MANUFACTURERS have defended their reputation for reliability after a high-profile survey claimed German cars were more prone to breakdowns than many rivals.
The survey was completed by nearly 33,000 readers of consumer magazine Which? for cars up to eight years old, and included verdicts on 138 models.
Drivers were asked about the problems or faults that had occurred during the previous 12 months, with particular emphasis on breakdowns.
No 'German' car brands made it into the 'best' or 'good' categories, with Volkswagen owners registering a high number of breakdowns for cars built over the past five years.
However, a Volkswagen spokeswoman said: 'Volkswagen prides itself on offering high quality, reliable products and providing excellent customer service. We believe the sharp fall in reported reliability for Volkswagen is due entirely to the ignition coil failure problems we had last year and in early 2003.
'We conducted a large public campaign on this to inspect and rectify affected cars. There was a point in the middle of the campaign where we had insufficient new components to keep pace with demand and supplied customers whose vehicles were off the road with loan vehicles.
'We admitted this component problem at the time, informed our customers, retailers and the media, and did everything in our power to support our customers.
'This issue is now mostly dealt with and, in a future similar survey, I would expect to see the Volkswagen reliability ratings return to a more normal footing.'
BMW has been judged to have a worse than average breakdown rate, while some newer Mercedes-Benz cars scored poorly for breakdowns, faults and problems and the Audi TT was the worst performing car in the survey.
Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Toyota and Lexus dominated the top of the survey, while Ford has improved from 'poor' in previous surveys to 'good'.
Helen Parker, editor of Which?, said: 'Brands are built on a promise, for example that they will deliver consistently a certain level of quality or value.
'If customers see through the promise or find it has been broken, it can be the worst possible news for a brand. Our survey reveals the first robust evidence of bad news for some of the biggest brands in the world.
'Of course, there is still much else that owners value in these cars, as Which? Car will reveal in October, but when 86% of people say reliability is the most important factor when choosing a new car, these results should make the manufacturers take notice.'
A spokeswoman for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said: 'Although the survey highlights the commitment of the motor industry towards improving reliability, it is still a very small sample.
'32,926 car owners with vehicles up to eight years old from an overall car parc of 17.8 million means it is still just 0.2% of the cars in the UK.'