How Cars Are Tested for Reliability in 2014

Choosing a new car is a big decision, and it’s only natural that a few questions might go through your head. One of the more common concerns motorists have is with a vehicle's reliability, particularly in the years after its warranty period expires.


Cars undergo a variety of manufacturer and third-party tests to ensure they’re reliable.

The reliability of a car has a serious impact on your satisfaction as a driver. Even the most comfortable or sporty of cars can turn into nightmares if breakdowns become a common occurrence and repairs a major expense.

While some brands have a reputation for reliability and others a reputation for cars that are slightly more temperamental, today’s cars undergo a variety of tests aimed at assessing their long-term reliability before they arrive on the market.

In this guide, we’ll look at the tests used to determine a car’s reliability in 2014, as well as the factors that play the biggest role in wearing down your car and creating reliability issues over the long term.

Manufacturer reliability testing

Designing and building a car is a long process, which is why many cars arrive on the market years after emerging as concepts at motor shows. Once a car has been built, manufacturers spend years testing its design for safety and reliability issues.

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Reliability testing isn’t quite as exciting as crash testing, but it’s just as important for making sure a car performs well over the long term. While not all manufacturers use the same tests to determine reliability, most try to address the same questions.

Dynamometer testing for reliability and fuel efficiency

In order to simulate the road environment, manufacturers use a machine called a dynamometer. Dynamometers use moving rollers that attach to a vehicle’s wheels and allow it to drive while remaining in one place.

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In order to simulate the road environment, manufacturers use a machine called a dynamometer. Dynamometers use moving rollers that attach to a vehicle’s wheels and allow it to drive while remaining in one place.

A dynamometer (known as a ”dyno” for short) doesn’t perfectly simulate the road environment, but it does allow manufacturers to work out some important figures related to the car’s performance and reliability:

  • The car’s average fuel efficiency
  • The car’s torque and horsepower
  • The car’s environmental impact

While these factors may seem unrelated to reliability, they’re often a good indicator of how reliably a car will perform. Dyno testing works a car’s engine to its limits and can quickly reveal defects in design of the engine, transmission or chassis.

Road testing for reliability and performance

One of the most important aspects of car reliability is consistency. Cars that perform consistently in braking, handling and performance over a long test period tend to be reliable, stress-free vehicles for their owners.

Before a car goes on the market, the manufacturer will spend months testing it on a test track. Test tracks range from large loops designed to test top speed and vehicle reliability to compact tracks that simulate the driving experience in a city.

Tracks don’t perfectly simulate road conditions – there are no potholes or debris on a test track, for example – but the impacts of long-term testing on a track are a more reliable indicator of reliability than tests performed on a dynamometer.

Before releasing a car, manufacturers will drive it for thousands of miles on a track, often at high RPMs or at speeds that exceed those normally used on the road. This intense testing quickly reveals flaws and weaknesses in a car’s design.

Third-party tests for reliability

,p>Although most car manufacturers rigorously test their cars before putting them on the market, it often isn’t impossible for them to simulate hundreds of thousands of miles of wear and tear in the months before a car is released.

Many thoroughly-tested cars run into reliability issues a few years into their public availability. This is one reason late-model versions of certain cars are sold for more than earlier models – many cars gradually become more reliable over time.

By far the best indicator of a car’s long-term reliability is owner opinion. People that drive cars on a daily basis quickly notice their faults and, in the aggregate, can work out which cars are reliable and which are problematic.

A variety of metrics are used to judge a car’s reliability. Some cars break down often but cost little to repair, while others run for hundreds of thousands of miles before a catastrophic breakdown that costs thousands of pounds to fix.

Factors used in third-party car testing include:

  • The average cost of repairing a car
  • A car’s breakdown frequency
  • The amount of time a certain brand or model spends off the road due to repairs
  • The age and mileage of old cars that are still operating

Due to the nature of long-term reliability testing, it’s often difficult to know if a car is truly reliable until 2-3 years after it’s first launched. A car’s history is usually a good indicator of its reliability, especially if it’s changed very little over its production run.

What makes a car become unreliable?

Not all cars are naturally unreliable. Cars that have a reputation for unreliability can often require more maintenance than others, but are problem-free when maintained and driven properly.

Cars need to be cared for in order to run smoothly over the long term. If a car misses its service intervals its reliability will decline and the likelihood of issues, from small problems to catastrophic failures, significantly increases.

If you’re buying a used car, check its service history to make sure it was serviced on schedule at each of its service intervals. Look at the average cost of each service – it can be a good indicator of the amount you’ll need to pay for future services.

The way a car is driven also affects its reliability. Not all cars are designed for high speeds or off-road driving, and a car that’s pushed beyond its limit frequently will encounter far more problems than one that’s driven calmly on the road.

How to make sure you buy a reliable car

An unreliable car is every motorist’s worst nightmare, and the cost of buying a low-cost used car can quickly compound through repairs, services and new parts caused by design flaws and lack of care from the previous owner.

Before you buy any new or used car, check its reliability rating online and search for common issues faced by owners. Read reviews with road tests and see if any issues popped up during the review – if they happened then, they could happen again.

Finally, consider buying an extended car warranty to protect yourself against the cost of repairs and replacement parts for unreliable cars. The peace of mind of an extended warranty can make owning your dream car a more comfortable experience. Contact us today on 0800 001 4990 for a quote, or enter your registration in the box above.