Best and worst older cars for reliability
How dependable are cars as they get older? Here’s what the owners of cars between five and 20 years of age have told us...
Whether you’re buying a used car as a second family runabout or as a first car for a novice driver, the last thing you’ll want it to be is an unreliable money pit.
While new cars come with manufacturer warranties that should cover the cost of any major defects that might occur for at least three years, you have far less comeback when it comes to older cars, and in many cases you’ll have to foot the cost of any repairs yourself. And that means you could be landed with thousands of pounds worth of repair bills.
To help you choose a dependable older car, we conduct the What Car? Reliability Survey each year. In the latest survey, we obtained data from nearly 13,000 car owners. We asked them to tell us if their car had suffered a fault in the previous 12 months and, if so, which areas of the car were affected.
The owners were asked to pick from 14 different categories for faults: air conditioning, battery, bodywork, brakes, engine, engine electrics, fuel system, exhaust system, gearbox/clutch, infotainment/dashboard, interior trim, non-engine electrics, steering and suspension. For each problem, we then asked the owners to tell us how much it had cost to repair, with the responses ranging from fixed under warranty for free to more than £1500. They also told us if the car could still be driven and how long it took to be repaired, from less than a day to more than a week.
Their responses were weighted according to the severity of each fault (based on how much it cost to put right and the length of time the car was out of action) and used to create a unique reliability rating we use to rank them in order of dependability.
In total, we were able to rate 175 different models that span 31 brands, giving us a meaningful insight into which will be the most and least reliable cars, whether they’re small city runabouts or big luxury SUVs.
To create these reliability tables, we’ve crunched the data for cars first registered between 2000 and 2015 for each of our categories.
Value and small cars
Most reliable Kia Picanto (2011-2017)
Reliability rating 98.5%
What went wrong? Battery 6%
The Picanto may not be as agile or refined as the VW Group’s triumvirate of the Seat Mii, Skoda Citigo and Volkswagen Up, but it trounces them for dependability. Only 6% of cars went wrong and the only area affected was the battery. All cars were fixed in a day or less and no bills exceeded £100
Owner comment: “The thing I like most about my car is how reliable it has been. It comes with a seven-year warranty, but I’ve not needed to use it.”
With its double-folding rear seats, the Jazz is one of the most practical small hatchbacks, and it is also proving durable, according to owners. They told us that only 5% of cars went wrong, with the battery and brakes being the only trouble spots. Half of the cars could still be driven and all were fixed in a day or less for £200 or less.
Reliability rating 97.3%
Petrol-engined versions of the latest Mini are proving pretty bulletproof, with electrical issues being the only problem reported by owners. Only 5% of cars were affected and all of them could still be driven, but those that were faulty took up to a week to fix and repair bills ranged from £301 to £500.
Least reliable Vauxhall Corsa (2006-2014)
Reliability rating 73.0%
What went wrong? Air-con 14%, battery 9%, brakes 9%, engine 9%, engine electrics 9%, exhaust 5%, interior trim 5%, non-engine electrics 5%, suspension 5%
The Corsa may be popular among new drivers, but reliability is left wanting, with more than a third of respondents’ cars going wrong. All cars could still be driven, but a third took more than a week to fix. Although 7% of cars were repaired for free, two-thirds of owners faced bills of between £101 and £500.
Owner comment: “My car has had a costly fault with its engine electrics that’s been ongoing for two years and still hasn’t been resolved.”
Reliability rating 82.0%
Older Ibizas suffer a lot of faults; 40% of the cars we were told about had gone wrong, with issues covering a wide range of areas, from the air-con and infotainment systems to the engine and suspension. However, all cars remained driveable and nearly two-thirds were fixed in a day or less, and more than 90% of repairs cost less than £200.
Reliability rating 82.3%
Diesel Fiestas aren’t quite as dependable as petrol versions, with 25% of them going wrong (versus 22%). The most common problem area was the suspension, but owners also reported issues with the brakes, fuel system and gearbox. Repairs were costly, ranging from £101 to £750, and four out of five cars spent more than a week in the garage.