Nissan’s hugely underrated Almera is the most reliable small family car on the road according to Warranty Direct’s reliability index.

The Japanese model, launched in the UK in autumn 1995, has an index rating (calculated as cost of repair compared with number of visits to the garage) of just 4.35. This compares to the small family segment average of 55.9 and 95.95 for the UK car market as a whole.

And, if things do go wrong, the garage invoice is likely to average no more than £79.57 after spending just shy of an hour in the hands of a mechanic.

Second in the small family category is Britain’s best selling car – the Ford Focus.

With an index rating of 22.29, the Focus is 50% more reliable than its predecessor, the Escort. However, the average repair bill for the latter is lower than the Focus – £120.84 (third lowest) compared to £146.57 (fifth lowest).

Replacement usually equates to improvement and nowhere is this more apparent than with the Citroen Xsara. The French model is 66% less likely to need the attention of a mechanic than its forerunner, the ZX; and where the latter spends an average of 2.82 hours in a garage for each visit the Xsara records a segment leading 0.73 hours.

Hyundai’s Accent also stands out for praise. Placed third with an Index rating of 23.3, it also has the second lowest repair bill (£103.87) and, behind the Xsara, spends the least amount of time in the garage (0.80 hours per visit).

At the other end of the scale is Peugeot’s 306. Its index rating of 103 is nearly double the segment average of 55.9, and with a repair bill of £326.92, is over 60% more expensive to fix than the small family average of £202.41.

However, in terms of cost of repair for the segment, the most expensive is Chrysler’s Neon with a wallet-worrying £329.98 for each garage visit.

“As you would expect the bottom five models in the reliability index have since been replaced with more reliable models,” explains Duncan McClure Fisher, managing director of Warranty Direct. “Yet, these models are still part of the three million or so used cars which change hands every year between private buyers, so knowing the facts is important.”

The study was based on 4,294 policies taken out with Warranty Direct for small family cars up to 10 years old.