How The World’s Top Car Manufacturers Test Reliability in 2015

Car covered with snow.

Have you ever wondered how car manufacturers like Toyota, Volkswagen and Audi produce such reliable cars? The world’s most reliable cars vary in performance and size, but share one common feature: extensive pre-production testing.

Your car’s reliability has a serious impact on its costs. While unreliable cars might cost less to buy than their more reliable alternatives, repairs and maintenance can quickly add up to make them far a more expensive choice over the long term.

Cars that are renowned for their reliability and low running costs go through lots of testing, both on a dynamo-meter and on a test track, before they enter production or go on the market.

This lets manufacturers spot common points of failure, design flaws and issues as early as possible, resulting in a more reliable vehicle that needs less maintenance after one, two, three or ten years of regular use.

In this blog post, we’ll look at three forms of testing used by car manufacturers and third-party car reliability services to measure a car’s reliability before and after it’s available for sale.

The cost of releasing an unreliable car

Skipping reliability testing might seem like a good way for manufacturers to save money during production, but it’s actually the exact opposite. Cars that don’t get tested enough often have serious reliability issues that necessitate a recall.

Recalling cars is incredibly expensive, with many manufacturers forced to spend billions of dollars replacing parts or repairing defective vehicles that are released without adequate testing.

Once a car has been designed, most manufacturers will spend several years testing the vehicle to make sure it’s reliable and easy to drive. These tests occur on a track, on a dynamo-meter, and even in special environments such as a wind tunnel.

Performance and fuel efficiency testing with a dynamo-meter

One of the most common forms of car reliability testing in dynamometer testing. A dynamometer, also known as a “dyno” or “rolling road”, is a piece of equipment that lets a car accelerate while fixed in place inside a test environment.

This means that a car can accelerate to its limit without actually moving, making it easy to test its top speed, horsepower and torque output and emissions. Most cars are extensively tested on a dynamometer before they’re put into production.

Manufacturers study a range of criteria during dyno testing. The most common type of dynamometer test measures a car’s power output, specifically its horsepower and peak torque when its engine is pushed to the limit.

Other tests include working out the car’s fuel efficiency by measuring petrol usage at peak and average RPM levels. In some testing environments, the car’s emissions can also be tested using a dynamometer and emissions measuring equipment.

These tests might not seem to be related to reliability, but they’re actually crucial for working out how reliable a car is. When a vehicle’s engine is pushed to its limit on a dynamometer, design flaws and defects are quickly revealed.

Cars most often become unreliable when they’re frequently pushed to their limits of performance. While a dynamometer might not simulate on-road conditions, it gives testers a great environment for seeing how well an engine performs under pressure.

Reliability, comfort and performance testing on a track

Over the course of your vehicle’s life, you’ll use its accelerator, brakes, steering and other features tens of thousands of times. All of these parts are tested extensively by the manufacturer on a test track to make sure they perform safely and consistently.

Manufacturer test tracks range from low-speed courses with everyday road features like speed bumps, stop signs and sharp corners to oval-shaped tracks built to test a vehicle’s high speed performance and handling.

Before a car goes into production, prototypes will cover millions of miles between them as part of the testing process. They’ll be tested to make sure they can stop on time consistently, corner safely, accelerate consistently and turn without sliding.

Track testing is carried out in a range of different weather conditions to simulate normal road use. Before your car went into production, its prototype was driven in the rain, on an icy track, in the snow and even in extreme summer heat.

Although tracks don’t perfectly simulate the road – there aren’t any potholes on a test track, for example – they provide a much more realistic testing environment than a dynamo-meter, letting manufacturers quickly discover reliability issues.

Flaws in a car’s design are solved through new designs and optimised parts before the car returns to the test track. Most cars cover millions of miles on the test track before going into production so that all reliable and safety issues can be solved.

Reliability testing carried out by owners and third parties

Not all reliability issues are found during track testing. Some cars become unreliable over time, especially if they sit unused in the garage. Others become unreliable due to a lack of adequate care or poor servicing instructions from the manufacturer.

It’s difficult to judge how a car will perform over the long term, even with extensive track and dynamometer testing. Because of this, if you’re in the market for a car, you should use third-party reliability test data to make sure it’s worth buying.

Third-party reliability testing is carried out by owners and car magazines over the course of several years. Feedback from owners can often tell you more about how a car performs in the real world than a manufacturer’s testing.

Some of the factors you should look at when researching a used car include the cost of repairing it and the average amount of repairs required, how often it breaks down or has serious issues and the amount of time spent off the road because of repairs.

Another important factor is the number of 10+ year old cars still being used on the road today. If you see an older model of car on the road frequently and it attracts a good resale price, chances are good that it’s a reliable model.

Use these tips to avoid buying an unreliable used car

Is there anything worse than an unreliable car? No matter how fun a car is to drive, reliability problems and frequent breakdowns can quickly turn a dream care into a costly nightmare.

Luckily, it’s easy to avoid buying an unreliable car. Use these five simple tips to make sure you buy a used car that will spend far more time on the road than it does in the repair shop:

  • Ask a mechanic to review the car’s condition and service history before you buy it to make sure there are no danger signs or missed services
  • Check owner reviews of the car online and browse owner forums to find out if a specific model year has reliability or performance problems
  • Read reviews and road tests from car magazines and websites to see if they ran into any issues during their on-road test
  • Search eBay and car classified listings to work out the market price for your vehicle and find out if yours could be under-priced due to reliability issues
  • Check the car’s mileage to see if it’s nearing the point at which certain parts will need to be replaced or repaired

Finally, make sure you buy an extended warranty for your used car. This means you won’t need to deal with the cost – as well as the stress – of any surprise expenses for repairs and replacement parts if your car breaks down unexpectedly.