HomeBusinessElectric cars are less reliable than petrol and diesel, says Which?

Electric cars are less reliable than petrol and diesel, says Which?


Manufacturers have been urged to boost the reliability of electric cars after Which? found they are less reliable and spend longer off the road than petrols, diesels and hybrids when needing repairs.

The consumer champion’s annual car survey found that of cars up to four years old, nearly one in three (31 per cent) eleictric vehicle owners reported one fault or more, compared to less than one in five (19 per cent) petrol cars. 

Owners of those faulty EVs then had to be without their cars on average for over five days while it was being fixed, which compared to just three days for petrol equivalents.

The most common faults raised by electric car drivers in the survey were software-related problems, though not issues with the electric motors or battery packs that power the vehicles. 

‘Car makers, make your electric vehicles more reliable’: That’s the message from consumer watchdog Which? after it found that EV owners were more likely to suffer faults than drivers of petrol, diesel and hybrid models 

The survey of more than 48,000 UK car owners found that the most reliable cars of any fuel type are conventional self-charging hybrids, with just one in six (17 per cent) owners reporting a fault with ‘new’ cars aged up to four years old in the prevailing 12 months.  

Petrols were the next most dependable, with just 19 per cent of owners of newer models reporting issues, followed by plug-in hybrids (28 per cent).

Diesel cars were found to be marginally more reliable than EVs, with 29 per cent of drivers reporting issues with their oil burners. 

CAR RELIABILITY BY FUEL TYPE, ACCORDING TO WHICH?
Cars aged 0-4 years Cars with one fault or more Cars with one or more breakdown/failed to start Average days off the road (over 12 month period)
Overall 22.3% 4.9% 3.6
Conventional hybrid  17.3% 5.6% 3.9
Petrol 18.6% 3.5% 3
Plug-in hybrid 27.5% 5.4% 4.2
Diesel 29.1% 6.9% 3.8
Electric 31.4% 8.1% 5.1
Source: Which? based on results from its Car Survey 2021 of 48,034 car owners

Lisa Barber, home products and services editor at Which? said: ‘We know that drivers are keen to make the move to more environmentally-friendly cars but it is vital that they are getting a quality product.’ 

She added: ‘With EVs in particular, our research shows a premium price tag does not necessarily mean a reliable vehicle, so we would always encourage drivers to do their research ahead of such a significant purchase to see which cars and brands they can trust.’ 

While the report painted an unreliable picture for pure electric models, Which? concedes that most of these are software issues rather than serious faults with batteries or parts of the drivetrain that powers the vehicle.

This means most issues are likely with infotainment screens and other electrical features, such as reversing cameras.

The RAC warned that Which?’s findings ‘should be taken with a pinch of salt’ and that many of these software glitches raised could be simple to resolve. 

James Gibson, the motoring organisation’s head of technical, said: ‘There is no question there are fewer moving parts with electric cars which makes them more reliable than a petrol or diesel car in the long run, but it’s also the case that the software running them is more complex which has the potential to cause some issues.

‘But it’s very important to realise that most software problems can be solved easily, either by wireless updates or ‘restarts’ in the same way as a desktop computer simply by disconnecting the 12v auxiliary battery and ‘rebooting’ the system, something our expert patrols routinely do for our members in these situations. 

‘Many manufacturers are also able to help drivers sort issues out over the phone by getting them to carry out certain functions to reboot systems.

‘While taking a new electric car back to the dealership is clearly frustrating it can be the case with any new car, regardless of how it’s powered.’

Kia's e-Niro (pictured) was rated by owners as the most reliable of all compact SUVs, no matter the fuel type

Kia’s e-Niro (pictured) was rated by owners as the most reliable of all compact SUVs, no matter the fuel type

Just 6% of e-Niro owners reported any kind of fault with their car and only one in 100 said their car had failed to start or broke down

Just 6% of e-Niro owners reported any kind of fault with their car and only one in 100 said their car had failed to start or broke down

Which?: ‘Manufacturers should follow Kia’s example’ 

The poll of UK drivers also revealed that some EV examples have been almost entirely fault free in the previous 12 months of use. 

One of these is Kia’s e-Niro (2019- present), which starts from £32,895.

It was not only the most reliable of all EVs but also the most dependable compact SUV – one of the most popular and fastest-growing segments in the car market – of any fuel type in the report. 

Just one in every 17 (6 per cent) e-Niro owners reported any kind of fault with their car and only one in 100 said their car had failed to start or broke down. 

However, the unlucky few who did have an issue faced an average of around eight and a half days of their car being off the road, showing there is still work to do on improving repair times when things do go wrong.

‘In spite of the high fault rates reported by EV owners in the survey, Kia has proven that electric cars have the potential to be very dependable,’ the consumer watchdog said. 

‘Which? is calling on other car makers to up their game and improve the quality of their cars. 

‘Manufacturers need to gain the trust of drivers to encourage them to switch towards more sustainable cars.’

Barber added: ‘Whilst it’s disappointing to see that EVs as a group are the least reliable, Kia’s e-Niro shows there is a significant opportunity for manufacturers to up their game and provide drivers with a reliable and more sustainable car.’ 

Tesla has already called for the £80,000 Model S saloon (pictured) to be recalled after it identified issues with its door handles and locks

Tesla has already called for the £80,000 Model S saloon (pictured) to be recalled after it identified issues with its door handles and locks

Which?’s survey also found that Tesla is the least reliable of all EV brands, despite its cars having premium price tags. 

In cars up to four years old, two fifths (39 per cent) of Teslas had at least one fault and one in 20 (5 per cent) had a breakdown or failed to start.

Which? has previously called for the Tesla Model S saloon (2013- present), which starts from £79,980, to be recalled over issues with its door handles and locks for two years running. A positive for Tesla is that its cars were only off the road for just under three and a half days on average when they needed repair work.

As well as calling for an improvement in EV reliability, Which? has also recently called for the quality and provision of charging infrastructure to be significantly improved.   

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