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The 10 Worst Automobile Brands in 1990
by James Bleeker

Content Summary

This page provides two rankings of the 10 worst brands of automobiles sold in North America from model year 1984 to 1989. Each ranking employs a different method of computation.

The statistics used in the computations for rating and ranking the brands are those found within the April 1990 issue of Consumer Reports. The two sections providing the necessary statistics are CR's Used-Cars-To-Avoid list and its reliability charts. Reliability is defined by the magazine as the infrequency of serious problems, which it measures annually by a subscriber survey.

The first ranking of the car brands is based on each brand's frequency of trouble-prone models. This ranking provides a measure of how unsuccessfully each brand's models avoided the bottom end of the model-quality spectrum.

The second ranking of the car brands is based on the average of the overall reliability ratings of each brand's models. The second ranking provides a measure of how well a brand's models performed over the entire model-quality spectrum.

Auto Brand Quality by Frequency of Trouble-Prone Models: The Bottom 10 of 1990

To form a brand-quality measure from the 1990 list of Used Cars To Avoid, the first step is to count each brand's entries on the list. Each model year of each model is treated as a separate entry.

Next, as the number of automobile models sold under a brand name varies greatly from brand to brand, it is necessary to take account of the fact that a brand with more models has a greater opportunity to have more model years of low quality. To compensate for a possibly inflated, or deflated, frequency of trouble-prone model years within a brand, as well as a variability in model data sufficiency, the number of a brand's entries in CR's 1990 Used-Cars-To-Avoid list is divided by the total number of overall reliability ratings for the brand found in the reliability charts of the same issue of Consumer Reports. The overall reliability ratings are found in the Trouble-Index row of the 1990 reliability charts.

By the method of computation, this quality measure begins with 0 and may run to a value some greater than 1. The value of 0 is the highest quality rating attainable by a brand and is achieved only when a brand has no entry on the Used-Cars-To-Avoid list.

The 10 worst car brands by the foregoing computations, together with their quality ratings, are given in the first bar graph below. Only those brands with at least 5 overall CR reliability ratings are included.

Auto Brand Quality by the Average of Overall Reliability Ratings: The Bottom 10 of 1990

To compute brand-quality ratings and assemble a brand-quality ranking using Consumer Reports' overall reliability ratings, a number is associated with each rating. A +1.0 is ascribed to a rating of Much Better Than Average, a +0.5 to a rating of Better Than Average, a 0 to a rating of Average, a -0.5 to a rating of Worse Than Average, and a -1.0 to a rating of Much Worse Than Average. Then an average is taken over all of the brand's model years and models offering an overall reliability rating. CR's 1990 overall reliability ratings are found in the Trouble-Index row of its reliability charts.

For this measure of quality, the range is from -1.0 (the worst possible) to +1.0 (the best possible).

The 10 worst car brands by this set of computations, together with their quality ratings, are given in the second bar graph below. Only those brands with at least 5 overall CR reliability ratings are included.

The Bar Graphs of the Bottom 10 of 1990

In both of the graphs that follow, the order of the car brands is with the worst on top.

The 10 Worst Auto Brands in 1990 by Frequency of Trouble-Prone Models The 10 Worst Auto Brands in 1990 by the Average of CR's Overall Reliability Ratings

Summary and Analysis

By frequency of trouble-prone models (first graph), the brands of General Motors Corporation and the Chrysler Group account for 5 of the 10 worst brands in 1990. GM brands on the 10-worst list are Buick, Pontiac (off-loaded in 2009), and Chevrolet; Chrysler Group brands on the list are Jeep and Chrysler.

Also contributing to the trouble-prone list are Jaguar, Saab, Hyundai, Subaru and Ford.

By overall unreliability (second graph), GM and the Chrysler Group account for 7 of the ten worst brands in 1990; GM's are Buick, Pontiac (off-loaded in 2009), Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile (off-loaded in 2004), and Chrysler's are Jeep, Chrysler, and Dodge.

Also on the 10-worst list of 1990 by unreliability are the Jaguar, Hyundai, and Ford brands.

There are 8 brands common to both worst-10 lists; they are:

3 GM brands - Buick, Pontiac, and Chevrolet
2 Chrysler brands - Jeep and Chrysler
Jaguar
Hyundai
Ford

Additional Resources

To view the 10 Best brand of 1990, click Go.

To view the graphs showing the ratings and rankings of all brands, click Go.

For a Google Knol that summarizes the changes in auto-brand and auto-manufacturer ranking by these quality measures from 1990 to 2010, click Go.

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