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Check reliability ratings when buying a car

Two men working under an open car hood in a mechanic shop
nd3000/Getty Images
Two men working under an open car hood in a mechanic shop
nd3000/Getty Images
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Car reliability rankings are released by consumer publications and industry organizations every year. These rankings, which are based on detailed research and vehicle owner feedback, 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.

Most importantly, 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: the Consumer Reports annual auto reliability brand rankings and J.D. Power’s U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study.

Consumer Reports

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 manufacturer to be ranked at all, Consumer Reports must have survey data for two or more models.

The most recent ranking issued by Consumer Reports from February 2022 had Asian car makers at the head of 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 2022 Consumer Reports ranking are:

  1. Subaru
  2. Mazda
  3. BMW
  4. Honda
  5. Lexus

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. Domestic cars score lower at just 38.

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 if 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. Toyota
  5. Dodge

Don’t skip checking safety ratings

To get a complete picture of a car’s reliability and safety, 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 — the 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 and sedan

Midsize cars

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

Small SUVs

  • Buick Encore GX
  • Chevrolet Trailblazer
  • Ford Bronco Sport
  • Ford Escape
  • Honda CR-V

Midsize SUVs

  • Ford Edge
  • Ford Explorer
  • Ford Mustang Mach-E
  • Hyundai Palisade
  • Hyundai Santa Fe

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. Spend time investigating reliability rankings from reputable organizations in order to save yourself money and avoid needless repair-related headaches over the long run.

Learn more

Written by
Mia Taylor
Contributing Writer
Mia Taylor is a 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 Credit.com.
Edited by
Auto loans editor