How to Find A Reliable Used Vehicle

Used Car Lot
Credit: Mike Focus/Shutterstock
New or used, we all want a vehicle that is reliable. But when you buy a used car, reliability is even more important. Depending on how old the vehicle is you may or may not have the factory warranty or even the extended warranty left. Repairs can get more costly as time goes by and they can become more frequent, which could become an issue for the those on a tighter budget. The risk of repairs for a used vehicle is also one reason used car loans usually come with higher interest rates.

Before we get into resources, keep in mind the model year is important. Certain model year cars are known for problems, be it transmission or engine issues. Also, understand that brands evolve over the years. Brands that may be known as dependable today may not have always been so.

J.D. Powers Vehicle Dependability Report

J.D. Powers: A resource we recommend when it comes to researching vehicle reliability is J.D. Powers. It releases Vehicle Dependability report every year (they date back to 2011.) The ratings focus on the type and number of problems owners experienced during the preceding 12 months with their 3-year-old vehicle. Every year, J.D. Powers names the most reliable mainstream and luxury brands based on those findings. In 2019, they even named a most reliable car for the first time ever -- the Porsche 911.

Here is the last few years of reports for easy access.

CarMD Make and Model Rankings

CarMD: CarMD is another great reliability resource. It provides data from a different perspective: It ranks in-use vehicles and brands based on frequency of check engine light (CEL) problems and then separately on average cost of repairs. It currently provides make and model vehicle rankings by year back to 2014. For each year, you’ll find:

  • 10 brands with the lowest repair incidents/lowest average car repair costs
  • 10 vehicles by year, make and model with the fewest repair incidents/lowest average repair costs
  • Top three vehicles by category

Other resources:

RepairPal: RepairPal says its Reliability Rating is a measurement of vehicle dependability based on the cost, frequency, and severity of unscheduled repairs and maintenance. For 2018, the updated RepairPal Reliability Rating analyzed millions of repair orders from over 2,000 auto shops across the country, measuring dependability by evaluating the cost, frequency and severity of repairs.

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