Watch My Wallet Logo

Sign up to our newsletter!

A Guide to Finding the Most Reliable Car for Your Money

Alastair Walker 19/02/2013 09:05:04

A Guide to Finding the Most Reliable Car for Your Money

Whether you're buying a new or used car, reliability is one of the key factors to consider. There's nothing worse than investing thousands in a vehicle which breaks down frequently and costs a small fortune to fix. Watch My Wallet offers some hints and advice on choosing something peachy, rather than a real lemon.

Do Your Homework

There are a few in-depth surveys published each year on car reliability, plus a wealth of owner reviews online. The bigger surveys include information from Which? Magazine, Warranty Direct and J D Power and collate data from breakdowns, service and repair costs, dealer satisfaction and so on.

Some surveys concentrate on fairly new vehicles, so if you're shopping for a nearly new car that's 1-2 years old, then something like the J D Power survey makes a handy starting point as it rates cars up to three years old. This survey is also big on customer feedback concerning the service and aftercare from franchised main dealers.

Dealer feedback is another important consideration as newer cars usually come with a warranty, so finding out how that warranty stands up in the real world is essential. Finally, if you know anyone in the motor trade, such as an AA or RAC repair operative, or a car technician, then ask their advice - they will have some inside knowledge on breakdown rates for particular models, sometimes even models years, not just which makes of car are best or worst.

Sort Out Your Wish List

Let's assume you want a hatchback, with 5 doors, that can manage 50mpg on a steady run and doesn't cost too much to insure. Remember that even small cars can sometimes be in surprisingly high insurance groups, so check out the cost of cover before you start test driving.

Now narrow things down by model, year of registration and specification. So for example you might fancy a Ford Fiesta 1.4 Titanium, which comes with features like Bluetooth phone connectivity, folding door mirrors and electronic temperature control. Spend some time searching the internet for faults or problems relating to the specific features or factory extras which are fitted to that model.

There is a good reason for being this specific, as some models can have a generally good reliability record, but one particular electronic gizmo, or mechanical part suffers repeated failure. An example of this is the `paddle' type gearboxes fitted to some Alfa Romeo and Citroen models, which just haven't got the same reliability as a conventional gearbox.

The key thing to research is the risk of major components failing, or electronics going wrong. Gearboxes, engine or fuel management systems, or things like traction control, can all cost a great deal in time and money to fix.

Modern cars are complex and full of sensors which monitor almost every function, so tracking down the exact reason why a diesel car is suddenly losing power whilst accelerating can take time. That garage time is expensive - sometimes costing over £60 per hour, plus VAT - so the less trouble your car has with its electronic management systems, the better.

The Top Rated Reliable Cars

2012-Citroen -C1-01Watch My Wallet has been digging around to find the top rated makes and models, so here is our shortlist of recommended vehicles from the last 7 years . All these cars have scored consistently well in most major surveys over the last 1-7 years based on breakdowns and owner feedback.

Please remember this is just a guide - we can't guarantee your example will run sweet as a nut for 100,000 miles. The cars are listed in no particular order and it's worth bearing in mind that a reliable large car may still cost you more in terms of depreciation, VED tax and insurance than the annual cost of servicing and repairing a small car.

Small Cars

  • Citroen C1
  • Kia Picanto
  • Honda Jazz
  • Toyota iQ
  • Daihatsu Sirion
  • Mazda 2
  • Mitsubishi Colt
  • Suzuki Alto
  • Vauxhall Agila

Medium Cars

  • BMW 3 series
  • Citroen C3 Picasso
  • Skoda Octavia
  • Honda Civic/HR-V
  • Toyota Corolla/Yaris/Auris
  • Lexus IS
  • Mazda 3
  • Ford Fiesta
  • Volvo S40

Large/Performance Cars

  • Audi A8
  • Honda Accord
  • Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Lexus RX
  • Mazda MX5
  • Mercedes SLK
  • Mitsubishi Shogun
  • Skoda Superb
  • Volvo C70

Only For the Brave

  • Finally, here are some of the least reliable makes and models, as rated in owner and industry surveys;
  • Alfa Romeo 147/GTV
  • BMW 7 series
  • Ford Galaxy
  • Jeep Cherokee
  • Land Rover Range Rover
  • Mercedes CL/S Class/V Class
  • Nissan Pathfinder
  • Renault Espace

Alastair Walker is features editor of


Email to friend

Your e-mail address:

Want to add a message?:

Sign up to our newsletter!