German automobile manufacturers pride themselves on innovative design. Their vehicles have some of the newest technological features on the market. However, “new” often means “unproven.” Historically, consumers have found that those “new” features came with a host of problems. Older model German cars were plagued with reliability issues. Fortunately, today’s models seem better engineered.
“Higher-ranking brands don’t go on the fritz nearly as often, or in the same manner, as their under-ranked German counterparts.” – John Lincov, Consumer Reports, 2011
Even though newer model German cars perform better than their older versions, they are still expensive to service. Mercedes and BMW rank as the top two most expensive cars to maintain. In particular, the repairs to the German BMW 328i and Mercedes-Benz’ E350, can cost almost twice as much as their luxury counterparts. (1)
Audi’s Latest Models Win Reliability Award
Audi’s greatest issues revolved around engine and transmission problems. Although Audi’s overall quality was notably high compared to other German brands, many people were content to bypass them based on their reputation. Indeed, if you looked at the bulk data, this seemed smart. However, even in the past, there have been a couple of shining stars in the Audi lineup.
Without a doubt, the popular models such as the A4 and the Allroad were plagued with problems. The Audi A4 was noted for its powertrain and engine issues. The Allroad took flak due to powertrain and transmission issues. Older A4s are noted for excessive oil consumption. The worst model year for the Audi A4 was 2002 with engine failure occurring, on average, by 76,000 miles. Past 50,000 miles, the Allroad often succumbed to valve cover and cam tensioner leaks.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Audi’s Q7 and A8. If you sift through years of reports, malfunctions in the A8 are few. Though the First Generation Q7 did have some electrical problems, later model-years did not.
Audi listened to consumer complaints from the past and has attempted to address the issues. A newer model Audi earned one of the top five spots in Consumer Reports’ 2015 Auto Reliability Survey.
At one time, potential owners may have had reason to balk at the prospect of owning an Audi, but newer models are better designed and more reliable.
BMW Does Well with Lower-Priced Models
Like Audi, the reliability of BMW over the years depends on the model being examined. Overall, BMW’s quality compares with other German vehicles. Some models seem plagued problems, and others have stood the test of time.
BMW produced both the lowest rated BMW 745i and the highly popular BMW Z4. The 745i showed a high instance of powertrain and engine issues while the Z4 had virtually none. Accordingly, people traded in more low mileage 745is towards other models compared to the industry average.
There is a correlation between longevity and lower sticker prices. The less expensive BMWs contained fewer electronics. Consequently, it is possible that there is a direct relationship between reliability and the use of mechanical over electronic parts.
Mercedes-Benz Ranked #1 for Longevity
Public perception of Mercedes-Benz vehicles tends to be positive. Most owners report they’d buy another, and it’s not uncommon to see older models on the road. On the surface, Mercedes appears reliable.
Of the German cars, Mercedes ranks as number one for longevity. Historically, they show the highest number of high-mileage vehicles in use when compared to their German counterparts. Mercedes also boasts the highest rating for overall manufacturer quality of the German brands. However, the numbers are a bit different when Mercedes is compared to non-German brands.
Something to note is that the United States government organization that tracks vehicle safety issued more recalls, and filed more complaints about Mercedes than other brands during the last decade. It seems that, with Mercedes, you roll the dice and hope for the best.
Porsches are Expensive to Maintain
Porsche wins all sorts of awards for its new cars. However, a different story emerges when you look into their historical data. Of all the German manufacturers, Porsche had the lowest number of traded-in vehicles carrying over 180,000 miles.
A recent study of British consumers which analyzed the reliability of cars between the ages of 3 and 8 years old, rated Porsche the second least reliable vehicle on the road. The study calculated the average repair cost of a Porsche to be just over $1000; quite a hefty fee for the average consumer.
The verdict: Porsche produces well-built, high-performance vehicles that are very expensive to keep on the road.
Volkswagen Ranked Lowest of the German Brands
Volkswagen’s reputation precedes itself; it’s very common to hear phrases like “money-pit” and “disaster” thrown around. Based on the data from the last decade, one can understand why that is so.
Actually, Volkswagen was pretty close to Mercedes on the number of trade-in vehicles carrying over 180,000 miles. That would indicate that people keep their cars for a long period. However, there are also a large number of complaints regarding engine and transmission problems. Notably, the Passat and Jetta showed mostly engine complaints including several instances of engine failure due to oil sludge. Those repairs cost upwards of $2000 each.
Volkswagen received the lowest rating for overall manufacturer quality of the five German manufacturers. In 2014, when J.D. Power surveyed owners of three-year-old vehicles, they found significantly more reported problems in Volkswagen than other brands.
Based on the data available, Mercedes and Volkswagens seem to have the longest life spans. All German brands are expensive to maintain and have a history of engine and transmission problems. Out of them all, Audi seems to have their act together and now holds the top spot for reliability.
So why do people continue to purchase older model German vehicles? Most of these brands enjoy an almost “cult-like” following. Their luxury vehicles seem prestigious, and people who own them don’t seem to mind the high upkeep.