Best car dealers 2016

27 Jul, 2016 8:00am Joe Finnerty

Which manufacturers’ car dealer franchises are most trustworthy? Our Driver Power countdown will tell you all you need to know

If our Driver Power model rankings show one thing, it’s that the gap between the top-rated cars is tighter than ever, and that makes it extremely hard for buyers to decide which way to go. This is where a strong dealer network, promising great customer service, can tip the balance in one brand’s favour.

So, to help guide you we’ve compiled a rundown of each manufacturer in the UK with the assistance of the 50,000 readers who completed the survey. We’ve ranked the best and worst garages, highlighting what you can expect should you visit a dealer.

As was the case in previous years, franchised sites have been ranked in seven key categories including how helpful staff are, how clean and tidy the showroom is and what the mechanics’ technical know-how is like.

The standard of repairs and servicing is also judged, alongside how well the dealer keeps you informed of the progress and cost of work. Plus, we provide an overall ranking for the dealer and whether its service represented decent value for money.

Our results also feature thousands of comments from readers who left their feedback – both good and bad – on their experiences when buying a car from a franchised dealer, or having it serviced or repaired.

But before we count down the winners and losers in 2016, we’ve dug a little deeper into our data to see what you’re telling us about the state of the automotive aftermarket in general...

Biggest complaint you have about your dealer?

Yet again, the biggest complaint dealers face is mechanics being unable to diagnose a fault. As cars become more advanced, the number of potential problems grows.

Our Watchdog team deals with such cases every day, and with over a third of respondents complaining that garages couldn’t diagnose a problem, this is only set to increase. Plus, 14 per cent of readers tell us those workshops that do find out what’s wrong don’t explain it well enough.

Encouragingly, the number of people upset that dealers don’t answer phones has decreased – although this is still the second biggest complaint in our survey – while things like unexplained bills and dirty cars continue to irritate owners. 

• How to buy a new car

Nature of car fault

Electrical gremlins remain the single biggest problems owners face, and with more kit than ever fitted to modern cars, there’s a high chance you’ll be left heading back to your local dealer for a system reset or update.

In fact, combine the number of complaints our readers reported for engines, gearboxes, brakes and suspension, and they only come to a fraction more than the total number of gripes concerning electronic glitches.

Other individual problems that make up 36 per cent of all complaints and blighted drivers this year included unresolved rattles, air-conditioning problems and leaky pipes.

What type of dealer do you use for servicing?

Competition laws allow you to get work done on your car away from a main dealer and maintain the warranty so long as you use approved parts. But our survey shows drivers prefer to stick with a franchise.

Around three-quarters of respondents told us they used a main dealer – that’s about the same proportion as did in our Driver Power survey 12 months ago.

Local independent garages still have their place, though, often offering cheaper parts and labour costs, while an independent marque specialist is an option for a handful of motorists.

Disappointingly, more than 40 per cent of drivers had cause to complain to their dealer over a repair or service issue.

Why did you choose that dealer?

Attractive finance packages with pre-paid servicing help entice drivers; more than one-third of owners told us this is the main reason for using a dealer for maintenance.

Friendly and helpful staff and marque expertise were also reasons, while location is important for 15 per cent of respondents.

Interestingly, pricing isn’t everything; only eight per cent of drivers listed it as central to their decision. Most rate service over value.

Best car dealers 2016

1. Renault – 94.42%

For the first time ever, Renault has topped our Driver Power dealer chart on the back of a fantastic set of scores. With all the brand’s showrooms also selling Dacias, it’s unsurprising to see the pair sat together, but Renault tips the scales with top rankings for helpfulness and attitude, plus the overall dealer experience. Its franchises are considered good value for money, too.

To rise from 12th to first is quite a success story, and this is no doubt helped by a line-up of fresh new cars keeping owners happy – the Kadjar and Captur, to name but two. Customers could barely be happier with the service from their Renault dealers. One told us: “They’re always willing to help, and go above and beyond what is expected of them. Nothing is too much effort for them.”

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

2. Dacia – 93.75%

Dacia majors on budget prices for its model line-up, with the Duster 4x4 and Sandero supermini some of the cheapest cars around. That’s carried over to its dealers, too, with a top ranking in value for money. It was the same story 12 months ago, but this year it’s supported by fantastic results across the board; only one area (cleanliness and atmosphere) falls outside the podium places.

The dealerships, alongside those of parent company Renault, have undergone significant revamps in order to help them up their game, and it seems to have paid off, with an 11-place rise from 13 in 2016 to second. One Sandero owner said their dealer was “a breath of fresh air” compared to others. And another reckoned staff were always “eager to please”. 

Biggest gripe: Unanswered calls

3. Lexus – 93.71%

Our undisputed dealer champion for years has finally lost its crown, after an unbroken spell of more than a decade at the top. Still, Lexus has every reason to be proud of its offering to owners, beating off all the other premium brands. And you tell us its network still leads the way for standard of workmanship, the technical knowledge of its mechanics and how well staff keep you informed while repairs or servicing is being carried out.

In fact, Lexus’ overall score is up, and the only reason it doesn’t win is that it charges a bit more than the top two brands. Readers are universal in their praise for Lexus showrooms. One GS owner said staff were “very polite, with excellent customer service”. Another added: “It’s like being in a family.” 

Biggest gripe: Unanswered calls

4. Toyota – 91.71%

Toyota has long been an impressive performer in our Driver Power dealer poll, and while it’s slipped two places the brand still delivers outstanding service for owners. It doesn’t rank outside the top 10 in any category, with dealers praised across the board. As was the case last year, its weakest score is value for money (ninth), but when the service is this good, it seems owners are happy to pay.

As one customer told us, Toyota always goes the extra mile. They added: “It’s a top dealer, and I cannot speak too highly of them. Nothing is ever too much trouble for them.”

One area of improvement that could take Toyota back towards the podium is the ability of mechanics to identify faults. Last year the score was just 15.3 per cent, but that’s doubled in 2016.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

5. Alfa Romeo – 91.57%

The Italian brand turned in a stellar performance in our 2016 dealer survey; Alfa Romeo has climbed 11 places and increased its overall ranking by four per cent. While value for money is its worst score, with owners a little displeased by big bills for parts and labour, every other rating is in the top 10. Best of all is the overall performance of the dealer (fourth), alongside the helpfulness of staff and the standard of work.

One owner revealed: “They’re very efficient, and have friendly and professional staff on service reception. I’m made to feel valued as a customer.” With the new Giulia on the horizon, all eyes will be on Alfa dealers to see if they can please owners used to premium offerings from the likes of MercedesAudi and BMW.

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

6. Fiat – 91.46%

Fiat was the second-highest climber last year, and it’s up by another five spaces in 2016, continuing to impress in our Driver Power dealer rankings. What has helped is a real improvement in sprucing up dealerships, with the biggest step forward apparent in the cleanliness and atmosphere category.

One reader said: “It’s an exceptionally clean and well laid-out showroom, combined with friendly and helpful staff.” Fiat dealer employees are good at keeping their customers informed when work is being carried out, too. And although 11th place for value for money is the network’s worst score, it’s still a solid result, suggesting that customers are not paying over the odds. A 500L owner told us: “It’s good value, with clear pricing.” 

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

7. Suzuki – 91.15%

Just 12 months ago, Suzuki hit rock bottom, picking up the Driver Power dealers’ wooden spoon on the back of a 15-place drop. However, this year it’s all smiles for the brand, as it climbs 24 positions into seventh in our chart. It does so off the back of a podium finish in the value for money category, with owners delighted by how little they have to pay for servicing and repairs.

One told us: “Overall, I am happy with service and prices.” It’s not just value for money, though; improvements have been made everywhere. Suzuki scores top 10s for progress and cost of work, standard of workmanship, and the overall dealer experience. One owner summed it up: “First class; nothing is too much trouble. I have bought four cars from them, and will probably buy the next.”

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault 

8. Honda – 90.96%

For the second year in a row, former podium finisher Honda sees itself slide down the table, from fourth last year to eighth in 2016. Two of its category scores now fall outside the top 10, with owners clearly disappointed by their dealers’ helpfulness and attitude, as well as the standard of workmanship. Still, overall the scores are impressive, and they suggest that you won’t be too upset if you use a Honda franchise.

That’s backed up by some of the reader comments. One Civic owner said: “They went the extra mile to get my car recalled and repaired under warranty.” Another added: “It’s a small Honda dealer where I feel comfortable with friendly staff. I don’t feel like I’m paying for mega glass windows and men in suits.”

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault 

9. Kia – 90.94%

After slipping down the pack last year, Kia has bounced back into the top 10 of our Driver Power dealers chart. Its dealer network has achieved an improvement in every single category; there are now even two top 10 results. Technical knowledge – where the brand was previously awarded its worst score – has been praised, while fourth place for value for money is a great result.

Owners have a great deal to say about the good service they’ve received at their local Kia dealerships. One told us their showroom was “very experienced and knowledgeable about the Kia brand cars, as well as helpful, up-to date and honest.” Meanwhile, another added: “They may be a large Kia dealer, but they treat you very well, like part of the family.”

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault 

10. Peugeot – 90.87%

Gains made by Peugeot dealers in 2015 have been lost 12 months on, with the raft of new models now losing some of their impact in showrooms. Despite this, the score is still good enough for the brand to hold on to a top 10 spot. Midfield scores across the board are solid, while fifth place for value for money is a highlight and shows customers are generally happy.

Several owners reported staff as “polite”, but others said that despite being helpful, showroom employees could be more knowledgeable. Others praised how Peugeot dealers keep in touch when work is being done – the brand ranked 11th here. One customer said: “The staff at this dealership go the extra mile to make sure you are kept informed every step of the way.”

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault 

Worst car dealers 2016

27. Ford – 85.71%

The UK sales chart topper has dropped one place in our dealer table since 2015 and remains below rival Vauxhall, which won’t please bosses. Value for money is Ford’s strongest suit – it comes 21st here – although in every other category it ranks well below 25th, so the brand clearly has work to do despite selling so many cars.

There’s plenty of praise for the blue oval’s dealers from our readers, though. “I can’t fault them; they’re always honest and strive to offer a great price,” said one. “It’s the best main dealer I’ve encountered in 35 years,” added another.

But it isn’t all positive news, as one angry customer pointed out: “The dealer refused to do work under warranty or honour the service that was included as part of my car’s purchase price.”

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

28. Volkswagen – 85.35%

While it’s still at the bottom end of the table, Volkswagen has climbed two places since 2015. Scores aren’t much to shout about, as they’re all 27th or lower, although owners have reported good customer service when buying a car: “The dealers have some exceptional salespeople and there was little of the usual sales patter, just straight answers,” said one respondent.

Several readers felt they were being pressurised into paying for additional work that their car didn’t need. One said their dealer was “too keen to try to extract more money and pushing for more work”, while a second claimed showroom staff “always try to get you to spend money when you don’t need to”. A third added: “They put pressure on you to undertake unnecessary work.” 

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault 

29. Nissan – 85.01%

There’s no change for Nissan’s dealers in this year’s Driver Power results, as the Japanese company’s network remains in 29th place. Value for money is its best score at 23rd, but in every other category customers rated it 28th or lower.

More than anything, dealers struggle to diagnose and repair faults. “I took the car in with four faults, and the staff returned it in the same condition and couldn’t give me any explanation as to what they had found or done,” said one customer. “They don’t seem to know much about the [electric] Leaf,” added one EV owner. However, there was praise for Nissan dealers’ professionalism. “Nothing is too much trouble and they definitely put their customers first,” said one happy reader. 

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

30. Mitsubishi – 84.59%

Mitsubishi has tumbled 12 places and shed the highest percentage of any manufacturer (3.09 per cent), which is a poor showing after its mid-table finish in 2015. Customers gave it near-rock-bottom scores across the board, and only a ranking of 24th for value for money is enough to save it from last place.

On the plus side, the company’s network is made up largely of small, family dealers, which customers like. One described their local showroom as “small but friendly and knowledgeable”.

Many respondents said that picking up the phone and answering E-mails were real problems, though. “They never reply to E-mails, and promise to call back but never do – and when I say never, I mean never,” one frustrated reader told us. 

Biggest gripe: Unanswered calls

31. SEAT – 84.42%

Things have gone from bad to worse for SEAT, as the Spanish manufacturer finished a lowly 27th in our Driver Power 2015 dealers table and has now dropped right to the bottom. Its best score is for value for money, but even then it comes only 25th, while every other ranking is a disappointing 29th or lower.

“The mechanics are good – when you can speak to them – but the front-of-house staff are disinterested and evasive,” said one reader, while another added that SEAT’s dealers and its parent company the VW Group were more interested in customer service scores than in doing a good job. “I got too many phone calls from them and their group. All the staff keep trying to get me to rate them as excellent,” they complained. 

Biggest gripe: Didn’t identify fault

Now see the best cars to own in 2016, compiled from Driver Power data.

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