Last Updated Jul 19, 2011 12:49 PM EDT
To help with that, MoneyWatch looked at owner surveys to see which cars look like trouble, focusing on five separate categories. We focused on 2008 models -- the year ranked in the latest dependability study from J.D. Power and Associates. Buying a 3-year-old used car also lets you shop after the biggest new-car depreciation already has taken place: Because used car prices have risen so sharply this year, 1- and 2-year-old used models can make worse financial sense than buying new.
To make our list of used-car rejects, a model had to get the minimum two out of five in the J.D. Power "circle ratings" for dependability. 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 recommendations for used cars to avoid -- plus some better ideas in the same categories. Volkswagen has two entries on our avoidance list.
Next up: Small car