9 most reliable cars

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Whether you’re shopping for a new car or a used one, reliability is a top priority for many. Newer cars tend to last longer than used ones, but there are variations among models even for the same model year.

If you’re looking for good, reliable cars, it’s important to do some research before you buy. But what is a reliable car? Typically, it’s one that holds up well over time and comes with lower odds of having issues or needing repair. The cars with the least problems may not be the cheapest, but you may be able to get more bang for your buck if you’re planning on keeping your next vehicle for several years.

The average cost of car maintenance

Regardless of which model you choose to buy, maintenance is key to maximizing the reliability of your vehicle. If you don’t keep up with the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule, your car or truck may not last as long as it should.

The average cost to maintain a vehicle depends on the make and model. Mobile vehicle repair company YourMechanic shows the Chrysler Sebring as the most expensive car to maintain at $17,100 over 10 years, or $1,710 annually. In contrast, the Toyota Prius costs just $4,300 over that same time, which breaks down to $430 each year.

It’s important to note, however, that new cars won’t need too much maintenance outside of the basics, such as oil changes and tire rotation. As a vehicle gets older, though, you can expect to pay more to keep it running smoothly.

Understanding cost to own

It’s common for car buyers to focus on the sales price when deciding whether they’re getting a good deal. But the cost of owning a car goes far beyond that upfront cost. Along with maintenance, there are several other factors that go into the cost to own a car over time.

Those elements include:

  • Finance charges, including interest and fees.
  • Taxes and fees.
  • Repairs.
  • Car insurance.
  • Fuel.
  • Registration fees.

Many industry experts make it possible to compare vehicles by showing how much they cost over five years. The most reliable cars typically have a lower cost because they don’t require as much maintenance and repairs.

Kelley Blue Book provides data about vehicle values and the five-year cost to own specific models. Use it or a calculator from another company in the industry to get an idea of how reliable a car is.

Most reliable cars of 2021

It can take hours to research each make and model to find good, reliable cars. But fortunately, industry experts have done a lot of the work for you.

J.D. Power breaks down the most reliable models in its 2020 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study based on 177 specific problems that can plague vehicle owners. Here are nine cars for your consideration with the fewest problems.

1. Nissan Leaf (Top-rated compact car)

The only fully electric car on the list, the Nissan Leaf isn’t as flashy as a Tesla or luxury electric vehicles (EVs), but it’s also cheaper, making it a decent option if you’re on a budget. You may want to consider upgrading to a 62.0-kWh battery pack, which gives you an estimated 226 miles of driving on a full charge. If you stick with the basic 40.0-kWh battery, you’ll get just 149 miles.

2. Volkswagen Passat (Top-rated midsize car)

Technically, the Buick Regal won the crown for the most dependable midsize car, but Buick discontinued the model after the 2020 model year. In second place, the Volkswagen Passat offers a lot of trunk space and a smooth driving experience. But compared with other models in its class, fuel economy estimates are subpar.

3. Toyota Avalon (Top-rated large car)

Both the exterior and interior are sleek on this model, and you’ll get a comfortable and powerful ride with its V-6 engine. The Avalon is also one of the few vehicles in its class to offer all-wheel drive, though that feature is only available on the four-cylinder version. And if you want better fuel efficiency, you could consider a hybrid model.

4. Chevrolet Equinox (Top-rated compact SUV)

Despite its size, the Equinox is roomy on the inside. But beyond reliability, it’s not among the best in other areas compared with the competition. Also, there are no new major changes to the 2021 model, so it may not make sense to pay a premium for the latest model.

5. Toyota 4Runner (Top-rated midsize SUV)

While the 4Runner stands out in the crowd on reliability, reviews aren’t great for other aspects of the model. The vehicle’s design hasn’t been updated in years, its fuel economy is poor and the handling and ride may leave you wanting more. That said, its towing and off-road capabilities can still make it a solid choice for rugged outdoor enthusiasts.

6. Chevrolet Tahoe (Top-rated large SUV)

The Tahoe not only ranks as best for reliability in its class but also excels across the board. The new 2021 model has been fully redesigned, creating a huge interior space, including cargo. The handling is also impressive, considering the model’s size.

7. Toyota Sienna (Top-rate minivan)

The Sienna comes with excellent fuel economy for its class, thanks to its fully redesigned hybrid engine. It also provides a roomy, upscale interior. However, some experts complain that it offers less cargo space than other minivans, and the engine power may leave some disappointed, especially when passing on the highway.

8. Nissan Frontier (Top-rated midsize pickup)

The Frontier excels in reliability and its handling, but it ranks among the bottom in its class overall. Even with several updates for the 2021 model, the towing and hauling capacity is less impressive than its rivals, its interior technology is subpar and its driver assistance features are almost nonexistent.

9. Ford F-150 (Top-rated large light-duty pickup)

The Ford F-Series traces its roots back to the 1940s, giving the manufacturer plenty of time to perfect it. As a result, the F-150 is among the best in its class overall, not just in reliability. Its towing and hauling capabilities are unmatched, it has a powerful engine and the handling is smooth. What’s more, car buyers can expect a completely redesigned model in 2021. The only complaint among experts is that it’s not as comfortable as the Ram 1500.

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Written by
Ben Luthi
Contributing writer
Ben Luthi is a personal finance and travel writer who loves helping people learn how to live life more fully. His work has appeared in several publications, including U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, Yahoo! Finance and more.
Edited by
Student loans editor