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Satisfied with your car? It's less likely, given rising prices, pace of recalls

It's a troubling combo: More-expensive cars that are more likely to be recalled for problems.

The record pace of auto recalls and rising price tags drove car buyer satisfaction down for a third straight year, according to new data released Tuesday by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, or ACSI. Customer satisfaction with automobiles fell 3.7 percent to a score of 79 on an ACSI scale of 0 to 100. The most beloved auto in the United States is a Lexus, and the least satisfying is a Fiat.

"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, ACSI chairman and founder. "The number of recalls is at an all-time high. This should not happen with modern manufacturing technology and has negative consequences for driver safety, costs and customer satisfaction."

The auto industry recalled nearly 64 million vehicles last year because of safety issues, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said earlier this year.

Car owners reported a 40 percent increase in recalls compared to the second quarter of 2014. While the economy improves, consumers are replacing older cars and sales are up — but so are prices, further hurting auto buyer satisfaction.

The highest-scoring automakers remain Japanese and luxury brands, in general, with Acura posting the strongest gain — one of only two brands (with BMW) to improve this year. Ford maintained overall customer satisfaction best among domestic makers. Fiat Chrysler brands tended to dominate the lowest satisfaction scores.

The ACSI, a national economic indicator of customer evaluations of the quality of products and services, uses data from interviews with roughly 70,000 customers annually.

ACSI tracked 27 auto brands and found 15 lost ground in customer satisfaction while only two improved from a year ago. Once again, foreign-made cars provided a significant advantage in customer satisfaction, as 77 percent of the above-average brands analyzed by ACSI were imports.

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