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25 Sep 2020

The two least reliable car brands, plus why you should avoid a luxury car if you want good reliability

The latest Which? Car survey results are in - find out which manufacturers let their customers down the most

When it comes to the quality of new cars, it would be reasonable to assume you get what you pay for. The results of our 2020 car reliability survey show this couldn't be further from the truth. Tens of thousands of car owners have told us about their ownership experiences over the past year, and - for certain luxury brands particularly - it makes for grim reading.

  • We reveal the two least reliable car brands out of 35, based on our survey of more than 47,000 car owners

  • 24% (that's nearly a quarter) of drivers who own a car under one year old from the least reliable brand reported a problem

  • Only 6% of owners of cars under a year old from our most reliable brand reported a problem

  • Buying from a luxury brand is more likely to doom you to poor reliability than save you from it

Keep reading to find out more.

Find out just how reliable your next car is likely to be - use our most reliable cars tool.

Best vs worst car brands

Between December 2019 and February 2020, 47,013 people told us about the 55,833 cars they own and drive. This means all our reliability data comes from actual owner experiences.

We divide reliability ratings into two groups: cars up to three years, which are often covered by warranty, and cars three to eight years old. This is so we can look at both early and later life reliability, and we often see changes between the two.

We give reliability ratings to brands as well as individual car models.

Why is Land Rover the least reliable brand in our survey?

Land Rover is the only manufacturer out of the 35 in our survey to get one star out of five for both 0-3 and 3-8-year brand reliability.

Why is Land Rover so unreliable? It's easy to point the finger at diesel. Thanks to our survey, we know diesel cars are more fault-prone than others - particularly among older cars. Land Rover has historically been a diesel-heavy manufacturer.

Diesel owners across all brands often describe faults with the emissions/exhaust system and, naturally, that includes Land Rover: 92% of Land Rover owners we heard from in our survey have a diesel car.

MOT rules affecting diesel exhaust emissions have been firmed up in recent years, so this issue is not going to go away soon.

But Land Rover's reliability goes beyond the fuel it's burning. One of the most common issues across Land Rovers is nothing to do with its engines, but its digital gremlins. Owners bemoan problems with the car's on-board computer software so often that we consider it a common issue across most of Land Rover's SUVs.

Two models in particular seem adversely prone to this issue: Land Rover's current Range Rover Sport (2013-) and the Range Rover Velar (2017-).

So many owners complained about the software that we recommended to Land Rover than it recalls these models and fix them for free.

We reveal the most reliable car brands.

Troublesome Tesla

The second-most commonly owned electric car brand in our survey is Tesla (just behind Nissan, with the Leaf hatchback) and its reliability is shocking.

Its seemingly desirable Tesla Model S saloon and Model X SUV both get the poorest possible mark for 0-3-year reliability thanks to disastrously high fault rates and lengthy garage stays.

What is more concerning is the Tesla Model 3. Launched in 2019, it's the most affordable Tesla to date and it's popular: according to industry body the Society of Motoring Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), it was the third most-sold car in the UK during August 2019.

Despite only being available for six months when our latest reliability survey opened, we heard from enough owners to rate it for reliability. Think a six-month-old car won't have problems? Think again.

Of the Tesla Model 3 owners we heard from, 26% had at least one problem that had to be fixed by a mechanic since taking ownership of their car. Given the age of the vehicle, that's incredibly high.

Admittedly, the faults tended to be minor, but it belies a general low level of quality: paintwork and other exterior trim problems were common, which is unusual.

Although not overly frequent, a number of owners also reported problems with the car's rainwater seals. The last thing you expect from your fancy new electric car is for it to let in water.

Then factor in that 3% of owners we heard from had already seen their car break down. The Model 3 looks destined to go the way of the Model S and Model X in terms of dependability.

We have reliability ratings for 280 cars. You can see how reliable, or not, each model is in our independent new and used car reviews.

Luxury cars are the least reliable

Paying more money for poorer reliability just doesn't seem right. The average price paid for a new Land Rover or Tesla*, two of the least reliable brands in our survey, is £58,000. While the average paid for a new car across all brands is £31,363. This is all based on what owners told us they actually paid for a new car.

That means people are paying £26,000 more for a car that lets them down more. It's madness. And they're not alone. Nine out of 10 luxury brands with big price tags that we have ratings for all appear in the lower half of our reliability rankings

*While the same average technically applies to Tesla, considering its limited range of cars it's more accurate to say you would pay £50,000 for a Model 3 or £77,500 to £98,900 for a Model S or X, respectively.

How can you find a reliable car?

Our most reliable car tools reveal our latest reliability data for 35 brands and 280 models that you can buy today - and everything comes from real driver experiences.

We also put these reliability summaries and ratings directly into all our car reviews online and factor it into the overall score, making it easier than ever for you to buy a reliable, recommended car.

If you take anything away from this, remember that you don't need to spend a fortune to get a reliable car. Premium brands rarely offer reliability as part of the price.

Find the cars that have aced our independent assessments, across all of our car classes, in our round-up of the best cars for 2020.