Special Report

The Most and Least Dependable Cars in 2021

Motor vehicles have come a long way in dependability and safety since the first Ford Model T (widely considered to be the first mass-produced affordable car) rolled off a Detroit assembly line on October 1, 1908.

As recently as the 1970s, it was common for car owners to encounter major repair bills before hitting 100,000 miles on their odometers. Today, a standard, properly maintained and unabused car can drive double that distance without significant problems. (That doesn’t mean all current models are trouble-free. These new cars are the most likely to break down.)

The 2021 vehicle-dependability study by J.D. Power shows this trend in improved dependability continues for all types of luxury and non-luxury cars, SUVs, and light trucks sold in the United States, with Japanese and Korean automakers making a particularly strong showing, taking six places in the top ten. The study specifically called out Kia for showing considerable improvement over 2020.

Vehicle-segment leaders in the study include Volkswagen Beetle and Lexus ES compacts, Kia Optima and Genesis G80 mid-size sedans, Toyota Avalon full-size sedan, BMW 2 Series small sedan, and Chevrolet Camaro sports car. (These are the longest-lasting cars on the road.)

Click here to see the most and least dependable car brands in 2021.

All eight of the problem categories tracked by the study showed improvement, especially with exterior-related problems and issues with driving experience. However, only marginal improvement has been made to an ongoing issue in most passenger vehicles: their audio, communication, entertainment, and navigation systems. Simply put, automakers have thus far been unable to match the software and features found in modern smartphones.  

To determine the most and least dependable car brands, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 2021 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study by the data analytics and consumer intelligence firm J.D. Power. The study measures the number of problems per 100 vehicles experienced during the previous 12 months by original owners of three-year-old vehicles. The study covers 177 specific problems grouped into eight major vehicle categories: audio/communication/entertainment/navigation; engine/transmission; exterior; interior; features/controls/displays; driving experience; heating/ventilation/air conditioning; and seats. The lower the score the higher the dependability.