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Truck Talk: Does Dependability Impact Sales?

One of the most common things people talk about when it comes to any vehicle, but especially trucks, is dependability. We all want a vehicle we can rely on – if I’m going to spend that much on a massive truck, it better start on a cold winter morning when I need it. And so every year there are numerous news articles and vehicle reviews that talk about dependability ratings and analysis and what vehicle everyone should buy. There is also plenty of information about new and used cars for sale and what people are buying.

So that begs the question: does dependability really matter when it comes down to cold hard cash? Does the American buying trend reflect what we see as reliable vehicles and what we’re told about dependability? To me it seems simple, look at sales and look at reliability ratings and see how they line up. Let’s do just that because honestly, I have nothing better to do on a cold autumn day…

What is Dependability?

Whether you’re looking at new or used cars for sale, most people say they care about dependability and reliability. But what do they really mean? In general, dependability is typically analyzed as a low number of problems with a vehicle, reported by owners over the course of a year. So, you usually can’t find much data about dependability right away – after all, it takes at least a year of ownership for people to be able to relay this information effectively.

Many organizations wait a few years to analyze dependability over the course of a longer time, such as three years, and then use that aggregated data for a more complete picture. In other words, you will only find predicted data regarding dependability for 2018 models. This information is really useful when you’re looking at used cars for sale, or trucks and SUVs.

New or Used Vehicles?

With that in mind, does it matter whether you are looking at new or used cars for sale when considering this information? Yes, used trucks are going to have a lot more information out there than new ones, particularly when it comes from owners. I should hope a brand new truck will be dependable and run beautifully, but what about a year later? Or three years later? For the cost of a full-size truck, even one that’s used, I expect to get a vehicle that I can depend on and won’t have in the shop every week.

So with that in mind, we’re going to look at the top five selling lightweight trucks of 2017. Because these are a little older, you should find used models pretty regularly, and reliable information about dependability is available for them. This means we can look at what people are buying, and how dependable those vehicles have been historically.

#1 in Sales: Ford F-Series

By a huge margin, the Ford F-Series is the number one selling truck in America. It’s not even close. In 2017, the number two truck was the Chevy Silverado, which sold just over 585,000 units. By comparison, the Ford F-Series sold more than 896,000 units in 2017. So it begs the question, with so many Ford trucks selling, how does it stack up in terms of reliability?

According to JD Power, the 2015 Ford F-150 receives a Vehicle Dependability Power Circle Rating of 4 out of 5, which is quite good. The 2015 Ford F-Series Super Duty receives a 5 out of 5 and was awarded the top pick rating for reliability in the Large Heavy Duty Pickup Category. By contrast, US News and World Report gave the 2018 Ford F-150 a reliability rating of 3 out of 5 stars – but that’s for predicted reliability, rather than being based on actual reports.

In other words, Ford trucks are well rated in terms of dependability and are the top selling trucks in the country. So far, so good.

#2 in Sales: Chevy Silverado

The Chevy Silverado comes second in terms of sales for trucks in 2017, with just over 585,000 units sold. While that’s much less than the number one spot, it’s still quite impressive and represents a slight increase over the previous year. So what about reliability?

According to JD Power, the 2015 Chevy Silverado 1500 is one of the most reliable trucks on the road. They gave it a Vehicle Dependability Power Circle Rating of 5 out of 5 and awarded it with the top position for a Large Light Duty Pickup truck. The 2015 Chevy Silverado Heavy Duty is also quite reliable and JD Power gave it a Dependability Rating of 4 out of 5.

According to US News and World Report, they predict that the 2018 Chevy Silverado 1500 will be very dependable and gave it a predicted rating of 4.5 out of 5. In fact, it is there number two choice in terms of dependability – but again, this is not based on actual reports yet.

#3 in Sales: Ram Pickup

The Ram Pickup was the number three selling truck in the US in 2017, moving just over 500,000 units. While that is significantly less than the top seller, and almost 100,000 behind number two, compared to all other models it is actually quite impressive.

Sadly, the Ram Pickup is not particularly well rated for dependability. It scored less than a 4 out of 5 in JD Power’s Vehicle Dependability Power Circle Rating. US News and World Report would seem to agree, and awarded the 2018 Ram 1500 a predicted reliability score of 3.0 out of 5.

Silver 2016 GMC Sierra on runway with mountains in distance

#4 in Sales: GMC Sierra

Fourth in sales in 2017 was the GMC Sierra, which sold just over 217,000 units for the year. This still placed it well beyond most of its competitors, but certainly pales compared to the Ford F-Series. Is that due to perceived issues with dependability?

Once again, the 2015 GMC Sierra did not score even a 4 out of 5 in JD Power’s Vehicle Dependability Power Circle Rating, which means it certainly does not stack up with those trucks that out-sold it. US News and World Report gave the 2018 GMC Sierra 1500 a reliability rating of just 2.5 out of 5, making it one of the lowest scoring trucks for the year.

#5 in Sales: Toyota Tacoma

Finally, we find an interesting dichotomy. In terms of sales, in 2017 the Toyota Tacoma ranked fifth, with just over 198,000 units sold. That means it sold less than one-fourth what the top-ranked seller, the Ford F-Series, managed to move. And not even half as many as even the third-ranked seller, the Ram Pickup.

And yet, according to JD Power, the 2015 Toyota Tacoma is one of the most reliable trucks on the road. JD Power gave it a Vehicle Dependability Power Circle Rating of 5 out of 5 and named it the most dependable truck in the Midsize Pickup category. And US News and World Report would seem to agree, since it named the 2018 Toyota Tacoma their top pick for reliability, with a score of 4.5 out of 5.

The Final Analysis

So what does the data show? Well, in most cases there is a clear connection between sales and dependability. The Ford F-Series was the top seller last year by a huge margin and is very highly rated by JD Power in terms of dependability. This trend seems to follow through for other vehicles. And yet, the Toyota Tacoma, considered by most experts to be one of the most reliable trucks around, lags far behind in sales. I can only imagine how frustrating that must be for the folks at Toyota…

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