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Survey Raps Infotainment Systems

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Consumer Reports reliability rating calls in-car electronics an “Achilles' heel.”

Now hear this. A lot of vehicle audio and infotainment systems don’t work right, according to a Consumer Reports annual reliability study.

Based on a survey involving 1.1 million vehicles, CR calls faulty in-car electronics an “Achilles' heel for many vehicle models.”

Audio and infotainment problems dominate new-car reliability problems, Jake Fisher, CR’s auto-test director, says at an Automotive Press Assn. gathering in Detroit.

Some brands did better than others. Audi, BMW, Lexus and Chrysler infotainment systems ranked relatively trouble-free. Ford, Honda and Cadillac systems didn’t.

Curiously, the system in Chevrolets gets better ratings than the one in upscale Cadillacs. That’s richly ironic.  

Reliability complaints ranged from systems not working as intended to functions not working at all. Bugs include screen freezes, touch-control lags and difficulties in synching a smartphone connection or recognizing a voice command.

Younger car owners more often beefed about malfunctions. That doesn’t mean they’re cry babies or that older people lucked out and ended up with better equipment.

Fisher thinks it’s because young people are more likely to use, or try to use, systems to their fullest. In contrast, elders aren’t apt to drill down to advanced-function levels. They may just want to pre-set the oldies radio station.

“Older infotainment users are more likely to have confusion issues,” Fisher says. “Younger ones complain about performance.” The reliability ratings are based on equipment misfires, not owner head-scratching. “It’s not a question of something being complicated to use.”

Things are bad when dealership sales trainers such as Tony Dupaquier say a good way to pitch vehicle extended-service contracts is to cite the chances of an infotainment-system breakdown.

Automakers don’t make car parts, components or systems. They buy those from suppliers. So if CR names names when it comes to lousy infotainment systems, shouldn’t suppliers get called out, not automakers?

I ask that of Fisher. No, he replies. “It’s the automakers that decide which system to use, weighing such issues as costs and supplier expertise.”

Maybe he’s right. If automakers get credit when supplier stuff works, they should take blame when it doesn’t. Over and out.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Dec 11, 2013

And just how would CR call out parts suppliers who build troublesome components? Isn't much of that information proprietery? Don't suppliers build to spec and to cost as manufacturer's dictate? If my new expensive cotton dress shirt shrinks 2 sizes in the wash and the color runs, should I follow your line of reasoning and call out the cotton farmer, picker, dye maker, texitle weaver, seemstress, or should I take it to the retailer who reps the brand and call the brand out? BTW, these complicated, often over-engineered "infotainment" systems are driving distractions as serious as cell phone texting. Driving today requires 100 percent of the operator's concentration. When manufacturers turn vehicles into "infotainment" centers on wheels, they give the drivers yet another opportunity to takes eyes and ears off the road. The ancient "delete radio" option was a smart idea, though not profitable. While I have your attention, is there no federal standard on the brightness/intensity of LED tail/brake lights as there are for headlights? Get behind some newer vehicles when the brakes are applied, especially at night, and the intensity of the LEDs can be nearly blinding. I see "rings" of light and look away. No, it's not my cateracs. They're too intense.

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Steve Finlay is the editor of WardsAuto Dealer Business magazine and a senior editor for WardsAuto.com. His journalism career started 42 years ago as a crime reporter. A Michigan native, he likes...

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Jim Ziegler, president of Ziegler Supersystems, is a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues.
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