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YOUR WHEELS / RALPH VARTABEDIAN

It's True: U.S. Quality Is Gaining on Imports

July 15, 1993|RALPH VARTABEDIAN

When people ask me for advice about buying a new car, they often do not believe me when I tell them that domestic cars offer quality and value comparable to imports. Perceptions are lagging behind reality.

Detroit's Big Three car makers have been improving the quality of their products for several years, and results are beginning to show.

A recent survey of mechanics found that 85% rated today's domestic cars as better than those of five years ago, and a majority said import quality was unchanged over the same period. Seventy percent said they would prefer to own an American-made vehicle.

The study was conducted by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, the group that certifies mechanics; the largest mechanics group in the country, and Valvoline, a motor-lubricant manufacturer. The survey included thousands of mechanics, including every master mechanic certified by the group.

The mechanics picked General Motors cars as those they would most like to own.

Two recent surveys by the automotive market research firm J. D. Power and Associates show that Big Three cars, including GM's, continue to score strong gains on imports.

In the quality survey, in which owners rated their new cars, 22 domestic models and 22 Japanese models were in the top-rated group, with an average of less than one problem per car. Just four European models made the cut.

Although the Japanese-made Lexus and Infiniti were at the top of the list, the Ford Crown Victoria, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Chrysler LeBaron and Buick Century were also in the group.

In the second study, on dependability, owners rated their 1988 cars. The results: Domestic cars built five years ago scored almost even with imports.

Domestic-car owners reported an average of 4.77 problems in the previous 12 months, and owners of Asian models reported 4.68 problems. Which model topped the list as most dependable? Cadillac. It beat out Acura and Mercedes-Benz. Other domestics on the list were Buick, Lincoln, Oldsmobile, Mercury and Chrysler.

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Question: I try to frequently check the air pressure in my tires. I could do it in one-third the time if I didn't have to take off and put back the valve caps. Do these things hold in air? What good are they? S. A.

Answer: The valve caps are not intended to hold in air, although they can help retain air pressure if the valve inside the stem begins to leak. The caps are supposed to keep dirt and ice from accumulating inside the stem of the tire, says Bill Egan, chief tire engineer at Goodyear.

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