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The most reliable three-year-old vehicles have fewer problems than many newer vehicles, according to Consumer Reports reliability data. And those reliable older models tend to be Hondas and Toyotas. If they’re well-maintained, they still have a long, useful life ahead.
If you’re buying used, a reliable three-year-old model might be a good value because the steepest part of the depreciation curve is past, and many newer safety features can often be found on these vehicles.
Used car quality often depends on how a vehicle has been treated by its previous owner. Still, some models will stand up better over time than others.
Overall, the most reliable vehicles come from Asian nameplates. Though domestic cars are getting better, they still trail the Japanese models. European models are also improving, but the older ones tend to be among the most problematic.
The reliability history we use comes from data gathered in our Annual Auto Survey, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
The subscribers who responded to our survey told us about problems they’d experienced in the preceding 12 months in any of 17 trouble spots, including transmission and body hardware problems. That information, gathered from information on more than 1.4 million vehicles, paints a picture of what goes wrong with vehicles from 1999 through 2008. ConsumerReports.org respondents were able to report in greater detail for each trouble spot.
Here are more trends that stand out:
- Problem rates for cars have decreased across the board, so newer used cars should hold up better than their predecessors as they age.
- Among five-year-old and newer cars, Ford, Hyundai and Nissan are about tied in reliability.
- European cars, long the least reliable overall, are pulling even with the domestics on newer models.
By contrast, the Toyota Prius and Highlander, Honda Civic and Ford Escape hybrids are notably trouble-free.
Some models are just downright problematic. About a third of 2001 all-wheel-drive Chrysler minivans and Volkswagen’s 2000 Passat V6 AWDs and 2004 Touaregs had multiple problems, and at least one trouble spot for which they were the worst models in the survey.