Choosing the right car for you can be a mixture of sensible decision, financial obligation and with a hint of raw emotion, but even the prettiest of cars will be given the cold shoulder in the cold hard light of reliability statistics.

A new survey by Which? has concluded that the Luxury and SUV class of cars are more unreliable than small city cars, by some margin.

The short version is that when dealing with cars up to three-years-old, the more money you spend, the more likely it is that you’ll have reliability problems.

Reliability statistics

Which? have surveyed the owners of approximately 51,000 vehicles, they found that luxury vehicles like the BMW 5 & 7 Series or the Mercedes-Benz E and S-Class spent, on average, 2.58 days off the road last year and that the reliability affected 32% of the vehicles.

Compare that to a small city car, like the Toyota Aygo, and the figure drops to just 17% of vehicles, with a shorter time off the road – 1.26 days typically.

The next most common class for faults was the sports-utility vehicle – 27% suffered faults with an average of 2 days in the garage.


On the face of it, the study by Which? does seem to hold some valid information, but the missing link in the survey is manufacturer – many of the larger brands can offer you a range of vehicles, from small city car through to SUV, so could it be a manufacturing problem rather than a specific vehicle category?

A study by Auto Express revealed that the top three ‘Most Reliable Manufacturers’ are Lexus, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz – all luxury and SUV, compare that to their findings for the least reliable – Dacia, Vauxhall and Chevrolet – brands not exactly known for their luxury or SUV offerings.

Of course, there are exceptions – Mercedes make the A-Class for example, and Chevrolet make a number of SUVs, albeit rebadged Opel’s, which we’d know better as Vauxhall, so that would fit with the Auto Express poll – both Vauxhall and Chevy occupying the bottom two spots.

Car reliability

With regulations on nearly every aspect of a car getting tighter – crash survivability, functionality, emissions, economy and performance, coupled with the need to incorporate more technology for in-car entertainment, safety or ‘luxury’, the amount of electronic equipment fitted has increased dramatically over the last decade, perhaps more so over the last 5-years.

Also, it’s ‘technology’ that seems to lead the way for the reliability problems – onboard software, in-car entertainment, built-in satnav, electrically controlled components (windows, sunroof & mirrors) and exhaust or emission control top the list for faults – very few mechanical faults. Does it fit that the more tech fitted, the more problems? Perhaps it’s this that the Which? study relates to.

Buying advice

The simple truth is that reliability has increased exponentially over the last two or three decades, and we’ve gone from adjusting the ‘points’, setting the timing, mopping up oil and having regular ‘tune-ups’ to barely lifting the bonnet between services, and perhaps that’s only to top-up the screenwash.

Instances of mechanical failures are on the decline; robots build cars, components are checked automatically, anything outside of tolerance is re-purposed – there really isn’t such a thing as a ‘Friday afternoon car’ anymore, but we expect so much more, but part of that is because we know so much more.

The world of internet has opened up a new knowledge-base, as has the car’s ability to tell us something is wrong, but it’s entirely due to the technology fitted that the majority of reliability concerns arise, but that in itself is a benefit.

According to the Which? survey, the worst offending cars are off the road for an average of 2.58 days in a year, if they were treating mechanical breakdowns, you could easily double that, with an appropriate increase in labour to strip & rebuild, rather than reprogram.

Perhaps the better headline should be “Cars are so reliable today that even the worst offender only spends two-and-a-half days off the road”.

The term ‘reliability’ is relative, the defining key to it is quite fluid – a problem with the satnav, for example, doesn’t render the car unusable or unsafe, merely … not what we expect in this day and age, and surely that in itself speaks volumes?

Yes, it’s technology that’s causing the majority of these ‘reliability’ problems, but equally, it’s technology that has solved the wider issue of mechanical breakdowns – leaving us stuck by the side of the road waiting for a recovery vehicle.

If you are looking for a new car, and want something a bit smaller, then look no further than the Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 95 SE which one the Small Car of the Year award at the WhatCar? awards this year. Our partner CarKeys can help to source this car for you, simply head here, and fill in your details and they’ll be in contact.

What do you think of the Which? survey? Have they got it right, or is it misleading the buying public? Let us know in the comments.

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