Customers’ vehicle satisfaction declines for a 3rd year in a row

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Car prices keep going up, but so do the number of recall notices being sent to car owners.

It’s not a combination designed to make customers happy.

Customer satisfaction with vehicles is down for the third year in a row, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The report released Tuesday said the sector’s score fell 3.7 percent to 79 on a 100-point scale.

Americans are still buying cars. Auto website Edmunds.com last month called the first half of 2015 “the best six months in a decade for new car sales,” and said July sales should keep pace.

More buyers may be heading to the dealerships soon, if only because the old buggy is worn out. The combined average age of cars and trucks on the road in the U.S. has risen to 11.5 years, according to IHS Automotive, a consulting firm in Southfield, Mich.

Prices for new vehicles had been held down for a number of years. That was in part a byproduct of the government’s Cash for Clunkers program and the economic downturn that spurred discounting.

“Higher prices are clearly hurting car buyer satisfaction, but low prices also have artificially inflated satisfaction in the years prior,” said David VanAmburg, director of the index based at the University of Michigan, in a prepared statement.

But paying more for a vehicle that has problems is particularly annoying.

“While it is true that all cars are now much better than they were 10 to 20 years ago, it is alarming that so many of them have quality problems,” said Claes Fornell, chairman and founder of the index, in the written analysis of the data.

In June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted the Takata air bag recall alone involved 11 auto manufacturers and about 34 million vehicles.

The following month, the government agency imposed a $105 million civil penalty on Fiat Chrysler for not effectively executing 23 recalls covering more than 11 million vehicles.

Several Fiat Chrysler nameplates sat at the bottom of the scoring list, with Fiat earning a 73, Chrysler falling 9 percent to score 74 and Jeep down 5 percent to a score of 75.

The highest scores went to luxury brands. Lexus held steady at 84, Acura rose 8 percent to tie Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz at 83. BMW rose 3 percent to 82.

Among mass-market automakers, Subaru and Toyota did best with a score of 82, although Subaru’s score fell 4 percent and Toyota’s was down 1 percent.