Best car dealers 2015

Best car dealers 2015
10 Aug, 2015 8:00am Joe Finnerty

Which manufacturer's car dealers do you trust? And which do you avoid? Our results, from 61,000 readers, reveal all

Deciding which new car to buy can be as much down to the brand and its dealer network as it is the model itself. So it’s important to know which manufacturer offers you the best combination of service, quality of work and, most crucially for some buyers, value for money.

We’ve compiled the results from the 61,000-plus readers who took part in our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey to rank the best and worst garages in the UK.

Click here to read about the best car dealers 2015

This year, dealers were polled in seven separate categories, including how helpful staff were, how clean the showroom appeared and the standard of work. Plus, our readers told us how long the work took and how expensive – or competitively priced – any repairs were, as well as rating franchises for their level of technical knowledge.

And, as always, we collated plenty of personal feedback, with readers praising staff for looking after them beyond expectations or, in some cases, criticising them for not treating them well at all.

Click here to read about the lowest-ranked car dealers

We’ve also taken a wider look at the industry and the common problems drivers encounter across the spectrum, from budget to premium brands. And, just as in Driver Power 2014, the biggest complaint this year continues to be garages not identifying a fault.

Biggest complaint you have about your dealer?

Our Watchdog pages reflect drivers’ frustration with garages not identifying a problem, as we’ve seen many examples of owners not getting a fault code.

In fact, this was the biggest complaint against 22 out of the 31 dealer networks rated here. The next biggest issue was unanswered phone calls, at 28 per cent.

Drivers are wary of being exploited at garages, and six per cent of readers were frustrated at being handed unexplained bills, while 15 per cent don’t appreciate their problem not being explained well.

How to buy a new car

Nature of car fault

As new cars become increasingly complicated to operate and are driven by a series of electronics and computers, it’s little surprise that the number one reason for a driver reporting a fault is electronics based.

Nearly a third of all complaints to dealers were related to a glitch, at 31 per cent, with engine issues accounting for around one in seven. Other complaints included water leaks, rattling interiors, air-con failures and faulty fuel systems.

Our 2015 data also shows that more motorists have had problems overall than in last year’s survey. In total, 24 per cent of drivers said something had gone wrong with their car in the last three years, compared to one in five in 2014. The number of these issues fixed under warranty has fallen, too – down to 44 per cent from 46 per cent 12 months ago.

What type of dealer do you use for servicing?

More than one in five of our readers has had cause to complain to their dealer, and just 30 per cent said they were happy with how it had turned out.

Almost three-quarters of our respondents used a franchised main dealer – up from 69 per cent – suggesting it’s not a problem with unscrupulous back street garages.

That’s little surprise, though, as with so many finance deals being taken out on new cars, many drivers visit a franchise to maintain their warranty.

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One in five motorists still uses a local garage, plus the place of an expert technician isn’t completely lost, with four per cent of respondents taking their car to a marque specialist.

Interestingly, some drivers have never had their car serviced or repaired, and the art of tinkering at home is being lost. Just three per cent of our 61,000 respondents said they worked on their own car.

Why dealer was chosen

So, drivers are using franchised dealers most, but why? Owners buying their cars there was the number one reason, at 26 per cent – yet that’s down on last year.

Recommendations from friends and cheap deals are on the up, while one in five decides to visit a dealership because they feel like they’re treated well. Expertise with a particular marque was also an important reason for choosing a dealer.

Best car dealers 2015

1. Lexus - 93.56%

Can Lexus do no wrong? Having topped our Driver Power 2015 survey with its latest IS, and been crowned best manufacturer, the company has followed it up by being voted number one yet again for its dealer network. You tell us the showroom experience is second to none. Only in the value category is Lexus not number one, but it’s still in the top five – remarkable for a premium brand.

Lexus dealers have led the way in Driver Power from the start in 2002, and the company’s European luxury rivals could learn a thing or two about customer service by visiting a Lexus showroom. “On entering the dealership I’m welcomed by name, the staff know how I take my coffee, my Wi-Fi connection is ready if I need to wait, and nothing is ever too much trouble,” enthused one happy customer.

Biggest gripe: Unanswered calls

2. Toyota - 91.44%

Toyota’s dealers have achieved exceptional results across the board, and while the network doesn’t quite get the top spot, its performance is remarkable, shaming those of every premium brand bar its own. Even its biggest gripe is, proportionally, the lowest in the survey at just over 15 per cent, while customers overwhelmingly feel well informed, that work standards are exceptional, that the showrooms are clean, and that staff will go the extra mile for them.

“Their customer service is excellent,” explained one, continuing: “Their level of care is exceptional. I’m a disabled driver, and they go above and beyond to look after me and I’m not a big spender.” The Japanese company can be proud of a fine year for its dealer network – the hard part will be keeping up the good work.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

3. Jaguar - 90.91%

This has been a great year for Jaguar as it leaps from seventh to third – and looking at its results, it would have been a comfortable second were it not for the terrible value for money score. Nonetheless, the brand is truly reaching its full potential, with an expanding range of brilliant cars which is now evidently matched by a first-class dealer network and superb ownership experience: each of its scores (bar value) is in the top three.

“They are just spot-on – they treat you with high regard and respect and are great people, all of them,” one customer told us. And another described his dealership as “simply the best”. Having seen off most other premium brands, Jaguar’s network might come out on top overall if it can improve its value rating.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

4. Honda - 90.65%

A drop down the table will irk Honda, especially as it’s been usurped by a close domestic rival, but the company shouldn’t be too concerned – its dealer network is almost unanimously admired. We found it difficult to find a Honda customer with any major gripes, although as the survey results show, the cost of repairs can be an issue. “Crazy prices” was how one shocked owner assessed his experience of official Honda parts.

But another happy customer described his dealer as “very friendly”, before adding that it “treats me as a person with whom to develop a relationship for the long term, rather than a number to be taken advantage of”. So it’s clear that if Honda could improve on its pricing, it could get back up the table next year for sure.

Biggest gripe: Ddidn’t identify fault

5. Peugeot - 90.20%

Another victory for the PSA Peugeot-Citroen group, with Peugeot’s dealer network following its tremendous 17-place rocket up the table in 2014 by climbing another four places. The brand is making serious strides not only with its cars, but in the manner it’s selling and servicing them, too.

There’s no area of significant weakness, so a Peugeot showroom is no longer the relatively high-pressure, slightly unkempt place you told us it was in 2013; it now has a high-quality feel and is full of chirpy, knowledgeable staff.

“A well established local dealer,” explained one 107 owner. “All staff are so helpful and friendly, [and I] always leave feeling confident and happy with the service I’ve received.” Another said: “The dealership was modern, up to date and on the ball.”

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

6. Subaru - 90.15%

Subaru may not be famed for big, elaborate and hi-tech showrooms, but you tell us it’s getting the sales and servicing experience spot-on. Indeed, if only the company would modernise its dealerships a little, it would comfortably break into the top five; tired-looking premises are ultimately letting down the superb workmanship, attitude and knowledge. “Boring but effective,” was one XV owner’s succinct summary.

“They are helpful, friendly and seem to be concerned about their customers,” said another customer, adding: “Although not close to where I live, I still use them because they are professional and trustworthy.” A regular theme in your responses was that the relatively small UK network can mean owners having to travel.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

7. Skoda - 90.01%

Skoda will be disappointed to see its dealers drop out of the top five this year, especially after the Yeti crossover was also pipped to the number one spot overall in Driver Power by the Lexus IS – it’s tough at the top. Despite offering a range of cars that’s moving more upmarket, buyers still see Skoda as an excellent value for money brand, but with nothing ‘budget’ about the showroom experience. As one Superb owner put it: “I’ve been buying cars for 54 years, and this was the best dealership experience I’ve had so far.”

Consistency is key for Skoda, and while parent company the VW Group will be pleased about its brand doing so well, it will also be perplexed that the least glamorous of its marques is coming out on top – and by such a significant margin.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

8. Porsche - 88.92%

While owners acknowledge that Porsche dealership technicians are highly skilled, there’s a feeling that this comes at a price. One 13-plate Cayenne owner who responded to our survey said: “The service staff are excellent. The service costs are too high.”

That said, another owner explained: “Visiting the dealership is an experience,” adding that “you are made to feel part of the Porsche family”. Our Driver Power scores back those views up, with Porsche coming second only to our overall champion in the cleanliness and atmosphere category, while the workmanship is rated exceptional, too. Things could still be better, though, as demonstrated by one owner’s critique: “Smarmy reps, total inflexibility regarding servicing options, top-end prices.”

Biggest gripe: Unanswered calls

9. Citroen - 88.90%

After moving into the premium arena via breakaway brand DS, Citroen will be delighted to see its franchised network is the highest climber in the Driver Power 2015 dealer chart – by a magnificent 14 places. A year earlier it had been languishing in 27th place, with customers indifferent at best about their showroom experience.

That’s far from the case today, with one C5 owner noting that his dealership will “bend over backwards” to accommodate him, and another saying he “can’t fault them”. But there’s still room for improvement, with one customer claiming he abandoned his local dealership after he was “misled” during the servicing process. Yet the overall result bodes well for the future for Citroen and DS – these are manufacturers on the up.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

10. MINI - 88.65%

MINI identifies itself as a premium brand and the cost of its cars matches the definition, so it’s a good job that the showrooms seem to as well – a top 10 finish is an excellent result in our very closely contested 2015 survey.

The network trumps that of owner BMW by some margin, and MINI customers can be confident of a good standard of work, a pleasant showroom and reasonable value for money. That’s down to well priced inclusive tlc servicing packages.

As one owner enthused: “Great service and, most importantly, friendly, helpful staff who know the cars they sell really well.” That said, like everyone else, MINI is at the mercy of its sales staff, with one bemused customer telling us that he “deals with one person who is very good; the rest appear to be useless”.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

Worst car dealers 2015

27. SEAT - 85.76%

They’re still sitting in the lower part of the survey, but SEAT dealers were rock-bottom last year, so they can celebrate some improvement – particularly on value. An improving and expanding line-up, driven by the fantastic Leon range, is perhaps making showroom staff more enthusiastic about the products they’re selling. And UK chiefs have pledged to improve things after last year’s dismal showing.

Whatever the reasons, SEAT hasn’t finished last in any category in 2015, after taking wooden spoons in all bar one area last year. “Always helpful no matter how small the enquiry,” was one Leon buyer’s appraisal, although another “had to chase [his dealer] after he promised to keep us informed”. Still plenty of room for improvement, then, but SEAT’s dealers, like its cars, are on the up.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

28. Chrysler/Jeep - 85.65%

Very little movement for Chrysler and Jeep showrooms, although after dropping seven places in 2014, bosses will be pleased to be heading in the right direction this year. There’ll be concern that the progress and cost of work score has dropped from ninth last year to 27th, although you tell us Chrysler/Jeep dealerships are a lot more helpful than they used to be – the network’s helpfulness and attitude ranking is up from 29th to a decent 14th.

One customer backed this up, explaining: “From sales to service to parts, they are all very friendly and knowledgeable” – although another simply called his dealership “inconsistent”. Chrysler is set to pull out of the UK market in 2017, but owners will be able to get all the usual dealer service from their local Jeep garage.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

29. Nissan - 85.00%

Its cars might be enjoying a wave of popularity at the moment, but it seems that Nissan’s dealer network is struggling to keep pace. The company’s showrooms drop four places from last year in our Driver Power survey, and the bigger picture shows an even more alarming fall – Nissan finished 11th in 2013.

Value for money remains relatively strong, but elsewhere the brand comes in for consistent criticism. “Once they have your order, they do not care about you at all,” said one irate Juke owner, while another “was met with complete indifference” by his closest Nissan dealership and so went elsewhere. But it’s not all bad news: “Beyond excellent” is how one driver described his dealership experience, so there’s hope for a Nissan comeback next year.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

30. Volkswagen - 84.07%

Volkswagen prides itself on making premium-quality cars, but you tell us the dealer network isn’t up to the same standard. This is a persistent concern, with the brand placing second from bottom in our survey for the second consecutive year. The VW Group will take some comfort from the knowledge that another of its brands is scaling the heights at the other end of our Driver Power dealer chart, but Volkswagen’s performance will be cause for concern.

Communication, or lack of it, is a serious complaint, with the network finishing bottom in the progress and cost of work category – one customer said they had to “chase for updates”. A Jetta owner, meanwhile, told us his dealership is “offering less each year”, and that he’ll “go to an independent garage once the warranty is over”.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

31. Suzuki - 83.78%

A dramatic drop down the chart for Suzuki, with the company’s network registering bottom-of-the-table results in four categories, and with the only glimmer of hope a value for money rating in the mid-twenties. This will be especially disappointing because last year the Japanese brand’s franchised network finished a highly respectable 16th, when customers especially appreciated its value for money.

So what’s changed? While criticism of Suzuki dealers was far from unanimous, one customer told us his was “fine when selling the car, rubbish when dealing with my problems with it”. Another said that they “used this dealer simply because it was the best of a bad bunch” and that “good Suzuki dealers seem to be few and far between”.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

Now see the best cars to own in 2015, compiled from Driver Power data.

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