Lexus ranked as the most dependable auto brand in the U.S. for a 14th straight year, while Mercury won back the No. 2 ranking in a study...

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Lexus ranked as the most dependable auto brand in the U.S. for a 14th straight year, while Mercury won back the No. 2 ranking in a study that shows vehicles are becoming more reliable.

Lexus logged just 120 complaints for every 100 vehicles, down from 145 last year, according to the annual Vehicle Dependability Study from J.D. Power & Associates, which was released Thursday.

Mercury tallied 151 reported problems, 17 fewer than last year. The survey, which was released Thursday, tracks consumer complaints from 52,000 original owners of 3-year-old cars and trucks.

Three Ford Motor Co. brands — Mercury, Lincoln and Jaguar — were among the study’s top 10, the most of any manufacturer. Lexus and Toyota models were ranked highest in 11 individual vehicle segments, ahead of all other companies.

Lexus has been the nation’s top-selling luxury brand for eight straight years, underscoring Power’s contention that companies that consistently deliver the most reliable vehicles are rewarded by consumers.

“Understanding and minimizing quality deterioration is critical for manufacturers, as it is a key driver of owner satisfaction and word-of-mouth recommendations,” David Sargent, J.D. Power’s vice president of automotive research, said in a statement.

The study by the Westlake Village, Calif.-based consumer research firm focused on 2005 models. It found the number of complaints per 100 vehicles fell to an average of 206, down from 216 in last year’s study, 227 the year before, and 237 before that.

General Motors’ Cadillac retained the No. 3 spot with 155 reported problems, 7 fewer than the year before.

The Toyota brand, excluding the Lexus division, was fourth, at 159, followed by Honda’s premium Acura brand with 160.

GM’s Buick, which tied with Lexus for the top ranking in 2007, tumbled to sixth. Its owners had 163 complaints per 100 cars, up from 145 last year.

Five of the top 10 complaints for 3-year-old vehicles matched those that owners listed in Power’s 2005 Initial Quality Study — indicating that those five are persistent problems. They were:

• Excessive wind noise

• Noisy brakes.

• Vehicle pulling left or right.

• Instrument panel problems.

• Excessive window fogging.

“Additional focus on these issues prior to vehicle launch would benefit not only consumers, but also automakers through increased customer satisfaction,” Sargent said.

BMW again was the study’s seventh-highest brand, reducing complaints to 164 from 182 a year ago. It was followed by Lincoln at 165, also down from 182.

The Honda brand, No. 5 last year, dropped to ninth as complaints rose to 177 from 169. Jaguar rounded out the top 10 brands, cutting complaints to 178 from 197 a year ago.

Ford completed the sale of Jaguar to India’s Tata Motors Ltd. in June.