When it comes to running my own car, I’m not a great fan of the penny pinching approach - especially when it comes to the essentials like car insurance, buying new tyres, and keeping the service schedule up-to-date. A penny saved here is often false economy, whether that’s in the car’s short-term safety or its long-term residual value.
However, while I can be a bit of a sucker for something extravagant and wildly impractical as my weekend wheels, the family jalopy has to be cheap to run, if only because it leaves more money free for the good things in life like holidays, meals out and buying books. (And being able to afford something extravagant and wildly impractical as my weekend wheels, obviously.)
So, I read the report from online garage and repair marketplace specialists WhoCanFixMyCar.com with a personal interest. I found that it confirmed what I’d long suspected: that the UK’s most popular cars have become so for a number of very good reasons, not least of which is the fact that they’re cheap to fix on the infrequent occasions when they do go wrong…
Which cars are the cheapest to repair?
In the small and city car category the Volkswagen Polo had the lowest overall average repair cost of £214.05, just pipping the Ford Fiesta (£230.07) and Vauxhall Corsa (£238.21) to the top spot.
There aren’t any real shocks there; we’re only looking in detail at six of the ten best selling cars in the UK - and cars only tend to become that popular because they are cheap to buy, have low running costs and high driver appeal.
So, no big surprises in the small and city car class. However, things get more interesting when you start to compare the cost of repairing cars between the different rungs of a manufacturer’s range.
Take a medium-sized family car like the VW Golf, for example. Its average repair cost was £266.55, which is over £50 more than the Polo. Given the tendency for cars to have gained both length and width over the years, you might find that the Polo now meets your needs as well as the larger Golf; if so, then you could save the cost of a decent meal for two every time it needs repairing simply by choosing the smaller car.
It’s a similar story for the others, too. The average cost of repairing a Ford Focus is £250.94, and a Vauxhall Astra is £260.64. Each provides a smaller differential over its smaller sibling than that of the German cars, but there are useful savings to be had by downsizing one rung in the manufacturer’s ladder.
And, don’t forget, the smaller cars are likely to be cheaper to buy, insure, tax, and fuel, too…
Why the car you drive is too big
How did they calculate which is the cheapest car to repair?
The people behind the WhoCanFixMyCar website, which connects more than 11,800 garages and car repair centres with drivers in need of car servicing, repairs, and MOTs, looked at the most common jobs that are carried out on a wide range of models, aggregating the results from more than 1.2m users and 300,000 data points.
Alistair Preston, Co-Founder of WhoCanFixMyCar.com, said 'We decided to compare the best-selling hatchbacks because often drivers struggle to decide which model to purchase.
'Although it’s pretty tight between the brands in terms of average maintenance cost, there are some big differences when you look a little closer. The difference between the Golf and Polo is vast, something to consider if you can’t choose between the two models.'
The devil is in the details
As ever, the devil is in the details. There is no point in crowing about the low average repair cost if your car is constantly in the garage; it’s the overall cost of ownership that’s important, rather than the saving you might make on each individual job.
Ford does well here too. The annual What Car? reliability survey for 2018, which is compiled from data provided by 18,284 people who have reported on their experiences driving 159 different models from 31 different car manufacturers, gave Ford Fiesta petrol models built between 2008-17 a score 95.6%.
The results, which were created by an algorithm that factored in the cost of the repairs and the length of time the cars were off the road as well as their inherent reliability, gave the Vauxhall Corsa (2014-present) a score of 93.9%, placing it second in our trio of small and city cars.
The Volkswagen Polo (2009-17) brought up the rear with just 85.8%, which is still a good score but one that does rather undermine the enviable reputation that German cars have for reliability given that owners had roughly a one-in-five chance of having a problem with it in the year. The overall top spot across all makes of small and city car went to the Toyota Yaris, which gained a perfect score of 100%.
It’s a similar story for the larger cars: the Ford Focus (2011-present) scored 95.7%, closely followed by the VW Golf diesel (2013-present) with 95.2%, and the VW Golf petrol (2013-present) with 94.8%. The Vauxhall Astra comes last in our group of three with a (still impressive) score of 93.8%. The Hyundai i30 came first overall with a score of 98.9%.
And if we drill down even further, Vauxhall comes out as the most expensive vehicle manufacturer of the Big Three for some bigger jobs such as clutch replacement, changing the head gasket and making repairs to the gearbox. WhoCanFixMyCar say that a Vauxhall gearbox repair is likely to cost you 27% more than making a similar repair to a Ford and 17% more than the same job on a Volkswagen.
Three small cars that won't make you feel bad about downsizing
While the VW Polo might be the cheapest car to repair, it may well need more repairs than the equivalent Ford, which makes the Ford Fiesta my top pick overall.
I’m not alone in placing it so highly either, because it has been Britain’s best-selling car for decades. That it’s cheap to buy and fantastic to drive only adds the icing to what is an already delicious cake.
But the big-picture learning here is to consider downsizing your car. Smaller cars are cheaper to buy, run, insure and repair than the larger models you are probably used to. They’re probably bigger inside than you think, too; the Fiesta will seat four people in comfort, and five at a pinch. In fact, if you cast your mind back to the early eighties, the current Fiesta probably has similar interior space to that of the old Ford Cortina, so you might need to recalibrate your mental image of what it can squeeze in!