A California marketing research company that's trying to gain ground on the longer-established J.D. Power and Associates car-quality survey has released its own study of new-vehicle quality and customer satisfaction.

Strategic Vision's Problem Impact Study for 1998 named American Honda the most reliable full-line manufacturer of vehicles sold in the United States. The Acura Integra, BMW 318Ti and Mercedes-Benz S-Class tied for first place as individual models least likely to tick off their owners with problems.General Motors Corp. was rated lowest in terms of customer-perceived quality among full-line manufacturers. The Kia Sephia out of South Korea was rated worst model.

J.D. Power, also based in California, does a straightforward count of defects found by buyers of new cars and has been publishing its Initial Quality Study for 11 years.

Strategic Vision, in its first annual Problem Impact Report, counts defects and tries to measure the impact of those defects on buyer satisfaction. The study uses a number of factors, including the severity of defects, how problems were fixed and the expectations of customers when they bought their new vehicles.

"We don't think a loose screw should be counted the same as an engine failure," said Daniel Gorrell, Strategic Vision vice president.

Furthermore, he said, a minor problem fixed quickly by a dealer "can actually improve the customer's overall satisfaction with the car-buying and owning experience."