Reliable Rides: 10 Used Cars You Can Count On
Expected reliability is the single most important factor in deciding on a car, according to J.D. Power. Whether you want a vehicle for off-roading, track days, or everyday commuting, you definitely don’t want one that will cost you a lot of extra money, time, or frustration in repairs. J.D. Power’s annual Vehicle Dependability Study, now in its 27th year, polls owners of 3-year-old cars to determine the number of problems they experienced during the previous 12 months. The company then ranks each maker and model by the number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles.
We’ve taken a look at the last four years of Vehicle Dependability Study results, covering model years 2010 through 2013, to find cars that have won multiple awards and should offer strong dependability on the used market. Buying a dependable model will improve the odds you’ll be satisfied with a new-to-you car, but please don’t skip two critical steps in the used-car buying process: get an in-person look at and test-drive the car you want to buy, and make sure to get and check a detailed vehicle history for that car, too. Now let’s get to those dependable vehicles.
The Honda Fit debuted in the U.S. for the 2007 model year, and its trademarked Magic Seat®, an extra-flexible system that allows this subcompact hatchback to carry way more cargo than most competitors (even if that cargo is long or tall), got lots of press. As a Honda, it’s not surprising that the Fit has strong reliability, and it’s taken two dependability wins and a third-place finish over the last four years in the Sub-Compact/Small Car category. The Fit’s 1.5-liter 4-cylinder puts out only 117 hp, so it definitely isn’t fast, but it has a distinctive feel, and many CarGurus user reviews call it a great city car and fun to drive. The Fit’s fantastic cargo capabilities, proven reliability, and strong resale value make it a great option for anyone looking for a used small car, but its MSRP makes it a bargain as a new car in the subcompact category, too, and the 2015 version launched a new generation that has also earned strong reviews.
The Chevrolet Malibu is the first of a string of General Motor vehicles on this list. In fact, GM brands Buick, GMC, and Chevrolet each performed well above the industry average by maker. Even Cadillac, which scored the lowest of the GM brands, still performed better than the industry average. The Malibu’s success in the Midsize Car category in back-to-back years stands out, given the tight competition; the Malibu has consistently fought off the likes of the Toyota Camry (won in 2014), the Hyundai Sonata (won in 2013), and the Honda Accord. This is especially impressive given that the Malibu underwent a significant redesign for the 2013 model year. This kind of consistent quality through the redesign process is a true testament to a car that’s been around for 52 years.
The Chevrolet Camaro is the second-oldest model on this list, just behind the Chevy Malibu, which is two years its senior (1964 vs. 1966). The iconic muscle car has spent most of its life locked in battle with competing American muscle cars like the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger. In recent years, the Camaro has become known for its excellent handling (rather than simple straight-line performance), the ZL1 trim coming equipped with features like an independent rear suspension and magnetorheological dampers. And the Camaro has absolutely dominated the Midsize Sporty Car category, taking the award for the past four years straight. The Camaro received a significant redesign for 2016, so we will have to wait to see how that affects its standings three years down the line.
Buick introduced the LaCrosse in 2005 in an attempt to drive some life back into its struggling brand. The LaCrosse was then redesigned in 2010, with updated styling and a modernized platform shared by GM’s European Opel Insignia. Then, in 2012, Buick added an eAssist drivetrain and a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with a small 15kw motor-generator unit coupled to a 115-volt lithium-ion battery (and featuring regenerative braking). This setup, similar to what you’d find on many hybrids, led to improved fuel economy and a much-needed boost to the sedan’s performance. And that new technology has apparently been reliable enough to help the LaCrosse win the Large Sedan category in both 2015 and 2016. Oddly enough, the Buick Lucerne took home the award the previous two years (2014 and 2013), before being discontinued.
GMC introduced the Yukon in 1992 as a rebadged Jimmy, GMC’s full-size SUV version of the Chevrolet C/K family. The Yukon has evolved quite a bit from its primarily utility-driven origins, becoming a classy, stylish option for buyers in search of a traditional body-on-frame SUV experience. Recently, the Yukon has been a powerhouse of reliability, dominating the Large SUV category of the dependability study for three years. Before the Yukon started taking the award, J.D. Power gave it to the Chevrolet Tahoe, which happens to be the same SUV, but with a Chevy badge. In fact, the Tahoe was the runner-up this year as well, performing above the segment average. So it’s safe to say that if you’re looking for a large SUV, a vehicle out of GM’s lineup would be a safe investment.
The 2013 Lexus GX edged out its RX brethren and the Porsche Cayenne in the 2016 Midsize Premium SUV category, taking the title for the second year in a row—although the RX did win the same award the two years prior. The current GX 460 replaced the GX 470 back in 2010 and has yet to receive any major update as of the 2016 model year. Offering a somewhat smaller and significantly cheaper alternative to the $88,000+ LX 570, the GX includes a 4.6-liter V8 powerplant and standard 4-wheel drive, making it one of the stronger, more capable vehicles in a lineup already known for reliability and value.
The Toyota Sienna has held a lock on the Midsize Van/Minivan category dependability award since winning in 2011 with its 2008 model. Toyota’s reputation for quality makes that reliability record unsurprising, and while the company also has a reputation for building unexciting cars, driving excitement shouldn’t be critical to most minivan shoppers, and the Sienna does remain the only minivan offering all-wheel drive (AWD) in the U.S. We’d skip the underpowered 4-cylinder engine that arrived with a redesign for the 2011 model year, but other than that, minivan shoppers should definitely consider a used Sienna. If you want something newer, shoppers like the vacuum in Honda’s Odyssey, and Chrysler’s returned Pacifica includes a vacuum and offers the only hybrid powertrain available in a minivan.
The Lexus ES has seen a lot over the past several years—the ES 350, that is, which replaced the outgoing ES 330 in 2007. Since its inception, the ES 350 has been refreshed in 2013 and redesigned in 2015. But it began winning reliability awards in the Compact Premium Car category with its 2011 model, and has gone undefeated ever since. The 2013 model, which took the 2016 reliability award, was longer, wider, and more up-to-date in its styling, showing traces of the full spindle-grille treatment that has become standard across the Lexus lineup (and garnered plenty of attention). Based on the Toyota Camry, the ES has become one of Lexus’ most popular models, and its success appears to be anything but on the wane.
Among Large Heavy-Duty Pickups, the Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD and its GMC Sierra 2500HD cousin have taken the top two dependability spots since the category was born in 2014, with Chevy taking the win for the last two years. GM’s category dominance began with refreshed 2011 versions of the heavy-duty Silverado and Sierra that featured bigger engines, better suspensions, and fully boxed frames. A new 6.6-liter turbodiesel V8 put out 397 hp and 765 lb-ft of torque, enabling a Silverado with the available fifth-wheel configuration and Allison transmission with a tow-haul mode to tow 20,000 pounds. Anyone looking for a used heavy-duty work truck would do well to consider a Silverado HD, and if the LTZ trim level doesn’t offer enough in the way of luxury and comfort, a Sierra HD might be worth a look.
Mercedes-Benz introduced the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class as an entry point into its lineup of luxury SUVs and crossovers. As it turns out, that was a good call — the GLK-Class has excelled in the Compact Premium SUV category of the dependability study. Though this category has only existed for three years, the GLK-Class has taken the award the past two (the Acura RDX won in 2014). The GLK beat some stiff competition from another German luxury manufacturer, winning the award over the BMW X1 and X3. Mercedes has had quite the lineup of SUVs and crossovers over the years, now offering 5 distinct models for 2016. But the GLK is now absent from that list, having been replaced by the newly introduced GLC-Class in the entry-luxury crossover role. It will be interesting to see how Mercedes builds on the GLK’s growing reputation for reliability with the GLC.
Which vehicles have given you the fewest problems over the years?
–Chase Hammond, John Harrington, and Steve Halloran
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Used Honda Fit
Used Chevrolet Malibu
Used Chevrolet Camaro
Used Buick LaCrosse
Used GMC Yukon
Used Lexus GX 460
Used Toyota Sienna
Used Lexus ES 350
Used Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD
Used Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class