Hidden faults affecting some of Britain’s most popular cars revealed by Which? research

Which? is calling for urgent action from car manufacturers to prevent motorists from facing mechanical failures and potentially hefty repair bills after uncovering widespread reliability issues with some of Britain’s most popular vehicles.

In a survey of nearly 44,000 members of the public covering more than 52,000 cars, the consumer champion found some of the UK’s best-selling and most luxurious cars are among the least reliable – with faulty batteries, malfunctioning exterior features and dodgy suspension systems among problems encountered by motorists.

Nissan’s Qashqai (2014-) model, one of the best-selling cars in the UK, had the highest breakdown rate of all cars surveyed, with a fifth (20%) of owners needing to replace their battery in the last year – four to five times the average rate for cars of the same age.

If a similar level of battery problem was affecting all 300,000 of the UK’s Qashqai owners, an estimated 60,000 might need to replace their lead-acid battery – with significant environmental consequences.

Nissan told us it was aware of the issue and changed battery suppliers in 2018. But a separate issue with the Body Control Module software on cars made between April 2018 and February 2019 could still see the batteries of these newer models drain – an issue Nissan has launched a campaign to address.

However, the software issue aside, it is unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of Qashqai owners have been kept in the dark about this battery failure risk, and that owners could be left footing the bill if it happens after their three-year warranty has elapsed.

Tesla is one of the most luxurious brands on the market – and according to the survey, the most loved by owners.

But Which? found three to eight-year-old models of the Tesla Model S (2014-) also had a high fault rate, with more than one in five (22.2%) owners reporting an issue with their vehicle’s exterior features (for example, its door handles, locks, fuel caps and boot) – that’s 10 times higher than for the average car of the same age range.

One in 10 Tesla Model X owners (of cars less than three years old) also said they experienced a similar issue – suggesting an inherent flaw in the design. Across all brands surveyed Tesla had the highest percentage of faulty cars in the three to eight-year bracket, with more than two-thirds (67%) of all customers reporting an issue.

While Tesla said its four-year warranty covers required repairs and replacements, older vehicles cannot rely on this safety net.

The Seat Alhambra (2010-), a popular family car, also had an alarmingly high fault rate with nearly three in 10 (28.6%) of owners reporting an issue with their exhaust or emission system – five times higher than the average vehicle aged three to eight years old.

More than a fifth (22.9%) of Alhambra owners also said they had an issue with their suspension system in cars in the same age group – nearly five times higher than the average car.

Which? also found older car models with alarmingly high fault rates. A quarter (25%) of Ford B-Max (2012-2017) owners with automatic models three to eight years old reported a problem with their “Powershift” automatic transmission system – a problem that has regularly been flagged in online complaints from motorists.

Similarly, nearly a quarter (24.7%) of BMW 5 Series Touring (2010-2017) drivers said they had experienced a number of issues with their suspension – 5.3 times higher than the average car aged three to eight.

While these cars are no longer manufactured, it is still not acceptable for current owners to have to endure – and pay for failings with – a substandard suspension and dodgy automatic transmissions that suggest weaknesses in the car’s manufacturing.

When Which? took its findings to manufacturers, a common response was that these issues would likely be covered by the vehicle warranty. But the data shows many of the reported faults have occurred outside of the warranty period, leaving drivers facing a potentially eye-watering repair bill.

The consumer champion is calling on all these manufacturers to go public with these inherent flaws. The issues may not be safety critical, but Which? wants manufacturers to issue a recall for these cars. This will both alert drivers that their car could have a fault and ensure a pre-emptive fix is available for free, whether the car is still under warranty or not.

Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, said:

“It is concerning that it has taken Which?’s survey of thousands of motorists to uncover what are in some cases inherent flaws with some of the UK’s best-selling cars. Owners should be able to trust that manufacturers will make them aware of these issues and offer a fix when they see a recurring problem.”

“It is vital these manufacturers make the public aware of these serious faults and ensure vehicle owners are not left out of pocket should the issues occur outside their warranty.”

Notes to editor

Which? surveyed 43,958 members of the general public online between December 2018 and February 2019, covering 52,443 cars. We have detailed reliability information for 276 car models, and 34 brands.

Both vehicle and average fault rate figures are taken from Which?’s annual car reliability survey.

Which?’s video on the Nissan Qashqai faults is available here: https://youtu.be/XwRtYrYF9k8

Please see a link to Which? car reviews here: https://www.which.co.uk/cars/reviews

Rights of reply

Nissan said: We’re aware of some incidences of battery failure and have taken steps to address this issue, including replacing our battery supplier, and voluntarily launching a campaign to update the Body Control Module software on Qashqais made between April 2018 and February 2019. We’re working with affected customers.

Tesla said: We review every vehicle before it leaves the factory. Our warranties cover any repairs and replacements necessary for door handles for up to four years. Unlike other manufacturers, Tesla can perform repair work via mobile service, which can be done at a customer’s home or office.

Seat said: Seat UK is concerned but, without details, we can’t identify and explain these results. A comprehensive warranty covering three years/60,000 miles is provided. Our service data will identify the need for workshop campaigns, which are issued as promptly as possible.

Ford said: We’re aware of these issues and have previously updated our dealership network to resolve them for customers. We also extended the warranty for affected cars from three to five years/60,000 to 100,00 miles. Where owners aren’t covered, our Ford customer relationship centre (see ford.co.uk) will assess each individually on a favourable goodwill basis.

BMW said: BMW conducts continuous quality surveillance of our in-market vehicles. Only a tiny fraction of customer contacts in the first half of 2019 were related to suspension issues of any kind; fewer than six in 10,000, across all our models, make any reference to suspension issues. If any customer wishes to discuss concerns, they can call BMW Customer Service.

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