By on January 20, 2010

ADAC tows and compiles Pannenstatistik

ADAC is who responds to essentially every automotive Panne (breakdown) in Germany. And with the Germanic proclivity for thorough record keeping, they have kept them all, and analyzed them more thoroughly than any of Freud’s patients ever were. Did your mother have a flat in 1983? ADAC knows. And they’ve been using it to publish annual best and worst reliability rankings since 1978. If you caught the Toyota Starlet CC, you’ll know that it was the queen of the ADAC numbers, and the bane of Mercedes and the other (once) proud builders of  the world’s most presumably durable iron. Since ADAC doesn’t have an easy way to see all thirty year’s worth of the good and naughty, my Germanic side kicked in and I spent a chunk of last night transcribing them unto a spreadsheet, because…well, that’s just how Germanic I am.

A few caveats: The category definitions changed slightly over the years, but they’re close enough. Also, these only show the winners in their respective categories, not an overall ranking. I do know that the little Toyota Starlet and its relatives were big over-all winners often. And to anticipate your concerns, ADAC notes mileage on each vehicle of every call in order to adjust the raw data. And they do the actual response under contract for many of the manufacturer’s mobility program, so they’ve got that covered too. The Germans are very thorough.

I almost left off the most recent decade because there are some questions about whether the numbers are becoming increasingly irrelevant and less reliable due to a number of circumstances. But the number from the eighties and nineties are considered by the automotive manufacturers as very accurate. The reality is that mechanical breakdowns have been dropping pretty steadily the whole time, so that the relative difference between cars is becoming less relevant. Or is that an excuse by the Japanese makes because they don’t show up as often? The German brands are certainly trumpeting their recent  improvements. You be the judge.


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36 Comments on “Reliability Statistics Bonanza: Thirty Years Of Pannenstatistik...”

  • avatar

    Nice job Paul – that is an awful lot of Fiat, Alfa, Citroen, Renault and Opel in the worst columns. I expected more VW in those columns but that may just goes to show how much worse the other brands are.

  • avatar

    Carguy: Yes, I noticed all those Alfas and Fiats. What does that say about the coming “turnaround” at Chrysler?

    Thanks Paul. As the owner of a ’93 W124 300D I just loved that table…

  • avatar

    wow.. havent thought about  ADAC in 25 years. I remember bein an army brat and  a couple my cars breaking down on the autobahn and walking to the nearest phone box ( they were spaced somemany kilometers apart) and waiting for the  ADAC to show up . One time traded some american malboros for a belt that he installed  , they had everything on hand with them . this was 1985 , good memories

  • avatar

    I notice almost the complete abscense of Mercedes W210 in the list. W123 and W124 tops the lists of its class every year, until 1997 und the arrival of the W210. The mid-size Merc does make a brief appearance in 2002, with the arrival of the W211, and then it’s Audi all over the place. Symptomatic of the Rise and Fall of Daimler-Benz?

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I  bought a 88 BMW 528e in ’96 with 150k miles . The next 12 years I added 200k to it. I  maintained it  in my driveway. Out side of a dead battery, I carry  jumper cables, it never, ever failed to get me home.  I also had the same reliability from a pair of 86 528es.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Paul, you say “and they do the actual response under contract with virtually every manufacturer’s mobility program, so they’ve got that covered too.” This is contrary to what I have heard. Can you provide evidence for this?
    What I have heard — might be a myth though — is that when you buy a new Mercedes, you go to a certified dealer, you get free breakdown assistance. Presto!, your unreliable Mercedes is kept out of the ADAC “statistics”.

    • 0 avatar
      Telegraph Road

      Exactly.  Here is what Michael Karesh wrote in 2006 about ADAC’s methods:
      Someone else pointed out the other day that many German cars have seen their ADAC stats fall by about 90% since 2000. There’s only one way this could realistically happen: someone else other than ADAC has started attending to those that do break down. Does Mercedes provide free roadside assistance in Europe like they do here, and do they contract with someone other than ADAC? That would do it.End result: without some solid evidence to refute the above logic, I don’t see anything of value here.

    • 0 avatar

      This is what the ADAC says:

      Short summery:
      1) Polls have shown that ADAC members call the ADAC before they call roadside assistance.
      2) Since every manufacturer now offers roadside assistance, even if the numbers are skewed, they’re all skewed the same way and hence comparable.

      Also, don’t forget that a model has to be on the market for at least three years to be eligible. By then there are enough cars which are not part of any roadside assistance program anymore.

    • 0 avatar

      1) Polls have shown that ADAC members call the ADAC before they call roadside assistance.
      2) Since every manufacturer now offers roadside assistance, even if the numbers are skewed, they’re all skewed the same way and hence comparable.
      That sounds like BS.
      1) Poll = garbage.
      2) More expensive and more leased brands (i.e. BMW, etc) would offer more roadside assistance than an economy brand.
      I have learned my share of graduate level statistics. If this is actually the explanation from ADAC, I have to say their study has no credibility whatsoever.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    The previous poster covered ADAC’s take on this issue; but here is TTAC’s Bertel Schmitt’s response to my question about ADAC’s reliability. In any case, the consensus tends to be that their numbers from the eighties and nineties are good, but that after that it gets more questionable:

    I am quite familiar with the manufacturer breakdown programs (I invented the one for VW in the 80’s …) Theoretically, the manufacturer programs skew the ADAC statistics to the older models as new cars lose manufacturer protection. Practically, they  have little impact. Few manufacturers have their own service fleet (VW does, in Germany) and many manufacturers actually outsource the job to ADAC. People who have both protection by manufacturer program and are ADAC members call ADAC, because they are much faster to respond.

    Eighties and nineties absolutely neutral.

  • avatar

    How many unmentioned variables exist that could skew results?

  • avatar

    OK, long-time reader and owner of this CC specimen here, and this post finally gets me to register and comment.
    My parents had the pleasure of owning not one, not two, but three of the “Worst” (or their very near brethren) in the above table, all of them Citroens: 1975 GS Break (= station wagon), 1983 GSA Break, and 1991 BX Break.
    My parents also were ADAC members, but as far as I can recall, the “Yellow Angels” (as the ADAC road crews are known in Germany) never once had to come out for us.
    General repair frequency was certainly not in Toyota Starlet territory, but roadside failure frequency was, at least in this case. Goes to show once again that one car is a pretty small sample.
    My parents sold each of these before they would no longer pass the muster of the TÜV (due to rust, especially in the case of the GS and the GSA).
    Very practical, comfortable, efficient, and interestingly styled cars, though; the ’75 GS was particularly attractive. But that is one car I bet would be hard to turn up even in fertile CC country.

  • avatar
    Telegraph Road

    Michael Karesh, any thoughts?

  • avatar

    I don’t see any Hondas. What accounts for that? No Hondas in Germany over those years?

  • avatar

    @ David- I believe the ’82 Civic is on the ‘bad side’ for compacts.

  • avatar

    I for one am shocked!  German cars winning a German reliability survey, and French and Italian cars doing poorly? Who would have guessed?  But wait, why have they left out the Englischer on the right-hand side? Is that the maximum insult, there autos are not even statistically significant?

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    There is a minimum threshold to be included; the older Alfas and Englisher probably didn’t meet it.

  • avatar
    Dr Strangelove

    I don’t think the manufacturers’ roadside assistance programs would have a major impact.
    Most members of ADAC join just to buy roadside assistance. Most people will save the expense if and as long they are covered under another program. If they do not, they will indeed likely call ADAC first, since ADAC is ubiquitous and likely faster on site.
    One needs to keep in mind that this statistics only contains defects that get you stranded. If a cupholder breaks or even an ABS, it won’t show up here. Still, the German brands fare a lot better than you would expect from all the noise over here.

  • avatar

    This year my next door neighbor got stranded four times in her 2008 65oi due to faulty steering lock and had it lemon-lawed. My accountant got stranded twice in three days in busy intersections in his 745iL because computer “needed reset”. A lady at work cannot wait for her 535i lease to end so she can get rid of her electrical gremlins.
    I can see why Audi tops the list.

  • avatar

    I’ll repost.  How can these numbers be explained?  Are these the numbers German consumers are relying on?
    AMAZING – Now that is the TTAC story of the week,
    2003 Golf 23.9
    2003 Corolla 21.7
    I think if we look at the US numbers the quality gap between a Corolla and a Golf is far larger than 10%.  How can we explain these numbers?

  • avatar

    Considering that some of GM’s best offerings (e.g., Malibu) are derived from Opel designs, it is not comforting to see Opel reliability ranked so poorly on its home turf.  Similarly, now that Chrysler is somewhat reliant on Fiat to engineer compelling small cars, the low Fiat reliability scores are unsettling.  Might the reliability of these Detroit-2 brands actually get worse in the near future due to these dependencies?

  • avatar

    Paul et. al.

    I’m assuming these numbers are for AAA type service calls?
    While I don’t know for sure, I could certainly see it being possible that a Golf and a Corolla having a similar likelihood of leaving you in the type of situation that would warrant a call to AAA/ADAC.

    For example I had a 98′ Passat that went through A-Arms on a regular basis.  Every 2 years it would start making “the noise”  and I’d bring it to the dealer  they would replace them free of charge (even long after the warranty expired).  Now I have a GTI and it’s gone in twice in two years once for a squeaky drivers seat and once for a blown speaker.  In all these cases none of the issues I encountered required a tow.

    I’ve put 200k miles on 3 VW’s in the past 12 years and only once have I been left stranded.  That being said I’ve probably had something go wrong about once a year.   I could certainly imagine a situation in which a Corolla and a Golf are about as likely to suffer the type of catastrophic failure that requires a tow, but the Golf is going to have more visits due to small but perhaps annoying items.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Sorry, I remain totally unconvinced; WSN +1.
    Especially the argument that all manufacturers offer roadside assistance is BS. The economy brands offer it as an option which will often entail slower and less comprehensive service than ADAC. If I had a BMW I’d call BMW; if I had to wait for somebody on the Citroen hotline to answer I’d probably curse myself for not spending what, 50 Euros? on a ADAC membership (which includes all kinds of bargains like cheaper rental cars, and a member’s magazine, etc).
    I am not alone with this opinion. German speakers can look at the Wikipedia article
    which is critical of the statistics, even though leagues of ADAC lawyers spend the time of the day fighting the slightest negative news.
    It gets totally absurd when you look at what signifies a breakdown according to ADAC. About a third are electrical problems, of which the majority is, drumroll please: empty batteries. So a shmo who only drives his cheap Japanese car on the weekends and doesn’t realize that modern cars have current drain will likely call the ADAC instead of asking the neighbor for some darn jumper cables.
    Equally flimsy statistics, but interestingly enough, Autobild regularly conducts long-term tests of cars (100k KM), in which German cars regularly fare poorly and Japanese cars are spectacularly untemperamental.
    BTW, I wrote about the ADAC stuff back in 2008:

    • 0 avatar

      What exactly is an economy brand for you? My parents had mobility guarantees on their french car (Citroen C2) since at least 2003. AFAIR they also had it on their 1998 Renault Scenic.
      (Yet at the one breakdown they suffered, they called the ACE (another Auto Club), which then had an ADAC vehicle tow them. Reason was quite simple – they’ve paid for their membership for ~30 years, so when they finally do have a breakdown, they want something out of that membership. )
      I also don’t really get why someone with a japanese car would be more likely to have a drained battery than someone with a german car.
      The reason these statistics might be skewed are (as always with german car statistics) the company cars – usually “bigger” companies with their own car park management would have service contracts that have to be used.
      The autobild study is way less valid. Any statistic build on a sample of n=1 is worthless…

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Martin, here is my comment from your post two years ago:
      I think this once relevant way of gathering reliability statistics no longer works well. This info comes strictly from roadside break-downs. Years ago, when cars were generally less reliable, this made more sense. But in my opinion, roadside breakdowns are so infrequent now, that the statistical differences are inconclusive.
      That sums up how I feel about it now. The fact that certain cars repeatedly scored high or low (back in the 80s and 90s) tends support a degree of accuracy. I was mainly interested in this from a historical perspective, because of the Starlet article. I remember reading back then in ams how annoyed the Germans were about Toyota taking the top spot away from the MB diesel year in and year out.
      But I wouldn’t put much faith in this Pannenstatistik anymore.

    • 0 avatar

      Fusion–> Hondas for example have smaller batteries than most other cars. Also the prius starter battery is quite small, but we don’t get a lot of those. One reason is that there’s very few of them on the road. It’s also the only toyota(not counting lexus) that has roadside assistance here.

      Most flat batteries are caused by running fuel-powered heaters like a Webasto/Eberspächer for way too long, and driving too little. A normal battery is pretty much dead in 2 or 3 years max and that’s when most of these problems start. Nothing wrong with the car itselt, it’s just that the battery is not designed for that.

      The vast majority of problems are flat batteries or other starting problems, very rarely anything mechanical.

      Also the first really cold days mean the diesel fuel is frozen since cold weather is always a “surprise” and summer-grade diesel gets thick and clogs up the fuel filter. Or you might fill up in the south with winter diesel, and drive 1000km north and still have it freeze. We also get a lot of people who put petrol in diesel cars.. And even some who put diesel in a petrol car. With a goddamn funnel!

      Pretty much any car is reliable enough for me to consider. Every brand has lemons, some more than others though. One taxi driver says that his Volvo was the most reliable car ever for 300.000kms, and his new BMW has gone thru two turbos and a transmission before 100k and he will never consider BMW again, and his next car will be a Volvo. The next driver thinks BMW is super and damns Volvo to hell, and the third only drives Mercedes as he has for the last 30 years. Despite the trim falling off after 100k. And the fourth driver drives a Toyota which blew it’s head gasket just after 100k, as did several of his friends Toyotas. And still buys a Toyota for his next ride.

      Holy crap whis was long..

  • avatar

    Paul, thanks for taking the time to translate all this for us. Interesting. Having past ties to the Czech Republic, I hope that current Skodas are reliable.

    • 0 avatar

      In the areas of the UK I used to live in pretty much 75% of Taxi fleets were made up of TDI Skoda Octavia’s. The last one I took a ride in had clocked up over 300k miles and was still going strong. Pretty much all of Skoda’s lineup in Europe are rebadged older VW models which offer great value for money and great reliability.

  • avatar

    Ah it’s nice to see that my slightly xenophobic view of French, Italian and Spanish cars are actually backed up in fact. They are as sh*te as I’ve always thought. Nice to know.
    Interesting that the Opel Omega is in there – does anyone know if it’s twin sister the Cadillac Catera is as bad?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes. And the Saturn L based on an Opel design, equally awful and built here. For years the most reliable “Opel” available here in the US was the T Car [Kadette]based Chevette.

      Seems the Delta platform is a vast improvement over what came before it.At least as used in the US. Even GM NA couldn’t destroy the basic competence of it with the ION and Cobalt.

  • avatar

    This is a complicated subject and one I have given much thought. Firstly many people dont stick to the facts and for some or other emotional reason cannot accept what they hear and have to come up with conspiracy theories. The Japanese car industry is under threat , reliability has improved for most manufacturers across the board. adac is pretty much accurate and far more factual than a survey such as jd prove a point in a recent survey in the uk skoda was tops and vw was average yet most off them share same mechanicals so dealership expectations are one factor together with demographics , so imho a waste of time.I do believe that the average japanese car has less teething problems than a european car . However when it comes mechanical the difference is almost irrelevant .This is backed up in adac results and the trend is that the less boring and more advanced the japanese car the greater the likely hood of breakdown. the other bit of usefull info is that the two camps have different structures dealing with quality control . this favours the Japanese .The pressure from South Korea ie: Kia and Hyundia are going to be the death knell of the likes of Mazda and Nissan as they are using German engineering and a more conservative quality program. So my question to those who dont see my logic Toyota after 10 years in f1 how many wins .. 0 to be exact.All the brilliant engineering came to 0.Lets look at Le Mans and how many attempts results 0. So if we look at a smaller co. like Audi things look like shall I say different.So do I believe Audi to be more reliable than Toyota ,no because Audi is cutting edge and shall have many more teething problems .On a different angle more people are employed directly and indirectly in the motor industry in england er no , sorry in Germany than any other .

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