2014 BMW i3 Joins Tesla Model S, 2013 Model-Year Nissan LEAFs, On Consumer Reports’ Don’t Buy Used Car LIst

Talk to most electric car owners about the benefits associated with dumping the pump for a plug, and they’ll tell you that their electric car requires far less servicing and maintenance than a comparable electric car. They also have cheaper day-to-day running costs, making them an economical choice for long-term vehicle ownership.

Consequently, you’d be forgiven for thinking that U.S. independent test agency Consumer Reports would naturally recommend electric cars over internal combustion cars ones when it comes to reliability, especially considering the fact there’s far less to go wrong in an electric car than a gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle.

Consumer Reports:  2014 model-year BMW i3 electric cars may have less than average reliability.

Consumer Reports: 2014 model-year BMW i3 electric cars may have less than average reliability.

But now, for the second time in recent memory, Consumer Reports has named and shamed two electric cars as having lower-than-average reliability, earning both a dishonorable mention in its “Used Cars to Avoid Buying” list in this month’s Consumer Reports magazine. The two cars in question? Early (2014 model-year) BMW i3 electric cars as well as 2013 model-year Nissan LEAFs.

Joining the Tesla Model S — which, despite its exemplary after sales service had its coveted Consumer Reports recommended designation revoked by the magazine back in October following a ‘worse-than-average’ score in its Annual Auto Reliability Survey — early examples of the BMW i3 are singled out for having more problems than most cars of a similar age.

The Tesla Model S was also singled out in the list.

The Tesla Model S was also singled out in the list.

Sadly, Consumer Reports didn’t go into many details, but it’s fair to note here that the 2014 BMW i3 — like the 2013 Nissan LEAF — were listed as being cars with worse than average reliability scores. Other model year versions of the BMW i3 and Nissan LEAF were not listed, meaning Consumer Reports isn’t advising against the models per say, just those specific model years.

As our friends at GreenCarReports note, the BMW i3 wasn’t the only car from the German automaker to make it onto the ‘avoid’ list: in total, six of the different models made by BMW between 2006 and 2015 (the time period covered by the list) are listed as being vehicles you should avoid. 2006 through 2008, 2010 through 2012 and 2015 model year examples of the BMW 5-series meanwhile, are listed as having “much-worse-than-average” reliability scores, making them the cars you should really avoid buying on the used car lot.

As for Nissan? It too had plenty of cars listed — nine models of various model-year cars including the LEAF are listed as having less-than-average scores — while the 2013 through 2014 Nissan Pathfinder was listed as having much worse-than-average reliability.

The Tesla Model S fared worst though, with its reliability rating now downgraded again to much-worse-than-average for 2012, 2013 and 2015 model year examples.

Should you run for the hills if you see any of these cars listed for sale online or happen across them on a used car lot? Not necessarily.

For what it’s worth, we’ve been around cars enough to know that every single make and model has a bad period of reliability during production. Moreover, we’ve owned what many call a “Friday car” in the form of our now-sold 2013 Chevrolet Volt. While the Chevrolet Volt has a generally positive reputation when it comes to reliability, our particular model year car was anything but, causing us at one point to joke in a staff car report that it was ‘haunted for halloween.’

2013 model-year Nissan LEAFs were also less reliable.

2013 model-year Nissan LEAFs are also supposedly less reliable than other model year LEAFs.

To put it bluntly, buying a used car is always something of a lottery, and the reliability of the car you end up buying may very well be an unknown. But while you can’t go back in time to make sure the previous owner took care of their car, there are some things you can do to ensure your car is as good as it can be.

First, if you’re buying from a dealer, be sure to check the dealer’s reputation before buying. If you’re buying from a private vendor, ask them if you can bring a verified, independent expert with you (or someone who happens to know the car you’re looking at pretty well).

Second, always double-check service records and service schedules. A regularly serviced car will generally be more reliable than one which hasn’t been to the dealer much.

Third, check the car hasn’t got any outstanding warranty or recall items pending on it. Most dealers will check that for you free of charge if you give them the car’s VIN details, and the SaferCar.gov website also offers a free recall checker.

Finally, do your homework first by spending time talking to people who already own a car identical to one you’re looking to buy. Ask questions, and find out what some of the common faults are. Make-and-model specific owner forums and clubs are a great way to start that research process. Armed with the knowledge of what to look out for, your test drive and vehicle inspection should help you weed out any cars that have less than stellar reliability.

Do you own any of the cars listed by Consumer Reports as being unreliable? Have you experienced any problems to date?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.


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  • Michael Thwaite

    In 1988, my friend Stevie once said “I write software without any bugs.” I laughed. “No, seriously, when we ship 100,000 Motorola flip phones, there can’t be any bugs. We’d have to trash them all if there was one bug.”

    His Motorola phone took years of testing and development and, did ONE thing. Today, we’re expecting each new product to do everything AND some more new things and, we expect new things every year. This expectation and the availability of flash-able firmware seems to have pushed final testing onto the street.

    Whilst the i3 is no saint with tire noise issues, wonky software, creaky steering and suspension parts and a few replacement motor mounts being tracked, I believe that the most troublesome component has been the gasoline engine with a lot of complaints from owners reporting check-engine light being a persistent problem.

    However, all that said, once these issues were identified, I hear that the 2015 cars and beyond aren’t experiencing any issues at all. I guess it takes real-world testing to figure these things out and, all but the tire noise issue have been retroactively fixed under warrenty by BMW.

    Anyone buying a used first year i3/Model S/Model 3/Focus Electric/Volt, etc. is going to have a lot of replacement parts embedded in their ride but, that’s history now right? The resulting car should be fine no?

  • vdiv

    Great buying advice. Also helps to be familiar with warranty and service agreements remain, carry over, and what they cover.

    Failures with different impacts should be weighed differently. Some are just annoying, some leave you stranded, and some are outright dangerous. Then there is the service response to failures, how they are resolved and if the recur. Not sure that Consumer Reports provide sufficient appreciation for that. It’s a game of chance and each individual car can offer a different experience even if the whole model year is branded as unreliable.

  • Joe Viocoe

    “For what it’s worth, we’ve been around cars enough to know that every single make and model has a bad period of reliability during production”

    This is the main point, and puts it all into context.

  • BEP

    Last year we bought a used LEAF wo was first put into circulation in summer 2012 (so it was three years old) and it’s perfect.

  • dm33

    Hard to believe.
    We have had two 2013 LEAFs and they have had zero problems. I haven’t heard of any real problems on the forums. Hard to imagine a problem on an otherwise simple car with little to go wrong.

    I think consumer reports is basing this on minor software issues that I wouldn’t consider an problem but more like optimizing. There was a fix for charging overheating very early on, and a firmware update for grabby brakes. Neither of those were failures or something breaking. They were software fixes. Otherwise the cars have been the most reliable we’ve owned and could imagine owning.

    The real issue has always been and continues to be the battery degradation and nissans refusal to sell the newer better battery for older leafs.

  • CDspeed

    I’ve had no issues with my 2014 i3, thanks for diminishing my i3’s value Consumer Reports 😤.