By on December 8, 2011

One of the most closely watched quality indicators in Europe and especially in Germany is the annual TÜV-Report. With German thoroughness, the report tells exactly which cars were naughty or nice. It’s the law:  Three years after you buy a new car in Germany, it must be inspected by the Technischer Überwachungsverein. Thereafter, every two years. This is not your run-of-the-mill drive-to-the-gas-station-get-a-sticker exercise. At the TÜV, each car undergoes a thorough and invasive physical. Fail the physical, and it’s back to the shop. Fail again: No inspection sticker, get that POS off the road. No wonder that a date with the TÜV is considered as even less attractive than a meeting with the proctologist. One out of 5 cars fail the test on the first attempt.

Once a year, the TÜV compiles its TÜV-Report, using the actual results of the check.  This is no J.D.Power CSI. This is the real world, a report compiled with screwdrivers, flashlights, emission probes, brake testers. Executives at automakers await the report with high anxiety. Bad positions on the list can be career-ending.

The TÜV-Report 2012 will be published on December 16. Some results are already dribbling out, but the list itself remains under wraps. We twisted some arms and finagled an advance copy (your Teutonic old boys network at work.) Let’s see who will be promoted and who should polish his resume.

7,779,312 million cars were inspected between July 2010 and June 2011. We focus on two groups of cars: New cars, which are checked after 3 years. And, as the super long term testers, 10-11 year old cars. We will only show you the nicest and the naughtiest to avoid data overload. The percentage number means how many of the cars tested failed and were sent back to the shop. Lower is better.

TÜV-Report 2011, 3 year old cars

Rank Type Complaints
2 MAZDA 2 2.6%
8  MAZDA 3 3.2%
9  OPEL AGILA 3.3%
9  SUZUKI SX4 3.3%
118  KIA SORENTO 9.2%
119  PEUGEOT 407 9.4%
119  ALFA ROMEO 159 9.4%
121  CITROEN C4 9.5%
122  HYUNDAI ATOS 10.0%
124  CITROEN C5 11.5%
125  FIAT PANDA 11.6%
127  DACIA LOGAN 12.5%

If you own a newish Toyota Prius, the TÜV test won’t scare you. For the second time in a row, the Prius takes the top spot. Says Auto Bild:

“Especially impressive: The complex hybrid technology of the Toyota Prius works perfectly. In second place, also a Toyota: The Auris usually masters the first TÜV check without fail.”

Interesting: The Top 10 look like a remake of the axis, with the Italians AWOL: Six out of the ten best are Japanese, the remaining  four are German. If you are looking for the axis partner gone AWOL, check the bottom of the list.

TÜV-Report 2011, 10-11 year old cars

Rank Type Complaints
1  PORSCHE 911 9.5%
2  TOYOTA RAV4 10.0%
5  MAZDA MX-5 17.9%
10  HONDA ACCORD 21.0%
63  OPEL ZAFIRA 31.6%
65  VW PASSAT 32.2%
66  FIAT PUNTO 32.3%
68  ALFA ROMEO 156 34.4%
70  VW SHARAN 36.5%
72  FORD GALAXY 37.9%
73  FORD KA 38.9%

Now for the oldies. Which ones don’t show their age? The Porsche 911 leads the Top 10 of the seniors (with the usual Japanese/German mix).

The Porsche 911 also takes top billing in 6-7 years and 8-9 years. No wonder, it is usually babied and serviced by mechanics with white gloves. Don’t just assume it will hold up forever. Spoil the car like an elegant lady, and she will win the biannual beauty contest.

And which car is the worst you ask? Let’s quote Auto-Bild on that contentious topic:

“The loser in all classes is the Ford Ka. No car has a higher number of serious faults. 38,9 percent of Ka cars between 10 and 11 years leave the TÜV without the sticker. For the third time in a row, the catastrophe-Ford is last on the list.”

For data nerds: Look at the godawful showing of the Volkswagen Sharan, the Seat Alhambra, and the Ford Galaxy. Same car. The first generation (tested here) were all made in the Ford/VW  joint venture plant in Palmela.


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55 Comments on “It’s Official: Toyota Prius And Porsche 911 Are Germany’s Most Reliable Cars...”

  • avatar

    In spite of their intense pride in their domestic vehicles, the Germans don’t come out of this very well in terms of Top Ten but are probably relieved that in 3 year old cars they have nothing in the Bottom Ten. The Porsche Boxter/Cayman and the Golf Plus are made in Germany but the Opel is, I believe, is actually a Hungarian-built Suzuki. Teh German article also mentions that the VW Phaeton is also among the best, although it does not appear on either list on this page. That said, here in Germany you don’t see all that many Japanese cars except perhaps for Mazda 3s and Toyota Yarises (Yari?).

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    And I thought that the PA insepections were overly fussy!!!!

  • avatar

    Now, I may be wrong in this assumption, but I would put money on the 911 ranking so high on the charts because there are few used as daily drivers. Fewer miles = lower risk of mechanical breakdown/fault/issue.

  • avatar

    I can’t imagine a 911 being reliable if it’s used anywhere as near as much as an American daily driver. I keep hearing my European friends tell me the 911 is the reliable sports car to buy, but I doubt one would make it 20k miles a year without crapping out in a spectacular fashion.

    Slamming doors, grocery runs, crap roads, hard starts with no warmups on freezing mornings, being left out in 110 degree parking lots, gasoline of dubious quality in the middle of nowhere, moving seating position with two drivers of vastly different heights…

    I would argue that Europeans don’t get that Americans have different usage expectations from their cars, and that’s why Porsche doesn’t rush to post such impressive figures in their US advertising campaigns.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t imagine a 911 being reliable if it’s used anywhere as near as much as an American daily driver.

      Why not – even when you adjust for mileage – the car ranks very highly on every report of quality both short and long term. Why is that hard to believe?

      • 0 avatar

        Whether in the US or Germany, most Porsches are low mileage and not daily drivers. Even then, you have the Rear Main Seal issues on older cars. Some of the newer cars have oiling issues which have been documented on this site. These are catastrophic failures!

    • 0 avatar

      I put 22k on my 996 over the last year. And I live in Florida. God I love this car!!!!! Although 9 quarts of Mobil One every 5k miles does kinda suck. So let’s see … drivers window sticks a bit, spoiler bellows cracked, 12v plug died, that’s all I can think of. 180k miles. Tra la la.

    • 0 avatar

      Even then, you have the Rear Main Seal issues on older cars. Some of the newer cars have oiling issues which have been documented on this site. These are catastrophic failures!

      Just because some Honda transmissions grenade and some Toyota engines sludge (both catastrophic failures) doesn’t mean that, over-all they make very reliable cars.

      • 0 avatar

        “Even then, you have the Rear Main Seal issues on older cars. Some of the newer cars have oiling issues which have been documented on this site. These are catastrophic failures!”

        But most of those catastrophic failures are related to racing or “driving events,” which are very much not in the normal driving experience.

        I have a 2008 Cayman that is my only car and is driven daily–super market, Home Depot, work, train station, etc. So far, so good. One benefit I see compared to other cars of similar vintage is that there is a bit less to go wrong: no automatic transmission, no sun roof, electronics are 10 year old technology, etc. Well, there is the tire pressure monitoring system, but a failure there is likely to be merely annoying.

    • 0 avatar

      I use my ’06 C2S Cabriolet as a near-daily driver (almost every day, just not in the snow or threat of snow which ends up being 5 to 10 days a year here in DC)

      It runs the kids to school (downright abusive the way they treat that car, including putting the top up and down), occasionally does the grocery run, and goes to countless soccer and lacrosse practices and games in addition to taking me to work everyday.

      so far no problems except an oil pressure sensor that had to be replaced. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

    • 0 avatar

      My 1987 944S is still going strong as my daily driver, with 185,000 miles on it (I bought it in 1992 with 45,000 miles.) Threw on the Blizzaks last week and had a blast driving to work today in the snow! (I did finally have to replace the original muffler last month, after only 24 years and 184,000 miles, and the cruise control likes to act up most of the time… and the alarm system doesn’t work anymore….)

      My 2002 Boxster (that I bought new) only has 68,000 miles on it, but it still looks and drives just like the day it came off the showroom floor. It did have an RMS replaced under warranty when it was a year old, but the redesigned seal they replaced it with has been fine ever since.

      So from experience I know that Porsches, new and old, are very reliable as daily drivers. In fact, letting them sit around and NOT driving them is probably worse for them. Oh, and both of them get driven on the track too. (The only other car I own is a 1965 Corvair.)

    • 0 avatar

      I picked up my 2010 C4S in July 2009 and drove it 17,236 miles in 3 mos before shipping it home. The biggest problem was an annoying squeaking sound that appeared after I left German-quality roads on a trip to the Nordkapp. When I re-visited the factory halfway through my trip to get The Most Expensive Oil Change Ever, they put in some felt in key places and that helped some. Then I encountered different squeaks when I hit Greek roads. Back home in the USA, there was a squeak in the sunvisor when unclamped.

      Squeaking is annoying, but not a basic failure. I am up to 42k miles now. I have that over-sensitive “transmission emergency run” warning for the PDK appear from time to time but that’s all I can remember.


  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, this is an interesting data point. Unfortunately, the survey measures two things . . . which cannot be separated from the data presented: (1) the inherent quality of the car and (2) the quality of the owner’s maintenance of the car. As any car gets older, the importance of the second factor goes up.

    As some of the other posters pointed out, the quality of the 911 may be due, in part, to the fact that the owners of such cars are more likely to be righteous in their maintenance. I think the same could be true of the other more expensive vehicles on the list.

    That said, there’s no denying the impressiveness of the results for some of the non-luxury cars with high rankings, starting with the Prius, the Yaris and the RAV-4.

    And, then absence of any BMW or Audi vehicle on the list is also telling. I assume they sell a lot of those in Germany!

  • avatar

    And what were the most common defects?

    TÜV-Report 2011, 3 year old cars
    Lightning 8.3%
    Front and rear axle 1.1%
    Foot brake 0.4%
    Steering 0.3%
    Exhaust 0.2%
    Brake lines and hoses 0.1%

    TÜV-Report 2011, 5 year old cars
    Lightning 13.1%
    Front and rear axle 3.2%
    Steering 1.4%
    Exhaust 0.9%
    Foot brake 0.9%
    Brake lines and hoses 0.2%

    TÜV-Report 2011, 7 year old cars
    Lightning 20.6%
    Front and rear axle 6.9%
    Exhaust 3.3%
    Steering 3.0%
    Brake lines and hoses 1.8%
    Foot brake 1.6%
    Corrosion on the frame and structural parts 0.2%

    TÜV-Report 2011, 9 year old cars
    Lightning 24.4%
    Front and rear axle 10.7%
    Exhaust 5.6%
    Brake lines and hoses 4.1%
    Steering 3.4%
    Foot brake 2.4%
    Corrosion on the frame and structural parts 0.8%

    TÜV-Report 2011, 11 year old cars
    Lightning 28.6%
    Front and rear axle 13.4%
    Exhaust 7.7%
    Brake lines and hoses 7.1%
    Steering 4.2%
    Foot brake 3.5%
    Corrosion on the frame and structural parts 2.6%

    Transgoogled from:

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      “Lightning” haha. I would assume most of that is burned-out marker bulbs or misaimed headlights.

      I wonder: do people in Germany prep their cars for the TUV inspection, or do they just take it in as-is and use the report as a maintenance punchlist?

      • 0 avatar

        Right you are. Got fog lamps on your car you never use? One bulb broken? “Lightning” problem, of course.

        “Beginning corrosion” (on brake lines, body structure) is another favorite item, especially, if the car is older than 10 years, however well-kept. I once had an old W116 Benz with 3 month old brake lines that my favorite TÜV nitpicker choose to brandish as suffering from “beginning corrosion”. He was wrong, of course, but imagine the hassle.

        But there is an even more serious problem: not only do you have to cope with overzealous TÜV people; you also have to expect bribery and other criminal methods in this business, as AutoBild found out (cf, only in German).

    • 0 avatar

      Lightning seems to be a huge problem over there, maybe they need sharp pointy rods on top of the cars.

      Just kidding.

      It’s clear that light bulbs of all types are a major issue. Not a surprise nor a showstopper. If you remove that from the equation you are left with exhaust pipes and whatever goes wrong with axles. Stainless steel pipe would fix the exhaust issue.

      So what is the deal with axles? Wheel bearings not greased or are we talking CV joints.

    • 0 avatar

      I checked the new data. Not much difference. Pls note that there are different TUV (Süd, Nord, Rheinland etc.) The number to use is the consolidated one.

      • 0 avatar

        Data that I pasted here is from TUV 2012.

        It’s from the Sud-Tuv site, but it’s consolidated for Germany.

        Sud-Tuv only data is under ‘Mängelquoten in den TÜV SÜD-Regionen’

  • avatar
    Vance Torino

    I just wanted to say I REALLY LIKE THE STEELIE WHEELS ON THE PRIUS on the photo!

    So honest it’s refreshing. Like the basic Hondas of old.

    Much better than those horrid plastic aero covers.
    (which probably only save 0.000001 mpg anyway).

    I also like the attitude: “I’m driving this Prius because I’m sensible and frugal, not to show off ecostatus.”

    Does anyone know where such awesomely simple wheels can be purchased?

  • avatar

    So basically what they are saying that whether it is new cars or old cars, Fiat sucks.

    I am so glad that Fiat is here to fix Chrysler.

  • avatar

    I am surprised about the bad showing of the Santa Fe on the 3 year old list. From all the other sources I read, the Santa Fe is usually considered to be a fairly reliable car. Certainly I don’t expect it to be ranked near the bottom at #123.

    Also I never thought Mazda to be near the top of the reliability list. Good showing to get 2 of the top 10.

  • avatar

    “your Teutonic old boys network at work”

    Work it, Bertel, work it.

  • avatar

    The poor showing of old Passats verifies why I got rid of my 02 Passat after its warranty expired after 3 years of trouble with it. I knew I couldn’t afford to keep it long-term.

    • 0 avatar

      Took me over 11 years of Passat ownership before I learned my lesson. On the day I traded in for my Nissan 350Z the cruise control stop working and the sunroof control switch fell out of the headliner. The VeeDud got 30 mpg and was paid off… those were the only reasons I held onto it for so long.

      The other thing this list tells me: open a lighting shop in Germany! Maybe this is why Audi is so keen on those LEDs all around. Makes sense – I switched to LEDs on my boat trailer (saltwater + electrical current = corrosion city) and the difference is dramatic. Less current draw, they don’t get hot, burn brighter and are fully sealed and thus never fail or flicker.

  • avatar

    So Bertel, any data on why particular models fail? If lighting is the majority of the causes, then that would be caught at the, we don’t do it at gas stations anymore ;) , inspections to get the sticker. They also test to make sure the brakes work a few other things.

    What is front and rear axle mean on this test? Alignment?

  • avatar

    And people are still talking about the downfall of Toyota?

    • 0 avatar

      Toyota can build the best cars in the world all day long, it doesn’t mean that too many Europeans will buy them. They take great pride in their nation’s cars, no matter what it costs them.

      • 0 avatar

        Also, reliability isn’t the only metric people use when making a car buying decision.

      • 0 avatar

        CJ – I think most Europeans, like most Americans, will factor cost into their calculations. So a car having 2 faults per year vs a car with 0.1 faults per year will not be looked on favorably. But if, as is the case with most cars now, the difference is 0.5 vs 0.1 then that isn`t such a big deal if you get, in the customers opinion, something else of benefit – style, driving dynamics etc.
        You cannot have it both ways. The market is the best place to decide what is best (you as a free market person should agree with that) and then when Toyota and Honda have combined less share than Ford, GM or any of the German manufacturers say consumers are wrong.

      • 0 avatar

        Are you suggesting that they’re wrong here, where the Japanese have dominated consumer car sales for years? How much time have you spent in Europe or even around Europeans? There are reasons to explain their behavior other than acting in their own best interest.

      • 0 avatar

        The market is the best place to decide what is best…

        You continually forget that many European countries had import quotas and other non-tariff barriers, and continue to have tariffs on non-EU cars. Europe generally made a point of trying to keep the Japanese out.

        The Italians, Brits, French and the Spanish had their own domestic car industries to protect. They saw what was happening in the US during the 1970s, and didn’t like it. The effects of that protection continue until this day; even though many of those barriers have been lifted, Japan no longer has a low wage rate and weak currency that could help it to compete, and its distribution opportunities are limited.

        There is little comparison to the US situation, where the barriers were limited and easily outmaneuvered, and where establishing dealership networks was easier. For good or for bad, the US had a more open market, which made it easier for newcomers to succeed on their own merits.

  • avatar

    I find it odd that the SLK and S-Klasse are at the top of the list of older cars while the E-Klasse is near the bottom. I’m surprised to see any mercedes considered reliable, nevermind two of their more complicated cars.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Ten years ago, the E-class was the biggest POS Mercedes had ever made. The SLK probably benefits from the same “driven thrice a year” routine as Porsches, and if you can afford an S-class in Germany you can afford to have it fixed every other week.

  • avatar

    Notice how there are no transmission problem levels worth reporting. It pays to pick your own gears.

    • 0 avatar

      Unlike axels, lights, brake rotors, or mufflers, it’s not like you’re going to find a problem during a visual inspection of the transmission’s outer case. If the transmission is faulty, the person probably wasn’t able to even drive it to the TUV inspection place.

  • avatar

    That’s not saying much considering the terrible mechanical reliability of many Mercedes, BMW, VW and Fiat models. My uncle’s repair shop is constantly busy keeping up with those cars when they are out of warranty.

  • avatar

    A not-insignificant part of the difference is the shabby way in which the German marques treat their North American dealer networks.

    It’s been a while since I’ve dealt with this, but if I recall, VW used to be really hard on VWoA when it came to warranty claims, parts availability and such, and VWoA was similarly brutal to it’s dealers, who passed that in turn to the customer.

    Toyota, from what I recall, was actually very good about service and warranty work.

    • 0 avatar

      From my experience with Toyota dealerships, they’re all over the map. At the dealership where I worked, the running joke was that people bought a Corolla and never brought it back (for service), because the service was so lousy…

      Admittedly unscientific, but many of the people I’ve talked to about the local Toyota dealership, it doesn’t seem that they treat their clientele any better than anyone else on automotive row…

    • 0 avatar

      They can be worse than other dealerships. I am really tired of people who work at Toyota dealerships telling me that “toyota is #1 for a reason” and “Toyotas will run longer” and “we use the highest quality parts money can buy”

      However, if a customer has serious beef with a dealer and is willing to invest a little time and make several calls and/or send email (and have a reasonable attitude while doing so), Toyota Corp does seem to respond. In my experience, the Ford dealerships I have dealt with have on the whole been much better than the Toyota dealers. At Toyota, they all seem to think Toyota cars are mechanically perfect and if there is something wrong, it’s the driver’s fault.

      Just last week, I took a Toyota in for a big inspection/service to maintain the warranty (do most of regular maintenance myself). They checked the rear pads and reported 7mm of pad remaining. This is funny because about 15k miles ago, a different dealer told me I had 6mm left on the rear brakes. I am glad I took the time to drive further to the more honest/competent dealer.

      At least I learned something–not only do Toyotas never break, but their brake pads regenerate!

  • avatar

    In Germany is Porsche Boxster one of the most reliable car.
    In USA and also in TTAC it is not.
    Can somebody tell me, is it reliable or not?

    • 0 avatar

      It is reliable if you’re comparing it to a French or Italian car. It is unreliable if you’re comparing it to a Japanese car.

    • 0 avatar

      Can somebody tell me, is it reliable or not?

      The TUV isn’t a reliability survey, it’s a vehicle inspection. It only identifies certain kinds of flaws, and then only at certain points in time. Flaws that have been fixed between inspections or that aren’t on the checklist won’t show up here, for example. I wouldn’t use these TUV results for determining reliability, even though the data isn’t completely irrelevant.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, what do you trust more? A German bureaucracy or something you read on the internet? Think about it ;-}

  • avatar

    The TUV information must be put into context. It checks the vehicle for flaws that primarily would affect its safety at the time of the inspection: corrosion, brakes, lights, etc… If cars are having other types of reliability issues, they might not show up here. Nobody’s going to take their car to the TUV with a badly leaking main seal, or a blown transmission, or a broken shaft on a Boxer engine, or a whole host of maladies that folks have to take their cars to the shop for.

    That’s not to say the TUV inspections don’t provide useful info, but it’s not the same as a true reliability survey of issues that owners needed to fix to keep their cars running or functional.

    • 0 avatar
      fred schumacher

      You’re exactly right, Paul. The flaws picked up by the TUV test are of wearing parts, with the number one being light bulbs. No auto manufacturer makes their own light bulbs. What the test really indicates is the quality of maintenance of wearing parts by the owners.

      The TUV data is full of artifacts, or “noise.” To make sense of the data, more information is required: quality and quantity of usage, geographic distribution, socio-economic status of owners.

      For example, a couple years ago, my son and his Polish girlfriend vacationed in the winter in the Tatra Mountains. He said that nearly all the cars in the rural mountainous areas were Lada Nevas, a car that is considered of poor quality by most Europeans. However, it is exactly the Neva’s ruggedness in a severe climate with poor road conditions that makes it popular there, and it is the local characteristics of that location that would create high failure rates in wearing parts.

      Another important consideration is the chronology of the vehicle in the development cycle of the model. The recommendation never to buy a new product or release is based on the knowledge that it takes time to work out the bugs. One of my son’s friends is in the Navy. He is a member of a crew that takes each new Arleigh Burke Class destroyer out on a shake out cruise to find and repair all the flaws. These are high-tech, hand built ships, yet there are always things that go wrong.

    • 0 avatar

      And yet rating systems that rely heavily on surveys such as Consumer Reports breathlessly urge us to admire such vehicular creations as the Elantra and the Sorento. Again with the intermediate shafty thing … who ya gonna believe? The Porsche boffins or some guy on the internets trying to sell you some aftermarket monkey part?

  • avatar

    Wow, if you went by the Hyundai astroturfers on websites that shall not be named you’d think the friggin’ Santa Fe would be on the top of that list instead of being one of the worst possible new vehicles. Seriously, I’ve never had to drive a worse vehicle than the one time I had to drive a Santa Fe and I’ve driven plenty of terrible vehicles.

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