Long-term vehicle dependability has declined across the automotive industry, consumer insights and data analytics firm J.D. Power said in its recently released 2024 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study. Particularly striking is electric cars ranking far below their gas-powered counterparts. Higher tire wear is a “sore spot” for EVs, and smartphone apps are troublesome, leading to a lower dependability score, J.D. Power said.
The study found that the owners of battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids experienced far more problems than gas cars. On average, ICE cars experienced 187 problems per 100 vehicles, PHEVs witnessed 216 problems, while BEVs fared far worse with a score of 256 problems per 100 vehicles over three years of ownership. Lexus and Toyota were the least troublesome—which is hardly a surprise—while Tesla fared rather poorly.
To measure the dependability of a brand, J.D. Power analyzed nine major problems reported by owners, including driver assistance features, driving experience, exterior, infotainment, interior, powertrain, and seats among others.
It’s worth noting that this data has some limitations. We only have information regarding tires and infotainment systems for this story. J.D. Power hasn’t said much about the reliability of batteries, drivetrain, and range and performance in its report. So it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison with gas cars. There are several variables outlined later in the story that should be considered before drawing any conclusions about EVs.
In a nutshell, it’s best to approach this data with caution.
EV Tires Degrade Faster
Thirty-nine percent of BEV owners said they had to replace their tires at least once in the past 12 months, compared to just 20% of gas car owners admitting the same.
“That’s something to be concerned about. [EV buyers] are going to save money at the gas pump, but the trade-off is that they would have to replace tires more often. So, it’s a cost of ownership issue you need to think about,” Frank Hanley, the senior director of auto benchmarking at J.D. Power, told InsideEVs.
Several reasons can lead to higher tire degradation in EVs. For starters, EVs require less maintenance due to fewer components and less complex drivetrains. That impacts tires. By not taking your EV to service, you might not rotate the tires as frequently as you would in a gas car. That could especially be true if you’re unaware of the required tire maintenance intervals.
Routinely rotating your tires evens the spread of wear, and it maximizes tread life, Bridgestone and several other tire manufacturers have said.
EVs are also generally heavier than gas cars due to hefty batteries that demand higher tire weight ratings. The instant torque from the electric motors, a trademark feature of EVs that many enthusiasts love, also leads to more tire wear—e-motors deliver torque more precisely and quickly to individual wheels with micro-adjustments to optimize traction at all times.
There’s no reason for the tire issue to ring any alarm bells because tire technology seems on track to develop over time. And you could minimize the wear by following simple textbook rules.
Flooring the throttle to devour the instant torque at every green light will likely cost you in the long run. But if you monitor tire pressure regularly, rotate tires according to the OEM’s recommended schedule, and drive efficiently overall, you could prolong the life of the tires.
Buggy Smartphone Apps
The study also found that faulty smartphone apps lowered the dependability rankings for EVs. Hanley added that EV owners are a lot more smartphone-dependent than gas-car owners. “Smartphones for gas cars are like a nice-to-have, versus for EVs, they’re sort of a lifeline,” Hanley said.
EV owners tend to use smartphones to check battery status, adjust climate settings, and locate charging stations, among other functions. In theory, the apps are meant to give owners more control over their EV remotely and make tasks more convenient. But in the real world, they don’t seem to be flawlessly integrated, at least not yet.
Without mentioning any carmaker or model, Hanley added that EV owners reported issues where apps didn’t connect to the car, weren’t updated with the correct information and even displayed wrong data. Across the industry, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and voice assistants caused the most trouble for vehicle owners.
CarPlay and Android Auto often suffer from bad connections, poor rendering, and slow responses, a General Motors spokesperson told MotorTrend in December 2023. These issues prompt owners to use their smartphones instead, thereby defeating the purpose of mirroring these apps and elevating safety risks.
That’s one of the reasons GM dropped CarPlay and Android Auto from its future cars, MotorTrend said. Instead, GM’s new “Ultifi” infotainment system will get a full suite of inbuilt Google apps.
Other factors causing a lower dependability score include outdated maps, improper installation of over-the-air updates, and poor wireless charging pads, J.D. Power told InsideEVs. Hanley agreed that software-defined vehicles are likely to continue having connectivity issues until the technology matures and is seamlessly integrated.
That’s Not The Whole Story
This study hardly spells doom for EVs. EVs constituted only 2.5% of the sample size (approximately 750 cars). Furthermore, the majority of these EVs were MY2021 Teslas, making the data somewhat outdated.
A recent Consumer Reports reliability survey also concluded that EVs were worse off on the reliability index. But it added that EVs in their first model year faced more issues with motors, charging systems, and batteries. Tesla slotted in the middle of the pack, much higher than it did in the J.D. Power survey.
EVs generally tend to improve over time, and Tesla especially has a track record of bettering its cars over the years. The Model 3 is in its seventh year (the first year for the Highland facelift), while the Model Y is in its fourth year.
Yes, frequent tire replacements might indeed increase the cost of ownership. But even then, net savings will likely be positive. A CNBC estimate suggested that a Model Y owner could save over $11,000 over five years in maintenance and gas savings compared to an Audi Q5 owner.
A set of Goodyear Electric GT tires for the Model Y costs about $1200. Even if you replace them twice the number of times as a gas car, your net savings can still be higher. That’s the worst-case scenario—one that you probably won’t encounter if you take good care of the tires in the first place.
All said, the study highlights the steep learning curve for EV owners, and how important education would be for wider adoption of EVs. Not only should you be aware of the best practices for charging and how to maximize range, but also of the less obvious stuff, such as conserving tire health over time.