It’s the most commonly asked question when buying a used car. It comes in many forms. ‘Does she give trouble?’ ‘What are the most common problems?’ But it all boils down to one question — is a particular brand or model reliable? What makes the most unreliable car?
Old fashioned reliability
The answer is, in some ways, a simple yes. Certainly, if you’re in your early forties or older, then any modern car (and by modern I broadly mean any car designed and built in the last 15 years) is reliable, much more so than the cars we grew up with. Rust has been all but eradicated, major mechanical issues are much more rare and, by and large, most of the unreliability with which we now deal is down to faulty electronics.
Difficult to identify
In fact, it’s very hard to say today what constitutes an unreliable brand or model, simply because so much is down to individual care and attention. A 40-year old Fiat will be more reliable than a brand new Ford if one is cared for properly and the other isn’t.
UK - First place
All that said, the latest release of data from Warranty Direct in the UK makes for some interesting reading. Warranty Direct provides aftermarket warranty cover for cars, so it’s generally dealing with models that are at least three years old or older, and more likely to have issues arising. And the brand which comes top of its list (taken as a percentage of claims made against policies held) is perhaps the least surprising of all — Alfa Romeo.
According to Warranty Direct 40 per cent of Alfa Romeo owners who hold a warranty policy have made a claim, and the average cost of that claim was STG£355. Most of the issues related to suspension, electrics or cooling systems.
Now prepare for a surprise. In second place, with 36 per cent of policy holders making a claim, and with an average cost per claim of STG£1,019 is… Porsche. Yup, that bastion of German quality and reliability is apparently only four per cent more reliable than an Alfa, with again suspension and electronics being the most common issues.
Third & fourth place
Less surprisingly, Land Rover comes in third place, with a 34 per cent rating and an average cost of STG£513 per repair claim, and Chrysler coming in fourth place (26 per cent and STG£474 per claim) is equally unsurprising — neither brand has held a strong reputation for quality.
Fifth place & beyond
However, in fifth place, the surprises start again — Mercedes-Benz, again a German car maker with a towering reputation for quality and solidity, is rated at 25 per cent, with an average repair cost of STG£559. Jaguar comes next, and again that’s a surprise as the British firm often performs well in reliability and quality surveys such as the JD Power rankings, but according to Warranty Direct 23 per cent of policies involving a Jag were claimed against.
Now for the big one. Lexus. In seventh place, with 22 per cent of owners making a claim, and an average repair cost of STG£469. Surely that can’t be right? Lexus cars are supposed to be unbreakable, but nevertheless according to the stats, they’re six per cent more unreliable than a BMW, the brand which finished in eighth place with a 16 per cent rating.
Ninth place - a surprise
Rounding out the top ten were Volvo (also a surprise, generally considered to be a solidly built brand) and Citroen, which with 15 per cent of policy holders making a claim might be considered to be doing quite well, taking into account the fact that French cars generally don’t have a great reliability reputation.
What factors come into play?
So why all the surprises? How come Lexus makes an appearance in the top ten, and the likes of, for instance, Peugeot or Renault or Fiat do not? According to Warranty Direct’s CEO Philip Ward, the answer is simple — equipment. “Super-minis and hatchbacks did not receive many claims, largely due to the simplicity of their parts and reduced costs of labour. These included makes such as Smart, Kia, Seat, Ford and Hyundai, all with less than ten per cent claims being made against their policies” he said. “With many cars becoming increasingly more complex in terms of component parts, repair costs will continue to rise throughout 2017. Vehicles which might initially seem reliable and reasonably priced can end up becoming a financial liability for the owner.