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The GMC Sierra 1500 and the Chevy Silverado 1500 are built on the same platform and share a lot of commonality. So, since we’ve already looked at the Silverado reliability, one might assume the Sierra 1500 has similar reliability issues. Oddly, it doesn’t. Or at least it doesn’t exactly.

We once again consult Consumer Reports, CarComplaints.com and NHTSA.gov to look at model year complaints, recalls and predictive reliability. What we come up with for Sierra is a little bit different but mostly the same.

Transmission issues

Yes, the 2017 Sierra 1500 logged the same 8-speed transmission complaints of the Silverado 1500, but at only a quarter of the number – and that’s likely due to sales volume.

The complaints report hard shifts and transmission slips – just like the Silverado 1500. Consumer Reports acknowledges this is a trouble spot as well, calling it a major problem and giving the transmission reliability the lowest possible score. According to NHTSA, there are 56 powertrain complaints logged and nearly 70% of those pertain to the transmission.

So, yeah, this is a known issue on Sierra as well.

In fact, it’s worth noting there is a class action lawsuit pending regarding this transmission, and it includes Sierra 1500 and Silverado 1500 as well as several other GM products. It covers 2015-2019 model years of both vehicles, but 2017 seems to bear the brunt of complaints.

Clearly this is a shared issue. But whereas the 2017 Silverado 1500 is deemed the worst model year on CarComplaints.com specifically because of this issue, it’s actually the 2015 model year that gets branded the worst model year on the Sierra. Why? Lights.

Sierra Reliability

This screen shot from CarComplaints.com shows that the lighting issues from the 2015 model year help mark it as the worst model year for the vehicle.

Poor lighting pattern

A few hundred complaints were reported to NHTSA and CarComplaints.com about the “very poor headlights” on both the 2014 and 2015 model years. That makes sense because 2014 was the first model year for the next-generation Sierra 1500, so if there were going to be a problem, it would be here. Silverado 1500 has a different headlight design and does not log similar complaints.

To me, however, this is more of an owner satisfaction issue than a reliability issue. The reports aren’t that the lights are burning out or something is wrong with the casing, they literally state things such as: “Headlights so bad, that as others have said they are afraid to drive their $40-50 thousand dollar (sic) trucks at night.” There are also several references to poor visibility in inclement weather.

Collectively, NHTSA and CarComplaints.com recorded 389 complaints about the lights for 2014 and 2015. So, surprise, when the 2016 mid-cycle refresh occurred, guess what GMC did? They redesigned the headlights.

While this isn’t a reliability issue, it’s worth noting here because these are two model years you might want to avoid if you live in a rural area or deal with a lot of inclement weather.

HVAC problems déjà vu

Next to lighting issues, the HVAC system in the 2014 Sierra 1500 logged the most complaints – and this again mirrors the Silverado 1500. Kind of. While Sierra 1500 does have reports of the A/C not working (the Silverado 1500 complaint), the bigger issue is the A/C condenser leaking. According to CarComplaints.com, the average mileage where this issue kicks in is around 64k, and the average cost to repair is $1,130.

Digging into Consumer Reports data, we see the climate system is one of the most common trouble spots on the 2014 Sierra 1500, and in terms of predictive reliability, it gets CR’s lowest score.

Sierra reliability

In terms of GMC Sierra reliability, the 2012 model year seems to be your best bet. Pictured, the 2012 GMC Sierra SLT Crew Cab (Image courtesy of General Motors)

What year is best to buy used?

If you look at Consumer Reports data, I’d have to say nothing from the previous generation (2014 -2019). Sierra 1500 reliability ranges from mediocre to downright awful. So, if you don’t mind going back another couple years, the model with the best reliability appears to be the 2012 Sierra 1500. It’s literally the only model that scores above a 3 out of 5 for predictive reliability in the past decade.

Data from CarComplaints.com and NHTSA appear to back that up, as there are only 21 complaints logged for that year and only one recall – and that was due to a clogged fire extinguisher, not the vehicle itself.

OK, but what about current-gen Sierra 1500 reliability?

If I had a Magic 8 Ball, it would likely say: Signs point to no.

No, there aren’t many complaints that have been logged as of yet, but the 2020 model year already has 8 recalls. And, I keep going back to Consumer Reports because predicted reliability just isn’t improving.

What’s more, the folks at Consumer Reports recently released their most/least reliable list for 2021, and well, the Sierra/Silverado 1500 duo basically failed.

The bottom line on Sierra 1500 reliability

Something hasn’t been going well in the GM truck reliability arena for a while now. Additionally, owner satisfaction is just average, and if you compare owner satisfaction among all full-size trucks, Sierra 1500 and Silverado 1500 are at the bottom of the bunch. The only truck owners seem to like less: The Nissan Titan.

As always, you have to take these reliability stories with a grain of salt, but if reliability is a true concern, I’d probably point you in the direction of the Toyota Tundra.

But if you’re brand loyal and the Sierra 1500 is your truck, you probably already know what you’re getting into.

Related posts:

Consumer Reports 2021 least reliable full-size trucks; GM dominates?

Is the 2014-2018 Chevy Silverado 1500 reliable? One year to avoid

GM transmission lawsuit: The saga continues

Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is a syndicated automotive writer. Jill also manages the “Drive, She Said” blog for ChicagoNow and posts reviews to DriveChicago. She is the president emeritus of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. She also serves as a judge for the Automotive Heritage Foundation Journalism Awards. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Chicago Sun-Times News Group and Pioneer Press Newspapers.

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