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3 Mar 2022

Revealed: the most reliable small SUV you can buy is electric and made by Kia

Kia leads the way for electric car reliability, but other EV brands including premium car maker Tesla languish far behind
Kia e-Niro SUV

Our annual car reliability survey has returned a mixed bag of results for the car industry. It shows that electric cars are the most fault prone type of car you can currently buy (and not for the reason you might think). However, there is hope for electric car reliability thanks to Kia.

Over 48,000 people from across the UK told us about the 56,853 cars they own and drive in our latest car reliability survey*. The results show that electric car owners suffer not only the highest average fault occurrence, but also the highest rate of cars breaking down or failing to start.

Looking at cars aged up to four years old, close to a third (31.4%) of electric vehicle (EV) owners said they had experienced at least one fault in the 12 months prior to answering our annual car survey.

Additionally, 8.1% of EV owners also said they experienced their car either breaking down or failing to start.

To add inconvenience to injury, owners of faulty electric cars went, on average, just over five days without the use of their car while it was off being fixed.

This means EV owners are experiencing the highest fault rate and breakdown rate when you divide ownership into fuel type, and the longest repair times. Our survey shows it's the same for older cars aged five to nine years.

But our survey also reveals it's not the electric motor(s) or the big lithium-ion battery packs letting these cars down. The most commonly reported issues in electric cars relate to software problems.

Our recommendations take reliability into account - discover the best electric cars for 2022

Kia e-Niro: the most reliable small SUV you can buy

Bucking the electric car trend significantly is Korean manufacturer, Kia.

According to our survey, the Kia e-Niro (2019-present) small SUV is not only the most reliable electric car you can buy today, but also the most reliable car in the compact/small SUV class covering all fuel types.

This class has been one of the fastest growing car classes for years. When it comes to cars owned from new by Which? members, compact/small SUVs are one of the most-owned classes of car, second only to mid/large SUVs.

Just 6.2% of Kia e-Niro (2019-present) owners we heard from in our survey had any sort of fault to report in the 12 month period before answering our survey, and only 1% saw their car either fail to start or break down.

Impressively, this isn't a one-off for Kia. Our new fuel-specific reliability ratings reveal that Kia makes the most reliable electric cars you can buy, while Tesla makes the least reliable.

Of course, you shouldn't buy a car based solely on reliability. Our independent reviews reveal everything you need to know about a car, - safety, practicality, running costs, emissions and more.

To find out more about the e-Niro, read our Kia e-Niro (2019-) review.

The 2022 Which? Car Survey is now open – take part to be in with a chance of winning £2,500 (T&Cs apply)

Why are electric cars developing so many faults?

Looking at our figures for cars up to four years old, electric cars come behind diesel - otherwise the most problematic fuel type - when it comes to average number of faults, breakdowns and cars failing to start, and time off the road.

The table below shows reliability figures for cars aged up to four years for all fuel types over the 12 month period covered by our latest survey.

Fuel type (cars aged 0-4 years)Cars with one or more faultOne or more instances of the car breaking down or failing to startAverage days off the road
Overall (all fuel types)22.3%4.9%3.6
Plug-in hybridu202027.5%5.4%4.2
Full hybridu202017.3%5.6%3.9

u2020Read our expert guide to hybrids to find out the difference between hybrid types.

Commenting on the reliability data, Which? cars expert Adrian Porter said 'It seems counterintuitive that electric cars, which have so few moving parts, are the most fault prone in our survey. Meanwhile full hybrids, which have two systems of propulsion, are the most dependable.

'But look beyond the electric motor and battery. The most common issue reported by EV drivers is the car's software. We also have a higher-than-expected number of people stating issues with the 12v battery (not the main batteries) and electric braking aids.

'We also have to look at the ownership in the survey. Year on year, Tesla comes up as one the most fault prone, unreliable car manufacturers thanks to feedback from current owners - we've called on the brand for two years running to recall its Model S.

'Tesla is also, by far, the most owned brand of electric car in our survey (its Model 3 was the most sold electric car in the UK last year, according to data from industry body the SMMT). This means any average measure of EV reliability is influenced by this brand thanks to its popularity.'

Electric car brand ownership in the latest Which? Car Survey

Pie chart showing brand ownership of electric vehi

As more manufacturers release electric cars onto our roads (including models from Toyota and Lexus, which are long term leaders in car reliability), it's likely that these figures will shift as the EV market truly establishes itself.

Find out how hundreds of cars from 36 different carmakers fare for reliability by heading to our guide on the most and least reliable cars.

Electric car charging

Electric cars should be simple to own and charge

As more people switch to EVs, significant work is needed to ensure user-friendly infrastructure is in place to support them, and to make EV life simpler.

To help make this a reality, Which? is calling for manufacturers to list maximum AC and DC rates next to the sockets on their electric vehicles - a small step that will remove confusion and stop people paying over the odds for powerful chargers that their car may not be able to make full use of.

We're also calling for an overhaul of the current electric car public charging infrastructure. From the number of chargers and how reliable they are, to simplifying payment methods, making available charge points easy to find and addressing the needs of disabled drivers.

Learn more about what we're calling for by reading our report: Building an Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure that is Fit for the Future.

*2021 Which? Car survey: UK survey covering April to July 2021. 48,034 respondents told Which? about 56,853 cars they own and drive.