Engine satisfaction has dropped, J.D. Power says

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A customer survey indicates that owners of 2004-model trucks report significantly more engine complaints and poorer mileage than 2003-model owners did the previous year.

There was a bright spot for Caterpillar owners, however: For the sixth year, a Caterpillar engine ranked highest in the vocational segment.

As Class 8 truck makers use new emissions technologies to meet new federal standards, satisfaction has dropped, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2006 Heavy-Duty Truck Engine/Transmission Study, released Oct. 5.

Among owners of 2004 models, the average number of reported engine problems increased to 74 problems per 100 vehicles. Last year, the same survey of 2003 owners averaged 46 engine problems per 100.

Problems should decline gradually with upcoming model years, said Brian Etchells, J.D. Power senior manager in the commercial vehicle group.

“In the 2005 study, there was a greater mix of manufacturers using old- and new-technology engines, so we’re just now starting to see the overall impact of the emission regulations,” Etchells said. “As we see more new engines, we see the problems increase.”

The survey of 2,529 primary maintainers of 2004-year trucks measured customer satisfaction in engine quality, engine performance, engine cost of ownership and engine warranty.

Of these four areas, customers were least happy with ownership costs, especially in routine engine maintenance costs and fuel efficiency. Reported fuel consumption was 5.72 mpg in the 2006 survey, compared to 5.91 mpg in 2005 and 6.04 mpg in 2004.

The Caterpillar C-12 ranked highest among vocational heavy-duty truck engine models, performing particularly well in three of the four factors that determine overall satisfaction: engine quality, performance and cost of ownership. The runner-up was another Caterpillar engine, the C-15.

Among nonvocational trucks, no one OEM was represented enough for J.D. Power to name a leader in customer satisfaction. The respondents owned Freightliner, International, Kenworth, Mack, Peterbilt, Sterling, Volvo and Western Star trucks.