Manual versus auto gearbox reliability and the most common car faults

Car owners reveal the problems that have plagued their cars over the past year - check our lists to see what to look out for on your next car...

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Are manual gearboxes more dependable than automatics? 

In short, according to the owners who responded our survey – yes. There's more to it than that, though. Overall, 24% of the cars with automatic gearboxes we were told about suffered a fault, but it was their electrical systems and engines that were most troublesome, accounting for 24% and 14% of faults. Gearbox issues affected only 6% of cars. So, perhaps it's the fact that automatics lead tougher, higher mileage lives than manual gearbox cars that makes them more trouble-prone. 

Ssangyong Korando gearbox

Owners told us 23% of cars with manual gearboxes went wrong, 11% of them with gearbox issues. Although electrical faults were the most common (19%), there was also a fairly high proportion of problems with car batteries, bodywork and suspension (all 14%). 

Cars with continuous variable transmission (CVT) gearboxes appear to be more durable than those with dual-clutch systems (DSGs): 13% of CVT cars went wrong, compared with 19% of DSG ones. CVT models mainly suffered electrical issues and only 4% of owners reported gearbox issues, while 10% of DSG cars had a gearbox problem. 

What goes wrong with cars?

According to owners, 20% of newer and older cars suffered a fault; 87% of cars up to five years old were fixed for free, as were 17% of older cars. Only 2% of newer cars cost more than £1500 to put right and the figure rises to 5% for older cars. Here we list the most common fault areas for newer and older cars. 

The most common faults on cars aged up to five years old 

Rank Fault area Percentage
1.  Non-engine electrics 27.1%
2.  Bodywork 19.0%
3.  Engine electrics 13.4%
4.  Engine 12.1%
5.  Infotainment 11.3%
6.  Battery  10.8%
7. Brakes 9.4%
8. Interior trim 8.9%
9. Exhaust 8.6%
10. Gearbox/clutch 6.7%
11. Air-con 5.7%
12. Suspension 4.7%
13. Fuel system 2.8%
14. Steering 2.5%

The most common faults on cars aged between six and 20 years old

Rank  Fault area Percentage
1. Suspension 20.1%
2. Non-engine electrics 17.6%
3. Brakes  16.0%
4. Battery  14.8%
5. Engine 14.6%
6. Air-con 14.4%
7. Engine electrics 13.6%
8. Gearbox/clutch 10.6%
9. Exhaust 10.5%
10. Bodywork 9.6%
11. Fuel system 5.2%
12. Steering 3.9%
13. Infotainment 2.8%
14. Interior trim 2.7%
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