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As a consumer, I have very little to go on if I want to buy a reliable new car - the reputation of the company, past reliability reports/opinion/reviews for older models, perhaps I could infer something from the warranty on offer...

But fleet buyers, for example, seem to have access to some sort of information that tells them they're going to get what they need. Otherwise it's hard to explain how, for example, a taxi company will buy a fleet of some new model which, it turns out 5 years down the line, end up with an excellent reputation for reliability. Likewise delivery vans, police vehicles, etc. etc. seem to have a way of picking vehicles which usually turn out to have been a good choice.

So the question is: Is there any source use mere consumers can access that gives us meaningful reliability data on a given vehicle?

EDIT: I get some of the points you guys make, but it's not always loyalty/inertia/feedback/purpose building. Let me give you an example or two:

  • Skoda were a joke company for years, and it took a some years under VAG's ownership for them to get good. Yet, suddenly and with no previous experience to go on, loads of Octavia TDi's turned up as taxis at about the same time the police motorway patrols started using Octavia VRS as their unmarked patrol vehicles of choice. They were replacing more established makes/models (Volvos, BMW's, Toyotas, Nissans) with far better reputations, yet the Octavia was basically new on the market. Logic says the conservative and risk-averse buyer would NOT take that risk, so I can only assume some serious promises were made "in the trade" as there's no way either of those groups would switch without good reason.

  • Likewise, although vans are obviously built for work and low cost of ownership, you'll see some big company suddenly switch to a new make or model; BT (biggest telco in the UK) ran tens of thousands of Ford vans, which is borne out by the reputation of the Transit as the king of the hill. Then when Vauxhall/Renault/Nissan joined forces and entered the van market in direct competition with the Vivaro, BT switched and bought those by the thousands despite being a new and unproven model. Again, unless those Vivaros were silly cheap, you'd question the sanity of the fleet buyer taking a punt on an unproven new model versus sticking with the tried and tested most popular van in the UK without same very good reason to back it up.

My point/question is, rather than after-the-fact consumer surveys, manufacturers obviously must test their products during development and therefore probably have a pretty good idea of their reliability, and it seems like they must be sharing some version of this with potential fleet customers to encourage them to buy their product. That being the case, is there ANY way this sort of information would ever filter down to the regular consumer?

Many other products in industry will have MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) figures which the manufacturer will guarantee, it feels like something similar may exist for vehicles but isn't made available to consumers.

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    You talk about taxis, delivery vans, and police vehicles. Something you need to remember, most of these vehicles are purpose built, meaning, they are made to do the job they were bought for. Companies pay an extra price for this, but it's offset somewhat by a fleet purchase (buying in quantity). Vehicle manufacturers are more than happy to oblige due to the quantity and return customers. I don't know of any direct source to information you seek, so am leaving this as a comment. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jul 29 '16 at 12:18
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    You must also remember that most if not all police forces have their own workshop facilities with their own mechanics and most police vehicles will be subject to a significantly enhanced maintenance schedule than most everyday privately owned road cars. – Steve Matthews Jul 29 '16 at 13:33
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Consumer Reports collects and publishes survey data on reliability and/or repair frequency. As far as I know, the data is specific to the US, and I think it covers vehicles for which they get statistically significant responses. Both domestic and imported vehicles are include.

They also do long term studies and "niche" reports, for example they currently (July 2016) have a report on Sedans which covers 119 models.

It has been a while since I've bought a car, but you used to be able to get the data in their Buyer's Guide which most libraries carried.

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  • Could you expand on this? Who are Consumer Reports?, where can the data be found? What vehicles does it cover? What country/countries does it cover? etc? – Nick C Jul 29 '16 at 14:56
  • Sure was typing on my phone and I'm not so good at that :-) – dlu Jul 29 '16 at 14:58
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i think it is a mix of better information, more planning, better maintenance and misinformation

  • The professional buyer, in contrast to the consumer, is not driven by emotions. So he can focus on the technical properties of the model.
  • Certain fleet vehicles like ambulances or police cruisers get converted from ordinary vehicles by a specialized company. Since the conversion company must engineer the conversions and get an safety authorization they try to limit themselves to only certain vehicle models. Larger conversion companies often have close relations to the manufacturers and get better informations.
  • A fleet operator is not interested in the good-looking next generation of the car. He is economical driven, he maintains his vehicles. The mechanics are better informed, they get informations from the other same-model vehicles they maintain. A large operator gets huge discounts on spare parts. It is not uncommon for delivery vans to get down-tuned, so that the engine is not as strong as possible, thereby decreasing the engine/transmission wear. Really unreliable models get sorted out soon. Often this causes the false impression that certain models are exceptionally reliable.

Edit concerning your edit: If you are a VERY big potential customer then the higher-ups of the manufacturer are willing to talk to you. And you surely can haggle something out (like a guaranteed minimum MTBF on specific parts or some insider recommendations on what to better avoid and what not).

Interesting note: A friend of mine once had an work-related argument with an official car dealer. He managed to get the country-specific service manager from the manufacturer on the phone. The manager was willing to accept his call after he proved them that 1. he is the purchase manager and 2. his company bought over 400 top-of-the-line vans from them.

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    Just want to add that once they find something they like, they tend to stick with it, since they know the ups and downs, Having parts that fit most of the vehicles in your fleet is a plus. If someone wrecks one, use it for parts for the others. Buy problem and add-on parts in bulk. – rpmerf Jul 29 '16 at 14:56
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Yeah, hedging bets is what even the manufacturer must do. I suppose that past reports are the best indication... combined with knowing what changes were made in the new car (that's what to watch out for). Any significantly different parts from previous models (where the part(s) worked perfectly fine) would be suspect.

I like to check carcomplaints.com, especially when shopping for a used car... it helps me to know some things to look for. They have nice little synopses of older model cars and a bar chart noting the number and kind of complaints.

For example, Nissan Pathfinder had problems in 2005 with coolant leaking into the transmission, which took about 5 years for them to correct. But the 2004 model looks ok. Obviously, with newer models, not enough time has elapsed for things to go wrong, so it's not a great indication for the past say, 5 years. But again, for example, 105 people complained about the transmission shaking in the 2013 model... I would be leary of no-change to the transmission after hearing that.

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In reality, for modern cars, there won't be a lot to choose between similar models in terms of whole life reliability.

Rust used to be the big thing which limited the life of cars but modern corrosion protection generally has this well under control, unless a vehicle has had accident damage badly repaired at some point. Similarly modern design and manufacturing processes tend to mean that crucial parts like engines and transmission are pretty robust if properly maintained.

Often the thing which puts an older car beyond economical repair is the labour required to fix an (often fairly minor) problem becomes more than the value of the car.

In terms of fleet buyers, they are often purchasing reliability as a distinct part of the deal, either by leasing vehicles where the leasing agent is responsible for keeping a certain number of running vehicles available for a period of time or they do it in house or by contract (especially in the case or more specialist users like the police). Clearly in this case there is likely to be more emphasis put on preventative maintenance and servicing and it is likely that small problems will be fixed early.

Similarly when an individual purchaser is looking for reliability what you really want to know is that you won't have an unexpected, expensive problem this is much harder to predict for a one-off than if you are averaging your maintenance costs over a fleet of dozens or hundreds of vehicles.

Another thing to consider is that nowadays many cars are built on a common platform of a structural floor pan and suspension with a range of engines and transmissions. And in the case of the types of vehicles typically used by fleets these are often evolutions of tried and tested platforms so its fairly rare to get a completely 'new' model in this category. So often fleet users will go for a model an manufacturer which already has a proven track record for reliability and equally models aimed at the fleet market will have reliability as a top priority and a lot of mid range saloons/estates are designed specifically for this market.

This is even more the case for vans, indeed there are realistically few distinct van models in Europe and most models are joint ventures between two or three manufacturers.

So manufacturers aiming models at the fleet market know that reliability is one of the primary selling points and will put a lot of effort into achieving this both at the design stage and fixing any manufacturing issues which crop up as quickly as possible.

In contrast there are other sections of the market where novelty, low cost, performance or marketing consideration may be higher priorities.

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