Which used cars won’t let you down? And which will?

The least reliable car brands are dominated by high-end luxury and supercar marques

With belts tightening and car-buying budgets being denuded as we lean into the oncoming recession, many car buyers will be switching their sights from the new car market, to the used one.

While it makes total economic sense to, basically, buy the same car for less once it’s been through someone else’s hands, the lingering spectre is always the question of “do they give trouble?” While the science is never exact (there are, if you look for them, trouble-free Alfa Romeos and basket-case Toyotas, after all) we can draw on a couple of expert sources of data to say which cars are less, or more, likely to give trouble.

The Warrantywise survey is always an interesting one, as it deals specifically with second-hand cars, rather than trying to extrapolate data taken from newly-built vehicles. Warrantywise provides aftermarket warranties to used car owners, and so can harvest very precise data on which cars are going in more frequently for attention or repairs, and which ones cost more when they get taken in.

Lawrence Whittaker, chief executive of Warrantywise, said: "Warrantywise boasts one of the largest data samples when it comes to painting an accurate picture of the dependable – and not so dependable – used cars currently on the market. Our business continues to go from strength-to-strength as we are seeing a very noticeable upswing in the number of car buyers turning to pre-owned cars where they can get a high-specification vehicle for less. However, any savings on purchase price can be immediately off-set if a used car develops faults outside of manufacturer warranty and our Reliability Index continues to provide precise, quantifiable data on the best and worst-performing used cars on the market."


The data is taken from 131,000 active second-hand warranties, and Warrantywise only provides information on a specific model where there are at least 100 cars which it can survey. The data coming from all those warranties shows that – surprise, surprise – Japanese cars dominate the survey. Honda came top of the brands list, with a score of 89 out of 100, and with an average repair cost of over €500 when a car has needed attention. Lexus comes second, while Toyota and Suzuki rank third and fourth respectively. Dacia cements its position at number five. Next, comes Hyundai (6th), Smart (7th), Kia (8th), Fiat (9th) and Renault (10th) to round out the Top 10 brands overall.

Lexus makes the most reliable individual model, the RX SUV. Out of all of the warranties held for Lexus RX models, Warrantywise has recorded not a single claim nor repair for any of them in the past year, a remarkable performance. In second place in the models list is the Honda Jazz, and that's followed by the rest of the top 10; the Mitsubishi ASX, the Dacia Sandero, the Mazda 2, the Volkswagen Up, the Nissan Leaf, the Lexus CT200h, the Ford EcoSport, and the Suzuki Alto.


On the other end of the spectrum, the least reliable car brands on the list are dominated by high-end luxury and supercar marques. While their repairs costs are commensurate with their purchase prices, it’s the frequency of repairs that contribute to the low scores.

Ferrari scored a mere 13.84/100 in the Reliability Index with an average repair cost of over €5,000 and 36 repairs lodged out of 116 warranty plans in total (that's a 62 per cent repair rate). Next comes McLaren (15.12/100) followed by Rolls-Royce (26/100) who both have a proportionally high number of high-cost repairs to reduce their scores. Bentley and Lamborghini round out the top five, while in order of scores, Subaru (rather surprisingly), Chrysler, Maserati, Land Rover and Tesla occupy the remaining positions on the brand list.

The Bentley Continental GT is in the unenviable position as the least reliable used car model according to Warrantywise. The most common faults with this car relate to the fuel system, electrics and engine, with one of the most expensive repairs on this model costing over £10,000 to rectify an electrical issue. Average repair costs across the 144 Bentley Continental GTs covered by warranties sits at an eye-watering €2,500. The Audi A7 and BMW X6 were second- and third-last respectively on the Reliability Index, while the Porsche Cayenne and Chevrolet Captiva rounded out the bottom five places on the overall list.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, headline-grabbing Tesla has come bottom of all in the influential JD Power Initial Quality Survey for 2020. Well, it would have come bottom if it had been part of the survey. Allow us to explain…

JD Power is a long-standing consumer survey group that regularly publishes the results of investigations into the quality and reliability of cars. In America, in particular, the results are taken extremely seriously by car makers. Entire advertising campaigns have often been built around JD Power rankings.

The firms Initial Quality Survey looks at vehicles that are up to three-months old, and asks customers how many problems or issues they’ve had in that times. It’s not a massively scientific study, but it gives an idea of how good car makers are at producing cars that are right, straight out of the factory.

The results are expressed in PP100, or Problems Per 100 cars built. To give you an idea, the top-ranking brands in the latest, 2020, survey were Dodge and Kia, who took joint first place with 136 PP100. The industry average was 161 PP100.

Tesla's score? 250 PP100. Except Tesla wasn't, technically, part of the survey. "Unlike other manufacturers, Tesla doesn't grant us permission to survey its owners in 15 states where it is required," said Doug Betts, president of the automotive division at J.D. Power. "However, we were able to collect a large enough sample of surveys from owners in the other 35 states and, from that base, we calculated Tesla's score."

In fact, Tesla ranked significantly behind Land Rover, generally the brand that's most likely to receive JD Power's wooden spoon. Land Rover finished with 228 PP100, which was – surprisingly – only slightly behind Audi, which finished second-from-bottom. Land Rover's sister brand, Jaguar, finished slightly higher, actually doing better than Mercedes or Volvo.

For Japanese brands, the 2020 rankings make for depressing reading. Normally, you’d expect to see the likes of Toyota and Lexus at the top of the charts, but this year Toyota actually finished with a result of 177 PP100, considerably worse than the industry average. Lexus’ result, of 159 PP 100, put it behind Jeep, usually not a household word for quality.

Of course, one can read too much into such results. We’re not talking about engines falling out or gearboxes failing, here. The problems that JD Power records are generally much smaller issues, and in fact most of them these days relate to infotainment glitches, such as an inability to connect one’s phone to the car’s system. A quarter of all the reported issues were something to do with a car’s touchscreen.

Indeed, JD Power attributes a general rise in reported problems to those very infotainment systems becoming more complex, even bewildering. "The higher problem levels we see in this year's study don't mean vehicle quality has worsened; rather, the redesigned study asks additional questions that allow owners to cite more of the problems that they are experiencing" said Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive quality at JD Power. "Initial quality is critical to the overall new-vehicle ownership experience."