If you plan to live with a car for a long time, reliability means everything when you shop on the used market. Look for the vehicles people rate high in initial quality and later report as dependable once they have a few years and at least 20,000 miles on them. By then, you start to see whether an auto investment will pay off or whether you bought a lemon.
Another approach is seeing which cars rate the worst. There are some variables — including how you drive or how often you drive — that could lead to a well-built vehicle wearing down before its time. However, when a wide range of consumers give a car poor marks on reliability, you’re better off steering clear of them when buying used.
Consumer Reports did the auto shopper a big favor when it rounded up the poorest models of the past decade to be found on the secondhand market. Here are 30 of the worst used cars you will come across, listed by specific model year. They should be avoided at all costs.
1. Chrysler Town & Country
Most reviews suggest the redesigned Chrysler Pacifica is a great minivan to buy. However, since Consumer Reports recommends giving an all-new model a year or two to settle in, consumers might wait until 2018. According to the returns on the Town & Country, reliability has been very bad with Chrysler minivans in the past. Models from 2008 through 2012 rated much worse than average. That holds for Grand Caravan, which is the same vehicle with a Dodge badge and a few minor tweaks.
2. BMW X5
Prior to its 2014 redesign, BMW X5 had multiple reliability issues. Surveys found drivers grappling with faulty climate control, defective fuel systems, and issues surrounding engine parts. Consumer Reports recommends avoiding the 2011 and 2012 models completely, but reliability issues continued into the ’13 and ’14 model years.
3. Ford Fiesta
Overall, Ford had nine models show up among the worst for reliability, but its small cars had the worst performance of any Blue Oval segment. Ford Fiesta from model years 2011 to 2014 stood out in particular. Its primary issues centered on the transmission, body integrity, and audio system. Ford compacts scored far below average in Consumer Reports rankings at the start of the decade.
4. Ram 1500
Detroit’s 1500 pickup trucks scored well for the decade’s worth of results (2007—16) in Consumer Reports testing, but Ram showed a few weak spots. The 2014 and 2016 models got the “never buy” rating due to poor reliability scores. Heavy-duty models (2500) from 2012, 2014, and 2015 also rated poorly in the reliability department. Brake systems and power components were trouble areas in these trucks.
5. Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen’s most popular U.S. model has featured many reliability issues since 2010. In the 2014 through 2016 model years, issues with the audio system, interior finish, and power equipment (e.g., windows and cruise control) hurt its rating in Consumer Reports surveys. The ’10 Jetta featured many of the same problems along with a problematic climate system and other electrical components.
6. Cadillac Escalade
Between 2015 and 2016, Cadillac Escalade went from bad to much worse in reliability ratings. Owners had complaints about the transmission system, powertrain, body components, and paint/finish quality in ’15 models. Meanwhile, the ’16 edition improved upon some of them but failed in power equipment and audio system reliability. Consumer Reports says avoid both — as well as GMC Yukon and Yukon XL from the same period — at all costs.
7. Audi Q7
By 2015, Audi Q7 was going on a decade-long run without a full redesign. That changed for the following year, but the Q7 from the ’15 model year showed its age. Consumer Reports surveys showed problems in the brake system, audio components, and general body integrity. New models (2017 and later) showed remarkable improvements in these areas and won the Q7 top scores among midsize luxury SUVs.
8. Fiat 500
Fiat-Chrysler has 19 models listed as far below average in reliability by Consumer Reports in the last decade, so any used car shopper considering one should read up on them before buying, new or used. Fiat’s worst performer was the 500, which should be avoided for model years 2012, 2013, and 2015. The 2012 model in particular proved to be a disaster in body finish, brakes, suspension, and power equipment.
9. Tesla Model X
For all the love and praise lavished upon Model S, Consumer Reports took an almost instant dislike to the Model X electric SUV. Calling the 2016 edition “fast and flawed” in a headline, the agency’s testers called out weaknesses in the falcon-wing door design and general reliability. As it has with so many all-new models, Consumer Reports suggested avoiding the ’16 Model X on the used market and waiting for the automaker to work out the kinks.
10. Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD
Heavy-duty Chevy Silverado models for 2015 and 2016 scored much lower than average on reliability surveys. Trouble with the vehicle’s suspension, body integrity (including cabin noises and leaks), and power equipment rated among common complaints. Consumer Reports also pointed to 2011 and 2012 models as troubled vehicles — featuring problems with their fuel and brake systems — when it comes to reliability.
11. Mercedes GL
At Mercedes-Benz prices, you would not expect your car to be plagued with issues from the start. Unfortunately, GL utility models had so many problems between 2013 to 2015 they were lumped in with the least reliable of the bunch. Stick with the E-Class or S-Class if you are shopping for a used Benz, or choose one of the redesigned SUVs.
12. Jeep Grand Cherokee
Few auto brands come close to the bad reliability ratings across the board for Fiat Chrysler. While the company’s minivans had an extended stretch of poor marks, several Jeep models were right there with them. In the case of Grand Cherokee, the 2007 model year along with every model from 2011 to 2014 and 2016 were far below the average. If you must buy one, pick one of the years not listed here.
13. Mini Countryman
Between the standard Mini Cooper and the Countryman, the 21st century has been a terrible era for the BMW sub-brand. Countryman from model years 2007 through 2011, along with 2015, had some of the worst reliability ratings a car could have. Transmissions problems factored heavily here. In 2014, Consumer Reports named Mini the least reliable car brand on the U.S. market.
14. Dodge Charger
Used car buyers looking for quality will want to do their homework on any model coming from the Fiat Chrysler stable. In the 2017 ratings, Consumer Reports named 20 vehicles from these brands to avoid — many for multiple years. Dodge Charger got the thumbs-down for 2014 and 2015, while previous models did not get any recommendation, either. Reliability was far below average in more recent models, and recalls were the norm for 2011 and 2012 editions.
15. Ford F-250
Ford’s reliability issues were by no means limited to the brand’s small cars. The 2012 Expedition, 2016 Escape, and 2010 Taurus scored well below the average in Consumer Reports rankings over the years. Additionally, Ford’s world-beating F-Series line ran into a few snags in Super Duty (F-250) models from 2008, 2010, and 2014. Fuel system, transmission, powertrain, and brake troubles particularly plagued models from 2008 and 2010. They should be avoided on the used market.
16. Volkswagen GTI
Hot hatch shoppers might look at new-car prices and think used is the best call. That’s usually a good approach, but there are certain models of Volkswagen GTI you want to avoid. Specifically, GTIs from 2012 and 2013 rated much, much worse than the average car in reliability. Problems with engine cooling, GTI brakes, and suspension were noteworthy.
17. Nissan Pathfinder
Nissan sold over 150,000 Pathfinders in the U.S. between model years 2013 and 2014. This group ranks among the worst in reliability and should be avoided by used car shoppers. Pathfinders from 2013 alone racked up nine separate recalls ranging from brake issues to airbag failure. Meanwhile, 2014 models made the 10 worst list.
18. Chrysler PT Cruiser
Though a Chrysler PT Cruiser will turn off most used car shoppers on sight, there are as many unseen things to dislike about this model. Over the three years between 2006 to 2008, a PT Cruiser was a terrible choice if you wanted a reliable car. As a rule, Chrysler Group vehicles of the pre-recession era should be carefully inspected before you buy one.
19. BMW 5 Series
In total, six BMW models were called out for very poor reliability. The list includes BMW 5 Series vehicles manufactured for the 2008 and 2012 model years. In November 2016, 5 Series models from 2011 and 2012 were recalled for potential fuel leaks and stalling issues. Electrical systems and power equipment also figured prominently in low reliability scores.
20. Chevrolet Traverse
Chevrolet vehicles rating poor in reliability take up a full screen. A total of 15 models from the decade ending in 2016 had way below-average ratings from Consumer Reports. Chevy Traverse joined a few other Bowtie nameplates with a high of four editions you should avoid entirely when shopping used. Any Traverse from model years 2009 to 2011 and 2013 is suspect. Climate systems and suspension came up continually in the list of malfunctions.
21. Audi A4
After 2011, the Audi A4 showed steady improvement in reliability ratings, especially in the engine and electrical system. Prior to these upgrades, A4 was a troubled car. Consumer Reports called out the 2009 and 2010 editions as used cars to avoid, but ’07 and ’08 are right there with them. In the current decade, steer clear of the 2014 model.
22. Dodge Challenger
If you’re looking for a cool car, today’s Challenger is almost as appealing as cars from the classic era. However, you will have to sacrifice big on reliability if you choose a model from earlier this decade. According to Consumer Reports, Challengers from 2015 are among the least reliable cars around due to problems with body finish and power equipment. An earlier study pointed to the 2013 and 2014 model years as well.
23. Volkswagen Tiguan
Volkswagen had a tough run early in the decade when it came to making reliable cars. In the case of the VW Tiguan, the SUV flunked the test in 2011 and 2013. For those four model years, Tiguan was far below average for reliability due to engine problems, electrical work, and power equipment. The 2012 model was only marginally better.
24. GMC Acadia
Every GMC vehicle in existence turned up on the list of unreliable cars of the past decade. GMC Acadia SUVs from model years 2007 to 2014 took the dishonor of being worst of the bunch. Consumer Reports said to avoid all eight editions of this truck on the used car market. Major transmission problems, drivetrain issues, and climate system malfunctions plagued Acadia for most of the decade in question.
25. Mini Cooper
Used car shoppers should basically write off Mini Coopers from the past decade. Consumers Reports named every model between 2007 and 2011 (plus 2015) as way below average in reliability. You can take your pick when it comes to this car’s problems. The laundry list of recalls from the era includes turbocharger failure (2010), slipping clutch (2006 through 2013), exhaust rattle (2011-13), and a defective tailgate (2012).
26. Pontiac Torrent
The Pontiac brand was a casualty of GM’s bankruptcy and subsequent bailout, but before it got the axe it left some lemons behind for U.S. consumers. Exhibit A is Pontiac Torrent, the SUV that received terrible reliability ratings for model years 2006 to 2009. If you ask Consumer Reports testers, they’ll tell you to avoid it at all costs. Problems with the drivetrain, fuel system, and power equipment sealed Torrent’s fate.
27. Ford Focus
Ford Focus was the world’s best-selling car as recently as 2013, when it posted back-to-back wins. Following that era, the popular compact hit a wall in terms of reliability ratings. Consumer Reports recommends you pass on this car in model years 2012 through 2016 if you’re buying used. Transmission issues weighed heavily throughout that period.
28. Chevrolet Suburban
The Chevrolet Suburban had an especially bad run for reliability between 2014 and 2016. For all three years, the big SUV rated far below average compared to other vehicles in the class. Poor fit and finish issues plagued these models, as did problems with power windows and audio systems. At least three recalls hit the 2015 model. Earlier Suburbans to avoid include the 2007 and 2008 edition.
29. Dodge Journey
The Dodge brand alone had seven models rating way below average in reliability, but a few models stood out in this subpar pack. Journey, which was among the worst from model years 2009 and 2012 through 2015, got the lowest scores of all. If used car shoppers looked at new car reviews only, they might believe Journey was a good find. However, problems with the engine, suspension, and audio components turn up later.
30. Chevrolet Cruze
The redesigned Chevrolet Cruze upped the compact’s game, but the previous generation had a significant run as the most unreliable. Consumer Reports found models from 2011 to 2013 completely unacceptable on this front. Engine cooling, transmission, climate control, and general body integrity doomed these models. Overall, even Chevy Sonic scored better than Cruze over that stretch.
Source: Consumer Reports