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Best and worst older cars for reliability

We name the most dependable (and most troublesome) used cars from six to 15 years old, based on owners’ experiences...

Older car reliability lead image

Used car prices have been increasing steadily throughout 2021, and many models cost a third more now than a year ago due to the computer chip shortage that’s causing new car delivery delays.

That means it’s more important than ever to choose your second-hand car wisely, and reliability is a crucial factor in keeping costs down – especially if you’re buying an older car that’s no longer covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

If you buy a dependable model, you shouldn’t be hit with anything other than routine servicing and maintenance bills for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, if you pick a car that’s prone to faults, you could end up facing a constant stream of expensive repair bills.

To help buyers select the best used cars aged from six to 15 years old, we asked more than 16,000 car owners to tell us how reliable their cars had been over the previous year for the annual What Car? Reliability Survey.

To help us highlight the most common problem areas for different models, we asked owners to tell us what went wrong with their cars. They could pick from 15 categories: air-con, battery, bodywork, brakes, clutch/gearbox, engine, engine electrics, exhaust, fuel system, infotainment/sat-nav, interior trim, non-engine electrics, steering, suspension and other.

To measure the seriousness of each fault, we also asked how long the car took to be repaired and how much the work cost.

The worst offenders – cars that were off the road for more than a week and cost more than £1500 to fix – received the lowest reliability ratings. Those with minor niggles that were fixed for free were given higher scores.

Our data encompasses 139 models from 27 brands.

Help us get data on more cars by completing the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey

The most reliable small cars 

1. Toyota Yaris (2011-2020)

Reliability rating 98.5%

What went wrong? Steering 4%

2014 Toyota Yaris face-lift revealed

It's not the most exciting to drive, but the previous-generation Yaris is doggedly dependable. Only 4% of cars went wrong, and they were easy to fix: all were back on the road within a day. Even better news for owners is that although no cars were fixed for free, no repair bills exceeded £300.

Owner comment: “My car has never let me down in six years. It’s so reliable that I’d definitely buy another one.”

Save money on a used Toyota Yaris >>

2. Suzuki Swift (2010-2017)

Reliability rating 97.8%

Suzuki Swift Sport

A used Swift is another good bet if you want a small car that won’t let you down. Owners told us only 7% of cars had developed a fault, and the battery and suspension were the only areas of concern. Repairs were cheap but slow: no bills topped £100, but 50% of cars took more than a week to rectify.

Save money on a used Suzuki Swift >>

3. Mazda 2 (2007-2015)

Reliability rating 96.5%

Mazda 2

This iteration of the Mazda 2 is closely related to the previous-generation Ford Fiesta, but it’s a much more robust used buy. Engine electrical faults were the only issues, affecting just 7% of cars. All broken cars were back on the road in less than a week, but owners had to pay out between £301 and £500.

Save money on a new Mazda 2 with new car deals  >>

The least reliable small cars

1. Vauxhall Corsa (2006-2014)

Reliability rating 67.1%

What went wrong? Engine electrics 17%, steering 17%, air-con 9%, brakes 9%, exhaust 9%, battery 4%, fuel system 4%, gearbox/ clutch 4%, sat-nav 4%

Vauxhall Corsa (06 - 14)

The Corsa is one of the most popular cars for new drivers, but it’s also one of the most prone to problems, with 44% of owners having issues. Although two thirds of cars were put right within a day and 10% of work was done for free, 10% of owners had to shell out £501 to £1000 for each fault.

Owner comment: “It’s left me stranded too many times. It’s been bugged by a constant stream of electrical issues, and the door locks are temperamental.”

2. Seat Ibiza (2008-2017)

Reliability rating 69.6%

Seat Ibiza Hatchback 08-17

The Ibiza’s fault rate of 29% was relatively high, and problems with areas such as the battery, braking system, exhaust, non-engine electrics and steering rendered a third of cars undriveable. Most cars cost less than £500 to rectify, but 5% of owners were hit with bills of between £1001 and £1500.

3. Skoda Fabia (2007-2014)

Reliability rating 71.8%

Skoda Fabia front three quarters

Engine issues affected 14% of the Fabias we were told about, accounting for almost half of the 29% of faults overall. Although 55% of the afflicted cars were put right in a day or less, none of them were fixed for free and 25% of owners were left £310 or more out of pocket, with some paying more than £1500.