consumer reports

MeghaneJune 17, 2005

My mom is looking into buying a late model used car. I told her to look at the Consumer Reports Used Car Buying Guide to get a general picture of the reliability of whatever she's looking into. Is there another unbiased source of information that you all recommend? My brother is a Ford mechanic, so we're covered on that front, but of course she's looking at the PT Cruiser convertible among other choices- none of them Fords.

Any advice?

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You could look at JD Power's reports on vehicle reliability.

Unbiased? I don't know. I would think that JD Power would try very hard to avoid any bias in their data--because that is their product. Any bias makes their data useless.

Keep in mind also that Consumer Reports only surveys their own readers; JD Power surveys "everyone".

Here is a link that might be useful: JD Power customer site

    Bookmark   June 17, 2005 at 5:06PM
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I have a subscription to Consumer Reports and I do respect the opinions they offer. But as Brianl703 said, their vehicle reliability ratings are based on surveys of their readers, not a representative sample of all owners of a particular make and model. That's not to say those ratings don't have some merit, but they're not the gospel that some people regard them as being.

Your best bet is probably to look at as many sources as you can find. Consumer Reports, J.D. Power, the auto magazines, etc. While the internet has a lot of valuable auto information, there are also a lot of "gripe" sites on which you will find complaints about every car on the road. I think if I had a Ford mechanic in the family, I'd definitely give Ford some serious consideration. No matter what car you buy, it's going to need service and repair at some point.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2005 at 1:12AM
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JD Power would have a lot more worth if they would carefully interview owners of the 7 to 10 year olds. By carefully I mean intelligent questions from automotive experts, ie, water pump life and repair cost, and the mileage considered, of course.
Another is the transmission; same with this.
This is no easy task, people are not good at record keeping, nor remembering details...
We have two Saabs and a Honda, total mileage over 400K- while ,IMO, the Honda is better in some aspects, I'd say it is more of a three way tie ; but this may change in another year...

And being "better" is reflected in the resale value...
For fun, the Cruiser convertible would score high, but low for economy..
Fun and sporty do cost..
Cars in general are pretty much the same, the brother should be able to service anything, of course, a Ford would be easier, and less expensive....

    Bookmark   June 18, 2005 at 10:23AM
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You have a Ford mechanic in the family, IMO she should be asking him how comfortable he is working on "foreign" cars if she wants him to be able to service what she buys. Personally I'd stay away from the PT Cruiser. They are very inconvienent to do any major servicing, and thats for the techs that are familliar with them. For a tech that as a rule does not see one, and very likely does not have a DRBIII scan tool to work with one it would be a major headache.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2005 at 10:48AM
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John, what is DRBIII ?

A 3rd generation OBD system ??
My '96 and I guess that the '97 use OBD II(on board diagnostics) .. I'd say the OBD is becoming old, hopefully the newer ones are more versitile...

    Bookmark   June 19, 2005 at 1:32PM
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On the PT Cruiser, there are plenty of forums where you can ask what problems if any they have. Probably on any other car you'd consider. I don't think I'd exclude any vehicle because something might break in 10 years that would be a PITA to fix at that point. If there are known problems that of coarse would be different. If that were the criteria I wouldn't own a car built past 1980 myself.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2005 at 1:56PM
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The one time we ignored the "used cars to avoid" list on CR, we paid dearly for it. We now use it, not as the bible, but as a good reference for purchasing new and used autos.

Of course, our most impt. criteria is reliability, which leaves out most German and American brands, which is just fine with us. The several German cars we owned in the past were nothing but trouble (other than my 1969 VW bug), but our Japanese brands (have had 6 so far) have been trouble free and great to drive. Most recently, a new Lexus ES 330. We thought of looking at the Mercedes C Class and the Beamers, but both are having trouble right now.

Hey, even if I had a relative that could work on and knew a particular brand, I would still not go asking for trouble by buying something with a bad reputation re reliability or durability. Besides, what good is a car if you cannot drive it 100% of the time, excluding routine maintenance?


    Bookmark   June 19, 2005 at 2:20PM
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I've owned Toyotas, Nissans, Mitsubishis, VWs, Audis, a Subaru and a GMC...I've yet to find a car or truck that I can "drive 100% of the time, excluding routine maintenance"...

    Bookmark   June 19, 2005 at 3:12PM
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It also depends on what you define as "routine maintenance".

    Bookmark   June 19, 2005 at 11:12PM
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I've bought several vehicles that Consumer Reports has "blacklisted," and never had bad luck with any of them.

If you are buying a new vehicle, I think it's fine to go with the CR ratings. You will probably unnecessarily avoid some good vehicles that CR downrates because they do not have a good sample of them, but the vehicles they rate as being good are probably pretty good on the whole.

But if you are buying used, the vehicles that are highly rated by CR and other sources tend to be priced very high, and may not represent a very good value. Paying $10,000 or more for a six year old Camry or Accord with 80,000 miles on it is risky. Not all of those cars are trouble-free when they get old, and their condition at 80,000 miles has a lot more to do with how it's been taken care of than who made it. Rather than spending $10,000 on a vehicle which has no warranty and on which the useful life is more than half gone, it'd be a smarter purchase in my opinion to buy a new vehicle on which many incentives are offered, so you only pay a few thousand more yet get a vehicle with zero miles and a full warranty.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2005 at 11:47PM
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Don't forget the engine sludge problem that Toyota had with some of their engines when the optomistic 7500-mile oil change intervals were followed..

    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 1:50AM
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CR Good Bets

These are the best of both worlds: vehicles that have performed well in Consumer Reports road tests over the years and have proved to have several or more years of better-than-average overall reliability. They are listed alphabetically.

Acura Integra
Acura MDX
Acura RL
Acura RSX
Acura TL
Buick Regal
Chevrolet/Geo Prizm
Chrysler PT Cruiser
Ford Crown Victoria
Ford Escort, ZX2
Honda Accord
Honda Civic
Honda CR-V
Honda Odyssey
Honda Prelude
Honda S2000
Infiniti G20
Infiniti I30, I35
Infiniti Q45

Infiniti QX4
Lexus ES300, ES330
Lexus GS300/ GS400,
Lexus IS300
Lexus LS400, LS430
Lexus RX300, RX330
Lincoln Town Car
Mazda 626
Mazda Millenia
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Mazda Protegé
Mercury Grand Marquis
Mercury Tracer
Mitsubishi Galant
Nissan Altima
Nissan Maxima
Nissan Pathfinder

Subaru Forester
Subaru Impreza
Subaru Legacy
Subaru Outback
Toyota 4Runner
Toyota Avalon
Toyota Camry
Toyota Camry Solara
Toyota Celica
Toyota Corolla
Toyota Echo
Toyota Highlander
Toyota Land Cruiser
Toyota Prius
Toyota RAV4
Toyota Sequoia
Toyota Sienna
Toyota Tundra

    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 8:16AM
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CR Bad Bets

Be especially careful when considering these models. They have shown several years of much-worse-than-average overall reliability in their 1997 to 2004 models. They are listed alphabetically.
Audi A6
BMW 7 Series
Chevrolet Astro
Chevrolet Blazer
Chevrolet Express1500
Chevrolet S-10 (4WD)
Chevrolet TrailBlazer
Chrysler Town & Country (AWD)
Dodge Dakota (4WD)
Dodge Grand Caravan (AWD)
Ford Windstar
GMC Envoy
GMC Jimmy
GMC Safari
GMC Savana 1500
GMC Sonoma (4WD)
Jaguar S-Type
Jaguar X-Type
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Land Rover Discovery
Lincoln Navigator
Mercedes-Benz C-Class (V6)
Mercedes-Benz CLK
Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Oldsmobile Bravada
Oldsmobile Cutlass
Plymouth Neon
Pontiac Aztek
Saturn Vue
Volkswagen Golf
Volkswagen Jetta
New Beetle
Volvo S80

About these lists
The lists are compiled from overall reliability data covering 1997-2004 models. CR Good Bets and CR Bad Bets include only the models for which we have sufficient data for at least three model years. Models that were new in 2003 or 2004 do not appear. Problems with the engine, engine cooling, transmission, and drive system were weighted more heavily than other problems. The abbreviations 2WD, 4WD, and AWD stand for two-, four-, and all-wheel drive, respectively.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 8:18AM
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A DRBIII is Chryslers current factory scan tool, which BTW is being superceeded by the STAR SCAN for their CAN (Controlled area network) cars. A DRBIII costs $7,000 because they insist the shop buy 3 years of updates with the initial purchase.

The code reader mentioned in one of the other responses is only that, a generic code reader and is actually usefull for only about 10% of a cars systems, and then only gets codes, no serial data, no bi-directional controls, no reflash capabilities ect.ect.

A Ford dealer tech probably uses the dealers scan tool, and only if he is a top gun has his own, and then it's likely to be Ford/Lincoln/Mercury only. Which is fine because that is what he chooses to service.

For an independent like me I have to buy as many of the factory tools as I can find a way to afford, fully knowing some of them may never pay for themselves. Currently I'm approaching 30K spent!! :( and I'm barely scratching the surface for my needs next year.....

    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 8:36AM
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Practically every vehicle I've owned has come from the "CR Bad Bets" list, and they've all been reliable and, more important, long lasting.

FYI, Consumer Reports does not want its ratings and other data quoted withot permission.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 11:37AM
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For the past 20+ years, we have bought low mileage, Certified used cars from dealers (by low, I mean Since these were safety items, I went back to the manager at Pontiac, indicating to him that while I fully realized that a car with 125K on it would not be perfect and would need some upkeep, that I was concerned about the safety iss, so I asked if they would take care of this, which they promptly did. He later indicated to me that "we would not normally do this for such an old car, but did for you, since you were so reasonable to deal with and not accusatory in any way." Of course, CA is pretty strict about safety items on used cars, but may not have been at that time. I bought the car as a run around town fun car, just to get to grad school and back (was returning for my MA after many years in the workforce.) I loved that car and ended up keeping it for 3 years, with only routine maintanance, and a couple of clutch replacments. After that, I traded it in for a newer Rx-7, which was also a terrific car. After that, I bought my first automatic, a Honda accord 2-door coupe and have never gone back to stick shift, as our traffic is so bad here in CA, that the stop and go was driving me nuts.


    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 12:06PM
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Mazda RX-7 with the rotary engine?

Wow..common consensus is that the engines on those are in need of a rebuild at anywhere between 40K and 60K due to worn apex seals resulting in excessive oil burning.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 7:28PM
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Never had any probs w the Mazda roters, though they say there were some serious problems with some of the models that preceeded ours. From what I read and was told, the models we had (according to "experts" and CR) and good repair and durability. All we ever did was routine scheduled maintenance and the occasional clutch replacment.

I sold my first used bought Rx7 when it had 170K miles on it and still ran great. Bought another and ran it up to 130K miles before switching to a Honda Accord automatic, to get away from having to downshift all the time. The Honda was the very first automatic I had owned, and after that, I never bought another stick. Must be an age thing...

    Bookmark   June 28, 2005 at 12:28PM
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Well, Mom decided on a brand-spankin new PT Cruiser convertible. She hasn't had a new car since her 1967 VW Bug, so she deserves it. It will be cobalt blue.

Thanks for all the help!

    Bookmark   July 12, 2005 at 6:37PM
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First time back on line in a long while. Finally bought a new computer (Sony Vaio) Hopefully I didn't miss too much!

I don't particularly pay too much attention to CR, although sometimes I find myself browsing through their magazines while shopping around at the store just out of curiosity. Their good and bad bets are pretty much the same as they were in previous years. I find and to be more valuable.

I have a 1996 Honda Accord with the 4-cylinder, 223,000 miles and just keeps on trucking. I've had to service it as I would with any other car, but it's never given me any unexpected problems on the road or failed to start one morning. The engine still retains most of it's original major components (such as the alternator, AC compressor, starter, PS pump, master cylinder, etc.) which is truly amazing in my opinion. I am a strong believer in preventive maintenance and upkeep, and I'm sure that has had something to do with my car's reliability... but I've definitely only had to do the very basics to keep it so.

Also have a 2001 Pontiac Trans Am, which CR listed as unreliable. Currently have 56,000 miles and haven't done squat to it except change the oil/filters, brakes, tires and light bulbs. Absolutely nothing else.

Had a pretty good experience with a 97 Mercury Cougar also(V8 model) The transmission and intake manifold were the only weak links in this otherwise solid car...but my transmission and manifold had already been replaced before I bought the car used with 90,000 miles. Sold it with a little over 150,000 miles.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2005 at 10:03PM
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