J.D. Power: 44.8% report motorcycle problems

Part three of four parts
by Bill Stermer, Contributing Writer
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third article in our four-part series on the J.D. Power and Associates Motorcycle Competitive Information Study (MCIS), the latest of which was conducted in 2003. Surveys were mailed to 48,456 people who had purchased a new street or dual-sport motorcycle between September of 2002 and May of 2003. Names were selected at random by J.D. Power and Associates from lists furnished by each of the manufacturers and R.L. Polk and Company.
These results were compiled from the 11,347 usable responses (a 23.1% response rate). This article focuses on Problems, Parts and Accessories, and the Service Department.
One of the biggest disappointments in life is when we pay many thousands of dollars for a new motorcycle, a dream of glory and an extension of ourselves, only to have the experience turn out less than perfect. New-bike buyers were invited to list any of a wide range of problems they may have experienced with their bikes. The good news is that 55.2% reported having no problems with their bikes; the bad news is that the other 44.8% did have problems.
How many problems? Of the total number of riders, 26.9% reported a single problem with their bikes, 10.8% reported two problems, and 4.9% reported three. The percentage reporting four problems was 1.5, and 0.69% reported five or more. To know exactly what happened, you’ll have to purchase the report.
What things went wrong? Well, 17.8% of all buyers reported engine problems, 12.7% reported electrical problems, another 11.4% had transmission or drivetrain problems. Fit /Finish bugged 10.6%, and 7.9% experienced problems with gauges or controls. Another 12.6% listed their problems in the catch-all “other” category.
Obviously, OEMs have a good deal of work to do in this arena, and you dealers catch the brunt of the complaints when things go wrong.
Rating overall build quality
Participants were asked to rate their new motorcycle’s build quality overall in terms of the number and type of problems experienced. Riders were invited to use a 1 to 10 scale, where 1 is Unacceptable and 10 is Outstanding.
Despite the fact that 44.8% reported a problem with their bikes, 44.5% rated their bike’s build as a “10” (Outstanding), and 21.2% gave it a “9.” Add in the 15.3% who rated it an “8,” and only 19% ranked it a “7” or less.
Despite the complaints above, new-bike buyers tend to be a forgiving lot. Perhaps by the time they took the survey, the problems had been solved and they felt better about their purchases.
Meeting customer expectations
Meeting customer expectations is important, and so participants were asked to compare their experiences with their expectations.
Perhaps here’s the answer. Riders could check any of three responses, and 49.0% decided that their bikes had experienced fewer problems than they had expected, while 38.6% reported that the problems were “About what I expected.”
Despite the fact that nearly half reported having problems, only 12.4% checked “More problems than expected.” In other words, while there were a fair number of problems, buyers expected that there would be.
Parts and Accessories

Accessories purchased
In this part of the survey, participants were asked which bike accessories they have purchased (at time of purchase and/or after initial bike purchase).
Fully 86.9% reported buying accessories for their bikes. Keep in mind that the survey defines an accessory as “a component used to enhance bike performance, styling, etc.,” and a part as “an original equipment part.”
Which motorcycle parts have you purchased (at time of purchase and/or after initial bike purchase)?
Parts purchased
Some 64.5% reported purchasing parts, and 84% said they usually buy parts for their new motorcycle from their dealer.
Parts Purchased
Chemicals 49.0%
Maintenance parts 26.4%
Body parts 14.6%
Minor repair parts 7.3%
Other 2.1%
Major repair parts 3.1%
Place Purchased
Motorcycle dealer 84.0%
Internet 6.0%
Mail order 2.3%
Rally/event 0.3%
Parts/accessories only shop 3.8%
Independent repair shop 2.9%
Other 0.8%
Location Accessories Purchased
Motorcycle dealer 75.1%
Internet 12.6%
Mail order 4.5%
Rally/event 0.5%
Parts/accessories shop 4.2%
Independent repair shop 2.5%
Other 0.6%
Despite inroads being made by other forms of retail, the dealer is still the primary source by far of parts and accessories purchases.
Selecting accessories
Exhaust pipes are the most popular accessory added by participating motorcycle owners, according to the J.D. Power survey. While sales of pipes are down slightly from last year, they’re still the number-one seller Here’s the complete list.
Popular Accessories
Exhaust pipes 45.1%
Chrome accessories 39.7%
Backrest 36.9%
Windshield 33.9%
Footpegs/floorboards 31.5%
Luggage rack 26.0%
Saddlebags 23.1%
Other 20.1%
Custom seat 18.3%
Engine modifications 16.2%
Engine guards 12.7%
Handlebar 9.1%
Wheels 4.5%
Suspension 4.4%
New motorcycle owners also are willing to part with significant sums of money to purchase these accessories. More than 20% of the participants in the J.D. Power survey said they spent over $2,000 on accessories.
Spending on Accessories
Under $100 3.3%
$100-$400 18.6%
$401-$700 14.1%
$701-$1,000 18.8%
$1,001-$1,500 12.0%
$1,501-$2,000 11.3%
More than $2,000 21.8%
When asked how frequently they brought their bike in for service in the past year (including oil changes, routine maintenance, repairs, recalls and product updates), fully 20.1% said they did not take their bikes for service.
However, 32.3% reported taking it in once, 22.6% said twice, and 13% three times. Those reporting four service visits were 5.7%, and an identical 5.7% reported five or more visits.
The good news here is that owners who did take their bikes in for service, usually did so at the dealership where they purchased the bike.
According to the survey, of those who had their new bikes serviced at least once in the past year, 68.0% took it to the selling dealership, and 12.1% took it to another dealership. Some 16.3% reported doing the work themselves, and 3.6% reported taking it to an independent mechanic.
Rating the service
An important component of customer
satisfaction is getting a job performed correctly the first time. Here, the base
was those who reported having the dealer that sells their motorcycle brand performing the service. Of those respondents, 88.7%
reported that the work was done right
the first time.
However, when asked to rate their overall service experience at this dealership on a scale of 1 to 10, the results were not nearly so good.
Here’s where the wrench meets the bolt as new-bike buyers rate their dealer’s service department. Again, the base was those who visited a dealer that sold their particular motorcycle brand.
With 54.4% of respondents rating their dealers 9-10, the majority of dealers are doing a very good job in their service departments. Keep up that good work, guys and gals! Still, 15.9% reported the experience “Average” or below. psb
Rating Service Experience
10. (Outstanding) 32.1%
9. 22.3%
8. 16.0%
7. 8.7%
6. 5.0%
5. (Average) 9.1%
4. 2.1%
3. 1.7%
2. 1.3%
1. (Unacceptable) 1.7%

Next Issue: Helmets
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because no gentleman’s agreement exists about how new-bike buyers feel about their helmets, we’ll be able to tell you the top-ranked brands. psb

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