While nothing can replace a good inspection by an independent, certified mechanic, there are some good rules of thumb to go by when selecting your next used car, especially if you want to save some money when it comes to the inevitable maintenance and repairs your new-to-you car will need.
According to a study by CarMD, compiled from data collected from the “check engine” light problems experienced by an estimated 192 million cars built between 1996 and 2015. Their data not only gives us the most reliable manufacturers, based on repairs actually done, but the most reliable individual car models.
The top five models with the highest reliability (the fewest repairs) are: the 2015 Toyota Corolla, 2013 Lexus ES, 2014 Toyota Prius, 2013 Toyota Avalon, and 2013 Honda Fit. While the Corolla might still be a bit too new for many used car buyers, the 2013-2014 models are right in the sweet spot of still being relatively new and offering the latest in technology, while still being much more affordable than a new car off the dealership lot.
If you notice a lot of Toyota in that list, you’re paying attention: Toyota has the most vehicles in the top 100 list, too (18), and ranks second overall out of all brands. Ford managed to put 14 vehicles in the top 100, while Honda scored 10. Mazda (6), and a four-way tie between Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, and Mercedes (5 each) round out the top five brands in the top 100.
Because of the data collected (total repairs needed for each year, make, model of car), the results tend to favor newer cars—they’re less likely to need repairs or maintenance no matter which brand they come from. With that said, however, the CarMD data also reveals the least-expensive brands to repair, and their average repair costs, which could help guide your choice for your next used car purchase. The top five brands in the CarMD study are: Hyundai, Toyota, Honda, Ford, and Chrysler. Kia, General Motors, Mazda, Nissan, and Volkswagen round out the top 10.
But what about how much it’ll cost you to repair your car when the time comes? CarMD’s data has you covered there, too, with rankings of the average cost of repair for each brand. Here, you’ll see the results inverted a bit: Ford is the least-expensive to repair on average, at $309.55; Hyundai ranks second at $316.16; Chrysler is third at $316.76; Mazda is fourth at $335.05; and General Motors (Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, and GMC) is fifth at $340.15.
Where does Toyota rank on average cost to repair? Ninth out of the top 10, actually, at $411.71. Only Nissan is more expensive (in the top 10) at $430.83, while Honda ($408.69), Volkswagen ($373.78), and Kia ($369.75) are more affordable.
In the end, your choice of car is up to you—but with the advice of a good mechanic, our articles here at Instamotor, and the Instamotor app itself, we aim to arm you with the tools, knowledge, and ability to get the best deal on the best car you can afford.
automotive freelance journalist