Most reliable second-hand cars

Pick the right model and used cars can be as trouble free as new ones - and much cheaper. But which are the right cars? Read on to find out

Chris Rosamond
Jul 27, 2020

Nobody wants a car that spends more time in the garage than on the road. In fact, any time spent in the garage is a pain, and with the cost of many garage's hourly rates being so high, bills can rack up quickly - meaning that when things go wrong it can be financially painful too.

That’s why it always makes sense to look for a second-hand car with a detailed service record, and only a few previous owners. The better a car has been looked after, and the more carefully driven, the greater its chances of not letting you down.

But reliability isn’t just a matter of regular servicing and careful driving. Some cars are just more reliable and dependable than others, thanks to the nature of their engineering, the quality of materials, or the time, money and rigour invested in their development.

While new cars are generally covered by a warranty of at least three years, it’s especially important to factor reliability into a used car purchase, where the warranty may have expired - or expire during your ownership. Or you can focus on cars with a long warranty, like those used cars with three years' warranty left or used cars with five years' warranty left, for the greatest peace of mind.

Better still, owner polls which generate ratings for reliability like the Driver Power survey can prove extremely useful for drivers looking for the most reliable used cars. Choose a reliable used car with a long warranty and you should be able to take advantage of trouble-free motoring.

The ratings change every year, so if you’re buying a car, it’s always sensible to keep tabs on the latest reliability survey scores. To help you out, we’ve picked out some of the outstanding performers that regularly score highly for reliability, and which we think make extremely sensible used car purchases. Read on for more…

Most reliable second-hand cars

1. Toyota Prius

Used deals from £14,700
Monthly finance from £160

Japanese brand Toyota has one of the best reputations in the business for reliability, and the car that is arguably now its most iconic model – the Prius hybrid – has cemented a reputation as ‘the best of the best’.

It may have felt like new and daring technology when the first generation Prius went on sale in the late 1990s, but right from launch Toyota doubled-down on dependability to ensure what would become its signature powertrain technology wouldn’t give cynics or doubters a leg to stand on.

So while pundits pondered over the possible reliability issues of new-fangled onboard batteries and electric motors, the Prius just worked… and worked, and worked…

Now in production for over twenty years, choosing a Prius isn’t quite a guarantee of trouble-free motoring, but it is almost. Don’t just take our word for it, but check out the numerous times the Prius has finished in the top ranks of reliability and satisfaction surveys – including outright victory in the 2019 Driver Power Survey run by our sister titles Auto Express and CarBuyer.

TOYOTA PRIUS BUYERS' GUIDE

2. Fiat Panda

Used deals from £4,650
Monthly finance from £94

A Fiat? In a ‘most reliable cars’ list? Are we kidding you?

Well no, actually. The charismatic little Fiat Panda may not have much in the way of premium feel, but it came out at the top of the list of most reliable small cars in the 2019 Driver Power survey – ahead of a pair of Toyotas in second and third places, the Yaris and Aygo.

So how does a Fiat attain such dizzy heights, and beat such paragons of dependability? Well a lot must come down to simplicity, as the Fiat is getting on a little from the technological perspective, and isn’t laden down with new-fangled gadgets or gizmos that might cause trouble.

In fact, when the Driver Power team crunched the numbers the Fiat had a fault hit rate of just 7.4 per cent in the first year of ownership, while 9 and 11 per cent of Yaris and Aygo owners had a fault to report. So the differences are marginal, but the Panda deserves respect for its winning dependability.

FIAT PANDA BUYERS' GUIDE

3. Kia Sportage

Kia Sportage

Used deals from £7,995
Monthly finance from £140

The Kia Sportage SUV may be admired for its practicality and value but like all the Korean brand’s cars, it’s that industry-leading seven-year warranty that really stands out for second-hand car buyers.

In case you were thinking it’s all just marketing bluster, the evidence suggests Kia products are super-reliable – which is probably a good thing, or that warranty might have put them out of business!

Whether you choose the latest Sportage or the generation before it, on sale from 2010-2015, you can be sure you’ve picked a reliable workhorse. Both generations appear in the top 10 most reliable SUVs in the latest Driver Power survey, with the latest Sportage running the mighty Lexus RX close for the top spot.

Considering the difference in cost between the luxury Lexus and the value-focused Kia, that’s a remarkable achievement, and one that second-hand buyers will surely appreciate, whether problems are under warranty or not.

Just for the record, the larger Kia Sorrento ran the Sportage so close it’s hard to separate them. Hats off to both!

KIA SPORTAGE BUYERS' GUIDE

4. Skoda Yeti

Used deals from £7,495
Monthly finance from £146

The Skoda Yeti was the Czech firm’s hugely popular first foray into the world of SUVs, and its demise in 2017 was lamented by many owners. Its mixture of boxy unpretentious styling, roomy cabin and easy driving characteristics still adds up an endearing proposition today, even though the model has been replaced by the much more contemporary and fashionable Karoq.

When it was still on Skoda’s new car lists, the Yeti had already developed a strong reputation for reliability and extremely high customer satisfaction ratings. Nowadays, it’s still rated highly, with owners of used versions still reporting very few faults in polls like the Driver Power survey – in spite of its age it still made the top 10 most reliable SUVs.

The model’s success is down to its relatively simple tech, which is based on a VW Group platform that underpinned a vast number of other cars including the VW Golf and Beetle, the Touran, and Audi A3.

SKODA YETI BUYERS' GUIDE

5. Lexus CT

Used deals from £10,750
Monthly finance from £203

To be honest we could have included any one of the Lexus line-up in this list. We’ve plumped for the CT five-door hatchback as it’s one of the most affordable ways to get into a relatively new Lexus.

The Japanese firm’s premium rival to compact hatchbacks like the Mercedes A-Class and Audi A3 has an unimpeachable reliability record, which is especially impressive when you consider it is packed with lots of bang up-to-date technology. It’s also a hybrid, so shares key powertrain technology with the Toyota Prius, which gives a clue as to where its superb dependability comes from.

The chassis engineering is shared with the Toyota Corolla, which is one of Toyota’s highest volume models – surely also a factor in the Lexus CT’s superb reliability rating.

In the latest Driver Power survey barely 7% of owners reported a fault in the first year of ownership, which would be even more notable had the bigger Lexus IS and Lexus RX not done even better.

LEXUS CT BUYERS' GUIDE

6. Volvo V40

Used deals from £7,980
Monthly finance from £139

When it comes to reliability ratings, there aren’t many European car makers who can get close to their Japanese and Korean rivals, but the Volvo V40 hatch definitely does the business.

The V40 built from 2012 to 2019 is one of the top 5 performers in the family car sector according to the 2019 Driver Power survey respondents, but it must be said that it’s the newer models – 2018-on – that have recorded the very best scores.

While the V40 tends not to be rated so highly for its handling or practicality, relative to rivals at least, it also comes with great safety ratings and stylish design inside and out that add to its appeal on the used car market.

VOLVO V40 BUYERS' GUIDE

7. Mercedes A-Class

Used deals from £10,000
Monthly finance from £159

Ever since the arrival of Toyota-owned Lexus on the luxury car scene, European prestige brands such as BMW and Mercedes have been forced to look to their laurels when it comes to reliability.

Mostly, models from BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes and others simply can’t get close to the incredible customer satisfaction ratings of Lexus, or even more mainstream brands like Toyota, and newer Korean rivals Hyundai or Kia.

One exception to the rule is the Mercedes A-Class, the German marque’s compact hatchback, which seems to be performing better than many of its stablemates with higher than average reliability scores when owners are polled.

That’s great news for used car buyers attracted to the great value and upmarket feel of Mercedes' VW Golf rival, who will be reassured that they won’t be subjected to regular bills.

MERCEDES-BENZ A-CLASS BUYERS' GUIDE

8. Mazda MX-5

Used deals from £8,000
Monthly finance from £156

It’s not just owners of family cars and SUVs who are looking for reliability in their choice of wheels. Sporty drivers don’t want to be kept off the road with costly repair bills either, and the little Mazda MX-5 proves you don’t need to swap fun for dependability.

We reckon it scores highly in owner reliability polls for two reasons. First of all it’s Japanese, which remains a distinct advantage in the reliability stakes even though it sounds like a bit of a cliché.

Second, the MX-5 is a relatively stripped-back no-frills machine so there’s not an awful lot of fancy tech to go wrong and land you with a big garage bill.

For a car that’s so much fun to drive, it’s great to know it’s practical to own as a used car too.

MAZDA MX-5 BUYERS' GUIDE

 

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