For the first time since CarMD began ranking vehicle manufacturers, Honda ranks as the top automaker with the most reliable cars that have low repair frequency and costs.
Honda barely beat out the 2013 winner, Hyundai, with a 2014 CarMD Index Score of 1.32, compared to 1.33 by Hyundai. The lower the score, the higher the reliability ranking, based on percentage of repair incidents for “check engine”-related failures and lowest cost per repair, and on the number of registered vehicles on the road. This is the fourth year of the rankings, which were released Dec. 3.
Toyota was ranked third, followed by GM and Ford. New to this year’s list of 10 most reliable manufacturers are Mazda at No. 9 and BMW at No. 10, beating out Mitsubishi and Volkswagen, which dropped off the list.
The top 10 automakers
Here’s the ranking of the top 10 most reliable carmakers, followed by their average repair costs and overall 2014 index ranking:
- Honda: $388.34, 1.32 rating.
- Hyundai: $306.63, 1.33.
- Toyota: $486.93, 1.48.
- GM: $329.82, 1.80.
- Ford: $397.48, 1.84.
- Chrysler: $303.38, 2.11.
- Kia: $365.89, 2.52.
- Nissan: $470.39, 2.53.
- Mazda: $302.92, 2.64.
- BMW: $355.08, 3.00.
A top ranking doesn’t mean that the average repair cost is cheap. The ranking is also based on the number of repairs. Toyota, for example, has a high average repair cost, but it still ranks high because it has a lot of cars on the road that aren’t taken into repair shops often, says Kristin Brocoff, a spokeswoman for CarMD, a provider of car repair data.
Repair costs up nationwide
The report cites the national average for auto repair labor costs increased 13 percent in 2013, and parts costs jumped 3 percent, for an overall increase of 6.7 percent to $392.49 for the average repair.
Of the top 10 manufacturers, Mazda had the lowest average repair cost at $302.92. Toyota had the highest at $486.93, though its average repair cost dropped 10 percent from $540.53 the previous year.
Toyota’s repair costs were so high partly because its cars are on the road for so many years and need new catalytic converters or transmissions, Brocoff says. New batteries for the Toyota Prius — at $3,000 — also add to Toyota repair costs.
But don’t let Toyota’s ranking convince you that it’s an expensive car to own. Of the top 10 car models with the fewest and cheapest repairs, Toyota had four spots. The 2012 Toyota Camry was the best, with an average repair cost of $57. The 2011 Toyota Camry was ranked fourth at $153 in average repairs, and the 2010 Prius ranked ninth with $611 in average repairs.
Most common repairs
For Toyota, the most common “check engine” light repair was replacing the catalytic converter, which cost $1,284 in parts and labor and made up almost 12 percent of repairs for Toyota.
It was followed by replacing the oxygen sensor at $303 for 10 percent of repairs, replacing the mass air flow sensor at $362 for 6 percent of repairs, replacing air/fuel ratio sensor at $341 for 4 percent of repairs, and inspecting a loose fuel cap for free in 4 percent of repairs.
“We definitely see where transmissions and catalytic converters are involved, it can drive costs up,” Brocoff says of repairs for all types of cars.
The 10 most common check engine light repairs for 2013, listed by type, average repair cost and percentage of check engine light repairs, are:
- Replace oxygen sensor: $261, 7.55%.
- Inspect gas cap: 11 cents, 7.17%.
- Replace catalytic converter: $1,154, 6.10%.
- Replace spark plugs and wires: $361, 3.35%.
- Replace mass airflow sensor: $423, 3.35%.
- Replace ignition coil: $250, 3%.
- Replace ignition coil and spark plugs: $420, 2.89%.
- Replace battery/charging system: $110, 2.54%.
- Replace exhaust gas recirculation valve and clean ports: $351, 2.32%.
- 10. Replace vacuum hoses: $122, 2.22%.
Some vehicles have common failures. Mitsubishi had 17 percent of its repairs for replacing the oxygen sensor, which is the most common repair at 7.55 percent of all check engine light repairs last year. O2 sensors measure the amount of burned oxygen in the exhaust and tell a car’s computer when there is either too much or not enough fuel as compared with oxygen for ideal operation. If not repaired, the car’s gas mileage can drop by as much as 40 percent.
Other high percentages of repairs for cars were “replace ignition coil” in 18 percent of Lincoln vehicles, an replacing the catalytic converter in 19 percent of Subaru’s check engine trips to repair shops.
The CarMD data was collected from thousands of Automotive Service Excellence, or ASE, certified technicians. The 2013 index analyzed more than 40,400 repairs from model year 2004 to 2014 vehicles between Oct. 1, 2013 and Sept. 30, 2014. Other data was downloaded by mechanics from each vehicle’s government-mandated onboard diagnostic computer.