Used car ratings - how accurate?


#1

We need to get a replacement used van and were now doing research and looking at what’s out there. Part of our research is checking out reliability/repair ratings (Consumer Reports & JD Powers) and predicted yearly maintenance/repair costs (Edmunds). In some cases the ratings/numbers are in agreement but in other cases they are completely contradictory. How much weight should we put into the Consumer Reports/JD Powers rankings and/or the Edmunds numbers?


#2

Take the numbers into consideration, but focus more on the maintenance history and condition of individual vans you look at. Are we talking mini-vans? You’ll probably find Toyota Siennas and Honda Odysseys have the best “numbers” in terms of reliability and value, but even these can be junk if not cared for by a previous owner. If you are talking about full size vans, stick with GMC/Chevy, maybe Ford, not Dodge…


#3

Be wary of high rated Honda Odysseys used. In the early 2000’s they suffer expensive transmission failures. Honda was decent about fixing for first owners past warranty but as 2nd owner slim chance and expect a serious bill.

The problem with surveys is within a certain problem area if issue is major and all over the place or something really minor.

Last thing to keep in mind, Consumer Reports ratings show worse cars only have maybe 10-30%(select few vehicles) with issues. That means the majority 70-90% do not encounter any problems. I think the key thing is get what you like primarily, fits budget/needs, look at repair costs and past owner history (if used older) and go from there.


#4

Agree with Xe; the maintenance history becomes very important as the car ages.

Consumer Reports logs the repair frequency from many thousands of users, and assigns red and black marks according to that frequency.

Edmunds approach is different, and TRIES to identify the items needing replacement (WITHOUT ANY HISTORICAL PROOF OF LONGEVITY) over a period of time, and then adds the regular maintenance required. There appears to be no actual owner experience involved in the Edmunds cost. Their figures are also based on dealer cost for the repair and maintenance compilation.

In other words, a careful owner buying a car and having maintenance and repairs performed by a good independent shop can easily beat the ESTIMATED Edmunds figures.

I have personally found the Edmunds to be somewhat “out to lunch” with respect to maintenance and replacement costs, while the Consumer Reports figures reflect quite accurately which items on a car are likely to fail, but the cost of many of these is not given.

Over the last 44 years, I have found Consumer Reports to be a good indicator of what NOT to buy based on the black marks, and what will likely be a good car, based on the red marks. A car with an average (white ball) rating in the hands of a careful and concientious driver is also good transportation.

However, if you are interested in cheap transportation, do not buy a highly rated upscale car from the Consumer Reports list. A fully loaded Subaru Legacy Outback has a good rating but is an expensive car to own over its lifetime; much more expensive than an average rated economy car such as the Dodge Neon. A Lexus is very reliable , but costs considerably more to own than a Corolla.

Hope this helps you focus your car buying choice.


#5

IMHO, Consumer Reports is a good place to start, but as others have said, the care and maintenance means more, particularly as the car grows older. A good, independent garage that services a lot of cars can often tell you the strengths and weaknesses of certain models based on the repairs that they do.

The problem with Consumer Reports is that 1) it bases its record on the return of the questionairs of its subscribers. Consumer Reports subscribers may not be representative of the entire population and 2) Consumer Reports probably doesn’t have a 60% o better return on the questionaires. Those who don’t return the questionnaire may have had a completely different experienace with their vehicles.

One final thought: As a vehicle ages, the one with a poorer repair record, may, in fact, be the better buy. Let us say that a particular vehicle has a record of transmission problems. However, when this vehicle hits the used car market, the transmission has been replaced with an upgraded unit very recently. On the other hand, a vehicle that has a good repair record as far as the transmission is concerned, may not have had the transmission serviced. The unfortunate purchaser gets stuck with a transmission job soon after purchasing the vehicle.

My advice is to use Consumer Reports as a starting point, but have a good independent shop check your prospective purpose very carefully.


#6

Edmunds states that they use the extended warranty cost as the starting point. The hypotheses is that the actuaries that price the extended warranties have done the homework to determine what the cost has been from dealer repair records.


#7

jt; the cost of extended warranties bears very little relationship to any actual costs. We’ve had many posts on this. The cost of the extended warranty would more reflect the car owner’s ability to PAY, and the gullibility or sensitivity of the owner.

A $55,000 pickup truck with all the options could be compared with a $55,000 Audi, Mercedes, Jaguar, etc. The import owners, being the types they are, would more likely buy an extended warranty at a high price (self image) than the pickup truck owner, who may not even be interested! The loaded pickup could be a real dog, or a good vehicle.

I categorically disagree with using extended warranty “prices” as a reliable indicator of the future reliablity of cars.

Please give me a list of warranty prices of Lexus, Acura, Jaguar, etc, and you’ll see that based on actual owner trouble history they do not correlate.

I do envy Edmunds’ ability to market this stuff and make money from it!!


#8

The usual deal is to divide by two to take the sales commission out. Then back out G&A costs. The remainder is the cost for repairs. At least, that’s what they say. I’ve looked at a lot of repair costs on Edmunds and they seem to make sense. As we might expect, Lexus, Toyota, and Honda have the lowest repair costs. Others are higher, but in many cases, not significantly higher. Except for Jaguar and Land Rover, which are shockingly high. So, it seems to be exactly what you say it’s not. These are 5-year costs if purchased today:

2006 Lexus ES 350: $3246
2006 Acura TL: $3127
2006 Mercedes C350: $8253
2006 Jaguar S-type: $14,507

2006 Toyota Camry: $2194
2006 Honda Accord: $2194
2006 Chevy Malibu: $2674
2006 Ford Fusion: $2585

As we all expect, the Lexus and Acura are significantly lower than the Benz and the Jag. The Toyota and Honda are a bit (~15%-20%) lower than the Malibu and Fusion. Did I pull the rabbit out of the hat? No, I just read the same information that is available to everyone every day. BTW, I chose 2006 so that a difference in new car warranty period would not affect the results. If these values don’t make sense to you, please let me know.


#9

If you are looking for a van and not a mini-van, you can get a new one for $18,000 with a lot in it like V-8 AC AT PS PB PW and a few other things. Ford E-150 cargo van…


#10

I have noticed a very strong correlation between Consumer Reports used car ratings and my own experiences buying cars and maintaining/repairing them.


#11

I have noticed my parents have had incredible luck with models rated poor or well below average by Consumer Reports (GMC, Volvo) and worse luck with those rated best(Toyota’s blown head gaskets, brake line failure, throttle body). All were maintained the same.

My models rated really well did very well but also those poorly(VW) did extremely well too over the long haul. Luck, maintenance habits and driving style are other large factors beyond “build quality”.