car repair - Nir Kafri - 02082011
Car repair. Photo by Nir Kafri
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Car salesmen love to talk about performance.

If you've ever bought a new car, you know the drill. You walk in. A salesman dressed to the nines in a suit completely inappropriate for Israel's climate prattles in lofty terms about the wonders of the gleaming cars on show. Not missing a beat, he whips out the stats on horsepower, trots out a speech on the car's ESP (not extrasensory perception in this case - in a showroom that stands for electronic stability program ) and EBD (electronic brake distribution ), and name-drops other systems that leave the customer slack-jawed and impressed, and with a conversation starter at dinners ("You won't believe what our new car can do..." ).

The conversation in used-car lots is completely different. You won't find tailored suits, ties or showrooms, and any conversation about performance is incidental and minimal. The discussion at used-car lots focuses on two issues: price and reliability. In other words, how often is this beast going to break down?

The problem is, reliability in cars is a slippery issue.

Newspapers and trade journals report on comparison checks of car performance straightforwardly enough. Crash tests by safety institutions reveal how safe cars are when slammed into brick walls at high speeds and suchlike mishaps. But when it comes to reliability, there is no data. The client can only rely on opinions of friends and mechanics.

There is one other source. TheMarker has obtained a report of breakdowns by a big leasing company (the name is confidential ) that attests to the reliability of some of Israelis' favorite models. The result is a list of dozens of models, in various categories, and their average number of problems per year.

For the sample to be representative, we asked the agency to narrow the data to models of which it has 30 or more in the fleet, which are no more than three years old, and which have done less than 40,000 kilometers a year on average. These requirements excluded a number of cars, such as luxury models of which the company in question had less than 30. But you may find the results helpful when choosing your next car.

The pick of the pack: Mazda

The jackpot winner of the reliability study is, hands down, Mazda. This car manufacturer's sales in Israel have weakened in the last year, but it won the "most reliable" title in two categories (compacts and family sedans ), and came second in two other categories (minivans and executive sedans ).

Toyota also did well, coming in second and third respectively overall.

Given its good reputation, Volkswagen's results were an unhappy surprise. The German carmaker is widely respected, but its products proved less dependable than the above two Japanese models.

The fact that French cars proved less reliable than the Japanese ones was rather less of a surprise. But the fact that Chevrolet, which comes to Israel from carmakers in South Korea, came last in two categories (minis and executive sedans ) was disappointing.

We cross-checked the statistics with other leasing agencies, garages, and emergency road-service providers, which confirmed the rating - with one important qualification.

Cars belonging to leasing fleets tend to get abused by their drivers. The drivers don't own the thing and why should they care about its long-term condition? They merrily floor the gas pedal, hit the gas before speed bumps and generally hurl the car about with gay abandon. A person who owns his own car is likely to treat it better, and the number of breakdowns and malfunctions per year will probably be lower.

In other words, even the less-dependable cars (based on the agency's survey ) will probably visit the garage fewer times than the survey found - but still, more often than the cars deemed most reliable.

The most dependable mini: Mazda 2

The most dependable car, according to the survey, is a mini: The Mazda 2 broke down on average only 0.35 times a year, making it the most reliable car in Israel.

In second place among the compacts is the Daihatsu Sirion, with 0.366 malfunctions a year on average. Behind by a nose is the Hyundai i20 with 0.367 breakdowns a year on average.

The Renault Clio was a pleasant surprise with an average of 0.9 malfunctions a year, and the Kia Rio did well with 0.97.

At the other end of the spectrum, among compacts, we find the Chevrolet Aveo with 1.97 malfunctions a year on average.

The main problem, the survey found, was in the engine cooling system. Problems with the water pumps and with the pipes tearing leads to overheating that can cause much bigger problems, culminating in the need to replace the cylinder head (what's referred to in Israel as the "engine head" ), and that will run to NIS 5,000 and up.

"Chevrolet is basically Daewoo - a Korean company that General Motors bought a decade ago, and whose dependability has not improved," says Itai Ben-Haim of the Delta Garage in Rishon Letzion.

Second from last on the list is the Hyundai Getz. Its main problem is that crud accrues in the engine, requiring a cleaning process that costs hundreds of shekels. Skoda Fabia is third among the least-reliable cars, with 1.49 malfunctions a year on average.

Other intriguing cars in the survey were the Seat Ibiza, which visited the garage 1.12 times a year on average; the Nissan Micra, with 1.11 breakdowns a year on average; and the Ford Fiesta, with 1.09 malfunctions a year on average.

"City cars" aren't that common in leasing fleets but TheMarker obtained figures on the Hyundai i10 and the Suzuki Splash, both of which proved to be highly reliable: 0.5 and 0.75 malfunctions a year on average, respectively.

The best family sedan: Mazda 3

Family sedans is the group of most interest, since that's the most-sold type of car in Israel. Mazda wins hands down, with three popular models that average 0.4 malfunctions a year.

Honda is in second and third place with the Insight and Civic, which boast 0.45 and 0.49 breakdowns a year on average respectively.

The Kia Cerato is also considered reliable with 0.5 garage visits a year on average. So is the Volkswagen Jetta (0.54 malfunctions ). At the center of the table we find the Ford Focus (0.63 ) and the Hyundai i30, which visited the garage 0.65 times a year on average. The Chevrolet Cruze also proffers decent reliability with 0.94 visits to the grease monkey a year.

The dubious distinction of being the least-reliable family car goes to the Renault Megane, with 2.54 malfunctions a year on average.

Leasing agencies pointed out a number of weak points, including its electrical system, its gear system and its engine. The issues may not be minor and the cost of repair can come to tens of thousands of shekels.

Yair Krispin of the Schiller Garage in Gan Shlomo says Renault is a "very comfortable" car for the first owners, but things go downhill from there.

"There are electrical problems, electrical-contact problems, and spare parts are expensive. This is a low-cost car that's nice to drive, but maintenance is costly," he says.

The second-worst car is also French: the Citroen C4. The leasing companies that we asked say clients who get that car love it, but it has problems and visits the garage 1.89 times a year on average. Most of the problems were with the electrical system and the gears.

In third place is the Skoda Octavia with 1.3 malfunctions a year on average.

The most reliable executive sedan: Toyota Avensis

In the executive sedan, or large family car, category, the most dependable proved to be the Toyota Avensis with 0.45 problems a year on average. In second place came the Mazda 6 with 0.57 malfunctions a year. Third was the Honda Accord with 0.65 trips to the mechanic a year.

At the center of the table we find the Ford Mondeo (0.79 ) and the Subaru B4 (1.05 malfunctions a year on average ).

The worst in the category was the Korean-made Chevrolet Malibu with 1.99 malfunctions a year on average. Its main problems were in the electrical system and false alarms (a warning light goes off even though nothing's wrong ). Leasing companies say, however, that the Malibu's problems aren't serious ones.

In second-to-last place, the Citroen C5 had fewer malfunctions (1.32 visits to the garage each year) but the problems, electrical in nature, were more severe, say the companies. The Volkswagen Passat, third from last, averaged 1.21 malfunctions a year.

The best minivan: Mitsubishi Grandis

Bigger families need bigger cars, which brings us to the category of minivans.

The most reliable in this family proved to be the seven-seater Mitsubishi Grandis, which broke down once every three years or less. In second place came the Mazda 5 with 0.74 malfunctions a year on average.

Third was the Ford Galaxy with an average of 1.32 visits to the garage each year.

In last place was the Kia Carens with 3.8 malfunctions a year on average. Above it was the Citroen C4 Picasso, which disappointed with 2.1 problems a year on average.

The most dependable van or pickup truck: Fiat Fiorino

Vans and pickup trucks work hard, or they're supposed to, but they're also supposed to be more reliable, since their owners depend on them to make money. Most vehicles in this category are simple and tough, designed to take a lot. According to the leasing companies, the one that best fits that description is the Fiat Fiorino, with 0.53 malfunctions a year on average. Next is the Ford Transit (0.88 ), followed by the Skoda Roomster (1.53 ).

Further down the table we find the Renault Kangoo (1.82 ), and the Citroen Berlingo with 1.88 breakdowns a year on average.

An unhappy surprise was the Isuzu D-Max at the bottom of the list with 4.23 malfunctions a year on average. At first we thought it was a mistake in the data, but mechanics confirm that it's true. Eli Peretz of Peretz Garage in Haifa says the D-Max's troubles encompass the engine and the turbo drive. It guzzles oil and gasoline, too. "A lot of people try to dump them after engine trouble," he says.

Nor did the Fiat Diablo get good points (2.51 malfunctions a year ).

The importers speak

Lubinski, which imports Renault to Israel, says that when treated as the manufacturer recommends and with use of the right spare parts, the cars are highly reliable: The data in the article is evidently the result of failing to comply with that, the importer said. "We view the leasing company that provides data for publication but doesn't reveal its identity as having impaired reliability," Lubinski added.

Chevrolet importer UMI commented that the data from its service department, which handles many more cars, is completely different. The Aveo models, which haven't been sold here for two years now, and the 3.5-liter model of the Malibu, which hasn't been sold in Israel for a year and a half, demonstrate reliability over time, without characteristic malfunctions.

Like all pickups, reliability is crucial for the Isuzu D-Max, UMI continues. It added that the Isuzu D-Max has been the most popular pickup in Israel for eight years, for good reason.

Carasso, importer of the Renault and Citroen families of cars, commented that the Cleo is the first model to be launched after the "quality revolution" at Renault, so the company is not surprised at its high marks for dependibility.

As for the Renault Megane that the survey discussed, it was the old generation of Megane II, explained Carasso. That was before the car manufacturer's "reliability revolution".

"We are confident that if the new Megane had been inspected, the results would have been very good," Carasso summed up.