The Toyota Prius is one of the most complained-about vehicles, while two Kia models, the Forte and Soul, are the least. Eight of the top 10 vehicles with the highest complaint rates come from domestic brands, while seven of the top 10 vehicles with the lowest complaint rates are imports.

To determine which models and brands owners complain about the most, iSeeCars.com analyzed nearly 500,000 safety-related complaints across 400 models reported by vehicle owners to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). To level the playing field between cars with differing popularity, iSeeCars.com calculated a complaint rate based on the number of new cars sold.

 

Top 10 Models with the Highest Safety Complaint Rates

Rank Model Complaints per 10k Cars Sold
1 Chrysler 300 66.7
2 Jeep Grand Cherokee 63.6
3 Chrysler Town & Country 63.3
4 Jeep Wrangler 60.9
5 Toyota Prius 51.4
6 Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan 49.6
7 Ford Edge 49.2
8 Dodge Charger 48.1
9 Ford Fusion 42.4
10 Nissan Murano 38.5
Average for All Vehicles 26.8

Note: Models with less than 750,000 unit sales from 2005-2016 were excluded

The top 10 most owner reported models have safety complaint rates far above the overall average of 26.8 complaints per 10,000 cars sold. Overall, models from domestic brands make up eight of the top 10 models with the highest safety complaint rates. Surprisingly, the Toyota Prius has the fifth highest complaint rate.  Owners filed complaints about exterior lighting, brake problems, and issues with acceleration, particular with the 2006 and 2010 model years. Forty eight percent of the Prius’ complaints come from those categories, and some of these reports regarding sudden uncontrolled acceleration and failing brakes ultimately led to highly-publicized recalls for Toyota.

The Chrysler 300 has the highest complaint rate at 66.7 complaints per 10,000 cars, 2.5 times higher than the average. Electrical problems make up 18 percent of owner reported problems, such as the car not starting or stalling while driving, dashboard gauges failing and exploding alternators. The popular Jeep Wrangler, fourth on the list, received many complaints about its fuel system—consisting of 17 percent of all Wrangler complaints–such as gas spraying out from the fill neck when the tank was being filled.

The top 10 least complained about models are dominated by seven import brands. Surprisingly, two Kia models, Forte and Soul, are ranked in the top two positions. “These two models are a testament to how far the brand has come since its introduction in the U.S. and its days of massive quality issues,” said Phong Ly, iSeeCars.com CEO.  Both the Forte and Soul have received recognition for being high quality compact vehicles.

 

Top 10 Models with the Lowest Safety Complaint Rates*

Rank Manufacturer Complaints per 10k Cars Sold
1 Kia Forte 3.5
2 Kia Soul 6.5
3 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 6.5
4 GMC Sierra 1500 8.6
5 Nissan Sentra 9.3
6 Ford F-150 9.3
7 Subaru Forester 9.4
8 Lexus RX 10.6
9 Toyota 4Runner 10.8
10 Nissan Rogue 11.1
Average for All Vehicles 26.8

 

The domestic vehicles on the list of models with the lowest complaint rates are all full-size pickups from General Motors and Ford.  The Chevrolet Silverado 1500 has received reliability and quality awards for being the best truck (the GMC Sierra 1500 is mechanically the same vehicle), and similarly the Ford F-150 has also won multiple best-in-segment awards.

The trucks’ presence on the list of lowest complaint rates is also partly reflected in the fact that the pick- up truck segment is far less complained about than average. Of the three broad categories of pickup trucks, SUVs/CUVs/minivans, and passenger cars, trucks have an average of 12.9 complaints per 10,000 cars. ”Trucks are often used as work vehicles, which typically get regular maintenance and are better taken care of than other vehicles, which may explain why they have fewer problems,” said Ly. “Another angle to consider is that because pickups are often used as work vehicles, they could be driven by someone other than the owner. As a result, if the driver of the truck notices a problem with the vehicle but isn’t the owner, he’s more likely to take it up with his boss rather than report it directly to NHTSA.”

 

Average Safety Complaint Rates by Vehicle Category

Category Complaints per 10k Cars Sold
Pickup Trucks 12.9
Average All Vehicles 26.8
Passenger Cars 27.5
SUVs/CUVs/Minivans 31.9

 

Brands with the Highest and Lowest Complaint Rates

At the brand level, those logging the most safety complaints are more varied. Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep, which all have vehicles in the Top 10 Models with the Highest Complaint Rates – all rank high on this list.

Interestingly, Tesla ranks third at the brand level. Even though it’s only a year old, the Tesla Model X actually has the highest complaint rate of all the models we studied that are currently in production, at 27.9 complaints per 1,000 cars.  Eighteen percent of the Model X’s complaints involve vehicle speed control. And while its very high rate of complaints drags down the brand’s average, the Model S also had a high rate of safety complaints at 42.2 complaints per 10,000 cars. Thirty one percent of all complaints reported by Model S owners are about suspension problems.

 

Top 10 Brands with the Highest Safety Complaint Rates

Rank Brand Complaints per 10k Cars Sold
1 Jeep 57.1
2 Chrysler 57.0
3 Tesla 49.8
4 Dodge 49.6
5 Mini 46.5
6 Jaguar 36.6
7 Volkswagen 31.7
8 Fiat 31.4
9 Smart 31.2
10 BMW 28.5
Average for All Vehicles 26.8

 

Brands with the least safety complaints are also notably those that often top reliability lists. Ly explained, “Our study focused only on safety complaints to NHTSA, which required the owner or someone like a dealer or mechanic to submit the complaint on the NHTSA website. This is an important distinction because these complaints indicate a problem severe enough for someone to take the time to seek out the appropriate channel and report what they perceive to be a safety issue.”

The top ten brands with the lowest safety complaint rates are all import brands, with Ram being the lone domestic. “This seems to be largely driven by the fact that pickup trucks overall have far fewer complaints as a category, and Ram is a truck-only brand,” said Ly.

 

Top 10 Brands with the Lowest Safety Complaint Rates

Rank Brand Complaints per 10k Cars Sold
1 Porsche 11.1
2 Subaru 14.1
3 Lexus 14.2
4 Land Rover 15.2
5 Volvo 15.3
6 Kia 15.6
7 Acura 16.0
8 Honda 16.9
9 Ram 17.1
10 Mitsubishi 17.7
Average for All Vehicles 26.8

 

“It’s important for all consumers to use NHTSA’s system to file a complaint when they feel  that their safety is compromised in their cars,” said Ly. “These complaints are often the impetus for NHTSA to open an investigation, which may lead to a recall, and can often prevent collisions, not to mention save lives. Even if complaints don’t lead to a recall, owners still may get their repairs completed for free. For example, the large number of complaints about the Toyota Prius headlight issue, where headlights were consistently failing despite frequent repairs and replacements, did not result in a recall, but it did lead to a settlement where affected owners were reimbursed for the costs associated with the problem.”

Ly noted, “Filing a complaint is easy and every complaint is reviewed by NHTSA. Simply complete the Vehicle Safety Complaint form at the NHTSA website.”

 

Methodology

iSeeCars.com analyzed vehicle complaints from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s database of Consumer Complaints for cars from model years 2005-2016. The number of complaints for each model were normalized by the number of new car sales for the model from 2005-2016. This resulting complaint rate was then multiplied by 10,000 to express the rate as the number of complaints per 10,000 cars sold. The complaints and sales were also aggregated at the brand and vehicle category level. For the Top 10 Models with the Highest and Lowest Complaint Rates lists, only models with at least 750,000 unit sales which were still active as of the 2016 model year were included in the final list. For the Top 10 Brands with the Highest and Lowest Complaint Rates lists, all brands which were still actively producing new cars as of the 2016 model year were included.

NHTSA collects “Vehicle Safety Complaints” submitted by consumers, and has maintained a database of these complaints since January 1, 1995. According to the NHTSA website, NHTSA reviews “each report that suggests a potential safety defect involving groups of motor vehicles or vehicle equipment”, and if they decide through subsequent investigation that a safety defect exists in a vehicle, will issue a recall on the vehicle. NHTSA neither validates nor invalidates the complaints in the database.

* The Kia Soul received 6.48 complaints per 10k cars, while the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 received 6.49. The Nissan Sentra received 9.27 complaints per 10k cars, whilel the Ford F-150 received 9.30.

About iSeeCars.com

iSeeCars.com is an automotive data and research company that helps consumers find the best car deals by providing key insights and guidance. It turns new and used car shopping on its head by applying big data analytics powered by over 25 billion (and growing) data points and using proprietary algorithms to objectively analyze, score and rank millions of cars and thousands of dealers. Based in the Boston area, iSeeCars.com was founded by former TripAdvisor and SAP developers and executives determined to improve the car shopping experience for consumers.

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