When you’re buying a used car, you must take into account what you’ll be using it for, and what kind of driver you are. If you’re into fast driving, you’ll want a sports car. If you want fast driving and durability, you’ll probably want to look into a truck. If you want something reliable, however, something to take you to work and back and never put a worry in your head, that can stretch across many platforms. It’s never easy assessing a car for reliability.
Anything can go wrong at any time, but then again that’s true for every car including one that’s brand new. Then, of course, there’s brand loyalty, where a prospective buyer will swear up and down that Toyota is the best brand because way back when, perhaps in high school, they drove their Corolla off a cliff into a tumble, before landing on all four wheels and was still able to deliver pizzas. While that may have occurred, it’s not something to bank on. What you can bank on is how each engine was constructed and what kind of abuse they could take. For that, we’ve chosen some cars that have proven to be dead reliable across the board. Also, you can find each of these cars, or engines in cars, for less than $10,000.
A classic staple, the Honda Civic is known perhaps best for its ability to take as much abuse as possible, crawling to 300k miles and then whipped for another 50k. It’s simply an all-around good and balanced car. It gets good mileage, is reliable, can be comfortable, and is most of the time a very cheap car. Sure, demand goes up every once in a blue moon but used Civics from the 1990s won’t typically cost more than $10,000, or $5.000 for that matter. They are by no means performance cars, but they get many jobs done.
This isn’t a list of the most reliable cars of all time, and if that wasn’t clear before it should be now since we’re mentioning BMW. The 1990s E36 318i is thought of as the most reliable BMW ever because of its engine, the M42. It’s a 1.8-liter inline-four that produces somewhere near 140 horsepower. Not a lot happens to these engines compared to other BMWs. For instance, the inline-six cylinder from this era BMW is known to have major cooling issues. The M42-44 engine, while it does require a lot more maintenance and attention than a Honda engine, is equipped with a timing chain, unlike earlier BMWs which used a timing belt. This makes the engine much more reliable, as timing belts are liable to break after a certain amount of miles.
Subarus are seemingly less known for being reliable as they are for performance. The 1992 Subaru Legacy is equipped with a 2.2-liter turbocharged flat-four cylinder engine and was thought to be so reliable because of its closed deck design. An open deck engine block you can see, when stripped bare, has its cylinders stand by themselves inside of the block, whereas in a closed deck engine that space between the cylinders and block is filled and therefore solid, making the block much more durable and able to take boost. On vehiclehistory.com the 1992 Subaru Legacy scored fewer problems than other cars when compared to the national average of car problems in almost every category.
Camrys, like the Civic, are known for their reliability and for being extraordinarily robust. That said, there are a few years to watch out for when considering a Camry. Across the board, the 5th generation Camry is thought to be the best when equipped with its less problematic V6 engine. It might get less mileage than its four-cylinder engine, but with the V6 you’ll get much more power and smooth acceleration.
If you manage to get a hold of a Mercedes E Class from the early 1990s, don’t let go. That engine will, with the proper care, go for more than 500,000 miles. Especially if you get a diesel, they are basically bulletproof and commonly known as such. As an added bonus it’s a Mercedes, so, you know you’re getting unparalleled (for its time) quality materials. Since it’s old enough it won’t cost as much to repair either and is considered much more reliable than newer models.
The first American car on the list is a Ford F-150 from the 1990s. It seems like that decade was the best for cars all around. This F-150 came at a time when trucks still had to be trucks. They were durable, long-lasting, reliable workhorses. These days new trucks, with all their bells and whistles give Rolls Royce a run for their money. The 1990s F-150 is just a truck, and that’s what it had to be in every capacity. No more, no less.
Chevrolet has a series of engines denoted with an “L”, and they’ve only gotten better over time. The newest group of L engines, the LS series, is known for being powerful, lightweight, and dead reliable. Some drivers even report getting 30 mpg on road trips. You can find this engine in a Corvette starting from 1997, but it was also used in early 2000s Camaros. This is a bulletproof, powerful V8 engine. It leaves you wanting nothing more than what it has to offer.
Each car on this list has proven time and again to be reliable. If you're looking for a specific brand, do your research and discover what kinds of engine problems their models faced.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.