Car Buying

Buying a Used Car: How Do You Know Which Models Are Reliable?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro April 2015

If you're interested in buying a used car, you're probably wondering about reliability. After all, a used car will likely have less warranty coverage on it than a new car, if it has any coverage at all. So reliability may be a key concern, because you don't want to be stuck with a used car that will cost you a lot of money to maintain and repair.

But how do you find out which used cars are reliable? We've rounded up a few sources you might want to check before you start your search for your next used vehicle.

The Experts

Probably the most commonly used sources for reliability data are automotive reliability experts such as J.D. Power and Consumer Reports. Both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports use huge sample sizes that consist of many car owners, which helps assess reliability on a large scale.

If you choose to use Consumer Reports, you may have to pay for a subscription to the website or pick up a copy of one of their used car guides to get reliability figures. If you go with J.D. Power, you can get most of the relevant information from their website, though J.D. Power Ratings don't examine used cars as thoroughly as Consumer Report scores do.

If we were interested in buying a used car with an especially strong focus on reliability, we'd make sure to consult both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports. Buying a car is a huge financial decision, and we'd want to make sure we have as much information as possible before signing the papers.

Friends and Forums

Beyond using data from J.D. Power and Consumer Reports, we suggest talking to real car owners about their issues. If you're considering a Honda Civic, for instance, you may want to talk to your friends who have owned Civics in the past to get their opinion about reliability and dependability.

Likewise, you may want to visit online automotive forums to see what people are saying about their vehicles. We wouldn't suggest visiting a general forum, but rather we'd try to dig deeper to find a forum specific to the vehicle, such as CivicForums.com or HondaCivicForum.com if you're interested in a Civic. Forums will often post known trouble spots and common flaws, and they usually help give you a good idea of whether drivers are satisfied with their vehicles.

Talk to Mechanics

If possible, we also recommend talking to a mechanic. Although some mechanics specialize in just one brand of vehicle, many mechanics have knowledge that runs the gamut from foreign to domestic cars and new cars to old ones. Asking a mechanic's opinion about a car's reliability may help you understand exactly what to expect in terms of ownership costs and the frequency of future repairs.

No matter what, however, we always suggest doing some research and following through on at least one of our suggestions. Otherwise, you may end up with a used car that costs a lot more than you expected.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Used Car: How Do You Know Which Models Are Reliable? - Autotrader