The Truth Behind J. D. Power’s VDS Rating

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Nearly everyone has heard of J.D. Power and Associates; they’ve been a leader in customer satisfaction and product quality studies and surveys for almost 50 years, and the various awards and recognitions that they award annually feature prominently in the marketing materials for brands ranging from car makers to cell phone providers and computer companies. But what do JD Power’s rankings actually tell us about the products they outline?

For Butler, one of JD Power’s most revered studies is its Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS). On its face, it’s both one of the simplest studies JD Power conducts and one of the most readily important to the consumers it aims to better inform. Who wants an unreliable vehicle? Where the VDS gets slightly more complicated is the way it measures reliability.

The VDS doesn’t concern itself with new vehicles; JD Power has its Initial Quality Study (IQS) to measure that market. The VDS is strictly a measure of complaints reported in the last 12 months by original owners of three year old vehicles. This approach means that the 2016 VDS is actually talking about vehicles from 2013.

So if the new vehicle dependability study discusses mechanical and technological issues from vehicles that are 3 years old, how can it be used to inform decisions made by people shopping for new cars in 2016?

On its own, it can’t. The VDS rankings really shine in their ability to supplement vehicle research. For example, say a carmaker had a below-average score in the 2016 VDS because of widely-reported infotainment and navigation problems in the 2013 model year. Would that company’s cars be worth a look three years later? If they’ve demonstrated the ability and drive to correct the problems cited in older model years, you can bet their 2016 lineup will look better in the 2019 VDS.

JD Power studies and surveys are valuable tools, but like any good tool they require some practice to yield results. When it comes to determining vehicle dependability, reading the VDS is just one piece of the puzzle.

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