A car dealer’s scientific guide to the 10 best used vehicles
Consumers often agonize about what vehicle should be their next car. When it comes to older used cars in particular, I have always offered buyers three ironclad pieces of advice:
• Your footwear is going to have a greater impact on your life than the car you drive.
• The driving and maintenance habits of the prior owner will have a far greater effect on a used car's longevity than the brand. So whatever you choose, make sure you have it inspected before you buy.
The first gets people to laugh. The second gets them to think. But it's my third tip that's most important for those looking to buy an older used car:
• Don't believe the hype.
Cars from prestige brands (especially European ones) don't necessarily last longer or work better. In fact, they now represent many of the most costly and least reliable vehicles in the used-car marketplace. The exact opposite is true for certain unpopular brands and models. Defunct automakers such as Saturn, Saab, and Pontiac have certain specific models that can equal — or exceed — the quality of the so-called market leaders.
For well over a year now, myself and a statistician named Nick Larivere have developed a long-term reliability study that you can find here. We now have nearly 300,000 vehicles from across the entire United States, and recently, we highlighted those low quality vehicles that were found to be most defective at trade-in time. You can read about those findings here.
Now, that same data also reveals the most durable cars and trucks over several years, and with results that defy popular wisdom.
To give you a grasp of how divergent our findings have become versus the usual stereotypes, the Chevrolet Cavalier, a car not generally associated with quality, has registered more trade-ins with over 180,000 miles, and fewer defect issues, than the entire Volkswagen line-up. Other models that are no longer sold as new cars, such as the Buick Park Avenue and Saturn L200, are apparently capable of matching the overall quality of their classes' top-tier vehicles for thousands of dollars less.
There are plenty of good used vehicles out there that are capable of offering the highest levels of long-term quality and owner satisfaction. However, since manufacturers often sell multiple vehicles over the same platform, to increase reliability and lower cost, for this study we have decided to broaden the field a bit and highlight the ten most successful platforms. This way those less popular models in our study don't get overlooked.