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Check reliability ratings when buying a car

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Each year, car reliability rankings are released by consumer publications and industry organizations. These rankings, which are typically based on detailed research and vehicle owner feedback about vehicle performance, provide a strong indicator of how much money you’re likely to spend on repairs — a key factor in determining what your overall ownership costs will be. 

Whether you’re searching for a new or used vehicle, car reliability ratings can help you sort through the purchase options and make a more informed buying decision.  

Current reliability ratings 

There are two main reliability reports in the auto industry that consumers can look to for insights — the Consumer Reports annual auto reliability brand rankings and J.D. Power’s U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study.  

Consumer Reports ranking 

The Consumer Reports annual auto reliability brand ranking is designed to show how well vehicles hold up over time, while also providing information about the odds that an owner may be impacted by problems or required repairs. 

The yearly ranking includes a predicted reliability score for each vehicle, which is calculated on a scale from zero to 100 points. The average vehicle rating in the annual report generally falls between 41 and 60 points. For a brand to be ranked at all, Consumer Reports must have survey data for two or more brand models. 

In the most recent ranking issued by Consumer Reports, released in November 2021, Asian car makers lead the pack by a significant margin. Asian cars have an overall reliability average of 62, while vehicles from European makers land in a distant second place with an overall reliability average of 44. Domestic car brands finish in last place with an average score of 42. 

The top five most reliable brands in the 2021 Consumer Reports ranking are: 

  1. Lexus 
  2. Mazda 
  3. Toyota 
  4. Infiniti 
  5. Buick 

When ranked by car type alone — cars versus SUVs, versus pickups and minivans — cars are found to be the most reliable overall. They have an average reliability score of 57. SUVs come in second place with an average score of 50. Pickups and minivans tie for last place, both with an average score of 43. 

However, when it comes to domestic vehicles, the rankings show SUVs and pickups are more reliable, scoring 45 and 41, respectively. While domestic cars score lower at just 38. 

Some of the top-ranked domestic vehicles in the 2021 Consumer Reports ranking include Buick Envision, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD, GMC Sierra 2500HD, Chrysler 300, Ford Bronco Sport, Mustang Mach-E and Ranger. 

J.D. Power  

Now in its 33rd year, J.D. Power’s 2022 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study measures problems experienced by original owners of three-year-old vehicles. The evaluation covers problem symptoms in an extensive list of categories including: 

  • Exterior 
  • Driving experience 
  • Features, controls and displays (FCD) 
  • Driving assistance 
  • Infotainment 
  • Seats 
  • Climate 
  • Interior 
  • Powertrain 

The J.D. Power study was recently redesigned to encompass all of the features and technology that have become available in modern vehicles. It now covers a few new problem areas and provides new insight into customer expectations regarding deterioration, vehicle appeal and software updates. 

The resigned J.D. Power’s survey also measures whether customers are satisfied with how their vehicles withstood the test of time in terms of deterioration and appeal. Additionally, it looks at how a vehicle’s technology features are performing three years after purchase. 

The published report provides a vehicle dependability score that’s based on the number of problems reported per 100 vehicles — or PP100. Based on this measurement system, the five most reliable car brands in the 2022 report are: 

  1. Kia 
  2. Buick 
  3. Hyundai  
  4. Genesis 
  5. Toyota 

Don’t skip checking safety ratings 

To get a complete picture of a car’s reliability and safety it’s also a good idea to check out the vehicle safety rankings published annually by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an independent, nonprofit scientific and education organization. The IIHS’s mission is to reduce deaths, injuries and property damage caused by car crashes. As part of that effort, it conducts and publishes research on vehicle safety.  

Each year the organization announces its Top Safety Pick, which are vehicles that perform best in evaluations. The Top Safety Pick has been issued since the 2006 model year. The IIHS has also been publishing Top Safety Pick+ awards since 2013. Both awards aim to identify the best vehicle choices annually for safety within various size categories including small, midsize, midsize luxury, large, large luxury, small SUVs, midsize SUVs, midsize luxury SUVs, large SUVs, minivans and small and large pickup trucks. 

Some of the vehicles that receive either a Top Safety Pick+ or Top Safety Pick award in 2022 include: 

Small cars 

  • Honda Civic hatchback and sedan 
  • Honda Insight sedan 
  • Hyundai Elantra sedan 
  • Kia Soul wagon 
  • Mazda 3 hatchback 

Midsize cars 

  • Honda Accord sedan 
  • Hyundai Sonata sedan 
  • Kia K5 sedan 
  • Nissan Altima sedan 
  • Nissan Maxima sedan 

The bottom line 

Buying a car is a significant expense — both upfront and during the subsequent years of ownership. Doing your research before making such a purchase is an important step. Before you begin car shopping, spend time investigating reliability rankings from reputable organizations in order to save yourself money and avoid needless repair-related headaches over the long run.  

Written by
Mia Taylor
Former Contributing Writer
Mia Taylor is a former contributor to Bankrate and an award-winning journalist who has two decades of experience and worked as a staff reporter or contributor for some of the nation's leading newspapers and websites including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Diego Union-Tribune, TheStreet, MSN and
Edited by
Auto loans editor