Why Auto Journalists Don’t Mention Reliability in Car Reviews

As thorough as we auto writers are when reviewing vehicles, there’s rarely enough time to simulate the time real owners spend with their new car, truck, or SUV.

Sure, a seven-day stint – the typical loan length in this business – is long enough to discover a vehicle’s idiosyncrasies, but it’s usually not enough time to identify the issues surrounding reliability that occasionally pop up on owners forums. We live with these vehicles like we would our own – we drive them to work and for fun; to run errands and pick up our friends and family – but most issues encountered by owners come after months, not days. That’s why few (if any) reviews touch on a vehicle’s longevity.

Making those issues harder for us to uncover during our limited time together, the vehicles we test are usually well vetted before being handed off to the press; most automakers will rack up at least a few hundred kilometres on the odometer to break in the mechanicals and inspect for any problems.

Occasionally, however, we get a glimpse into the proverbial crystal ball: a look at the problems reported by consumers after thousands of kilometres of ownership. A prime example of exactly that came during my test of the 2020 Honda Odyssey, a vehicle I called the brand’s best in my video review of a fully loaded Touring model.

Murphy’s Law being as merciless as it is, it was the morning after heaping such high praise on the Odyssey that its infotainment system started acting erratically. As it turns out, these issues – an inoperable touchscreen, a blank gauge cluster, and ear-piercing static emanating from the speakers – are known to Honda and subject to a class-action lawsuit in the United States. What’s more, autoTRADER.ca contributor Jeff Wilson experienced something similar in the 2020 Honda Passport he recently tested.

So how did these glaring issues make their way to me? Well, that’s a question for Honda Canada, which I informed of the problems as soon as they occurred. Having previously overseen the media fleet at Subaru Canada as part of my role there, I know all too well that these issues can still slip through the cracks despite diligent efforts to prevent them. That’s especially true of all-new models, which are prone to growing pains – especially when it comes to in-vehicle electronics and technology.

The Odyssey, however, isn’t an all-new model, entering its third model year riddled with the same infotainment issues. That knowledge would be enough for me to reconsider a potential purchase if a vehicle like the Odyssey was on my shopping list. Three years is a long time in the auto industry, and allowing an issue like this to persist for that long is just bad business.

You may also be wondering whether I was aware of the Odyssey’s issues prior to my evaluation, to which the answer is no. I approach each evaluation I conduct with the mindset of a sequestered jury member; I keep news, rumours, and speculation off my radar in order to remain unbiased and take an open-minded approach to every vehicle I drive. Looking for issues that may or may not exist ahead of time doesn’t do anyone any favours – least of all potential buyers like you.

While rare, these issues do present themselves from time to time during testing. And when they do, it’s important that they’re brought to the forefront. After all, there’s truth to the cliché about a new vehicle purchase being the second biggest of most peoples’ lives. Particularly when safety is involved – as was the case with the Odyssey’s malfunctioning rear-view camera and gauge cluster – we have a responsibility to inform consumers like you in order to help you make an informed decision.