These are the top 20 dog and lemon cars (and SUVs) you should should absolutely, unequivocally not buy - under any circumstances. Before you exsanguinate yourself financially and get yourself a business class seat in automotive hell, let’s wipe the slate clean of the 20 worst vehicles in Australia - and the point you towards the cars you should buy instead
The sheer size of the lemon car problem
There are over a million new vehicles on sale in Australia. Over a million. Or so it would seem. And there’s a million new car review websites - dripping in uninformed and/or irrelevant comment. Most of them are written by car nuts, with a limited capacity for journalism, and they’re writing for other car nuts. As opposed to actual car buyers.
Australia’s 60-odd automotive brands try to justify why each of the 300 different models on sale today are not just adequate, but allegedly excellent. Even the ones that bark, and scratch and sniff each other’s arses. So, let’s release the hounds.
There's a massive difference between the marketing spin and the reality - it's a kind of confidence trick, like the elephant in the room. The car companies selling the worst cars are aware - painfully aware - that these vehicles are both dogs and lemons. Yet they will happily sell you one of these third-rate cars and wait patiently for you to discover its inherent deficiencies.
NOTE: This video is mainstream car buying advice, for mainstream car buyers. So, pillars of irrelevance, like Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Bentley, Maserati, Lamborghini, Porsche, Rolls-Royce - good luck with that. Even Lotus and Tesla - really? Not a good idea. Not a plan. You’re on your own. Millionaires and shallow celebs, form an orderly queue on the right - nothing for you to see here. At least you’ll be able to afford the flatbed truck when your Ferrari carks it on the freeway.
The problem with online car reviews
All most of the car review websites really tell you is what a car looks like, and how it drives. But - shock, horror - there’s more to owning a car than that. How it looks and how it drives - please. If you’re actually going to spend your own money on a car, it’s dead easy to fall in love, pay the big bucks and get bitten on the arse by poor reliability, and/or worse resale value. And these two often attack in concert with abysmal customer service from manufacturers - because there is - absolutely - inadequate lemon car legislative protection here in Australia. And that must change.
Find out why We Need Tougher Lemon Laws >>
Why it's different overseas
I mean - you can buy a Jeep in America. With impunity. If it’s a lemon you just take it back - you are protected by robust lemon law legislation in the USA. If your car ticks the ‘lemon’ box, you get a refund or a replacement. Not so here in Australia. If you own a lemon, a morally bankrupt carmaker is essentially free to treat you like crap. It’s often the car industry’s standard operating position. And this is disgraceful.
For everyone else, it’s vital you make the right choice up front. Stack the deck in your favour, by buying the best options. As opposed to the riskiest. Buy a car with solid fundamentals from a company that will deal fairly with you if anything goes wrong. So with that in mind, let’s hack and slash like it’s 1999.
THE 2016 TOP 20 LEMON CAR COUNTDOWN
LEMON LIST #20 - Let's Lose the Freaks & the Cheapies
Say goodbye to Haval, smart, Proton, Great Wall, Chery, LDV, Ssangyong & Foton
We’re going to lose all the freaks in one hit - the cars that simply don’t sell in sufficient numbers to deliver you a reasonable support network. The ones that might be gone tomorrow. The ‘try hards’. This means: Haval (who?), (not so) Smart, Proton, Great Wall, Chery, LDV, Ssangyong, Foton.
Face facts: You already know these brands are a bad idea. They’re all a joke. Sideshow exhibits - at best - the bearded ladies of the car industry. Fine to look at, even oddly titillating - not that you’d ever admit that. Don’t do it. You’ll hate yourself in the morning.
IS A $15K CAR A THROWAWAY? TIME TO DISCARD THE CHEAPIES
You can buy a brand new car for $15 grand - sure. Mitsubishi Mirage, Suzuki Celerio, Holden Spark and Kia Picanto, etc. But that doesn’t mean doing so is a good idea.
Above, L-R: Kia Picanto, Holden Spark, Suzuki Celerio & Mitsubishi Mirage - all still too cheap for serious new car consideration
You get that new car smell, and the full factory warranty, but there is a point where buying a used car makes more sense - and $15,000 is about that point. Economic rationalism kicks in here. Anything that costs $15,000 or less brand new is going to be eclipsed by a two-year-old used car costing $15 grand. It’s that simple.
LEMON LIST #19 - The irrelevant Lemons
Next you must axe Infiniti, Peugeot, Citroen, Volvo and MINI. They just have to go. Do not buy one if you know what’s good for you.
Infiniti & Beyond?
Infiniti’s still a joke - Nissan’s Pamela Anderson, minus any accumulated Lexus-like cachet, with cost out of control, and little - if any - real luxury. And they manage to sell a lot less than infinity - about 45 a month on average in Australia. So: Good luck at trade-in time.
Low volume sales are important for you to consider. Apart from reflecting poor outright popularity, low volume brands really don't and can't offer much support. Small dealer networks mean limited ability to bargain in relation to servicing or the purchase price, for example. Also, small sales volumes mean small parts inventories held locally, which can greatly increase the time your car is off the road following a crash or a breakdown.
And finally, because most dealers are multi-franchised, dealers tend to invest more money and devote more resources to big volume brands (where the profit is). This often means there's a black hole of technical support awaiting you if a hard-to-diagnose problem presents itself.
Infiniti -V- Lexus
Good safety tip: Buy a Lexus instead of Infiniti. Lexus sold 8691 vehicles in 2015. Infiniti sold 574 in the same time. That's 15 to one, Lexus's way. And, finally, Lexus does a great job with customer service and quality, plus, it's a known, established quantity.
Sales in Australia
Citroen is a nice idea - but fewer than 100 a month get sold in Australia. There’s a tiny market for these things - and that impacts directly on everything that matters: number of dealers, spare parts inventory, technical support, alternative service providers, resale value.
Peugeot: same thing. More sales than Citroen - but definitely not enough for critical mass. Porsche out-sells Peugeot … despite the decimal point on price being one hop over, to the right.
Volvo: Still Just a Sideshow
Volvo is a Peugeot-esque joke with about the same sales and - therefore - a lousy support network. The Chinese bought Volvo from Ford in the GFC, and they did it for the tech - not to make Volvo a screaming commercial proposition.
Is MINI; Is Tinny
Finally, MINI - the not-quite a BMW BMW that’s offered in so many variants it’ll make your head spin - but sales have evaporated, reliability is circling the dunny - I love that word - and you will not be adequately supported if you buy one. I know - it’s a real shame because you binged-watched the Italian Job last night - Michaels Caine’s one and then Mark Wahlberg’s. And now you want a MINI - it’s still a bad idea.
How Range Rover Evoque (right) is a very sexy SUV that will kill you in a crash when many less sexy, cheaper SUVs won't, and why it's important not to assume automatically that 'prestige' equals 'safety'...
Land Rover says, quote: the “Range Rover Evoque can take anything the city can throw at it”. Anything … except of course crashing. It’s not very good at that. Independent Australian crash testing authority ANCAP says, of the Evoque, quote “protection from serious chest injury was marginal for the driver.” ANCAP added, quote: “the bonnet provided predominantly poor protection in the areas likely to be struck by a pedestrian’s head”.
The Range Rover Evoque didn’t even qualify for five stars. After the first crash test it was immediately a five-star scratching - scoring only 12.39 out of 16 in the offset frontal crash test. (You need 12.5 to qualify for five stars.) A Hyundai i30 gets 15.35 out of 16 in the same test, and it’s about a quarter of the price. If you’re buying a premium car, you expect the gold standard on safety. It’s that simple. And here, Range Rover Evoque does not deliver. This is what happens when you get Victoria Beckham to design a car. It’s like getting Kim Kardashian to sit in the big chair at Mission Control. When that happens, the moonshot is guaranteed to go bad; you just know it. So: you could buy this ‘Kim Kardashian’ of Range Rovers … or a vehicle that will actually protect you properly in a crash.
LEMON LIST #18-#14 - The Entire Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Stable
Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Alfa Romeo and Fiat are all tarnished with tragic customer service
Jeep Sales Slump
Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa Romeo. You cannot be serious if these lemons are on your list. New Chrysler 300 - very gangsta. SRT8 - breathtakingly quick. Jeep - the off-road icon. SRT Jeep Grand Cherokee, awesome to drive. Breathtaking - and not in a Volkswagen way. Dodge has no redeeming features except it’s cheap, but Fiat’s cute and has a touch of Milan catwalk about it (despite being made in the potato liquor capital of the universe - Poland. And Alfa Romeo … world’s sexiest affordable cars, right? Fair enough - many awesome to drive and/or great looking cars in these stables. Carnal attraction: I get it. But let’s put our rational brains in gear:
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is the most complained about car company in Australia, as a proportion of vehicles sold. It’s the hot chick who wants it bad 24/7 - but you’ve got to lock the knives away. Don’t take my word for it - the complaint statement is according to a recent statement by Rod Sims, the boss of the ACCC. This means two things: a) the vehicles are unreliable shitboxes, and b) the company and its dealer network have a finely developed track record of acting like Hannibal-fucking-Lecter when it comes to resolving your problems. If that’s a ring you feel like stepping into - you’re a nut, and I cannot help you. Many of these vehicles are are gorgeous and/or great to drive - just right to lust after, but very bad to own. According to Consumer Reports in the USA, fully one quarter of the vehicles listed in its recent 20 least reliable cars for 2015 list where from this pentagram from hell stable of poor choices. Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Fiat and Alfa Romeo are out.
More info about the consumer backlash against these Fiat Chrysler brands >>
LEMON LIST #13-#11 - Uncertainty Factor: The Volkswagen Group
You really need to lay off the crack if you think it’s still a good idea to buy a Volkswagen, Audi or Skoda
Skoda, Audi, VW Sales
I get - absolutely - that you might not feel inclined to be outraged over their unconscionable decision to contribute illegal levels of poison into the air you breathe. (But trust me on this - they are sociopathic motherfuckers for doing it.) But even if we sweep all that evil behaviour to one side, look at it like a purely commercial proposition: Resale value of used Volkswagens, Audis and Skodas has tanked.
See how profoundly Volkswagen betrayed the world >>
Skoda: not Superb
And Skoda is a joke in any case - it fails the relevance test, like Volvo or Peugeot above. Skoda sales are a joke - they're a long, long way from critical mass in terms of the ability to provide decent customer support.
Volkswagen & Audi - Resale Lemon Risk is Outrageous
But the other two - you don’t know what next, a propos of the dieselgate scandal. Nobody knows the extent of the financial hit to the organisation, how much the massive fines will be, plus the cost of the class action lawsuits. Nobody knows if the scandal will suddenly get bigger, and possibly engulf the car you buy. Buying a Volkswagen, Audi or Skoda right now is a dumb commercial decision. In three years’ time they could be even more on the nose than now, out the back door. You’re just not thinking rationally if you still want to buy one.
Like, even if the whole system bounces back, and there’s no further dieselgate fallout, you buy one today and fast-forward three to five years. You’re selling it, right? Potential buyer looks at the compliance plate and then it’s up to you to convince that buyer your car was not part of the scandal. Good luck with that.
The final matter relating to doing business with the Volkswagen Group is 100 per cent ethics and morality. This organisation placed its profit ahead of human health. Some people think that's trivial, but some public health experts say otherwise. Apparently, the dieselgate scandal is killing people. Find out more about the Volkswagen Dieselgate Death Toll >>
Anatomy of a Design Deficiency: The Audi 2.0 TFSI Oil Consumption Problem
Anything with the Audi 2.0 TFSI engine. This engine - the ‘T’ stands for ‘turbocharged’ and the ‘FSI’ stands for ‘fuel stratified injection’ - it’s a direct-injected turbo. Everything in engineering is a compromise. And in their zeal to achieve fuel efficiency through reducing internal resistance, the Vorsprung durch technophiles at Audi managed to compromise fundamental engine integrity.
See, the rings and the valve guides need to separate the lubricating oil and the combustion chamber. If you go nuts reducing friction inside an engine, it starts drinking oil like a sailor on shore leave, because it leaks past the rings and valve guides. That’s exactly what the 2.0 TFSI engine has a global reputation for doing. And the fix? Wait for the low engine oil warning light, and add a litre of engine oil. That’s a premium ownership experience right there, don’t you think? Now: rather than just say ‘hey, we got the balance wrong, and we’re gunna fix it, which you could absolutely respect, Audi says ‘move on, nothing for you to see here, this is just normal engine operation’. Really? Kia and Hyundai manage to build turbo, direct injection engines that don’t consume any oil. Go figure. This is a fascinating window into the mindset of a company that puts its reputation ahead of its integrity.
- Instead of Audi: A BMW for the same price.
- Instead of Volkswagen: An equivalent Mazda.
LEMON LIST #10 & #9 - Dumb & Dumber: Ford Focus & Fiesta
The Ford Focus (above right) and Fiesta (above left) are big and little brother disgraces. They have the world’s dodgiest dual-clutch-style auto transmission. Worse even than Volkswagen’s. Each unit has been personally cursed by satan himself. And Ford in Australia has worked very, very hard, and very, very consistently, in direct consultation with Lucifer himself, to burn thousands of owners with not just bad - but disgracefully abhorrent - customer service. These transmissions fail routinely, they shake like one does coming down from a three-week amphetamine binge - and the dealer network runs you around like you’re part of some three-ring circus:
In the first ring: they tell you it’s normal. The transmission just needs a chance to adapt to your driving style. It’s shaking like a frigging epileptic fit. Step up to ring two (after several more complaints by you): they reprogram the transmission. This consumes your valuable time, but it doesn’t help. And then, in ring three (with your sanity hanging by a thread, nearing your wit’s end): they replace the clutch packs. Miraculously, this resolves the problem. And there’s a brief moment of Ford ownership euphoria, for six-to-eight weeks. So that’s nice.
But this orgasmic infusion of smooth transmission joy is perhaps the cruellest part of the Focus/Fiesta ownership experience, because just when you’ve closed the door on this bleak automotive chapter of your life, emotionally, and you’re driving off into the sunset, that slut of a transmission starts to fail again - and you are suddenly teleported back to Step One. Fiesta and Focus - both recognised by Consumer Reports in the USA as two of the 20 least reliable cars - second-worst and eleventh-worst respectively - are the Groundhog Day come true proposition of shit car ownership.
Footnote: Ford has replaced the dual-clutch transmission in the 2016 Focus with a conventional automatic (in the model you see, above right). So, the mechanical problems of the past several might evaporate in the current Focus - but you can bet Ford's commitment to customer service (if that's the right way to put it) remains at its current temperature. (Approaching absolute zero.) There is also astronomical brand damage bearing down on these vehicles in the form of a class action lawsuit being proposed by Bannister Law - and if successful, the resale value might plummet even more.
If your Ford is affected, now is a great time for you to review the Bannister Law Class Action Announcement >>
Three classic alternatives here: Mazda2 beats Fiesta, hands down, and Hyundai i30 or Mazda3 are rock-solid alternatives to that shitbox Focus.
My Buyer's Guides:
LEMON LIST #8 & #7 - Worst-ever Holdens: Cruze & Captiva
The Holden Cruze and Captiva occupy a special place in the hearts of many Australians. The place of the beloved child who grows up to become a serial murderer. That moment when the hot chick you’ve wined, dined and danced in Bangkok comes back to your hotel room … and turns out to be a young man. These two vehicles are a non-fiction version of Stephen King’s book, Christine. Chucky with four wheels and an engine. Nurse Ratchet, with an ignition key instead of an axe...
Holden Cruze Sales 2011-2015
These cars were designed - if that’s the right word for it - at a time when GM was on the fast track to bankruptcy, and the fundamental R&D was so poorly done that the vehicles don’t just drip with faults, they overflow. It’s the gestalt theory of faults: the whole is much worse than the sum of the shit design. Product safety recalls Australia drowns in safety-related recall notifications for these evil, dizygotic twins. And no matter how many times they break, burn or fail, still they don’t die.
My inbox overflows at times with anguished owner e-mails concerning this pair of cursed Holdens - because Holden is just as shit at customer service with its accursed twins as Ford is with its pair. Despite slashing the price - the desperation move, when it comes to holding onto sales, the Cruze is selling 10,000 fewer units annually than it was five years ago. If you think either of these two is a good idea - change the medications you’re on, because the real world is no longer getting through.
Between 2011 and 2015, inclusive, Cruze sales have been slashed by more than 50 per cent - do you want to take a punt on what this has done to resale value?
More here: Holden Captiva SUV Lemon Alert >>
Instead of a Captiva, the preferred options are (from left): Hyundai Santa Fe Series II and Kia Sorento. If the budget is tight: Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan X-TRAIL, neither of which is as good as a Santa Fe or Sorento, but both of which murder the Captiva on lemon-factor
Instead of a Cruze: You’re a dick if you don’t buy a Mazda3 or a Hyundai i30. Captiva 5 is a laughing stock compared with a Mazda CX-5, and the Captiva 7 is a lot cheaper than a Santa Fe or Sorento - in logarithmic proportion to the better quality of the Hyundai and the Kia. If you’re on a budget you’d be better off in a Nissan X-TRAIL or a Mitsubishi Outlander.
LEMON LIST #6, #5 & #4 - The Dinosaurs: Holden Commodore, Ford Falcon & Ford Territory
Decade of Decline: Commodore, Falcon & Territory Sales Shocker
The Commodore, Falcon and Territory are vehicles that nobody wants - statistically. Demand has fallen off a cliff. The factory is closing in both cases - and every worker is losing his or her job, imminently. And you still want to buy a car built in this environment? Really?
The only thing you can count on here is breathtaking depreciation. You’ve got to be kidding.
Territory is the Joan Rivers of SUVs - it’s what happens to a vehicle when you keep it on sale long past its use-by date and instead of investing in its fundamentals, you just keep mainlining botox.
The three vehicles are poor quality depreciation disasters. Businesses don't want them because they are too thirsty (insufficiently green) and they've grown out of all proportion with the needs of families, which if they need a larger vehicle, typically and overwhelmingly purchase an SUV.
(And you have to remember there are two ways to lose a tonne of money on a car - you can pay too much up front, or it can depreciate like a stuck pig while you own it. You’re guaranteeing a depreciation disaster.)
Above: Better family transport alternatives (left to right): Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, Subaru Liberty, Subaru Outback, Subaru WRX (if you want a performance car) and Mazda6 (also available as a wagon). Click to enlarge.
Where do we start? Instead of these antiquated shitboxes, look at a Mazda6 or Subaru Liberty/Outback for family transport. If you want to go fast from A to B, a Subaru WRX or WRX STI absolutely murders one of those dinosaur V8s, and a Hyundai Santa Fe or Kia Sorento would both be Territory killers … if old age hadn’t already hammered the final nail in Territory’s coffin … about five years ago.
LEMON LIST #3 - Nissan Pathfinder
To me, the Nissan Pathfinder exemplifies what happens when someone falls asleep at the wheel. Because, trust me, someone fell asleep at the wheel at Nissan about 10 years ago, and they haven’t woken up yet. It’s wall-to-wall Rip van Winkles in the Nissan boardroom. Suzuki and Honda are doing the same thing - but Nissan rates a special mention because it’s tanked its former reputation for reliability in the process.
For years, I went to Pathfinder launch after Pathfinder launch. Good value. Rock solid. Decent tow platform. Family wagon. Camping, fishing, adventure. Like that. And now, this shitbox, which looked just as bad as Hyundai’s so-called ‘fluidic sculpture’ did, and also threw all Pathfinder’s former strengths into the nearest composting toilet. Reliability generally is appalling - but the CVT transmission is an epic engineering disgrace. It slips, it vibrates, it jerks - in short, it does everything you don’t want a production auto transmission to do. And the joke here really is on Nissan because that transmission is built by Jatco … which is 75 per cent Nissan owned.
Don’t buy that awful Nissan Pathfinder based on a past positive experience with a decent previous Pathfinder. It won’t be a happy union.
If you buy a Hyundai Santa Fe (above left) or a Kia Sorento (above right) you will get more warranty, better servicing arrangements, and a fundamentally better vehicle.
LEMON LIST #2 & #1 - Two Podium Places for Mercedes-Benz's Most Mercurial Twins
Mercedes-Benz: While you were away...
Mercedes-Benz is off its meds. Everyone still wants the three-pointed star. Allah knows why. People expect a Mercedes-Benz to be so much better than other cars in so many ways, and yet it’s not. A Benz is better only in one way - it has the three-pointed star. People will see you driving a Mercedes-Benz - degree of shallowness: 13 out of a possible 10. 6.5 stars from the three-pointed star, out of a possible five. Mercedes-Benz has only ever been good at making big fat barges for big, fat German heads of state, big, fat captains of industry and lean, hungry drug cartel CEOs. A cheap Benz, however, is just that - it’s cheap, and a Benz.
See more Mercedes-Benz Myths >>
So instead of sticking to their guns and doing what they do best, these all-conquering teutonic dickheads at Mercedes-Benz overdosed on testosterone and decided to start competing with the Japanese … who, let’s face it, are a lot better at building affordable cars. When you look at Benz’s product range, it’s bigger than Ben Hur, and it’s dripping with cheap, shitbox Benzes, lunching off long-term cachet.
Take the flagship Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Back in 2000 they sold 660 S-Classes in Australia, ranging from $166,000 to $321,000. That’s an average of $244,000 - or about $390,000 in today’s money. Mercedes-Benz is in fact only selling half as many S-Classes today - and the average price is about $50k less - in real terms. There’s the evidence that they’re selling out the brand - Mercedes-Benz has traded exclusivity for volume. The range is increasingly dominated by cars mere mortals can afford. And what happens when you do that?
The product starts to fall apart - which is exactly what my last two ‘don’t buy’ recommendations exemplify. Consumer Reports in the USA says the C-Class and the GL-Class Mercedes-Benzes are in the 2015 top 20 least reliable cars list - in positions 20 and lucky 13, respectively. Independent, and verified off the back of almost three-quarters of a million surveyed owners.
C-Flat: The Unfortunate Truth
Journalists gush over the C-Class because it is a nice-looking car with equally nice fit and finish, and as long as you refrain from buying the base model, and you're prepared to kick the tin for some overpriced options, it is an apparently classy car.
But for actual C-Class owners an altogether more grim picture is emerging.
The C-Class is developing quite the reputation for power steering failure. The infotainment system fails as well, plus it rattles and stalls at idle. Not exactly traditional Benz selling points, are they?
The official Mercedes-Benz tagline for the C-Class is, quote: “This changes everything” … and I guess if you experience any or all of those faults, it probably does.
GL-Class: Even Lower Class
The GL-Class Mercedes-Benz is, apparently, even worse: Benz calls it, quote: ‘King of the Jungles’ but only because Shitbox-TRONIC was already trademarked. The collision warning sensors are, apparently, cactus, the blind spot sensors fail, so does the power steering and the display screen. The infotainment system is great … except it decides randomly not to inform or entertain you. The Bluetooth was also designed by the Russians, apparently, and the voice recognition works like the rest of the infotainment system - so, it’s awesome too … except if you expect it actually to recognise your voice.
That’s pretty much the main course of documented GL-Class routine failures - but there is a little garnish on the side. A little something special. You’d expect that from Benz. But what you actually get is … rattles in the doors and tailgate, and just wait until the seven-speed automatic transmission decides randomly it’s going to be a single-speed, from here on in. Didn’t need the other six speeds. The magic of SHITBOX-tronic. That could be interesting … but only for the first 15 or 20 metres. And the engine control ECU sometimes needs re-flashing too. So, enjoy ruling that Jungle in your shitbox A-Class loan car, while the dealership is repairing your King. Again.
So - in summary - if you’re truly shallow, step right up. There’s a Mercedes-Benz dealer near you just gagging to sell you one of these jungle kings. Or the car that changes everything. Or any other cheap Mercedes-Benz screwed together nearly as well as a South Korean Holden. Or you could just buy a BMW - even the South African-built 3-Series is a better option than a poor quality everything-changer.
At least you now know which lemon cars really to avoid in 2016.