The cars with the fewest and cheapest repairs

Toyota

Which brands of cars go to the repair shop the least often and have the lowest repair costs? Hyundai tops this year's rankings for the best combined score, as compiled by auto repair site CarMD.

Toyota (TM) finished second, and Honda (HMC) -- last year's winner -- came in third. Ford (F) ranked fourth, Chrysler (FCAU) fifth, Kia sixth and General Motors (GM) seventh. Mazda, Nissan (NSANY) and Volkswagen (VLKAY) rounded out the top 10.

CarMD gathers repair reports annually from its network of mechanics, and this survey covered work done to 251,000 vehicles of model years 1995 to 2015. This covered repairs of all problems that triggered the "check engine" light. CarMD also sells a $59.95 diagnostic device, which reads computer codes on your car and tells you the car's likely engine-related problem before you go to a mechanic.

"Car maintenance and repairs are a fact of life, but this data can be used in tandem with other tools and information to help car shoppers make informed decisions," CarMD CEO Ioen Chen says of the rankings.

In the ranking of the most reliable individual vehicles, the 2015 Toyota Corolla came in first, the 2013 Lexus ES second, the 2014 Toyota Prius third and the 2014 Toyota Avalon fourth. Thus, counting the Lexus, all of the top four were from Toyota. The 2014 Hyundai Sonata came in seventh.

Here are some other highlights of the report released today:

Repair costs: Among the top 10 auto makers, Ford had the lowest cost per visit to the repair shop at $309. Hyundai's average was $316. The average costs for Toyota ($412) and Honda ($409) were considerably higher.

Repair frequency: Hyundai owners can look forward to fewer visits to the repair shop than owners of any of its competitors' cars. Toyota and Honda also scored well in repair frequency and that elevated their rankings despite their higher cost per visit.

Detroit: Among Detroit-based companies, Ford moved up one spot this year to No. 4, and Chrysler moved up one to No. 5. But GM dropped three spots to No. 7, partly because of repair costs that came in higher than last year.

Hybrid and electric cars: In addition to the hybrid-electric Toyota Prius at third, three all-electric cars were among the top 100 vehicles for reliability. These were the 2013 and 2014 Ford C-Max and the 2014 Nissan Leaf.

Of course, this index -- like other rankings that survey car owners -- is only a broad indicator of average reliability and may not square with a vehicle you own or might buy in the future. But car owners and buyers always are in a stronger position if they rely on independent data rather than automakers' advertising claims.

  • Jerry Edgerton On Twitter»

    View all articles by Jerry Edgerton on CBS MoneyWatch»
    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.