Long Term Reliability / Dependability


I?m looking to make my first car purchase in a looong time and my first new car purchase. The current car (BMW 318) has been extremely reliable so long term dependability is a priority, but I?m not sure how much to trust the dependability surveys?

>Has the gap from long-term reliable/dependable brands to average brands changed in recent years? < And if so has it widened or narrowed? I ask because 1) all the brands seem to be improving over time 2) the top quality brand seems to vary a lot in the short term 3) today?s technology heavy cars have more that can go wrong and?

4) people seem to complain about things that our grandparents would have laughed at.


The gap has narrowed, but why buy at the bottom of the gap when you can buy at the top?

My experiences have been consistant over the years with the data reported by Consumer Reports. I still think it’s the best source. No source is infallable.


Yeah. What ‘the same mountainbike’ said. If you don’t subscribe to Consumer’s Reports, visit (or call first) your local library. Many libraries subscribe to Consumer Reports and many other consumer publications.


I’ve got the CR reports and the Top of the pile is great if you like that manufacturers models (I don’t). But I do like other brands that are in the top 10 and some others that are about average. Thus the question becomes is an average car today as reliable? more reliable or far more reliable than cars that were built 10 years ago. And is the gap from top 3 to top 10 really a meaningful gap? Heck, if Hyundai can make a decent car how bad could the average car be?

Put another way is it like the Miss America pageant where top 10 are all beautiful or is it more like the NFl where the number 1 team tends to stomp all over the number 5 team?



I don’t put much stock in JD Power’s surveys or numbers, but I do put a lot of faith in Consumer Reports. Especially in the way they focus on specific areas of reliability from exhaust to electrical. The numbers always seem to line up with what’s really happening out there.

As for the gaps narrowing. Err, yes and no. If you look at a comparison of the major car brands after they’re ten years old Honda and Toyota absolutely kill everyone else in reliability. Initial quality/reliability is useless to me. I want to know how a car holds up after a few years and this is an area where American cars and German cars get killed. If you’ve had a reliable 318 you’ve been lucky, as I used to work on BMW’s, and they had a lot of head gasket issues and assorted bugs back then. The newest crops of BMWs are pretty good though. You might look at a new 128i-the interior, ride and acceleration are excellent and maintenance is free for the first 50,000 miles.


The big problem with many of the surveys is sample size. Many times the statistic that is shown falls well within the margin of error.


The consumer reports sample size is the biggest of any survey size I know of that is conducted by a company not affiliated with automakers.


Nobody does studies of long-term reliability. What’s the point? A review of 1995-98 cars has no meaning for a potential buyer of a 2008-9 model. Most of those cars have been either discontinued or drastically upgraded.

I agree with your theories 1, 2, 3, and especially 4. One fellow here a while ago griped about a car not being able to get OnStar!


Thanks I agree on Consumer Reports.

I’ve noticed though that if you research you’ll find common complaints on the chat boards. I’ve found this with 3 series, A3s, Lexus - what have you. I’m sure the dis-satisfied are more likely to post than the happy majority.

This may be one more reason to trust the Consumer Reports survey which reaches out to them both.


The frequency of absurd complaints (like OnStar) shows you how rare the real complaints are.

I agree that long term reliability is a poor indicator because it is so delayed. But I still prefer to buy from a company with a better long term quality record. Past isn’t prologue but betting on a winner is usually safer.


I have a feeling whatever you buy it will last a long time no matter what make or model. You must have a decent independent mechanic, maintain your vehicle and drive relatively easy (style, type of mileage). These are major factors beyond the last one you cannot control LUCK.


That’s true, but people are people and some things never change. No matter how many years go by and how many people say it, some people won’t take good care of their vehicles. Producing a vehicle that is tolerant of abuse is key. Producing a vehicle that performs well when maintained per spec is much easier than producing one that can deal with some missed maintenance. Toyota has proven in the past two decades they are adept at crafting vehicles that don’t respond proportionally to their maintenance-in a good way.


Some manufacturers showed a remarkable improvement over late – Kia, for example, and maybe Hyundai. Oh, yeah, Buick too. Then there are those that showed a drastic decline in quality – VW and Mercedes for example. Wha’ hoppen?!

Anyhoo, just buy any car from a reputable manufacturer and take good care of it. Better pick one you like; it will likely last as long as you can bear it.


Toyota’s are not that infalliable. My parents essentially junked an 11 year old one due to excessive body rust. 1989 Toyota 4x4 PU in New England. My dad’s well maintained 1990 4runner V6 with 155k has had three head gasket replacements , two covered by Toyota under extended warranty and the last out of pocket for around $1200. Otherwise I agree it works perfectly including all power equipment but rust seems to have gotten it too as it likely won’t pass inspection next year.


Do your parents live in Massachusetts? They’re ridiculous when it comes to body rust at inspection time. The 1989 Toyota pickup rusty or not is one of the most durable vehicles on the planet. As for the 4runner, I blame whoever did the head gasket the first time. When a head gasket keeps failing it’s because the incompetent dealership didn’t check the cylinder head and block to make sure they’re level. If it fails again have them go after the dealer to repair it for free.

  1. Why do you want/need to replace the BMW if it is still dependable?

  2. Why are you planning on buying a new car (instead of used)?

I wouldn’t do #1 unless the cost to repair/maintain the BMW has exceeded it’s replacement value.

I would never do #2.


Consumer Reports give reliability data up to 8 years! So it is a good indicator how well cars age. At 8 years, a US car typically has about 100,000 miles or more o it, and this is where Japanese cars show a significant edge. Up to 60,000 miles or so the difference is quite small , except for some poor vehicles as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Grand Caravan and others.

Car programs,such as Motor Week (PBS) do “long term” test; they keep the car for 10,000 miles or so. That tells you very little abput predicted reliablity, but does reveal assembly quality, something J D Powers is strong on reporting.



I dunno about you, but after a decade I myself would probably like to try a new car too haha. Maybe one with something exotic like a CD player in the dash :wink:

On the point about buying used. I agree that’s usually the best route, but I’m a car person and view the world with different glasses. If I knew little about cars the prospect of buying used would seem daunting and full of potential missteps. CPO doesn’t mean much these days either sometimes. Besides, sometimes a new design comes out that’s worth paying the dough for-I’d love a new 135i myself.


I bought brand new cars when I was young and foolish and couldn’t really afford (to pay cash for) them. Buying new cars is a horrible deal (due to initial depreciation that will easily negate the “reliability” of whatever new car CRs is recommending at the moment). Now that I can afford new cars, I choose to drive the 20+ year old cars that I prefer anyway, and I’ve installed my own CD players.

If the OP simply wants a newer car they should go buy one, but that’s not an economic decision, it’s just buying a new toy. There’s nothing wrong with that if you understand why you are really doing it, but I would still recommend a late model used car instead of a new one (let someone else eat the initial depreciation).


I want to replace the BMW because its 14 yrs old, little things are going wrong and I trust it less for long road trips. We’ve been saving for it for a while so there’s no budget issue.

We considered used but here’s the rub - most people selling 2 year used cars have either pile on the miles or loaded them up with so many options that even with 10 grand of depreciation its only 2 grand cheaper than the car we want new. For the difference I’d rather take the new car. Plus if we’re keeping the car for 7-10 years the initial depreciation isn’t a big issue for us.