Report: Which cars cost least to repair?

CarMD diagnostic tool Getty Images

Despite its continuing recall woes, Toyota has taken the top spot in a ranking of cars by repair cost.


The report, released Monday, shows which companies' cars have both the fewest and the least expensive repairs. Hyundai, whose U.S. sales have surged this year, finished second in the rankings, published by auto diagnostic and repair website CarMD, which collects repair data from its network of 3,000 U.S. mechanics. Rounding out the top 5 were  Honda, Ford and General Motors -- followed by Mitsubishi, Nissan, Kia, Volkswagen and Chrysler.

The report covers a wide range of model years, from 2001 to 2011, but focuses on repairs made only in the most recent year ending Oct. 1. While ranking individual car models, the CarMD Vehicle Health Index also grades manufacturers on a combination of all their brands. For example, the Toyota ranking includes Lexus and Scion cars, while General Motors includes Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC.

Based on data from mechanics, the CarMD report differs from car-owner surveys, such as the Consumer Reports reliability survey. The CarMD index ranks individual car models as well as manufacturers, combining both frequency of repairs and repair cost for an overall rating.

The top-ranked model, the 2009 Toyota Corolla, had not only infrequent trips to the shop but an average repair cost of just $45.84. (Repairs picked up by this system cover everything with a check-engine light sensor, including engine, transmission and pollution control devices. Only items like belts and tires are not included.)

Here are some other findings  from the CarMD study:

  • Luxury brands generally fared worse because of repair frequency, not high costs. Lexus, for instance, rated more poorly than corporate stablemate Toyota. This conflicts with high owner ratings for Lexus in surveys like that from J.D. Power and Associates. The Mercedes-Benz parent company and BMW ranked below the top 10 in this report, though CarMD did not give ranking details beyond the top 10.
  • Hyundai has made great strides in low repair frequency. The company originally launched its 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty to reassure potential buyers. But Hyundai's rating was boosted by strong performances from recent models of the Elantra and the 2011 Sonata, which ranked sixth among all models.
  • Ford got an especially strong performance from its Edge crossover SUV, which had three different model years ranked among the top 100 vehicles. But Ford's Windstar minivan, discontinued in 2003 but still going to repair shops, hurt its ranking.
  • Among General Motors brands, Buick was a standout. If Buick had been ranked individually instead of wrapped into GM, it would have topped the list. Its Lucerne model had three different years in the top 100 cars.


As part of its Vehicle Health Index package, CarMD also cites which repair problems occur most frequently for individual car brands. If you want to check your car, go to this CarMD page and put in the make and year.

CarMD is a service aimed at letting car owners know what is wrong with their car and what it should cost to fix the problem. Its $119 CarMD device plugs into the diagnostic system on your car to discover the problem; users can then feed that data into their website to identify the problem and the likely repair cost, based on data the company collects regularly from mechanics at both dealer service departments and independent shops. Its database since 1996 includes about 500,000 repair reports.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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