Buying a used car can be scary, and especially worrisome is how well it will hold up over time. We count down the most reliable used cars.
There’s the searching, the haggling, the paperwork, but the worst, most fraught part of buying a used car is worrying about its condition and projected longevity. A vehicle with over 120,000 miles may have been cared for meticulously, getting all its scheduled maintenance, and still have another 100,000 to go without a major repair bill. But other 120,000-mile vehicles can be just months away from a blown head gasket or hashed transmission. That’s why it pays to know which models have stood the test of time and proven to be the most resilient on the road.
First, a note on what we mean by reliability. We accounted for both short and long-term reliability, looking at durability (frequency and severity of repairs) within the first 3-5 years of age and from 5 years on. It’s one thing to make a good vehicle that holds together under 100,000 miles, but it takes real care and consideration to build one ready to crest that 200,000-mile mark and keep going.
There are also two big factors in the overall quality of a used car, the build quality and the care they’ve been given. Some models performed better in our survey based on the love they’ve seen from devoted owners (see the Chevy Corvette below). Others have proven exceptionally durable because they are the product of meticulous over-engineering (I’m looking at you Toyota). The lesson here is simple: buy wisely and scrupulously keep up with your maintenance if you want into the 200K club.
Toyota Highlander 2001-19 – It could be just an internet rumor, but I heard that the 80’s action movie Highlander, about an immortal Scottish swordsman, was the inspiration for the naming of the nigh-unkillable Toyota Highlander. There are few vehicles worthy of the appellation “bullet-proof,” but the Highlander just might be one of them. It’s one thing to be rugged in the moment, Land Rovers can tackle some serious off-road terrain, but to do so over and over, year after year, is another skill entirely. The Highlander remains popular among suburbanites and serious overlanders alike for its practical prowess and its longevity. So, if you’re looking for a new automotive heirloom to pass on to your kids or a safe bet on a used SUV, there can be only one…the Highlander.
Lexus GX 2003-15 – You know what true automotive luxury is? Not having to worry about your car breaking down. Based on the Toyota 4Runner’s platform, the Lexus GX can put your mind at ease. And just because it looks fancy doesn’t mean this thing doesn’t have the chops to venture off the pavement. The GX is every bit as rugged as it’s Toyota SUV brethren. In fact, off-road is where the GX shines, as the body-on-frame construction makes for a bit of choppy ride around town. But for those who want to tackle the trails in high style, the GX can get you up to the cabin year after year.
Others: Both Toyotas, the FJ Cruiser and 4Runner have phenomenal reliability, and in the case of the FJ Cruiser, a burgeoning cult following.
Honda CR-V 2002-Present – The reason you see so many CR-Vs around is not just because of their popularity but also because they tend to stay running a good, long while. By emphasizing practicality and quality design inside and out, Honda has kept the CR-V near the top of the Crossover ranks. Add sterling reliability and a low cost of ownership? Just icing.
Jeep Wrangler 1997-2015 – This one may surprise but the Jeep Wrangler, while not the cheapest to fix or least frequent to break, is one of the most popular make/models out there. Jeep owners love their Jeeps and a by-product of all that love is a bunch of used Jeeps that have been very well-looked-after.
Other Picks: The Toyota RAV4, like its rival the CR-V, has proven durable in the market and on the road. That’s probably why it’s the most popular vehicle outside of the best-selling full-size trucks.
Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon 2002-15 – Admittedly, Mercedes reliability can be a bit uneven across their line-up and across the decades. Some 1970s Benz sedans have graduated all the way from the 200K club to the million mile club (in fact Mercedes hands out nifty badges for high mileage cars). But as modern Mercedes have grown in complexity so too have their repair bills. Yet, the G-Wagon has been an exception to the Mercedes money-pit reputation and stands as a torchbearer for that OG Mercedes longevity. Supremely capable off-road and strikingly handsome, the G-Wagon has more rugged good-looks than Chris Hemsworth and Ryan Gosling combined.
Other Picks: Yep, Toyota’s rep for reliability proves out again in this segment with the Toyota Sequoia and Lexus LX.
Toyota Avalon 2005-18 – The Camry’s larger sibling, the Avalon takes a step up in luxury as well as size, all while retaining the former’s storied reliability. The excellent safety ratings and low cost of ownership make the Avalon the most eminently practical of sedans. At any age these cars are good value, but among cars 10+ years old, a $6,000 Avalon with 120,000 on the odometer is as rock solid a used car as you’ll find.
Other Picks: Honda Accord (2008-15) and Toyota Camry (2002-Present) …the sedan is dead! Long live the sedan! These two cars prove that, to quote a phrase, “what is dead may never die.” From junior executives to soccer moms to broke college kids, the Accord and Camry are there decade in and decade out, serviceable, affordable, and darn near indestructible.
Honda Civic 2006-Present – The Civic, available in regular (Si or Type-R) or decaf (everything else), is at its best as a steal street racer masquerading as a commuter car. Even toned-down versions offer a great value for a used car. Civics are just exiting adolescence at 100,000 miles. And because they are compacts, the mpgs are pretty awesome too. Ten-year old Civics average in the 30s for highway, while more modern versions are well into the 40s.
Other Picks: The Toyota Prius, the most iconic (and polarizing) hybrid of all time, can keep on keepin’ on whether that’s 600+ miles on an 8-gallon tank of gas or tens of thousands of miles over the lifetime of the car. Another wonderful Honda, the gold standard for hatchbacks, is the Fit.
Chevrolet Corvette 1984-2013 – Another pick attributable to the care of a committed fan base. Corvettes, even more than other sports and muscle cars, have inspired deep devotion from their owners. Owners who then have followed the manufacturer’s suggested maintenance schedule to the letter. Combined with a drivetrain designed for punishment and you’ve got a lot of ‘Vette’s racking up serious miles.
Mazda Miata MX-5 1999-Present – The much-loved Miata has made it onto many of our lists. It’s a great convertible, a great cheap car, and it’s well-built. They’re fun, engaging cars. Part of that engagement, the 5 and 6-speed manuals, keep the transmission simple and less prone to high-mileage deterioration. Like the Corvette, Miatas tends to have loving owners who carefully look after them. In fact, the only complaint I’ve ever heard from a Miata owner is how much they miss their MX-5 when forced to drive something else.
Other Picks: While some German brands don’t age gracefully, Porsches tend to weather the vicissitudes of life rather well. Case in point the Boxter.
Toyota Tundra V6 2000 – Present – Full-size trucks, especially those of the early aughts (2000s), have historically performed better than the average vehicle when it comes to longevity. And the Tundra has been most Methuselahian of them all. They may not be the most luxurious or carry the most tricked-out trims, but they do offer great off-road abilities, a long list of standard safety features, and a drivetrain built to get you from A all the way to Z.
Other Picks: The RAM 1500 runs neck and neck with the Tundra for reliability but offers a bit more when it comes to creature comforts. The Chevrolet SSR, for all its ostentation, is also rock solid reliable.
With the average age of US vehicles at an all-time high of 11.8 years, its more important than ever for car buyers to know which cars have stood the test of time. Let us know in the comments which of your vehicles have performed best over time.