Most and Least Reliable Cars – 2009 Edition

Consumer Reports recently released their 2009 listing of the most and least reliable cars. Whenever these rankings come out, I look at them with a bit of morbid curiosity. I’m mostly interested in seeing how far down the list the domestic carmakers

Looking at overall brand reliability, Japanese imports clearly rule the roost, whereas domestic brands are generally well down the list. Here’s the rundown:

  • Scion
  • Honda
  • Toyota
  • Infiniti
  • Acura
  • Mitsubishi
  • Lexus
  • Hyundai
  • Porsche
  • Mercury
  • Saab
  • Subaru
  • Suzuki
  • Kia
  • Mazda
  • Ford
  • Nissan
  • Volvo
  • Buick
  • Lincoln
  • Volkswagen
  • Pontiac
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Audi
  • Chevrolet
  • BMW
  • Mini
  • GMC
  • Saturn
  • Jeep
  • Dodge
  • Cadillac
  • Chrysler

Of course, these rankings are based on the average predicted reliability ratings of all models for each brand. It’s thus important to keep a couple of things in mind here…

First, the reliability ratings might not be entirely accurate, as there isn’t a whole lot to go on when making predictions for new models. In some cases, these predictions are based on data from just a single year.

Second, companies at the high end aren’t immune from producing a dud, whereas some at the low end actually have a decent model or two. For example, the Toyota Tundra is (slightly) below average despite coming from the 3rd best maker, whereas the Dodge Caliber is (again, slightly) above average despite coming from the 3rd worst maker.

CR points out that, “as a group, inexpensive small cars and midsized family sedans are the most reliable.” They also made clear that the difference between the best and worst models is dramatic. In fact, the Volkswagen Touareg (worst) is 27 times more likely to have problems than the top-ranked Honda Insight.

Interestingly, five of the top eight most reliable family cars were hybrids. The NY Times “Wheels” blog inquired about this surprising (at least to some) result, but CR held their ground.

14 Responses to “Most and Least Reliable Cars – 2009 Edition”

  1. Anonymous

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  3. Anonymous

    We have used the CR lists and saved so much money. We are still using our 1994 Honda Accord, with over 200,000 miles. We bought a ’97 Nissan Sentra in ’01 and used that for over seven years and over 100,000 miles (and only spent $5k). And I am currently driving a ’98 Toyota Camry. Total spent on buying cars in the last ten years for our family? $6700. And maybe $3-5K in maintenance costs in the last ten years.

    Most of our neighbors spend more than 10 times on cars than we do. A couple even continually go upside down on their loans when trading in.

  4. Anonymous

    @KC – the story of what the two car companies did after the sale couldn’t be more on point. There’s a reason Honda’s sales have outpaced GM and this is a big part of it. If Honda puts a problem car on the road, they’ll own up to it whereas GM will simply hide behind warranty legalese. BTW, if you ever look at the terms in a warranty, it’s nearly impossible to adhere to unless your car is the #1 priority in your life.

    Great story about the two companies.

  5. Anonymous

    I also think you can’t judge a car in just one or two years time. To me the true judge of a car is one that is on the road 10 or more years, but by that point its too late cause I’m not buying something that old. But when I see a company that still has a lot of 10+ year old cars on the road you know you are on to something. But as far as I’m concerned the true reliability of a car can’t be measured until the car has quite a few years on the road – too many problems crop up at the 3-6 year point that get overlooked initially.

    Case in point – my 2001 Acura TL that I described above as having transmission issues that didn’t become an obvious problem until the cars were about 5 years old. Also had a friend with a Dodge Intrepid that had an engine sludge problem – it was a real issue with these cars and tended to manifest itself somewhere around 90k miles – again something you wouldn’t notice til the car was 5+ years old. Acura honored their warranties and even extended it for the transmission – I ended up getting 2 new transmissions under warranty – for free. Dodge didn’t even honor the original warranty for the engine problem – they just told my friend he didn’t maintain the car correctly and voided his warranty (apparently this was Dodge’s modus operandi for this problem).

  6. Anonymous

    When looking for a car, I always try to find models that have solid engines and transmissions. For the most part, if these two parts are well built, the rest of the vehicle is relatively easy to maintain. I have a 2003 Mitsubishi Galant with more than 280,000 miles on it and the engine and transmission are solid. Aside from regular maintenance, the only repair was the air conditioning (this was severely fouled up by a national repair chain when they tried to fix it). It’s been a great car.

    Usually, you will see problems when a new type of engine or transmission is put into a ‘re-vamped’ model. I believe the Acura TL suffered from this as mentioned above. If a new model looks good, check to see if anything changed under the hood. If there is something new in there, be aware that there could be problems. As much as automakers test these vehicles, the tests are poor substitutes for having hundreds of thousands of consumers drive the daylights out of a new model.

  7. Anonymous

    I agree that Honda makes really good automobiles that last for a long time without mechanical or engine problems. I just wish Honda would come up with an electric car design that is priced right so any average income person could afford.

  8. Anonymous

    I’m not sure how far I trust these studies.

    I don’t understand how Consumer Reports results could be SO different than JD Power’s lists. For example JD power’s list has Scion in the bottom half and CR has them at the #1 spot. On the other hand Cadillac was near the top for JD and near the bottom for CR. Given their results are SO different, I really don’t know what to believe. Is Cadillac crap or great? *shrug*

    Plus I have a really hard time believing that one model car is 27 times more likely to have a problem than another model.

  9. Anonymous

    I have a Land Rover, one of the most notoriously poor reputation cars on the road, yet I’ve never had a problem in 3 years except for one wheel sensor which needed replacing. Doh, now I think I may have jinxed myself 🙂

    Cars are so well made nowadaways, unlike the 80’s… all cars are pretty reliable, and it’s just splitting hairs here.

  10. Anonymous

    I don’t buy into these “reliability” reports much, even from such a good source as CR. In 2005 I bought an 01 Acura TL. Acura always gets good rating and this model of TL good a high report from CR – considered a best buy. So I bought it. Then the transmission went out at 55k miles. Doing a little research confirmed this was a big problem with TLs from 00-03 – in fact there was already a class action suit against Honda which greatly extended the warranty for the trans. It took CR 2 more years to take that generation of TLs off their reliable list despite all the evidence of the problems.

    As for the statement by Mr. DeFlumeri, I wholeheartedly agree. Yes we look for reliability, utility and price, but if it doesn’t look good I’ll just keep what I have. We bought an 07 Camry instead of the Accord because it looked better. I’m still in my (not exactly exciting) Acura TL, but I’m looking at new cars. Frankly what I see from the carmakers I’d own aren’t exciting designs – so I’m just going to continue in my current car until I get a design that I find appealing (but also reliable and priced right).

  11. The biggest factor is style and looks? Seriously? We shop based on everything else that you listed: reliability, price, and utility. Sure, we like a car that looks decent, but if it doesn’t fulfill the other criteria, then it won’t be parked in our garage.

  12. Anonymous

    Some people’s car buying decisions are based on reports like these, others on price alone. And still others on utility, but the biggest factor is style and looks.

    John DeFlumeri Jr

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