dominated the individual segment rankings. This year is no different, as the Japanese automaker holds the top spot in 10 of the 19 segments. Of those 10, Toyota-branded vehicles led five segments with the Toyota Prius (compact car), Toyota Camry Solara (midsize sporty car), Toyota Highlander (midsize multi-activity vehicle), Toyota Sequoia (large multi-activity vehicle) and Toyota Tundra (large pickup). Toyota’s premium marque, Lexus, led an additional four segments while the Scion xA ranked the highest in the subcompact car segment.

Top Vehicles by Segment

Sub-Compact Car
Scion xA

Compact Car
Toyota Prius*

Compact Sporty Car
Mazda Miata*

Midsize Sporty Car
Toyota Camry Solara

Midsize Car
Buick LaCrosse

Large Car
Mercury Grand Marquis

Compact Premium Sporty Car
Nissan 350Z

Entry Premium Car
Lincoln Zephyr

Midsize Premium Car
Lexus ES 330*(tie)
Acura RL (tie)

Large Premium Car
Lexus LS 430*

Premium Sporty Car
Lexus SC 430*

Compact Multi-Activity Vehicle
Honda Element*

Midsize Multi-Activity Vehicle
Toyota Highlander*

Large Multi-Activity Vehicle
Toyota Sequoia*

Large Pickup
Toyota Tundra*

Midsize Pickup
Ford Ranger*

Van
Dodge Caravan

Midsize Premium Multi-Activity Vehicle
Lexus GX 470*

Large Premium Multi-Activity Vehicle
Lincoln Mark LT

The 2009 Vehicle Dependability Study is based on responses from more than 46,000 original owners of 2006 model-year vehicles. The study was fielded in October 2008.

Top 10 Nameplates (by PP100)
1. Buick122
2. Jaguar122
3. Lexus126
4. Toyota129
5. Mercury134
6. Infiniti142
7. Acura146
8. Lincoln147
9. Cadillac148
10. Honda148

Source: J.D. Power and Associates 2009 Vehicle Dependability Study
*Repeat winners

Perry Stern's automotive career began 18 years ago as an advisor at a vehicle consulting firm. One of the original staff members of CarPoint, Microsoft's automotive Web site that launched in 1995, he became editor of the site in 2002, which is now known as MSN Autos. Stern has also contributed to MSNBC and various MSN properties in Canada, Japan and Europe. 

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