Are Smart Cars a Smart Choice? (I Checked)

2005 Smart Fortwo

Having tinkered under the hoods of countless vehicles and road-tested more cars than I can remember, I’ve always had a soft spot for unique rides. And let me tell you, Smart cars have always caught my eye, not just for their pint-sized appearance but for the engineering beneath.

So, from a mechanic’s perspective, and as someone who’s passionate about cars, you might be asking – are Smart cars up to the mark? Can they hold their own on the roads, or would you be better off with another choice?

I will explore their reliability, the pros and cons, and see how they stack up against the competition. If you’re a city dweller or someone who doesn’t need a lot of space, this little dynamo might just pique your interest.

Buckle up, and let’s embark on this automotive journey together.

Are They Up to the Mark?

Having spent years with my hands greased up and my head under countless car bonnets, I’ve seen it all. And when it comes to Smart cars, the question that often pops up is – are they reliable?

Well, let’s delve into some data. According to Repair Pal, a site I often refer to for its comprehensive breakdowns, the Smart car scores a commendable 4 out of 5 in reliability.

This places it 10th out of 32 car brands, which is quite impressive for such a compact vehicle. The stats further reveal that there’s an 8% chance of a severe repair being needed.

On average, a Smart car owner might find themselves visiting a mechanic about 0.3 times a year. Now, as with all vehicles, there are some common issues.

Based on information from Get Jerry, another reliable source in the automotive world, Smart cars, particularly the Fortwo model, have been known to face:

  • Suspension glitches
  • Clutch malfunctions
  • Electrical hiccups
  • Transmission and gearbox troubles
  • Engine complications

It’s worth noting that these issues can sometimes lead to pricier repairs. But then again, no car is without its quirks.

Speaking specifically about the Fortwo model, it’s the face of Smart cars in the USA, being the most widely sold variant. Hence, it pretty much sets the benchmark for Smart car performance and reliability stateside.

The Cost of Repairing 

Fixing the Cheap Smart CarIn the world of automobiles, the true test of a car’s reliability isn’t just about how often it breaks down, but also how much it pinches your pocket when it does. After all, what good is a car that rarely needs repairs if, when it does, it costs an arm and a leg?

Drawing from the data at RepairPal, a site I’ve often consulted during my years in the garage, the annual repair cost for a Fortwo Smart Car averages out to $751. While this figure is a tad above the norm, it’s not exorbitantly so.

Diving deeper into the specifics, some of the heftier expenses you might encounter with a Fortwo include:

  • Engine Front Gasket Replacement: This can set you back over $1,000. It’s one of those repairs that, while not frequent, can be a bit heavy on the wallet when it does come up.
  • Blower Motor Replacement: Priced around $500, this is another repair that, while not common, can be a bit pricey.
  • AC Recharge: At approximately $200, this is more of a routine maintenance cost, especially if you live in warmer climates.

Of course, these costs aren’t set in stone. Your location plays a role – labor and parts might be pricier in some areas compared to others.

And then there’s the DIY factor. If you’re someone who’s handy with tools and has a bit of know-how, tackling some repairs yourself can significantly reduce costs.

But remember, always ensure you’re confident in your skills before diving into a DIY repair; sometimes, it’s worth paying a bit more for professional expertise.

Take on Value and Lifestyle

Having been around cars for the better part of my life, I’ve seen trends come and go. Smart cars, with their unique design and urban appeal, have always been a topic of discussion.

Are they worth it? Well, that’s a question with layers. Let’s peel them back.


  1. Compact Design: Ideal for city dwellers, Smart cars are a dream when it comes to parking in tight spots or navigating through congested streets.
  2. Fuel Efficiency: Their smaller size often translates to better fuel economy, which can save you money in the long run.
  3. Eco-friendly: Many Smart car models have a lower carbon footprint, making them a greener choice.
  4. Maneuverability: Their compactness isn’t just good for parking; it also makes them agile on the roads.
  5. Safety Features: Despite their size, Smart cars come equipped with a robust safety cell and other safety features.


  1. Limited Space: If you often travel with more than one passenger or need ample cargo space, a Smart car might feel restrictive.
  2. Less Power: They aren’t built for speed or heavy towing. If you’re looking for a powerful drive, this might not be your first choice.
  3. Perception: Some people view them as less “macho” or “serious” compared to larger vehicles.
  4. Resale Value: As a niche vehicle, its resale market might not be as robust as more popular models.
  5. Ride Comfort: On longer journeys or rough terrains, the ride might not be as smooth as in larger vehicles.

The Lifestyle Shift

Owning a Smart car is indeed a lifestyle change. It’s for those who prioritize urban convenience, eco-friendliness, and uniqueness over power and space.

It’s a statement, a commitment to a certain way of life that values minimalism and efficiency.

Highway Adventures 

Smart Car Highway

From the countless hours I’ve spent under the hoods to the myriad roads I’ve tested cars on, I’ve always been intrigued by how different vehicles respond to varying conditions. The Smart car, with its compact design, is no exception.

On a smooth highway, devoid of strong crosswinds, the Smart car holds its own. Its nimble nature allows for swift lane changes, and it packs enough punch for those overtaking maneuvers.

But let’s be clear, while it can match the rhythm of highway speeds, its true forte lies in city terrains. Now, as someone who’s felt the rush of the wind against many a car, I can attest that the Smart car does have its challenges on windy highways.

Its petite frame can make it susceptible to gusts, and there’s an undeniable concern about its safety in collisions, given its size. Driving a Smart car on the highway, you’ll feel the presence of larger vehicles more acutely.

The sheer force when a big rig or an SUV whizzes past can be unsettling. It’s a sensation that reminds you of the car’s compactness, and it’s a stark contrast to the experience in heftier vehicles. Given its size, if a Smart car were to skid or lose control at high speeds, regaining stability would be a tad more challenging, especially under strong wind conditions.

A Word of Caution

While you’ll spot Smart cars on highways, as a seasoned car enthusiast, I’d advise reserving them for shorter highway jaunts. And when you do venture out, perhaps consider cruising at a slightly moderated speed.

It not only offers better control but also adds a layer of safety, especially when those larger vehicles decide to make their presence felt.

Common Issues


Having spent a significant chunk of my life around cars, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of many models. Smart cars, with their distinct design and urban appeal, have their own set of quirks.

  1. Suspension and Engine Woes: The two most frequent complaints from Smart car owners revolve around suspension problems and engine failure. The latter, particularly, is a significant concern due to the hefty repair costs associated with it.
  2. Transmission Troubles: A number of Smart car owners have reported issues with the transmission, especially with the car failing to engage in reverse. This problem seems to be more pronounced in the Smart Fortwo model.
  3. Charging Challenges with Fortwo EQ: The electric variant of the Smart car, the Fortwo EQ, has had its share of issues, particularly with the charging unit. Some owners have reported interruptions during charging, which can be quite concerning for an electric vehicle.

A Silver Lining

While these issues might sound daunting, it’s worth noting that Smart cars haven’t seen a high number of recalls over the years. This speaks to a certain stability in their design, especially when it comes to the engine.

Engine Longevity Concerns

However, there’s no ignoring the murmurs about engine instability. Some Smart cars have experienced engine failures post the 50,000-mile mark.

And if you’re unlucky enough to face this issue without proper maintenance, you’re looking at a whopping $15,000 repair bill. The sourcing of parts, often from overseas, can also add to the repair time.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

The Smart ForTwo, like any car, has its strengths and weaknesses. On one hand, you have commendable fuel efficiency and an attractive price point.

On the other, its compact size can be a challenge for taller individuals on extended trips. And, given its size, safety concerns are inevitable.

Smart Cars vs. The Competition: A Reliability Showdown

Having spent countless hours both under the hood and behind the wheel, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a vast array of vehicles. Smart cars, with their unique design and urban-centric approach, have always intrigued me.

But how do they fare when pitted against their competitors in terms of reliability? Let’s dive in.

1. Smart Cars: As we’ve discussed, Smart cars have a commendable reliability score, with the Fortwo model being the most popular in the USA. Some of the common issues include suspension problems, engine failures, and transmission troubles. However, they’ve had fewer recalls over the years, indicating a certain stability in their design.

2. Honda Fit: A favorite in the compact car segment, the Honda Fit is known for its reliability and longevity. It boasts a spacious interior despite its size and has a reputation for fewer mechanical issues over time. However, some older models have reported issues with the ignition coil and spark plugs.

3. Toyota Yaris: Toyota, as a brand, has always been synonymous with reliability. The Yaris, their entry in the compact car segment, is no exception. It offers a smooth ride with fewer reported issues. Some users have pointed out minor problems with the air conditioning system in older models.

4. Ford Fiesta: The Ford Fiesta is a fun-to-drive compact car with a sporty feel. While it offers a comfortable ride, some models have faced transmission issues, especially the automatic variants.

5. Chevrolet Spark: The Chevy Spark is another compact car that’s gained popularity in urban settings. While it offers a decent ride for its price point, some owners have reported issues related to the coolant system and occasional electronic glitches.

6. Nissan Versa: The Versa is Nissan’s entry into the compact car segment. It offers ample space for its size and is generally reliable. However, some older models have had issues with the transmission, especially the CVT variants.

Comparative Analysis

While the Smart car has its set of challenges, it’s essential to note that no vehicle is without its quirks. When compared to its competitors, the Smart car holds its own, especially in urban settings where its compact size and maneuverability shine.

However, in terms of overall reliability and fewer reported issues, brands like Toyota and Honda seem to have an edge. That said, the choice ultimately boils down to individual preferences, needs, and priorities.

If you’re looking for a compact car tailored for city life and are willing to embrace its unique lifestyle, the Smart car is a worthy contender. But if broader reliability metrics and a track record of fewer issues are your top priorities, you might want to explore some of its competitors.


How does the Smart car’s fuel efficiency compare to its competitors?

Smart cars, particularly the gasoline-powered models, are known for their impressive fuel efficiency, especially in city driving. On average, they can achieve around 33 to 40 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 39 to 45 mpg on the highway. When compared to other compact cars, Smart cars are on the higher end of the fuel efficiency spectrum. However, hybrid or electric models from competitors might offer better efficiency in certain conditions.

Are there any specific maintenance tips for prolonging the life?

Absolutely! Like any vehicle, regular maintenance is key. For Smart cars:

  1. Regular oil changes, every 5,000 to 7,000 miles, using the recommended oil type.
  2. Check and replace air filters as needed to ensure optimal engine performance.
  3. Regularly inspect the brakes, tires, and suspension to ensure safety and prolong lifespan.
  4. For electric models, monitor the battery’s health and ensure proper charging habits.
  5. Always address any warning lights or unusual sounds immediately to prevent bigger issues down the road.

How does the Smart car’s safety rating compare to other compact cars?

Despite its small size, Smart cars have been designed with safety in mind. They feature a Tridion safety cell – a reinforced steel cage that absorbs impact. They also come equipped with multiple airbags and stability control. In crash tests, Smart cars have received decent ratings, but it’s worth noting that larger vehicles generally offer more protection in collisions. When compared to other compact cars, Smart cars hold their own, but specific safety ratings can vary based on the testing agency and the criteria used.

What is the average lifespan when maintained properly?

With regular maintenance and care, a Smart car can last upwards of 100,000 to 150,000 miles. Like all vehicles, the lifespan can vary based on driving conditions, how it’s used, and how well it’s maintained. Some owners have reported reaching the 200,000-mile mark, but that’s less common.

Are there any known software or tech issues in the newer models?

While Smart cars, especially the newer models, come equipped with modern tech features, there have been occasional reports of glitches. Some users have mentioned issues with the infotainment system, while others have pointed out occasional hiccups with the electric model’s charging software. However, these issues are not widespread and can often be resolved with software updates from the manufacturer.

How do Smart cars perform in extreme weather conditions, like snow or heavy rain?

Smart cars are primarily designed for urban environments, and while they can handle rain reasonably well, they might not be the best choice for heavy snow or icy conditions. Their lightweight design can make them less stable in slippery conditions.

If you live in an area with frequent snow, investing in winter tires and being cautious in adverse conditions is advisable.

Final Words

Reliability is just one piece of the puzzle. A Smart car offers a unique blend of advantages tailored to a specific audience.

If its pros align with your priorities and you’re open to the lifestyle it represents, then it’s absolutely worth it. But if you find its cons to be deal-breakers, then perhaps a different vehicle might better suit your needs.

As with any car, it’s all about finding the right fit for your life and values.

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