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 2016 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 2019 study, which is based on the experience of three year old vehicles, the dependability average was 93 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100), or 0.93 problems per vehicle.  This was a 3% decrease from the 2018 study.


Genesis ranks highest in vehicle dependability among all nameplates, while Kia (68 PP100) ranked a close second (72 PP100) and Hyundai taking third place (74 PP100). The gap between these makes and the industry average substantial at 93 PP100.

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:


  • Compact Car Toyota Corolla
  • Compact Premium Car BMW 4 Series
  • Midsize Car Nissan Altima
  • Midsize Premium Car Lincoln Continental

SUVs, Minivans and Pickup Trucks

  • Small SUV Hyundai Tuscon
  • Compact SUV Buick Envision
  • Midsize SUV Kia Sorento
  • Midsize Premium SUV BMW X6
  • Large Light Duty Truck Chevrolet Silverado

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