Finding Dependable Used Cars

Used cars may represent one of the best values on the market today.  Of course that holds true only if it's dependable.  Interestingly, that's one of the nice features about these cars; previous owners have already put them through a real world road test.

Dependability of Used Cars

By compiling the repair and dependability experiences of car owners, it's possible to assemble a list of reliable used cars.  That's exactly what large research organizations such as J.D. Power and Associates does each year.  They conduct surveys of car owners to determine their experience with mechanical breakdowns.  This research allows them to understand whether or not some of the car's features seemed to "wear out" faster than expected.  This information helps buyers of used cars to determine if the vehicle is going to be dependable.

Car Research

J.D. Power conducts used car research each year, and uses that information to publish ratings.  The research they conduct is very comprehensive. They gather the collective experiences of 35,000 owners of cars, SUVs, light trucks and minivans via a questionnaire.  This might sound like a lot of surveys, but with all of the possible combinations of car makes and models, they need a lot of information to be able to identify an undependable car from a dependable one.

When they conduct this research, they survey owners of three year old vehicles.  In doing so, this survey takes into account the fact most of these cars are no longer covered by the original manufacturer's warranty.  This also means that most of these vehicles have been driven enough miles to start to show signs of wear and tear.  If they surveyed the owners of cars that were one year old, they might not have enough repair history to provide meaningful results.

Dependability Rating System

The J.D. Power dependability rating is based on categories of problems or symptoms that the 2013 model owners are reporting.  The categories in this rating system include:

  • Mechanical Dependability:  based on reported problems with the car's engine, transmission, suspension, steering, and brakes.
  • Body and Interior Dependability:  derived from reported experience with the car's exterior paint, interior fit and finish, noise from the wind, and rattles / squeaks.
  • Feature and Accessory Dependability:  problems with accessories such as the air conditioner, radio / stereo and speakers, automatic door locks, and windows.
  • Performance:  reported experience with the vehicle's power-train and suspension systems.  This measure would include acceleration, handling, and brake performance.
  • Style:  satisfaction with the automobile's interior and exterior styling, distinctiveness of styling, and the exterior and interior color combinations.

Dependable Corporations, Nameplates and Vehicles

In the past, J.D. Power car ratings were broken down into three subcategories.  First they rated the corporation, then the nameplate or make, finally a model.  For example, General Motors is a corporation, which owns the nameplate of Chevrolet, which makes the Malibu.  They discontinued this system several years ago, and now only produce full reports at the model level.

In the 2016 study, which is based on the experience of three year old vehicles, the dependability average was 152 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), or 1.52 problems per vehicle.  This was a 3.4% increase from the 2015 study.


Lexus ranks highest in vehicle dependability among all nameplates for a fourth consecutive year. The gap between Lexus and all other brands is substantial, with Lexus averaging 89 PP100 compared with second-ranked Buick at 110 PP100. Following Buick in the rankings are Toyota (111), Cadillac (114) and Honda and Porsche (116).

Cars by Category

Finally, J.D. Power produces used car ratings by the category in which the car competes.  The category is usually defined by the way in which a car is used, or the size of the car.  For example, there are minivans, sports utility vehicles (SUVs), and there are compact cars.  The most dependable used cars, by category include:


  • Midsize Car: 2013 Chevrolet Malibu
  • Compact Car: 2013 Buick Verano
  • Large Car: 2013 Buick LaCrosse
  • City Car: 2013 Fiat 500
  • Midsize Sporty Car: 2013 Chevrolet Camaro
  • Compact Sporty Car: 2013 MINI Coupe | Roadster
  • Compact Premium Car: 2013 Lexus ES
  • Midsize Premium Car: 2013 Lexus GS
  • Small Car: 2013 Honda Fit

SUVs, Minivans and Pickup Trucks

  • Compact Multi-Purpose Vehicle: 2013 Toyota Prius v
  • Small SUV: 2013 Buick Encore
  • Midsize SUV: 2013 Nissan Murano
  • Midsize Premium SUV: 2013 Lexus GX
  • Large SUV: 2013 GMC Yukon
  • Minivan: 2013 Toyota Sienna
  • Compact Premium SUV: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class
  • Large Light Duty Pickup: 2013 Toyota Tundra
  • Large Heavy Duty Pickup: 2013 Chevrolet Silverado HD
  • Compact SUV: 2013 Chevrolet Equinox

About the Author - Finding Dependable Used Cars (Last Reviewed on May 24, 2016)