With the average new car losing 47 percent of its value in the first three years of ownership, buying a used car can be the best way for consumers to get the most vehicle for their money, according to Consumer Reports' Annual Auto issue.
CR found 11 2008 models with about the same or even fewer problems than similar 2010 models in the same class. Some of the most reliable 2008 models included the Honda CR-V and Fit, making them good overall choices.
Some models have an alarming problem rate even when they're still fairly new. More than one in four owners of the 2009 four-cylinder Toyota Tacoma pickup reported a problem with the radio in the 12 months covered by the survey. For now, it's being replaced free under Toyota's basic warranty, which expires after three years or 36,000 miles.
The survey also found that 5-year-old models can be good bets for used-car buyers, although problem rates, on average, are worse than rates of 3- or 4-year-old cars. While three-quarters of the 3-year-old vehicles in CR's survey were problem-free, so were two-thirds of the 5-year-olds. The most problem-free 5-year-old model was the 2006 Toyota Highlander V6, which had 19 problems per 100 vehicles.
CR's survey also found that cars older than five years are not so trouble-free. Only half of the 9- and 10-year-old vehicles had gone 12 months without a reported problem.
CR's other findings include:
* Overall, Japanese cars are the most trouble-free, with Honda and Toyota far ahead among older vehicles, especially 2006 (5 years old) and earlier models.
* By age 3, Volvo and Subaru score just behind Toyota and Honda, followed by Nissan, Hyundai and Ford. But the average GM or Chrysler model had twice the problem rate of a Toyota or Honda.
* Hyundai models from about 2004 and earlier were trouble-prone, but those from 2006 onward have held up well.
* Ford vehicles remain the most trouble-free among the three Detroit carmakers.
* In recent years Volvo has been the most reliable European nameplate, on par with Ford. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen have fared worse.
Buying used is an affordable way to get key safety and comfort features at a far better price. To help consumers navigate the vast options in used cars, CR has compiled a Best of the Best list to guide consumers to the 2001 to 2010 models that scored well in road tests when new and have been consistently reliable.
* Best Used Small Car: Honda Fit
* Best Used Family Car: Toyota Prius
* Best Used Upscale Car: Lexus ES
* Best Used Luxury Car: Acura RL
* Best Used Sport & Sporty Car: Mazda MX-5 Miata
* Best Used Minivan: Toyota Sienna
* Best Used Small SUV: Honda CR-V
* Best Used Midsized & Large SUV: Toyota Highlander
* Best Used Pickup Truck: Honda Ridgeline
In its Worst of the Worst list, CR identified models that have had multiple years of reliability that are much worse than average among 2001 to 2010 models. The list includes the Chrysler Town & Country, the Hummer H3, the Saturn Relay, the Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible, the BMW X5 and the Kia Sedona.
By the editors of Consumer Reports at www.consumerreports.org.