Ten Reliable Used Cars That You Should Actually Buy

Here are 10 recommended models with an emphasis on reliability, which is many buyers’ number one consideration. Some of our picks might surprise you.

It’s the kind of news that can keep you up at night: the average transaction price of a new-car purchase in Canada was $38,374 last year, according to industry watcher Dennis DesRosiers. That’s a big wad of cash, but most people finance or lease their new vehicle, so there’s interest costs on top of that, too. You could have bought a very nice bungalow for that sum in the 1970s.

If carrying house-sized debt is not your forte, you should know that buying a used car or truck is not quite the gamble it used to be. Automobiles are better made these days – rust is hardly an issue in the first 10 years of ownership – and they’re expected to run to at least 300,000 kilometres before they’re dragged, or more likely driven, to the junkyard.

Plenty of consumers can scrimp and save about $10,000 to spend on a solid used car or truck. What you can buy is a six- or seven-year-old vehicle with lots of life left in its bones. Here are 10 recommended models with an emphasis on reliability, which is many buyers’ number one consideration. Some of our picks might surprise you.

2009-11 Mazda6

The Mazda6 is a worthy rival to the class-leading Toyota Camry and Honda Accord sedans, so why it doesn’t sell in bigger numbers remains a mystery at least as big as New Mexico’s Area 51. This vintage of the 6 was assembled at Ford’s Flat Rock, Michigan, plant by UAW members, making it one of the very few union-made Japanese cars.

Beyond its odd pedigree, the Mazda6 is a refined and reliable sedan. It’s very roomy for five, it offers a four- or a six-cylinder engine, the front-drive chassis is reasonably sporting, and you can opt for a six-speed manual gearbox – which many midsize sedans no longer offer. Unfortunately, both engines are hardly paradigms of fuel efficiency.

Things to look out for include gear clash when shifting into third or fourth gear on the manual (indicating worn synchronizers), hydraulic valve lifter noise when the engine is cold, as well as frequently blown headlamps and a few electrical issues, poor sounding stereos, and upholstery that can wear quickly.

2012 Hyundai Accent

The Hyundai Accent has been transformed over the years from a penalty box into something resembling an executive skybox. For a budget subcompact, the interior furnishings can impress. Available in four-door sedan or practical five-door hatchback configurations, either cabin is rendered in pleasing shapes and serviceable materials.

Outside, the fourth-generation Accent saw the old car’s forgettable styling replaced with crisp European lines stretched over a 7.6-cm longer wheelbase that paid dividends inside. The Accent’s lone engine is a thoroughly modern 1.6-L four-cylinder featuring direct injection, good for 138 horsepower, working through either a manual or automatic transmission, both with six gears. Ride and handling characteristics are better than the subcompact class average.

In U.S. government crash testing, the Accent earned four out of five stars for overall crash protection, frontal impact and side intrusion. There are very few reliability gripes beyond a common complaint that clutch wear can be unduly rapid in the manual transmission. The Accent’s Korean tires are notorious for developing sidewall bulges and checking out early.

 

2009-10 Buick Enclave

Fans of big, comfy sport-utes that can seat up to seven people and slog through winter’s worst mess with all-wheel-drive confidence should kick the tires of the Buick Enclave. Originally released in 2007, it received some good mechanical updates for 2009 while retaining its handsome profile and cabin. It’s a great alternative to the traditional family minivan.

Power is derived from a 3.6-L V6 that pumps out 288 hp, working together with a standard six-speed automatic transmission. Note that entry-level models are front-drive, not all-wheel-drive. The snazzy interior brings minivan-like room and no shortage of decadent amenities. This Buick is supremely quiet and goes down the road like it owns it.

Keep in mind the inaugural 2008 models had plenty of teething pains and should be avoided. The V6’s timing chain can reportedly stretch, causing all kinds of error codes and drivability issues. Plenty of power steering units have failed, some due to wet weather getting past the front fender liners. When test driving, pay attention to how the automatic transmission is shifting – it can present problems later on.

2008-10 Mitsubishi Outlander 

Priced a used Honda CR-V lately? Here a fetching alternative: Mitsubishi redesigned its cute-ute for 2007, giving the second-generation Outlander crisp styling, a V6 engine and available third-row seating for up to seven occupants (though three of them ought to be munchkin-sized). The optional all-wheel-drive system could be set for front-drive only, AWD or locked 50/50 power split.

Initially all Outlanders had a 220-hp 3.0-L V6 working through a six-speed automatic transmission. Mitsu brought back a four banger for 2008; rated at 168 horsepower, the 2.4-L four came with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) rather than the conventional slushbox. Novel features included a headliner that could fight odours, as well as a two-piece tailgate – the lower segment dropping down to aid loading while the glass hatch swung skyward.

Mitsubishi’s fondness for low-rent plastics marred the roomy cabin. Mechanical setbacks include corroded front suspension components that can fail and break; Mitsubishi has an extended warranty on the parts, which include the coil springs. Malfunctioning brake-light switches and air conditioners round out the annoyances.

2010-11 Kia Soul

Here’s a yawning hatchback that won’t induce boredom. We can’t think of a better compact phonebooth-on-wheels than the quirky but endearing Kia Soul. Built on the modified front-drive platform of the Rio subcompact, the Soul hides its econobox roots well. Owners rave about its cheerful interior and brilliant paint hues, refined demeanour and youth-friendly tech options.

The Soul yields a surprising amount of cabin space for occupants and cargo, thanks to its tall profile and small footprint. There are two available engines: a base 1.6-L four-cylinder making 122 hp and a 2.0-L four putting out 142 horses – which works better with the six-speed automatic transmission. Despite the meagre power ratings, both engines are fond of gasoline and aren’t all that efficient.

Weaknesses include big blind spots to the rear, road and wind noise, susceptibility to crosswinds and scratch-prone plastic inside. Reliability has been above reproach, although there are reports of easily chipped paint and windshields, faulty brake-light switches and some rattles. Check for the presence of a spare tire – lots of Soul models were never equipped with one.

2008-09 Volkswagen Rabbit

The Volkswagen Rabbit marked the return of a familiar nameplate affixed to a European hatchback that had grown pudgier than the previous Golf. Propulsion is provided by a 2.5-L inline five-cylinder engine that produces 170 hp and 177 pound-feet of torque. It’s well suited to the automatic transmission Canadians typically favour (there’s a manual gearbox, too).

The resurrected bunny won over buyers with its disciplined road manners, refinement and best-in-class interior. For those who find the hatchback too practical, the same vintage Jetta 2.5 four-door sedan uses identical running gear. Some seek out the TDI diesel models, but so many fuel pumps have disintegrated that owners can look forward to a massive repair bill to put their TDI back on the road. Save your money by avoiding this chronic polluter.

Built in Germany, the Rabbit three- and five-door hatchback has exhibited better durability than any VW in recent memory. That said, watch for bad fuel pumps, along with troublesome automatic transmissions, wonky power-window regulators and inaccurate speedometer/odometer readings. Unfortunately, the Rabbit’s five-cylinder engine likes to drink deep, though thankfully the regular stuff.

2012 Mazda5

It’s about the smallest thing you can buy with sliding doors, next to an Ikea wardrobe. The Mazda5 smacks of minivan-itis, but be thankful when you see one parked next to you in a tight parking lot. The 5 was designed to be smaller than a regular minivan – and almost a half-ton lighter – while offering seating in three rows of two. With all six seats occupied, there’s precious little cargo room available, making a rooftop carrier almost mandatory.

The 2012 Mazda5 received updated styling, a new dash and a larger engine: the 2.5-L four cylinder produced just four more horsepower (157 total) over the previous 2.3-L four, while torque rose a handy 15 lb-ft. Mazda imbued the manual gearbox with six forward gears, while the five-speed automatic transmission remained the popular alternative.

Owners of early models have complained of frequently blown and leaking shocks, worn sway-bar bushings and rust. The newer 5 has stouter suspension components; however, tires still wear rather quickly and brake rotors are prone to warping. Other complaints identified failed engine mounts, fast-wearing clutches and flimsy underbody engine shrouds.

2009-10 Subaru Forester

Originally marketed as a tall wagon, the Forester became Subaru’s signature compact crossover, girded to do battle with the bestselling Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Built on the Impreza’s platform but with an upright profile and raised roof, the Forester offers good practical space inside with plenty of cargo capacity.

The Forester is at the correct height for easy entry and egress, and generous windows give drivers an excellent view all around. If there’s one flaw it’s the upright windshield, which attracts stone chips with annoying frequency. Drivers adore the sense of invincibility that comes with swishing a Subaru through bad weather, thanks to Subie’s standard all-wheel-drive system.

The Forester’s 2.5-L flat-four engine provides a low centre of gravity and longitudinal orientation, which means its output shafts are the same length (or symmetrical), making for a very stable drive. The “boxer” engine is relatively bulletproof – unlike the revised engine that replaced it for 2011. Mechanical headaches include short-lived wheel bearings and catalytic converters, piston slap, underperforming air conditioners, oil consumption and some cabin rattles.

2008-09 Toyota Sienna

Sooner or later, everybody needs a minivan. While it had the same exterior dimensions as the bestselling Dodge Grand Caravan, the previous-generation Toyota Sienna offers more space inside and fills it with family-friendly cupholders, cubbyholes and enough electrical sockets to power the Griswold’s Christmas lights.

Available in seven- and eight-seater configurations, the Sienna features a 60/40-split third row bench that collapses into the floor without the need to remove the headrests and is spring-assisted to make hoisting easier. The Sienna has the smallest turning radius of any front-drive minivan, and its 266-hp 3.5-L V6 offers plenty of usable thrust. It’s the only minivan left on the market with optional all-wheel-drive, a boon to those living in the snowbelt.

Dependability is exceptional as the engine/transmission duo appears to be bulletproof (the Sienna does taxi duty in many cities). The most common complaint involves the power sliding doors, whose thin cables can snap, and replacement is expensive. Other issues include leaky radiators and gas tanks, faulty air conditioners, weak tailgate struts and some interior rattles.

2007-08 Chevrolet Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500

The full-size pickup may be the most contested segment in North America. Chevrolet’s Silverado and its GMC Sierra twin rose to the head of the pack with the 2007 redesign, which featured improved driving dynamics, great interiors and new tech features. The stout frame and well-sorted suspension provide virtually the same luxurious ride that graces the related Cadillac Escalade.

What makes these pickups compelling is the fact GM retained the familiar drivetrains and tweaked them to eke out more efficiency. The most popular is the 5.3-L V8 with cylinder deactivation to reduce fuel consumption during steady state cruising, coupled to a six-speed automatic. Base models continued to use the General’s four-speed automatic, which has proven to be very durable.

The GM trucks’ reliability is a little better than average for the segment. One consistent accolade we hear is that the Silverado/Sierra provides the best fuel economy. However, oil consumption by the 5.3 can be excessive to the point that owners are advised to check the dipstick frequently. Also watch for oil leaks, short-lived batteries and clunky rear differentials due to a bad gearset pinion and seals.

 

 

2009-10 Buick Enclave

Fans of big, comfy sport-utes that can seat up to seven people and slog through winter’s worst mess with all-wheel-drive confidence should kick the tires of the Buick Enclave. Originally released in 2007, it received some good mechanical updates for 2009 while retaining its handsome profile and cabin. It’s a great alternative to the traditional family minivan.

2009-10 Buick Enclave

Power is derived from a 3.6-L V6 that pumps out 288 hp, working together with a standard six-speed automatic transmission. Note that entry-level models are front-drive, not all-wheel-drive. The snazzy interior brings minivan-like room and no shortage of decadent amenities. This Buick is supremely quiet and goes down the road like it owns it.

Keep in mind the inaugural 2008 models had plenty of teething pains and should be avoided. The V6’s timing chain can reportedly stretch, causing all kinds of error codes and drivability issues. Plenty of power steering units have failed, some due to wet weather getting past the front fender liners. When test driving, pay attention to how the automatic transmission is shifting – it can present problems later on.

2008-10 Mitsubishi Outlander 

Priced a used Honda CR-V lately? Here a fetching alternative: Mitsubishi redesigned its cute-ute for 2007, giving the second-generation Outlander crisp styling, a V6 engine and available third-row seating for up to seven occupants (though three of them ought to be munchkin-sized). The optional all-wheel-drive system could be set for front-drive only, AWD or locked 50/50 power split.

Initially all Outlanders had a 220-hp 3.0-L V6 working through a six-speed automatic transmission. Mitsu brought back a four banger for 2008; rated at 168 horsepower, the 2.4-L four came with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) rather than the conventional slushbox. Novel features included a headliner that could fight odours, as well as a two-piece tailgate – the lower segment dropping down to aid loading while the glass hatch swung skyward.

Mitsubishi’s fondness for low-rent plastics marred the roomy cabin. Mechanical setbacks include corroded front suspension components that can fail and break; Mitsubishi has an extended warranty on the parts, which include the coil springs. Malfunctioning brake-light switches and air conditioners round out the annoyances.

2010-11 Kia Soul

Here’s a yawning hatchback that won’t induce boredom. We can’t think of a better compact phonebooth-on-wheels than the quirky but endearing Kia Soul. Built on the modified front-drive platform of the Rio subcompact, the Soul hides its econobox roots well. Owners rave about its cheerful interior and brilliant paint hues, refined demeanour and youth-friendly tech options.

The Soul yields a surprising amount of cabin space for occupants and cargo, thanks to its tall profile and small footprint. There are two available engines: a base 1.6-L four-cylinder making 122 hp and a 2.0-L four putting out 142 horses – which works better with the six-speed automatic transmission. Despite the meagre power ratings, both engines are fond of gasoline and aren’t all that efficient.

Weaknesses include big blind spots to the rear, road and wind noise, susceptibility to crosswinds and scratch-prone plastic inside. Reliability has been above reproach, although there are reports of easily chipped paint and windshields, faulty brake-light switches and some rattles. Check for the presence of a spare tire – lots of Soul models were never equipped with one.

2008-09 Volkswagen Rabbit

The Volkswagen Rabbit marked the return of a familiar nameplate affixed to a European hatchback that had grown pudgier than the previous Golf. Propulsion is provided by a 2.5-L inline five-cylinder engine that produces 170 hp and 177 pound-feet of torque. It’s well suited to the automatic transmission Canadians typically favour (there’s a manual gearbox, too).

The resurrected bunny won over buyers with its disciplined road manners, refinement and best-in-class interior. For those who find the hatchback too practical, the same vintage Jetta 2.5 four-door sedan uses identical running gear. Some seek out the TDI diesel models, but so many fuel pumps have disintegrated that owners can look forward to a massive repair bill to put their TDI back on the road. Save your money by avoiding this chronic polluter.

Built in Germany, the Rabbit three- and five-door hatchback has exhibited better durability than any VW in recent memory. That said, watch for bad fuel pumps, along with troublesome automatic transmissions, wonky power-window regulators and inaccurate speedometer/odometer readings. Unfortunately, the Rabbit’s five-cylinder engine likes to drink deep, though thankfully the regular stuff.

2012 Mazda5

It’s about the smallest thing you can buy with sliding doors, next to an Ikea wardrobe. The Mazda5 smacks of minivan-itis, but be thankful when you see one parked next to you in a tight parking lot. The 5 was designed to be smaller than a regular minivan – and almost a half-ton lighter – while offering seating in three rows of two. With all six seats occupied, there’s precious little cargo room available, making a rooftop carrier almost mandatory.

The 2012 Mazda5 received updated styling, a new dash and a larger engine: the 2.5-L four cylinder produced just four more horsepower (157 total) over the previous 2.3-L four, while torque rose a handy 15 lb-ft. Mazda imbued the manual gearbox with six forward gears, while the five-speed automatic transmission remained the popular alternative.

Owners of early models have complained of frequently blown and leaking shocks, worn sway-bar bushings and rust. The newer 5 has stouter suspension components; however, tires still wear rather quickly and brake rotors are prone to warping. Other complaints identified failed engine mounts, fast-wearing clutches and flimsy underbody engine shrouds.

2009-10 Subaru Forester

Originally marketed as a tall wagon, the Forester became Subaru’s signature compact crossover, girded to do battle with the bestselling Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Built on the Impreza’s platform but with an upright profile and raised roof, the Forester offers good practical space inside with plenty of cargo capacity.

The Forester is at the correct height for easy entry and egress, and generous windows give drivers an excellent view all around. If there’s one flaw it’s the upright windshield, which attracts stone chips with annoying frequency. Drivers adore the sense of invincibility that comes with swishing a Subaru through bad weather, thanks to Subie’s standard all-wheel-drive system.

The Forester’s 2.5-L flat-four engine provides a low centre of gravity and longitudinal orientation, which means its output shafts are the same length (or symmetrical), making for a very stable drive. The “boxer” engine is relatively bulletproof – unlike the revised engine that replaced it for 2011. Mechanical headaches include short-lived wheel bearings and catalytic converters, piston slap, underperforming air conditioners, oil consumption and some cabin rattles.

2008-09 Toyota Sienna

Sooner or later, everybody needs a minivan. While it had the same exterior dimensions as the bestselling Dodge Grand Caravan, the previous-generation Toyota Sienna offers more space inside and fills it with family-friendly cupholders, cubbyholes and enough electrical sockets to power the Griswold’s Christmas lights.

Available in seven- and eight-seater configurations, the Sienna features a 60/40-split third row bench that collapses into the floor without the need to remove the headrests and is spring-assisted to make hoisting easier. The Sienna has the smallest turning radius of any front-drive minivan, and its 266-hp 3.5-L V6 offers plenty of usable thrust. It’s the only minivan left on the market with optional all-wheel-drive, a boon to those living in the snowbelt.

Dependability is exceptional as the engine/transmission duo appears to be bulletproof (the Sienna does taxi duty in many cities). The most common complaint involves the power sliding doors, whose thin cables can snap, and replacement is expensive. Other issues include leaky radiators and gas tanks, faulty air conditioners, weak tailgate struts and some interior rattles.

2007-08 Chevrolet Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500

The full-size pickup may be the most contested segment in North America. Chevrolet’s Silverado and its GMC Sierra twin rose to the head of the pack with the 2007 redesign, which featured improved driving dynamics, great interiors and new tech features. The stout frame and well-sorted suspension provide virtually the same luxurious ride that graces the related Cadillac Escalade.

What makes these pickups compelling is the fact GM retained the familiar drivetrains and tweaked them to eke out more efficiency. The most popular is the 5.3-L V8 with cylinder deactivation to reduce fuel consumption during steady state cruising, coupled to a six-speed automatic. Base models continued to use the General’s four-speed automatic, which has proven to be very durable.

The GM trucks’ reliability is a little better than average for the segment. One consistent accolade we hear is that the Silverado/Sierra provides the best fuel economy. However, oil consumption by the 5.3 can be excessive to the point that owners are advised to check the dipstick frequently. Also watch for oil leaks, short-lived batteries and clunky rear differentials due to a bad gearset pinion and seals.

 

 


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