Q. Have vehicles become more dependable? I put 150,000 miles on my 2002 Ford and it still was running fine when I sold it. I gave it no more than routine maintenance. — A.H., Evanston, Ill.

A. Strong initial quality of 2009 model-year vehicles has translated into historically high levels of vehicle dependability in 2012, says the J.D. Power and Associates’ 2012 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study. It measured problems found during the past 12 months by original owners of 2009 vehicles. According to a J.D. Power 2009 Initial Quality Study, overall initial quality of  2009 model-year vehicles was, at the time, the highest level of initial quality since J.D. Power’s inaugural Initial Quality Study in 1987.  Moreover, 25 of 32 brands have improved in dependability from 2011, with just six declining and one remaining stable.  J.D. Power found that domestic nameplates have improved in 2012 at a slightly faster rate than imports, narrowing the dependability gap. Still, Japan’s Lexus ranks highest in vehicle dependability among all nameplates in 2012, J.D. Power has found. Cadillac ranked third. 

Q. Why do people still think quality of American cars are substandard? — B.G., Los Angeles

A. Note the above question and answer. Consumer perceptions of vehicle quality and dependability often are based on historical experiences or anecdotes and “may be out of line with the current reality,”  says J.D. Power. I feel that such perceptions are often quite definitely out of line with current reality. Consumers should get as much information as they can on the latest models from a variety of sources to make an informed decision. They shouldn’t listen to older folks tell about experiences with American cars from, say, the 1980s and earlier.  

Q.  We bought our daughter a Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia several years ago. She has since sold it. We took a picture of the car and are trying to determine its model year.What’s the best way to do this? — M.G., Conway, South Carolina

A. The 1956-74 Karmann-Ghia is becoming more of a collector’s car, especially in convertible form, although it was essentially a Volkswagen Beetle with a nifty custom body from the respected Karmann coachworks of West Germany. Italy’s famous Ghia studios, which styled exotic sports cars, did the Karmann-Ghia’s styling. It looked  much the same from 1956 to 1974. Contact a Karmann-Ghis club. Its members can tell you the car’s model year. As your daughter probably told you, the car was no rocket. But acceleration was adequate because it  didn’t weigh all that much.


Q. Why do newspapers consistently write childish headlines for auto stories? For instance, the Wall Street Journal recently wrote this headline above a article about Ford sales in China: “Ford to Rev Up in China.”  – J.H., Denver

A.  Because when it comes to cars, many newspaper headline writers are clueless and have no interest in them. They try harder when it comes to writing headlines about such things as movies, crime, gossip, politics and sports.

Q. I have heard that “zero-weight” motor oil allows better fuel economy with new vehicles. Is that possible? — A.H., New Orleans

A. Royal Purple, which makes synthetic products for industrial and consumer needs, says that is correct and that some automakers are building new models that specify using “zero-weight” motor oil rather than a heavier 10W-30 oil. Why so? Royal Purple says changing to a thinner, lighter oil viscosity such as 0W-20 can result in better fuel efficiency and increased savings for consumers. It says zero-weight motor oils are formulated to be able to lubricate the internal structures of the engine more freely, helping to extend engine life and deliver maximum fuel economy because the engine doesn’t have to work as hard to move the oil around. It says these low-viscosity oils also provide “excellent protection in low temperatures, uniform lubrication, reduced friction and help make an engine produce more power over heavier-weight oils.”

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