Which cars will probably let you down?

Carlton Boyce / 28 October 2016

There are bad cars out there, and there are unreliable ones, too…



The motoring journalist is more likely than most to use clichés like “pulls like a train”, “standing on the loud pedal” or even the ridiculous “hewn from granite”. (Before you all write in, yes, I’ve probably been guilty of using some of them too…)

One of the most common is the claim that no one builds bad cars anymore. Well, as regular readers will know, we’re not afraid of giving a bad car an honest review, a stance that has led to one or two awkward conversations with public relations officers and, in one case, a well-known car manufacturer unfollowing me on Twitter in protest.

So there are bad cars out there, and there are unreliable ones, too. The trouble is, some motoring journalists won’t tell you about the press cars that broke down and left them stranded because they want to make sure they’re guaranteed an invitation to the next no-expense-spared car launch in a faraway, exotic location.

Luckily, we have the annual J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study (or VDS), an independent survey that measures the problems encountered by more than 13,000 owners of 2013-15 model-year vehicles in the United Kingdom.

The lower the number of problems, the better the car

By examining 177 symptoms across eight categories (engine and transmission; the vehicle’s exterior; the driving experience; the car’s features, controls and displays; its audio and communications system including the sat-nav; the seats; the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system; and the general interior of the vehicle) dependability can be ranked by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles. This means that the lower the number, the more reliable the car is likely to be.

Skoda comes out top for the second year running, closely followed by Suzuki and Kia. That cars from these manufacturers dominate the table shouldn’t come as any surprise because they’ve been the car of choice for the canny motorist for a number of years now because they drive well, are priced keenly and, crucially, are unlikely to let you down.

Vauxhall has also made great strides recently, and the new Vauxhall Astra is well equipped, drives well, and is competitively priced. It should also prove to be a reliable companion too, if Vauxhall’s fourth place in the survey is anything to go by.

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Highest score loses

While the top of the table might not provide any surprises, the same cannot be said of the lower reaches with some of the premium brands offering a disappointing level of reliability. When the industry average is a score of 113 problems per one hundred cars (a one-point improvement on 2015’s score), it is a bit of a surprise to see Hyundai scoring 130 and MINI scoring 140 faults per hundred cars.

However, when you see some of the so-called premium manufacturers like Mercedes, BMW and Audi scoring 154, 156 and 170 respectively, you start to understand that the difference between a car’s perceived reliability and the reality might be very different indeed.

However, the most shocking result for most people will be Land Rover, which languishes at the very bottom of the table with a woeful score of 197. This hasn’t come as any great shock to those of us whom monitor such things but might be a disappointment if you’ve just paid £100,000 or more for a new Range Rover.

Of course, expensive, premium cars are also more complex than simpler ones, and it is the niggling little electronic faults with some of the high-tech toys that are making their way into our cars that can be the hardest to resolve. However, even taking that into account, you might like to focus on some of the more mainstream manufacturers if reliability is important to you.

Reasonable and reliable

Cars like the SEAT Leon ST and Suzuki Vitara S are fabulous to drive, cheap to buy, hold their value well, and less likely to let you down than some of their ‘premium’ rivals.

As a result, they engender fierce loyalty among their owners, which isn’t the case for cars nearer the bottom of the reliability index. 

Just 38% of people who have experienced a problem say that they would remain loyal to the marque, a figure that led Dr. Axel Sprenger, senior director of European automotive operations at J.D. Power to make the following observation. “There is a direct correlation between the number of problems customers experience with their vehicle and the decisions they make when the time comes to purchase or lease their next car,” he said. 

“While a small drop in actual loyalty may not sound like much, with the average price of a new vehicle in the UK at approximately £22,000, a percentage point drop in share can mean millions of pounds in lost revenue to an automaker.”

So, my advice is to vote with your feet and buy those cars that won’t let you down. After all, isn’t getting there more important than arriving in style on the back of a recovery lorry?

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.