Last Updated Mar 18, 2010 2:31 PM EDT
Start your comparison shopping by turning to the 2010 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, released today. It's a guide to three-year-old vehicles that have been the most free of trouble. Power researchers assembled data from 52,000 owners who bought 2007 models to see which ones experienced the fewest problems. Its top five brands for reliability are Porsche, Lincoln, Buick, Lexus and Mercury. For the first time in a decade, a domestic model-GM's Cadillac DTS-has the fewest reported problems of all.
Toyota is number six for reliability-and has four models topping their categories. But with safety issues involving 2007 models still unresolved, MoneyWatch can't put them on our recommended list. However, if you are a Toyota enthusiast, you may be able to get a great deal. Edmunds.com found some used Toyota prices down 4.5 percent since early this year--before the widespread publicity about the sudden acceleration problems and the subsequent recalls.
Consider especially the five models below that topped their categories in the Power report. Keep in mind that prices are for used cars sold by dealers-the likely source of cars in the best condition. Buying from a private seller could cost you less, but you'll also be less certain about the car's condition. Either way: Never buy without getting a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) report from a service like Carfax (single report for $35, five for $45) or AutoCheck ( Single report for $25, unlimited for $45). These reports trace all previous owners and will tell you if the vehicle has been in an accident or a flood.
J.D Power's Dependability picks:
Small Cars: Honda Fit. It sports a a roomy interior and gets 27 mpg in city driving, 35 mpg on the highway. The 2007 Fit sells for $13,000 to $14,450.
Midsize Sporty Cars: Chevrolet Monte Carlo. This coupe ranges from the $11,100 V6 (19 mpg city, 28 highway) to $16,200 for the SS version with a V8 (16 city, 24 highway).
Midsize Sedans: Buick LaCrosse. It's a comfortable if unexciting family sedan. The 2007 sells for $13,500 to $16,250. Its V6 engine is rated at 17 mpg city, 27 highway.
Midsize Luxury Cars: Audi A6. (pictured below) The 2007's price is steep at $25,500 to $30,300. But this stylish, roomy sedan includes Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive and decent 18 mpg city, 27 highway mileage with its V6 engine. With the V8, the rating is 16 city, 23 highway.
Small Crossover SUVs: Honda CR-V. A perennial popular favorite that holds its value well, the 2007 CR-V sells for $18,900 to $23,000 for the best-equipped model with four-wheel drive and a four-cylinder engine. Pretty good mpg for an SUV: 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway.
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