Are most cars reliable if regular maintenance is done? Are car horror stories unfair?

I want to know your experiences with car reliability. Did you ever have a car that let you down even though you did all the regular maintenance (if it was used, you were sure the previous owner did the proper maintenance)?

I heard horror stories about cars like when people say some Chryslers have oil sludge issue, or GM cars are terrible, etc., but I like to search for notorious or any cars for sale, sort by highest mileage and find stuff like a 2006 Chrysler Sebring Touring with the notorious 2.7l engine that has 267k miles.

Also a 2006 Volvo S60 with 344k miles on the original transmission, apparently. (searched because that’s my dad’s car) 2006 Volvo S60 2.5L Turbo | eBay

I like to look on any car website but I like Auto Tempest which searches many car websites, and I just filter by all cars with over 200k miles. (btw this isn’t an ad, I found out about Auto Tempest from the Car Trek YouTube video series)

Cars are highly individual, I had a new 2004 Chrysler PT cruiser. It is considered by many to be a very unreliable car. I had it 7 1/2 years when an idiot talking on his phone and looking one way while turning another, T-boned us and totaled it. In that time, the only repair I had was a drivers side wheel bearing.


Regular maintenance and regular repairs makes a car more reliable. Every car has weak points and strong points (mostly). I’ve had a few leave me stranded.


I have owned both new and used cars purchased with as many as 100K miles over 46 years. I am nearly fanatical about maintenance and do most of my own work.

I have bought used cars with questionable maintenance that have served me well and new cars that were a pain in the rear… but I had understandably high expectations for them.

Many cars get a reputation for reliability because people that own them, maintain them. Mercedes and BMW cars, for example, have (or had…) good reputations for reliability but in reality, they really aren’t very reliable past the warranty periods. Owners expect that $1300 bill for service because it is a “special” European luxury car and that’s just what it needs!

Others, like Kia or Nissan are considered not very reliable… mostly, in my observations, because people don’t maintain them. They are cheap cars bought on 72 month payment plans or leases and people won’t spend money on them. They are in shock when a shop says the car needs a $400 service. They skip oil changes, transmission fluid changes and ignore check engine lights or even low oil pressure lights because they don’t care. They are treated like refrigerators. Expectations, pure and simple.

In the end, there are cars that can be poorly maintained and still provide good service while others will fail you even IF they get the best maintenance. Since you don’t know the service history of every listed used car, you’ll never be able to fully categorize the “good” cars from the “bad” ones.


However, even excellent maintenance can’t overcome problems resulting from bad engineering or slip-shod-assembly.

A perfect example was my '74 Volvo–bought new and maintained better than the manufacturer’s recommendations. The electrical system produced ongoing problems that began the first weekend that I owned the car. The CIS fuel injection system was problematic from the beginning. The electric fuel pump used to burn-out ~every 13 months, and I was stranded a couple of times by that persistent problem. The engine began burning oil by 60k miles, and its oil consumption was very high by the time that I dumped it at ~100k miles.

My excellent maintenance couldn’t overcome that car’s inherent problems.


Generally I agree with the above comments.
Much one can find are anecdotes, not necessarily attributed all of a specific car.
A few of my own:
The much maligned Ford Pinto, mine an early 70s. Purchased used with unknown mileage 98,000+ mileage, then noticed odometer did not function, and unknown service history.
I only did two things after purchase, removed the radiator, had it flow tested Ted and pressure tested then reinstalled with new hoses. Changed oil&filter filter, used Mobil 1.
Drove it for four years, the only time it “let me down” was when the timing belt broke, my own fault for not changing it.
I drove this car very, very hard, it was grossly underpowered, so I would manually shift the automatic transmission in each gear until the engine redlined, never let me down, no other problems, though I did not maintain it other than adding oil as necessary, it used very little oil even with me abusing it.
1984 Dodge Rampage, pickup version of the Omni, 2.2 with 5 speed manual, purchased new, gently driven. Ten miles after purchase tachometer failed, repaired, failed again, dealership never did get it to work correctly. Recalled by Dodge to convert mechanical fuel pump to electric, schedule it for a Thursday, service department did not complete the work until the following Tuesday! Within the first 5,000 miles, clutch cable broke, AC compressor failed twice. AC developed slow leak around 10,000 miles. Around 20,000 transmission clutch failed, not worn, other internal failure. Too bad, nice looking (IMO, for the era), nice concept, nice performing, riding, and good fuel economy.
So two problems-poor quality and a poor service department at the dealership.

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2014 RAM 1500 has had the ZF8 transmission replaced twice under warranty, well below 80k miles. That must have been due to defects. Other than that it just needs frequent fluid changes and it’s supposed to be a good transmission. edit: Now the rear main seal is bad at 120k, and the radiator has already developed a leak.

Most problems can be avoided if proper preventative maintenance is done. The CVT transmissions have a bad reputation, but they need regular service which people don’t do and then the transmission fails.

Ford has had a history of having a major problem with the engine or transmission in many of their vehicles.

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Over the years I’ve purchased 3 vehicles new or nearly new, consistently diligent about keeping the routine maintenance up to date. All three proved reasonably reliable. The most reliable has been my 50 year old Ford truck; 2nd place, & nearly as reliable, my 30 year old Corolla; and 3rd in line, definitely on a lower tier in the rankings, a VW Rabbit which I sold after 12 years.

I wouldn’t expect as of good results with the newer cars, b/c the increased complexity. Complexity and reliability are just not compatible qualities. You give up something with one when you want more from the other. 10+ speed automatic transmissions vs 3, complex evap & emissions systems, CVT’s, turbos, power windows, ABS brakes, airbags, A/C etc, all come w/a reliability price-tag.

Not to say all new-fangled contraptions come with reliability compromises. Radial tires seem more reliable than bias ply. Struts with one ball joint seem more reliable than leaf springs and two ball joints, and safer performance too. Likewise at least for the front, disc brakes are at least as reliable as drums, generally easier to service, and brake better. Avoid captive rotors though.

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While my 2011 Outback is far from being as technology-laden as more recently-made vehicles, I can assure you that it has far more technology than your old Corolla. And, in the 11+ years/120k+ miles that I have owned it, the only repair that it has needed was the replacement–under warranty–of the WW fluid reservoir.

The power windows, power seats (with seat heaters), airbags, Dual Zone Climate-Control HVAC, ABS, Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Infotainment System (w/integral GPS, Satellite Radio & Bluetooth), Backup Camera, Auto-dimming rearview mirror w/ integral compass, etc. have required zero repairs.


Doesn’t everybody do that? I’ve pretty much always used rented cars when I’m taking a far-from-home holiday trip. Unlimited miles seem better put on a rental car than my car. I had a co-worker worker who took this to the extreme, he’d rent a car to drive to from San Jose to Sacramento. I think part of his motivation was the IRS might complain about him using his car for holiday purposes. He found himself a tax-avoidance expert I guess, who put the title of the car in a business name.

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You can ignore maintenance on Honda and Toyota and they last 3X as long as a pampered/babied dodge or Hyundai or ford.


It’s been my experience that the vast majority of car problems are self inflicted no matter the make.

There used to be a young man who lived a block away from me. He got his license at 16 years of age. From the time he was 16 until he turned 21 he had gone through 21 vehicles of various makes/models.

He thrashed every single one of them to death and not a one of them was a beater when he got it. They were all reasonably low miles, clean, good running cars. He always blamed the car manufacturer for producing “lemons” and refused to believe that he was the problem; not the car.


I have had mixed luck. I had an 89 Corolla, bought used with 100K miles that was mostly a PITA. Needed waterpump right away. The 3 speed automatic transmission with a separate differential that leaked the fluid out and was growling. It had an ECU controlled carburetor with quite a few solenoids that kept throwing CEL and I had to change the whole configuration of the thing to make it pass the smog test. Got rid of it at 145K miles.
We had a Dodge Caravan, bought at 50K Miles, needed nothing until 100K miles and then from there to 185K miles needed something pretty much every week. I do all my own work but even then the parts cost was high enough that after I sold the car, based on my receipts, I could have leased a Sienna and would had been ahead.
Had two Camry’s. 92 and 2005 and both were fine until 185K miles when I got bored and sold them.
Had a Mitsu Galant, bought at 100K miles with a blown trans, put a used one in and drove to 170K Miles but then it started burning oil. I think this happened because I shipped the car with a shady guy and he raced the car in between.

Friend has a Mistu Outlander with the CVT, bought from an auction with 100K miles, he doesn’t know much about cars, would stop by at Jiffy Lube twice a year and changes oil, The ODO stopped at 200K Miles but the car is still going. Hasn’t changed the CVT ATF either. Sometimes you get lucky.

If I’m going to spend a long time in a car, I’d rather drive my car that I enjoy instead of driving a dirty slow car that’s probably missing useful features. Adding highway miles to my car really isn’t a concern to me.


It’s 11 years old with 120k miles. Pretty much all modern vehicles can do that, I hope. Consider this- the old Ford will probably live on as a farm truck or something long after the Subaru is in the scrap heap. So George has a point, in my opinion. You have a point also. The electronics are generally pretty reliable…at least for the first decade or two. I believe the electronic controlled (fuel injection) vehicles are more reliable in terms of miles driven. The older, simpler vehicles were more durable long term. You’d have to tinker, rebuild, replace something more frequently. But you could do that over and over for years, whereas it may get cost prohibitive to buy an abs module or ECM, for example, decades from now (if you can even find one).

I doubt you’ll see a modern Ford F-150 with VVT, turbos, 10 speed, etc as an old farm truck 30 years from now.

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Is there anything in his post that is breaking any site rules?
There is wording about criticizing others.


I agree. However, George is–somehow–convinced that all electronic “gizmos” on all cars are subject to constant, expensive breakdowns. I don’t think that my zero-problem record over 11+ years is unique, and I would like to see what some other forum members have to tell us about their car’s–supposedly–problem-prone high-tech features.

That is immaterial to me, because I normally treat myself to a new vehicle every 10 years or so. I am confident that this one will continue to be non-problematic before I trade it in a few months from now. After that…
ÂżQuien sabe y a quien le importa?

Remember some of the Toyota engines that were known as sludge monsters or oil burners did fine if the owner went above and beyond the manual by changing the oil frequently and with synthetic. The problem was that this wasn’t included in the manual and that is why these engines got a bad rap. Obviously there was a problem but the engines are not bad if you go above and beyond what the manufacturer suggested. One of my friend’s wife owned one of these Camrys and she wasn’t the best about keeping up with maintenance or checking the oil so that one didn’t end well.

I knew several people who once had cars with the Chrysler 2.7L. If there was a garbage engine in my lifetime, I think this one is a top contender. People who took care of them struggled to make 100K miles. People who didn’t take care of them got maybe 40-50K. It seems a lot of Chryslers used to be complete junk but apparently they have come up in quality over the past few years. I don’t hear nearly as many horror stories or people cussing them due to major failures these days and it seems like the Pentastar is pretty solid overall.

The Ford SPI split port 2.0 is another one that gets a bad rap. I guess the valve seats were not properly staked into the head at the factory so they tend to come loose after a while, resulting in serious engine damage. I once talked to a tuner who was a fine of Ford Focus with this engine. There was an aftermarket retrofit to the head that solved this issue but it had to be done BEFORE failure. He said these were actually very good engines after the head was fixed but again, it was definitely a defect from the factory.

Car Complaints is a great website to get a general idea of cars that you should avoid so take a look at that if buying a used car you are not familiar with.

I am trying to help a friend right now with a car horror story. It wasn’t the car’s fault or a manufacturer defect. He never checked the oil, ran it out, and now the engine is toast. Overall it looks like this wouldn’t have been a bad car had he done basic maintenance.

I completely agree with Bing and Mustangman that regular maintenance is the key to longevity and somewhat agree with Scrapyard-John on older technology in the sense that any “new technology” will have “teething problems” that will later surface.

On the maintenance side, I’ve purchased numerous cars new from various manufacturers that easily went over ten years and over 100,000 miles with absolutely no problems but I’m meticulous about maintenance and even simple things like regular hand washing.

On the other hand some examples of “Cutting Edge” (aka “Bleeding Edge”) technology" failures were the early Bosche fuel injection systems, early turbochargers that “coked”, GM molded plastic panels that faded, Vega silicon aluminum engines that became oil burners @ 50,000 miles, new paint systems that peeled in a couple of years and the Jaguar Nikasil engine coatings.

“Avoid the first year of any new technology, buy new, fathfully maintain and almost any vehicle will give years of reliability”

On the other hand, if you demand the latest and greatest and don’t mind being the test rat, lease the thing and let the next guy pay the piper.