What to do about the WhatCar? survey

Jon B had some comments about the WhatCar? survey published last week. Saab were condemned in this user-content survey, whilst Skoda prevailed as #1.

What does it all mean and how can we help? Jon has some ideas and suggestions.

Jon has worked in the automotive industry for some time, and as mentioned in his text he recently has a stint with Audi.


For me the biggest issue is that the reader review section of WhatCar? will ONLY reflect the reviews of those who bother to post.

As was noted on another manufacturers enthusiast site, no-one posts about “well that’s another 1000 miles this month and nothing has gone wrong”. Generally people going on to a WhatCar? style site tend to have something on their mind.

The cars that do well (and Skoda is a prime example) tend to come from a base of low expectations, as witnessed by the frankly unfair comments about Skoda from some commenters. Skoda drivers are either lifelong enthusiasts who will defend the car to the death (does that remind you of the supporters of a certain Swedish Brand?) or newcomers genuinely astonished buy how good the car is compared to its reputation. These are the individuals who take the time to write a piece on the website spreading the gospel about their car.

On the flip side, sometimes expectations not met. Saabs (and any prestige car) are expected to perform without fault. This may be unrealistic but it happens; I certainly saw that repairing Audis. If a fault is repaired without a fuss then it is less likely soemone will go to the bother of slating the car on a web forum. In short, happy customers are less likely to praise a Saab on WhatCar? and more likely post on any (perceived?) faults (in my opinion).

Are there problems with UK Saabs?

Well, yes and no. I have run diesels for 5 years now and have a 75k mile Peugeot 407 as a daily hack. At 65k miles the clutch and dual mass flywheel needed to be replaced at a cost of £1000 (not paid for by me btw). At 80k the diesel particulate filter (DPF) will need to be replaced at a cost of £600 – £1000. These are considered “wear and tear” items.

The exhaust gas recirculation valve on all short run cars frequently clogs and needs to be repaired/replaced. This causes the issues raised by unhappy punters on WhatCar?. The inlet swirl flaps can break up and wreck the engine – an issue on several cars according to the Honest John Website. Check this for potential problems.

The main problem is that many people do not realise this; they are used to stories of million mile Mercedes and Peugeot diesels running on chip fat, without realising that within the last 10 years BHP and Torque have risen by maybe 100% from the same basic engine. So yes, there are reliability issues but often they are down to to inappropriate (constant urban use) or hard (flooring the car in 2nd and 3rd at every opportunity) abuse.

Diesels are VERY expensive to maintain over 60k miles and the Fiat engine in the 9-3 and 9-5 is no better in this respect than any other car and possibly worse than some. Guess what’s the best selling engine for UK Saabs (and therefore the likely cause of complaint)?

Aggressive driving and stop start conditions can aggravate these issues and cause them to occur earlier. Owners then get on the web with a complaint that can be genuine but also due to their own driving style and poor advice and guidance from the salesman.

Dealers need to be more upfront about petrol vs. diesel and set expectations accordingly. I know of a car sold to a customer from a dealership I worked for with a DPF, yet the customer only did 10 miles per day in stop/start traffic. The DPF never attained temperature long enough to regenerate and thus required 3 filters in a year. The customer thought his car was crap, it wasn’t – it just wasn’t the right car for his needs.

Ok so what can we do?

Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we deal with it. We could vent on SU all night but instead, the WhatCar? reader review section is open to all, so happy SU readers should use it to inform the wider world of how good their Saab is. WhatCar? slated my A5 Sportback – owners took the opportunity to set the record straight. Saab owners must do the same for 2012.

However, dealers have a part to play in winning unhappy customers back around, something Audi was excellent at when I worked there. I was frequently told by senior managers that all cars had problems, it was down to how the customer was handled that made the difference.

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