Last Updated Jul 19, 2011 11:49 AM EDT
Used car shopping used to be a scary maze of breakdown-prone models, but reliability has gained sharply. Auto manufacturing quality and dependability studies have shown steady gains this decade. But exceptions do exist and if you're in the market for a used car, you want to steer clear of them.
So CBS MoneyWatch.com has compiled a list of used cars to avoid in five categories, focusing on 2007 models-the year from the latest J.D. Power and Associates dependability study. Buying a three-year-old car also lets you shop after the bulk of depreciation has taken place. If you're considering a more recent model used car, study the comparisons in Flash: New Cars Cost Less than Used Cars which take into account new car financing deals vs. one-year old certified used cars.
To make our list of used-car rejects, a model had to score the minimum two out of five in the J.D. Power "circle ratings" for dependability--a below-average ranking. It also had to be ranked below average as a used car by Consumer Reports in its annual April car issue and online car rankings.
Here are our used cars to avoid, by category, plus better used car alternatives:
Small Used Car to Avoid: Volkswagen New Beetle. Sure, it's adorable, but the 2007 New Beetle is also trouble-prone. Owners who responded to the Consumer Reports reliability survey reported problems with the fuel and electrical systems, the suspension, brakes, power windows, and other power equipment. The convertible model sells on dealers' lots for $17,055, according to Kelley Blue Book at kbb.com.
Small Used Car Alternative: Ford Focus. It may not be as stylish as the Beetle, but it's a lot more reliable. In fact, the Focus got the J.D. Power award as most reliable compact car. Owners of the 2007 Focus who responded to Consumer Reports reported no major trouble spots. And it's much cheaper than the Beetle. The Kelley Blue Book dealer price is $10,905.
Mid-Size Used Car to Avoid: Chrysler Sebring. The 2007 Sebring sedan not only got just two circles from J.D. Power, Consumer Reports reported a laundry list of problems: engine cooling, minor transmission problems, the drive system, suspension, brakes and more. The low $12,365 dealer price isn't worth it.
Mid-Size Used Car Alternative: Buick LaCrosse. Winner of the J.D. Power dependability award in this category, the 2007 LaCrosse got an above-average used-car rating from Consumer Reports. It's a good value at a dealer price for the CX version at $14,430.
Small Used SUV to Avoid: Jeep Wrangler. King of the off-road, the 2007 Wrangler can climb over almost any obstacle except a reliability test. Owners of the two-door version responding to Consumer Reports reported major transmission problems and issues with the electrical system and brakes. And it's selling on dealer lots at a relatively expensive $19,850.
Small Used SUV Alternative: Honda CR-V. A lot less noticeable than a Wrangler, the Honda CR-V is a lot less trouble, too. It won the J.D. Power dependability award in this category and is rated by Consumer Reports as a well-above-average used car prospect. As a used-car buyer, you are on the wrong side of Honda models' strong ability to hold their value. But at a dealer price of $20,980, the four-wheel-drive version of the CR-V is still a decent value.
Mid-Size SUV to Avoid: GMC Acadia. The 2007 Acadia is a good example of the time-honored rule to avoid buying the first year of a model. It not only got a below-average two circles from J.D. Power, it received a much-worse-than-average used car rating from Consumer Reports. CR readers who owned the 2007 reported problems with the drive system, suspension, body integrity and power equipment. In addition, the all-wheel-drive version on dealers' lots is priced at an expensive $28,435, according to Kelly Blue Book.
Mid-Size SUV Alternative-Honda Pilot. One of a handful of mid-size SUVs to get four circles from J.D. Power, the Pilot is rated well-above-average by Consumer Reports. (Its corporate stablemate, the Accord Crosstour, actually won the J.D. Power award. But many reviewers find its modified-sedan style not big enough to provide true SUV cargo or passenger room.) The Pilot is selling for $23,395-some $5,000 less than the GMC Acadia.
Used Minivan to Avoid: Nissan Quest. Never a strong contender in this category, the Quest gets a below-average used car rating from Consumer Reports and two circles from Power. Owners of the 2007 reported problems with the fuel and climate system, brakes and body integrity. The Quest is selling at $17,395.
Used Minivan alternative: Toyota Sienna. This van gets four J.D. Power circles and an above-average CR used car rating. Not part of the Toyota sudden-acceleration recall, the Sienna is selling at a dealers' price of $20,280 for the CE trim level.
Photos courtesy of the manufacturers
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