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Tech is top problem in vehicle reliability, study shows

By Aaron Crowe

Tech is top problemCan’t get your car’s Bluetooth system to sync with your phone? Does the car’s navigation system misinterpret your commands and not get you where you need to go? You’re not alone.

A recent study by J.D. Power and Associates found that 20 percent of all customer-reported problems on vehicle reliability were for problems with infotainment, navigation and in-vehicle communication systems. Tech is the most problematic area on most vehicles and is causing the industry’s 3 percent year-over-year decline in vehicle dependability, according to the 2016 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study.

Complaints about technology were the top concern in this year’s study, up from the third most last year and fifth in 2014.

Getting technology to work correctly can be frustrating, as anyone who has set up a Wi-Fi system at home knows. But not having it work in your car — where entertainment, navigation and other systems can cost thousands of dollars extra from the dealer — can be especially frustrating.

And the car tech problems don’t go way with time. The study found that customers reported tech woes within the first 90 days of ownership, and that the problems were still bothering them three years later.

Bluetooth pairing and connectivity, along with built-in voice recognition systems misinterpreting commands, were the most reported problems. Navigation systems that are difficult to use or inaccurate are among the 10 most frequently reported problems.

“Most consumers these days expect a car to have Bluetooth,” which is standard in most vehicles, says Barb Tate, national fleet manager at a GM dealer in Toronto.

The voice navigation systems and touch displays in GM vehicles work well if a driver is trained well in how to use it, Tate says. The display looks like an iPad, she says, and customers best learn how to use it if a salesperson lets them push the buttons instead of the salesperson pushing them. Different accents and intonations can affect how voice-activated systems work, Tate says.

“A lot of people don’t have the patience to let the technology do what it can do,” Tate says.

Integrated Bluetooth for phone calls and music streaming was a key feature that Nenad Cuk, 27, wanted when he paid about $2,500 more for a 2013 Hyundai Sonata Limited with extra tech features. Cuk, a marketing manager in Salt Lake City, Utah, said he got the streaming and pairing to work, but giving voice instructions to it doesn’t work so well.

“The one thing I am not happy about though is the hands-free talking function, because I have been told that I sound muffled or far away,” he says. “This makes sense as the microphone is fixed, but apparently it is fixed on a location that makes it hard for even me to reach. So sometimes I find myself taking the call into my hands, while driving, just so the other person can hear me better.”

Cuk also doesn’t use the car’s GPS often, and instead uses a map app on his phone. That may be the easiest go-around for drivers.

Paul Ritterbush, 29, of Berkeley, California, says the Bluetooth on his 2013 Ford Edge works great and links with his phone so calls come over the car’s speakers. Ritterbush found that a map app on his phone is more accurate and easier to use than the navigation system in his car.

These tech problems, which consumers may think should be simple to solve, don’t instill confidence in more complex technology such as autonomous cars that drive themselves.

“Right now, if consumers can’t rely on their vehicle to connect to their smartphone, or have faith that their navigation system will route them to their destination, they’re certainly not yet ready to trust that autonomous technology will keep their vehicle out of the ditch,” Renee Stephens, vice president of U.S. automotive at J.D. Power, said in a statement.