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Buying Used? Buy Dependable

Twenty Dependable Used Cars

by Autobytel Staff
May 15, 2008
6 min. Reading Time

When considering the purchase of a car, buyers are faced with a dilemma: New or used. Buying new means taking an immediate drop in value the minute the tires hit the street, but having the peace of mind of owning a new car with no hidden problems from the previous user. Buying used you can dodge the depreciation bullet, but risks picking up someone else’s lemon. To help alleviate the stress of this decision, J.D. Power and Associates performs an annual Vehicle Dependability Study that should give consumers more peace of mind if they decide to go the used route. Here is a list of what they found to be the 19 most dependable cars by category.

By Staff Photo credit: Automakers

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Independent market research firm J.D. Power & Associates released the findings of its 2007 Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures problems experienced by 53,000 original owners of 2004 model year vehicles. The top five brands in the study were, in order: Buick, Lexus, Cadillac, Mercury and Honda. Hummer posted the most improvement, though still ranks below the industry average. The least dependable brands in the study were, in order: Land Rover, Suzuki, Isuzu, Saab, and Volkswagen.


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Making its debut in 2004, Scion debunks the theory stating: “Never buy the first year of a new model.” With Scion, Toyota brought affordability and personalization together, capturing the attention of the young and hip. The trouble will be weeding out the dependability-proven factory customized models from the cheaper aftermarket ones.


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Honda built its reputation for reliability on the strengths of the Honda Civic, so it’s no surprise that it tops the compact car category. In 2004, the popular Civic was offered as a coupe, sedan, or sporty Si hatchback, in several levels of trim. Avoid Civics that have been modified (usually poorly) with aftermarket performance parts.


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One of the purest expressions of a sports car on today’s market, the Mazda Miata is terrific fun to drive, inexpensive to buy, and extremely dependable. It’s a two-seater with a small trunk, but there’s enough room for two on a weekend road trip. The top is easy to use, and Miatas get about 25 mpg combined. We highly recommend this car.


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The 2004 SSR is pricey and has truck-like styling with a rear tonneau cover making it a niche car that would fit better into a category of its own. The 2004 model is the last year it came with the 5.3 Liter 300 horsepower Vortec motor before switching to the 390 horsepower LS2 Corvette engine in 2005. Chevy’s fat-fendered head-turner tends to be owned by nostalgia stricken older men so finding an unmolested one in good shape should be no problem.


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Tied with the Chevrolet SSR for reliability and fun factor, the Mustang attracts both young and mature buyers, promising nostalgia for dads and hoonage for the youngsters – at least in V-8 versions. Engine options range from the 190 horsepower 3.8 L V-6 to the 260 horsepower, 302 cu. in. engine in the Cobra badged edition. 2004 is the last year of this body style and Ford has had ten years to perfect it, so anything other than dependable would be inexcusable.


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The Century is comfortable up front, a little tight in back, and nicely styled. But other than that, this is really not a stand out year for the car. This incarnation has been around since 1997, and it was announced in 2004 that it would be discontinued in 2005, to be replaced by the LaCrosse. Since it went unchanged, the same reliability should be found in the 2005 model as well. Try to buy from an original owner – many are former rental cars.


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A staple among law enforcement agencies and taxi cab companies across the nation, the Crown Vic has proven itself through some of the most tortuous driving conditions around. A used one will treat you well as long as it hasn’t worked in one of these jobs all its life. Avoid the service fleets: remember, it’s not just the miles, it’s the hours spent idling as well. Service cars always have more wear and tear than they show.


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With its harsh ride, the Honda S2000 is an acquired taste but worth it to those seeking performance. To extract maximum fun, you’ve gotta be willing to rev the engine to maximum rpm, and that means many used S2000’s have been wrung out on more than one occasion. Choose a low-mileage example from a mature owner or a certified-used S2000 that carries some protection from Honda. Avoid modified S2000s owned by people under 25 years of age.


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2004 marks the last year of the Infiniti I-Series in the U.S. Produced in limited numbers, the reason for dropping it is that it was replaced by the M-Series. Due to the smaller number of these vehicles a 2004 I35 may be a bit harder to come by, but well worth the hunt.



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