Every car shopper’s preferences are different, but there’s usually one feature that everyone is looking for when they’re buying a used car: reliability. Reliability is one of the most unanimously desired traits in used cars, and that should come as no surprise. Having a reliable car is not only best for people who need transportation they can trust will always work, but also for the folks who aren’t interested in spending a fortune on maintenance (read: everyone!). So because we all want a reliable used car, here’s a list of the most reliable used cars on the market.
This list is the sum of my own experience in the used car market, as well as Consumer Reports‘ empirical data regarding these cars’ reliability. You’ll see that no specific years or generations are listed here, and the reason for that is simple: the true champions of reliability are not restricted to certain generations. If a car is dependable enough to be one of the most reliable used cars, every one of its generational predecessors and successors also belong on that list. In other words, Toyota has never made a bad Camry!
So with that out of the way, let’s dive into our list.
I’ll be the first to admit that the Venza doesn’t have all that much going for it as a used car. It’s not special for any particular reason, and there are definitely more feature-packed models in Toyota’s lineup. However, it would be unfair to not give credit where credit is due, and the Venza’s reliability certainly deserves some credit. The Venza is so reliable in fact, that it earned a perfect score from Consumer Reports every single year that it was in production.
I’m sure that no one’s really surprised to find the Toyota Corolla making an appearance on this list. Toyota has been making the Corolla for longer than most people have been alive, so they’ve had more than enough time to iron out the kinks and turn it into a remarkably reliable car—and that they have. Since 2010, the Corolla has earned a near-perfect score every single year, and in the years before that it never came close to being considered below average. The Corolla is an incredibly dependable car, and for those shoppers who are interested in reliability (and fuel economy, to boot) the Corolla is a great choice.
Like the Corolla, the Honda Accord has been a mainstay in Honda’s lineup for decades. In that time, they’ve perfected the Accord’s ability to provide world class reliability. Since its inception, the Accord has scored well above average with Consumer Reports, and has earned a top score in seven of the last ten years. Even more impressive is the fact that since 2014, not one single recurring issue has been a problem for owners. Most all cars have at least one well known issue that affects something like 5%-10% of cars, but not the Accord!
If you’re looking for a reliable used car with some extra space, it’s worth considering the Toyota Highlander. With a third-row option being a common feature on many examples, a used Highlander is a fantastic choice for folks that need a dependable family hauler, or anyone else who can use the added space to justify the less-than-ideal (at least on the less recent models) fuel economy. The Highlander earned the highest reliability score from Consumer Reports in nine of ten years since its 2010 refresh, proving itself as a truly trustworthy daily driver.
All of the other cars on this list are made by mass-market brands, and are not all that interesting to drive for the people who want a car with some flair. However, the Acura TSX is here to fix that! As much as I hate to admit it, the common German luxury brands like BMW and Audi just don’t know reliability like the Japanese do, allowing Acura (and Lexus) to serve as the reliable choice among luxury cars. The TSX earned a perfect score from Consumer Reports in every year of its latest generation (it has since been discontinued), making it one of the best choices out there for shoppers who want a fun, upscale, and luxurious car that doesn’t sacrifice reliability.
Alright, so you’re in the market for a reliable and luxurious vehicle, but the Acura TSX is just too small. Worry not, as the Lexus RX is here for you. In fact, if you’re interested in an upscale SUV that also has stellar reliability, the Lexus RX is just about your only option, as the American and German competition do not offer RX-level dependability. The Lexus RX earned a perfect reliability score from Consumer Reports in the first half of this decade, handily outperforming its competition.
For those who want the absolute best of the best in terms of reliability, look no further than the Toyota 4Runner, as it stands alone as the absolute most reliable car ever to drive on North American soil. The Toyota 4Runner is designed and marketed as a rugged off-roader, so it should come as no surprise that a vehicle like this is built to prevent you from getting stranded. And it does that exceedingly well, as the Toyota 4Runner boasts 13 consecutive years of perfect reliability scores. This is truly impressive, and it cements the 4Runner as the absolute most reliable car that money can buy.
What Makes a Car Reliable?
Now that we’ve gone over some of the most reliable cars that are currently on the used market, it’s important to look at what makes these cars so reliable.
For one, you’ll notice that all of these cars are Japanese. Quite simply, Japanese cars are the most reliable. Japanese automakers like Honda and Toyota are known for testing their car’s reliability much more thoroughly than their competition from other countries, and the result is cars that are impressively dependable.
Another item that factors heavily into reliability is how simple a car is. You’ll notice that most of the cars on this list have naturally aspirated (non-turbo- or super-charged), non-hybrid powerplants that have fewer “features” that are prone to breaking and/or needing frequent maintenance or replacement. That’s why this list in particular excludes some cars that other outlets may consider reliable.
Perhaps I’m old fashioned, or perhaps I’m more strict on what I call reliable, but I refuse to recommend a turbocharged car to someone who is looking for reliability. That’s because I know what goes into making a turbocharged car, so I’m aware of failure-prone nature of the litany of extra parts required to implement forced induction.
Finally, reliable cars use proven powerplants. The cars on this list are using engine and transmission pairings that have existed in that automaker’s lineup for years, if not decades. What this means is that they have had plenty of time to work out all of the kinks, and have ironed their powertrains out into well-designed and well-tested commuter companions.
In summary, if you’re looking for a reliable car, you’d do well to pick a car off this list. There absolutely are other cars that are highly reliable, and you may even be able to get lucky with an unusually dependable example of a traditionally unreliable car. However, if you’re not one for taking chances, one of the above cars will suit you perfectly. Just don’t forget to do your research and follow the appropriate steps when checking out the car in person: just because a car is traditionally reliable doesn’t mean the previous owner took good care of it!