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Beware of these five notorious lemons

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

J.D. Power and Associates recently unveiled the results of its 2013 U.S. dependability study of three-year-old automobiles, which ranked some familiar nameplates at the top, including Lexus, Porsche, Lincoln, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Buick.

But parse the data to show the most reliable model in each market segment and the study provides a different reveal: some of those manufacturers didn’t have a winning model, due to the dominance of one maker.

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Toyota — including subsidiaries Lexus and Scion — walked away with seven category wins in everything from highest-ranked 2010 subcompact (Scion xD) to premium mid-size crossover (Lexus RX series). The other significant winners were General Motors in four categories and Honda in two.

We know the poorest ranked brands in the study were Volkswagen, Jeep, Mitsubishi, Dodge and at the very bottom, Land Rover. What J.D. Power doesn’t divulge — not publicly, anyway — are the names of the most unreliable 2010 models.

Thanks to owners’ experiences we’ve gleaned from popular websites and from remarks sent to Wheels, we’ve pulled together some representative least-reliable 2010 models. Used-car shoppers beware.

Volkswagen Passat

The 2010 model year marked the last of the sixth-generation Volkswagen Passats. Cast in the hyper-competitive mid-size sedan segment, the Passat differentiated itself from the Camrys and Accords by bringing larger dimensions, crisp styling and a high-end interior that made friends easily. It also offered a five-door wagon, a rarity in the category.

Most Passats came with Volkswagen’s 200-hp 2.0 L turbocharged four cylinder; optional was the 280-hp 3.6 L VR6. Both engines were early adopters of direct fuel injection. Unfortunately, the 2.0T gasoline engine is notorious for consuming oil and eventually seizing up, if not monitored. Its coil-over-plug ignition packs can fail regularly.

The problems are endemic to all Volkswagen and Audi models that use the popular 2.0T engine. Don’t believe the gloomy prognosis? Consider this: U.K.’s Warranty Direct has studied 15 years of repair claims and recently announced its list of the manufacturers with the least reliable engines — and Audi and Volkswagen both finished in the bottom 10 out of 36 brands.

That’s not all. Complete steering columns have been replaced, a/c compressors can be short-lived, and there are numerous electrical sensors to fret over. Passats can consume thousands in post-warranty repairs because many parts are sourced in Germany and repairs may require a week in the service bay, owners warn.

Jeep Wrangler

Like its forefathers, this classic Jeep can scramble over hill and dale and look good doing it, but don’t expect much in terms of ride and handling refinement. Both the two- and four-door Wrangler models used the same pushrod 3.8 L V6, good for 202 hp. The standard four-wheel-drive system included low-range gearing and locking differentials, which could not be left engaged on dry pavement.

Unfortunately, the Wrangler’s solid front axle can display the dreaded Jeep “death wobble,” set off by big potholes and bumps. The violent shaking is attributed to prematurely worn tie-rod ends, bushings and steering dampers, all of which have reportedly been replaced by owners, some to no avail. Chrysler finally has a technical service bulletin out on the issue.

Ill-fitting tops that allow rain to infiltrate the cabin is a common complaint, along with rusting hinges, manual transmissions that jump out of gear and engines that consume oil voraciously. Owners talk distressingly about mysterious stalling and intermittent no-start conditions.

Add to that a litany of other headaches, including short-lived clutches, leaky gaskets and seals, wonky electronics, faulty automatics, bad camshaft sensors, and water collecting in the differentials. The Wrangler is the genuine incarnation of the iconic brand, complete with some of the same glitches that have dogged Jeeps for decades.

Mitsubishi Outlander

To be honest there aren’t many complaints about Mitsubishi vehicles online, at least not many involving recent models. Still, the Japanese automaker has not always scored well in dependability studies. The same Warranty Direct study ranked Mitsubishi 10th worst in terms of engine failures in the U.K. (admittedly, a popular diesel market).

In North America Mitsubishi’s Outlander crossover SUV is an important player for the brand since its redesign in 2007. It received fresh styling, a 3.0 L V6 engine and third-row jump seats for seven-passenger capacity. The Japanese-built Outlander compared well against the many competitors in the hotly contested crossover segment, including the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape.

Mitsubishi resurrected a four banger model for 2008; the 168-hp DOHC 2.4 L four came attached to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) rather than a conventional slushbox. New for 2010 was the all-wheel-drive-only GT, which combined the 230-hp V6 and a six-speed automatic.

Mechanical issues have been relatively few in number. A short-lived air conditioning compressor is a common fault, many of which have been replaced under Mitsubishi’s five-year factory warranty. Worn front wheel bearings are responsible for clunking sounds during parking manoeuvres. Other complaints singled out the exterior paint quality, which is prone to chipping easily, owners charge.

Dodge Grand Caravan

Thanks to its low entry price and family-friendly design, the Windsor-built Dodge Grand Caravan enjoys immense popularity here. You could even call it a local hero. But mechanical complaints are abundant. There are multiple reasons why Dodge owners are more frequently reimbursed by CAMVAP, Canada’s lemon law, than owners of any other brand.

First and foremost is the serious issue of engines shutting off in the middle of traffic. A number of owners have reported driving at speed and the engine suddenly dying, leaving the driver to steer the van to the side of the highway with no power assist in the steering or brakes — a potentially dangerous situation.

A Transport Canada recall states the Wireless Ignition Node may allow the ignition key to inadvertently move from the ON position to the accessory (ACC) position while driving, causing the engine to shut down. The condition affects the Dodge Journey crossover, as well.

A more common complaint has to do with the Caravan’s voracious appetite for brakes, which in some instances require annual replacement. That’s far too frequent, say owners. Other headaches include faulty air conditioners, prematurely worn wheel bearings, electrical gremlins, bad thermostats, rattles and that old Chrysler nugget: transmission failures.

Land Rover LR2

The Land Rover LR2 premium crossover adopted components from former owner Ford’s empire, hoping to exorcise its old Freelander demons. No kidding, the Freelander was one of the most troublesome vehicles in recent history — thanks to the wheezy 175-hp 2.5 L V6 supplied by MG Rover, an engine builder so poor (confirms Warranty Direct) that it almost single-handedly led to England’s de-industrialization.

The LR2 uses a 230-hp 3.2 L inline six-cylinder engine, built by Volvo, and shoehorned in sideways under the Landie’s hood. It was mated exclusively with a six-speed automatic transmission. Surprisingly, the LR2’s standard all-wheel drive system lacked low-range gearing for off-roading.

Land Rovers sell in small numbers, so it’s not easy to find a lot of owners’ complaints online. In fact, J.D. Power has occasionally dropped the brand from its dependability studies due to insufficient sample sizes. But make no mistake: the LR2, like the flagship Range Rover, can be a handful to maintain and repair post-warranty.

Drivers commonly report problems restarting a warm engine due to a lack of fuel pressure to overcome vapour lock. It may require a software update to the body control module. There are numerous reported electrical issues, including lit warning lamps, bad sensors and mysterious stalling. Owners also listed overheating engines, faulty cylinder heads, transmission issues, short-lived batteries, broken sunroof guides and fluid leaks.

  • Beware of these five notorious lemons
  • Beware of these five notorious lemons
  • Beware of these five notorious lemons
  • Beware of these five notorious lemons
  • Beware of these five notorious lemons

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