Consumer Reports’ 2023 Annual Auto Reliability Survey finds EVs improving, but charging and battery issues persist
Consumers are buying electric vehicles in growing numbers, but poor reliability remains an issue, according to the latest Annual Auto Reliability Survey data from Consumer Reports (CR), the nonprofit research, testing, and consumer advocacy organization. Electric pickups in particular are the least reliable category of vehicles.
On average, new EVs have 79% more problems than ICE vehicles, according to the survey. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) fare even worse with an average of 146% more problems. Hybrids, on the other hand, continue to be a bright spot. They experience 26% fewer problems than ICE vehicles on average, according to CR's survey.
EVs are still in their relative infancy as mainstream vehicles, so it’s really not surprising that manufacturers, by and large, are still working out the kinks. That said, we are seeing signs of movement in the right direction. And as our data has consistently shown, reliability-minded consumers would be best served by forgoing brand new vehicles in their first model year.—Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports
The most reliable auto brands are headquartered in Asia. Lexus and Toyota take the top two spots in CR’s brand level rankings for 2023. Five other Japanese or Korean brands are in this year’s top ten, joined there by the German trio of Mini, Porsche, and BMW.
Other highlights from CR’s annual report include:
Charging and battery issues are bedeviling EVs, but Tesla is bucking that trend with comparatively fewer issues in those categories. Two of its four models, the popular Model Y and Model 3, are Recommended by CR. The Model 3’s reliability has been average in recent years. The Model Y improved to average this year.
Full-sized pickup trucks remain near the bottom of CR’s brand ranking but aren’t the least reliable category. Midsized and electric pickups are worse for reliability.
This has been a challenging year for domestic manufacturers. Buick ranks highest among the domestic brands, at 12th overall. All the rest are in the bottom half of the brand rankings; Chrysler is dead last.
Every year, CR asks its members about potential trouble areas they’ve had with their vehicles in the previous 12 months. This year’s survey covers 20 problem areas including engine, electric motors, transmission, in-car electronics, and more. CR uses that feedback from consumers to predict reliability ratings for new cars from every major mainstream model. This year, CR gathered data on more than 330,000 vehicles from the 2000 to 2023 model years, with a few newly-introduced 2024 models.
The number of new hybrids, PHEVs, and EVs being introduced is steadily increasing. Just in the past five years, the percentage of vehicles that CR purchases for its test fleet that are hybrids and EVs has grown from 12% in 2018 to 56% in 2023. As a result, CR this year added three new individual trouble areas to its reliability survey for electrified vehicles: Electric motor, EV/Hybrid Battery, and EV Charging. This will allow for a clearer picture of the problems with these distinct drivertrains.
Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles still have 17 potential trouble areas.
EVs can have up to 12 trouble areas, where traditional ICE problems such as Engine and Transmission are not included.
Hybrids have 19 potential trouble areas; 17 from ICE vehicles, as well as Electric motor and EV Battery.
PHEVs can experience all 20 trouble areas; 17 from ICE vehicles, as well as Electric motor, EV Battery, and EV Charging.
The predictions for 2024 models are based on each year’s overall reliability for the past three years, provided that the model hasn’t been redesigned during that time. If there is insufficient data on a model in any given model year, CR uses the brand reliability score to supplement that model’s new car prediction. Due to the changes in this year’s survey questions and methodology, direct comparisons to previous years’ brand reliability data cannot be made.
Consumer Reports’ analysis of new car reliability is a key element of CR’s Overall Score, which is a holistic ranking that helps consumers find the vehicles that deliver on their promises and last. The Overall Score also includes road-test performance, owner satisfaction survey results, whether a vehicle comes standard with key active safety systems, and results from crash tests, if applicable.
Starting with model year 2024, CR is deducting two points from the overall scores of vehicles that don’t come standard with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Bonus points will still be given on a sliding scale based on a vehicle’s performance in IIHS’s vehicle-to-pedestrian AEB tests.
In addition, model year 2024 vehicles that are equipped with active driver assistance (ADA) systems will lose one point if they don’t have an adequate direct driver monitoring system (DDMS). This means a vision-based sensing system that effectively and directly detects the driver's eye and/or head movement. If the system senses the driver is not paying attention, it should provide escalating warnings to elicit driver engagement. If the driver does not respond to warnings, the ADA system should stay engaged and slow the vehicle in a safe and controlled manner. Bonus points will continue to be given to models with adequate DDMS.
The growing pains that have been plaguing EVs are still apparent in CR’s latest survey. Electric cars, electric SUVs, and electric pickups all rank among the least-reliable vehicle categories.
Tesla Motors, the market leader in EV sales, continues to have issues with body hardware, paint and trim, and climate system on its models, but are not as problematic for motor, charging, and battery. At number 14, Tesla is the second-highest ranked domestic automaker in CR’s brand rankings. The Model 3 and Model Y have average reliability while all the other Tesla models—the S, and X—are all below average.
Some EV models from other manufacturers had fewer reported problems related to build quality, but higher rates of powertrain, battery and charging issues. This suggests that legacy automakers need more time to work out the kinks under the hood of their EVs, while Tesla faces above the hood issues. One bright spot is Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, which has shown enough improvement in its EV battery and charging system to now be rated average for predicted reliability, and is eligible for CR’s recommendation.
Hybrids shine, PHEVs not so much. This year’s CR survey finds that hybrids are becoming more reliable, but plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) are less so. On average, hybrids are 26% more reliable than vehicles with only an internal combustion engine, but PHEVs are 146% less reliable. PHEVs combine conventional engines with an electric drive. The added complexity means that there’s more that can go wrong with them.
The Toyota Camry and Toyota Highlander SUV are among the most reliable of all vehicles in CR’s survey, and their hybrid versions also land near the top of the list. Conversely, several PHEVs are less reliable than their conventional counterparts, such as the below-average Audi Q5 and Chrysler Pacifica PHEVs.