NO-HEADLINE - Spend & Save - Money - The Independent

NO-HEADLINE

Just as in the Eighties nobody admitted to voting Tory but everybody did, so we are now equally hypocritical about our cars. Most of us would love to use public transport, if only it were better/ cheaper/ cleaner/ safer/not used by smelly psychotics/ not managed by Richard Branson. Until such time, we'll stick with our cars, thank you.

A new survey done by Lex, the leasing company, highlights what a disingenuous bunch we are. Forty-five per cent of motorists said they'd love to use their cars less, if only public transport were better - up from 23 per cent in 1988. And yet, even if congestion got twice as bad, only 7 per cent of commuters said that if push came to shove they'd switch to public transport. For school runners and shoppers, the figure is even lower (4 and 5 per cent respectively). Yet these very same people demand better public transport, presumably so that other drivers can use it.

Personally, I'm not in the least surprised by drivers' reluctance to "go public", but I am somewhat perplexed at the reasons why they want to stay clear of rail and Routemasters. One reason, apparently, is that most drivers surveyed actually enjoyed "chore" journeys. Sixty-six percent of the 1,287 motorists interviewed said they liked driving to work, and six out of ten drivers said they enjoyed school runs. If that's true, then there is surely no hope of prising people out of their cars.

Within a fortnight of that Lex survey, another one landed on my desk (how do these people ever have time to run a business?). This one, however, proved rather more instructive. Whereas the great British motorist's views on motoring are inevitably skewed by social mores and the need to "say the right thing", you can't get away from plain facts and figures. And the Lex Vehicle Leasing Reliability Survey is a straight mechanical reliability report on the 88,048 vehicles in that company's vast fleet.

It could well be the most representative reliability survey of them all because, unlike the Which? and Top Gear JD Power surveys, forms are not filled out by moaning Minnies who self-select themselves to air their grievances. Equally, unlike the JD Power survey, dealer support cannot twist the results: it's just down to the car, in this case all L-to-R- registration vehicles.

There are a number of big surprises. First, cars are getting less reliable, just as manufacturers try to pretend otherwise. You now have a one-in- four chance of getting stranded during the year. Last year, you had a one-in-five chance.

Japanese cars built in Britain are much less reliable than Japanese cars built in Japan. This makes common sense to you or me, but it's certainly not what Nissan and Toyota have been propagating. Also, the second most reliable make of car in use in Britain is a Jaguar. I personally find this amazing, not least because a couple of years ago Jaguars were about as trustworthy as Bill Clinton's marriage vow. They are now more than four times as reliable as Fords, whose "best practice" reliability standards Jaguar has allegedly been copying.

The most reliable make of car is Mitsubishi, which is about the only Japanese maker who hasn't set up shop in Britain. Surely this is no coincidence. Citroen is the maker of the least reliable vehicles on British roads (although my father-in-law's five-year-old ZX has never let him down), followed by Alfa Romeo (no surprise). Third worst maker is Rover, whose alleged and much hyped reliability renaissance - first under Honda's guidance, now BMW's - has proved to be about as believable as the great British public's views on giving up motoring.

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