Hello, everyone, and welcome to Letters to Doug, your favorite weekly Jalopnik feature wherein I devote an entire column to answering your questions because I can’t think of anything important to write about.
Remember: you might be able to participate in Letters to Doug by e-mailing me at Letters2Doug@gmail.com, or by Tweeting me at @DougDeMuro. I say you might be able to participate because I only choose one letter per week, and it probably won’t be yours.
Anyway: today’s letter comes to us from a reader named Murray in Washington, D.C., which is generally agreed to be America’s finest city for row houses that contain labradoodles. Murray writes:
As someone who has worked for Porsche I feel you should have insight to this. I often see vehicle dependability studies/surveys (JD Power, Consumer Reports, etc.) show Porsche among the most reliable brands, even at times giving Lexus a run for its money.
How is this possible? Is it a case of the study being flawed? People not daily driving them as they do other cars? I mean they have a number of things going against them, they’re German, performance cars, etc.
Murray from DC
For those of you who don’t believe in reading quoted text, Murray is asking here how the hell Porsche always scores near the top of J.D. Power reliability surveys. And this is an interesting question, because Porsche is German, and luxurious, and high-performance, and usually when you combine these things, what you get is a water pump that has to be replaced with every oil change.
Fortunately, I am a bona fide expert in Porsche reliability, production, engineering, and long-term dependability in the sense that I spent several years working for Porsche creating Excel spreadsheets.
Actually, that isn’t strictly true. Even though I primarily created Excel spreadsheets, I was also responsible for several other things, such as PowerPoint presentations.
Ha ha! I’m just kidding! The truth is I did a lot of stuff for Porsche, and I spent a lot of time working with a lot of different people there, including many of the customer service staff. And what I learned, over the three and a half years I worked there, is this: they try really, really hard.
Yes, it’s true. I’d like to say that there’s some Porsche magic that goes into these ratings, or that I have insider knowledge that the company manages to slip ol’ J.D. a nicely timed 911 Turbo right before the ratings come out.
But what I learned, over time, is that isn’t the case. Instead, what happens is, they just take this stuff incredibly seriously, and they work their assess off to earn strong scores. I’ll never forget one company meeting where we were supposed to be celebrating a second-place victory in some J.D. Power survey, and the chief executive gets up to speak. “Guys, we did really well,” he says, in this somber tone you only get from a Germany company that’s just been given a report card. “But maybe next year, we can beat Lexus.”
They don’t have meetings like this, over at Land Rover. What they do at Land Rover is, they have a huge company-wide party every time there’s a J.D. Power survey where Land Rover isn’t ranked dead last. Unfortunately, this event is always held at an off-site location, and most of the employees can’t make it because their differentials blew out on the way there.
The funny thing is, Porsche isn’t really known for reliability in the long-term used car enthusiast market. The “993” 911 had valve guide issues. The 964 is famous for leaking oil. The 996 had the well-known intermediate shaft bearing issue. And then there are the Cayenne coolant pipes. All of these problems are kind of a big deal — especially for a company that gets such high marks from J.D. Power.
But I have a theory about this stuff: we only know these issues because they happen to enthusiast cars.
Here’s what I mean. If you’re like me, you probably haven’t seen a first-generation (1993-1997) Dodge Intrepid in a while. What the hell happened to those things? Chrysler sold like 4 million of them in the 1990s, all of which were given to people who booked a midsize car but were upgraded at the counter to a full-size.
Well, what probably happened is, they have some serious flaw that’s been taking them off the road. But we, as car enthusiasts, don’t know about this flaw, because none of us know anyone who has a 1993-1997 Intrepid. Of course, there’s always Grandma, but she never drives, and she still has the dealer plastic on the rear floormats.
The truth is, a lot of cars probably develop problems as they get older, add miles, and are asked to do wilder and crazier things: Toyotas, Volkswagens, Jeeps – you name it. And of course, this list also includes Porsches. But while Toyotas, Volkswagens, and Jeeps fade into the sunset, only to be replaced by a new model and an accompanying Facebook status update, Porsche drivers keep their cars going. They fix the big issues. And then they complain on RennList.
So I’d say that Porsches are more reliable than most other cars, Murray. And this whole column has made me miss my Porsches, as I sit here in the Land Rover service department, waiting for them to finish working on my car.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.