What's more reliable - a newer model used vehicle or an older Toyota or Honda?

I’ve been driving a 1999 Chevy Lumina (107,000 miles on it) for the past couple of years which I inherited by default when my elderly father could no longer drive. It currently has some mechanical problems that I’m not willing to fix at this point (I’ve put too much into already - but not recently - and the AC no longer works) so I’m looking to buy a used vehicle, and will likely donate my Lumina or give to a family member who wants to repair it.

I can spend around 11K (maybe up to 12K) and wondering what is the best rule of thumb: Should I buy a newer model vehicle (I saw a 2009 Kia Rondo with 25K miles for $11,000) or an older model Toyota or Honda (found a 2006 Toyota Corolla with 12K miles for about $10,000)?

I do not commute to work everyday but I need something that is reliable for getting around town and something that I can use for the 5 hour round trip to NH from MA to visit my father in the Veterans Home which I do at least once/twice a month (and I take him out for a drive on most visits so I want something reliable, and that will be easy for him to get in/out of and that can easily store his walker).

Is a newer model vehicle always better than an older model regardless of mileage? Are certain makes/models more reliable even if older and with more miles?

Also, is a vehicle with 40-60k miles on it in that range where everything starts to crap out?

Any insight would be appreciated.


Used Toyota and Hondas are not magically more reliable then other cars new. They may have a history that is better then many others, but it’s no guarantee. Like rented mules, if you abuse them new, the next user really pays. That’s my rule of thumb. If you find a used car you like for a price you like, spend extra and have it checked out by mechanic you can trust other than the seller. Mileage can be a weak determining factor at times.

Thanks for your response. Also wondering if I’m better off with manual windows. My boyfriend never buys with power windows, but I like the convenience of them. However, I’ve never had any electric issues either. In general, am I better off with less options (like power windows) than more options?

First of all, if your A/C doesn’t work, it probably just needs a fresh charge of freon in the system. However, since you indicated that there are other problems with your '99 Lumina, then maybe you should look at a newer car. An '06 Toyota Corolla isn’t what I’d consider “older”, as cars/trucks are made to last longer these days than they were, say, in the 1980s; if you found an '06 Corolla with 12k miles, and you’re interested in it, then have it checked out by a reputable mechanic (before purchase), and see if you can haggle on the price. With an $11,000-$12,000 budget, you need to keep as much of that as you can in case you need to make any repairs in the near future (always a possibility when buying a used car). Also, a vehicle with 40k-60k miles Should Not have problems with multiple component failures (crapping out); there is a word for that kind of car: LEMON.

The Corolla sounds like it would be a good car, given Toyota’s reputation for reliability. I’d still get it checked out, though.

As for power windows vs. hand crank windows, my take is this: I wish my '02 Silverado had at least a power passenger side window, because it ain’t easy leaning way over to operate a window crank on a full-width pickup truck. The bad thing about power windows is that when the electric motor burns out, you have to replace it to get the window to move again; this could be a major pain in the butt if the windows are stuck in the “up” position, your A/C quits working, and it’s 90+ degrees outside. However, the chances of all that happening at once are slim.

Anyway, best of luck with your search.

If you buy an older car, you really need to verify–through documentation–that the car has been properly maintained. DO NOT take anyone’s word for proper maintenance for two reasons:

Some people have a strange idea of what constitutes proper maintenance–such as only changing the oil every 2 or 3 years, never changing the transmission fluid, and ignoring the need to replace the timing belt (if the car in question has a timing belt). These 3 items can each lead to repair bills in the thousands of $$ if the maintenance has not been done.

Sellers of used cars are known to LIE about things like maintenance and whether the car has ever been in an accident.

So–no matter what you might want to buy, only consider vehicles that come with both the Owner’s Manual (containing the mfr’s maintenance schedule) AND a file folder of maintenance invoices. Only by sitting down and actually comparing the maintenance schedule with itemized receipts for maintenance can you avoid cars that are ticking time bombs waiting to explode in your wallet.

Will this review of paperwork take an hour or so?
Is it worth it?
I can think of few other types of work that have the potential to save you a few thousand dollars, just for the investment of an hour’s time (or less).

And, even with documentation of proper maintenance, you still need to have a car inspected by YOUR mechanic prior to purchase. He will be able to detect collision damage and developing problems that you don’t detect.

As to power windows, I have had them on every car since the 1986 model year, and I have NEVER had any issues with these windows. That includes a Ford, a Honda, and 3 Subarus. Zero problems with power windows, even at odometer mileages up to 160k miles!

Truthfully, unless you are looking at low-end sub-compacts, you are not even likely to find a used car from the last decade without power windows.

What makes you think an older, high-mileage Honda is reliable??

I have never had a power window fail on any vehicle I have owned, but I have had the cranks break on a couple of my manual window cars–my 1971 Maverick, my 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass and my 1968 AMC Javelin. The repair was easy–Autozone had a section of replacement parts labeled “HELP”. I could always find a universal fit window crank that did the job, but it didn’t match the other window cranks. For the utmost in reliability, however, there is no substitute for side curtains.

I believe Honda’s do better at being reliable and relatively trouble free between 10 to 20 years old compared to other brands of cars. From years 1 to 10 they are better but not that much so. When other cars need expensive repairs in years 10 on that is less true with Honda and Toyota.

Since the care of the cars by previous owners is always an issue buying a 10 year old car of any brand is a gamble. If you want to buy a car new and intend to keep it for 20 years I’d give a nod to Honda and Toyota in this case. Most buyers keep their new cars for 5 years or less. Fewer buy a new car and keep it for 10 years and virtually no one buys a new car and keeps it for 20 years; therefore the question is moot.

As far as mileage; one driver can abuse a car and not maintain it and it is pretty much trash at 60K miles. Another driver can maintain a car well and it can be like new at 60K miles. It is all about how the owner drove and maintained the car. The brand of car is not nearly as big a factor as the previous owners and drivers.

The one that has had proper maintenance and has not been beat to death.

Consider that a 5 or 6 (really, end of 2005, right?) year old car with 12K miles on it has really led what you should consider a hard life. Either time between runs was long, or they were all very short, which falls under the harsh usage conditions in the books.

The Kia looks about right, mileage-wise. But maybe you should look a bit more and find a different car with a balance between the two. Whatever you do, Get It Inspected

Once I used power windows, I never went back. The trick to not having problems with them is to lube the tracks every so often. If you make it a habit, like very time you change your oil, you won’t have any binding or sticking, which is the main reason for window motor failure (sure, there are others, but I did say “main”). If you happen to notice a window slowing down, stop using it until you lube it. There are sprays you can use.

Once thing to consider, if taking your father for rides is going to remain important to you, is the ease with which he can get into and out of a low vehicle. As strange as it may sound, my wife’s grandmother (RIP) had very little trouble getting into and out of a Tracker, due to the level of the seat. Our old Bronco was too high, and our 4Runner was just a bit too high, but cars were the worst. They were very difficult for her to slide into and out of, and she needed help almost every time. It’s degrading enough after 70+ years of life to ask for help. The least I could do was cart her around in the vehicle that made it the most comfortable for her - we had a few to choose from.

The rest of the advice above I agree with. These guys won’t steer you wrong.


Any used vehicle can be a crap shoot. As a mechanic I can’t even start to count the number of people who bought cars without a thorough inspection and discovered a few weeks later they owned a very problematic car; or in some cases, a near total junk one.

This applies to even low miles cars so don’t assume because a car has 20k or 30k miles on it that it’s like new.

The way it was driven and maintained is a far bigger influence on the car than the badge that is glued to the tail end of the vehicle.

An inspection is also no guarantee of a problem-free ride. The only thing the inspection does is ups the odds in your favor a bit more.

I’d recommend checking out Consumer Reports if you want a thorough review of just about every car out there. They have reports on reliability over the years and review various things like visibility, handling, etc. I believe their online subscription is a bit cheaper than the printed magazine.

That being said, I recently bought a used Passat even though VW’s have a LOT of black marks in C.R.'s reliability ratings. I did so because I know the owners and they drove it normally and took great care of it. I was happy to discover that the manual seats include a height adjustment so I’m hoping my elderly relatives will have an easier time getting in and out.

My backup car is a '93 Honda Accord that has 191k miles on it. The hood on that car might as well be bolted shut because it’s been years since I had any major problems (knock on wood). On the other hand, it sits rather low (coupe model) and my older relatives don’t like it as much.

Five or six years ago my folks were trying to decide between a Honda or a Toyota and they picked the Camry over the Accord because they said it sat a little higher. Whatever you buy, get something that allows you to adjust the height of the seats and has a full array of airbags.

Prior to the Camry my folks had a Plymouth minivan and they seemed to like it. It sat higher than a car (for ease of entry) and the seating position itself was more like a chair than a recliner (like in a car). How about a Honda or Toyota minivan?

I’m on board with the comments already posted. A used vehicle is a crap shoot. You can have a really thorough inspection done by a mechanic, but that isn’t guaranteed to catch everything. But, if you are planning on spending 11K, then you really aren’t in the market for a new car which would pretty much be hands down more reliable than anything else. Then again, you didn’t say if you were financing or paying out of pocket.

I have a humble suggestion. It sounds like the direction you are pointed in. Check out a Scion Xa. You should be able to get a pretty low mileage used one for the price you have in mind. They’re actually made by Toyota so they have a pretty decent reputation anyway. It will get great fuel economy, really nice to drive as well if you get the manual transmission. It’s not fancy, but it will get you there. Also, the seats are positioned a little more upright with more room in the front, so it should be pretty easy to get your father in and out of. We had one that we took my girlfriend’s father around in. It’s a hatchback as well, so you’d have walker storage room. Backseat is a little tight, but it’s there in a pinch. I think it would be a good choice. Just watch out for a check engine light, there is a charcoal filter known to go bad and it runs about 500 for a new one. You can fix it if you know someone who is pretty crafty.

That would be my vote.