What makes a car “the best” in any one category? You can quantify practically everything about a car so it can be compared to another, such as fuel economy, engine power, acceleration time, or towing capacity. Other automotive aspects might be somewhat harder to quantify, such as how comfortable the seats are, how easy the controls are for the navigation system, or how good the audio system sounds.
One fairly quantifiable aspect of automobiles is how reliable they are. Rather than counting on anecdotal evidence, often colored by our own experiences, the number of repairs or breakdowns can be considered statistically. You've probably heard, and I know I've said to an untold number of friends, “If you're in the market for a car, buy Toyota or Honda,” and with good reason. Of course, I’m partial to Toyota and Honda, so I might say that anyway, but the numbers are with me!
The Best New Cars…
The best new cars make the best used cars and, taking a look at the J.D. Powers Initial Quality Studies (IQS) and Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS), for example, can give you a pretty good idea how reliable a particular brand might be. The IQS counts how many problems occur per one hundred vehicles per brand within the first three months of ownership, while the VDS counts how many problems were had in the last year of three-year-old vehicles.
Japanese brands, such as Toyota, Lexus, Honda, Acura, Suzuki, and Mazda, have dominated the rankings for years. For 2013, the top ten best-initial-quality brands, some tied, were Porsche, GMC, Lexus, Infiniti, Chevrolet, Acura, Toyota, Honda, Jaguar, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Cadillac. The bottom ten on the list included, from worst to best, Scion, Fiat, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Mini, Ram, Ford, Dodge, Subaru, and Mazda. Seven of the top ten are Asian brands!
Perhaps a better measure of long-term quality is reflected in the VDS, which covers vehicles that are three years old. After three years of ownership, you'd figure that most of the kinks from the first year have been straightened out. The top ten for 2013 were, in order, Lexus, Porsche, Lincoln, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, Buick, Honda, Acura, Ram, Suzuki, Mazda, and Chevrolet. The bottom ten slots, on the other hand, were occupied Land Rover, Dodge, Mitsubishi, Jeep, Volkswagen, Jaguar, Chrysler, Mini, Volvo, and Audi. Again, even after three years, six out of the top ten spots are occupied by Asian brands!
… Make the Best Used Cars
So, what happens after a few years of ownership, less-reliable vehicles are eventually sold off to the less-fortunate, or less-able-to-manage-their-money. The most-reliable vehicles keep going, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone willing to give it up, unless it's for a newer version of the reliable vehicle they've come to depend on. Really, that is all that matters, isn't it? Who wants to spend their hard-earned money and time replacing and repairing parts on their car every week?
According to a recent survey, combining customer feedback and used-car-warranties, the best used cars, that is, the most-reliable, are Japanese. Some 50,000 warranty policies, covering vehicles between three and ten years of age, show which vehicles get repaired most often. In fact, only one American brand even made it to the top ten, including, from the best to the worst, Honda, Toyota, Lexus, Suzuki, Subaru, Hyundai, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Chevrolet, and Nissan. Some high-end brands didn't even make the top twenty, such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Porsche, which doesn't speak well to buying these cars for their reliability.
Again, “the best used car” is probably difficult to pin down with any certainty, and everyone is sure to have their own opinion. On the other hand, “the most reliable used car,” which is arguably the most important, seems to be dominated by the Japanese, so you can do no better than to choose a well-maintained Japanese used car for your next purchase, confident you'll spend more time on the road than in the shop.