You’ve figured out your car budget, you’ve figured out what you need in a car, and now you’ve found a few cars that might work. But how can you tell if the car you’ve found is going to be reliable? Predicting reliability is predicting the future – no one really knows what will happen, but we can make some good guesses by taking the time to do a little research. Here are the best ways to find out if a car is reliable by doing some research on the internet.
The internet is full of free and accurate reliability information. While there are hundreds of places you can go, we think the best free site on the internet for researching a vehicle is Edmunds.com. Edmunds provides great new and used car research tools, including a nice combination of editor’s ratings and user ratings (see below).
While we really like the simple and easy to use rating system, there are a couple of problems. First of all, we’ve noticed that consumer ratings are always “off” – in our opinion, they never really seem to reflect the quality, value, and reliability of the car. It’s best not to put too much stock into the “Consumer Rating” number shown on Edmunds.com. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read through the individual consumer reviews. There are usually some good ones worth reading, and you know the information is legit.
We really like Edmunds.com’s “Editor’s Rating” – it seems to be accurate almost all the time. As we’ve said, Edmunds.com is easily the best free resource on the internet. However, there is one drawback to the Edmunds site — they don’t offer many details when it comes to actual reliability. You’ll have to go elsewhere for that…
2. Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports provides quality reliability ratings for just about every vehicle, and when you subscribe to their website you get access to all their ratings (even if you only subscribe for one month). If you don’t want to subscribe online, you can go to your local bookstore and buy their annual Automobile Buying Guide in print (most bookstores stock them all year). The information we’re going to describe can be found in either place.
Consumer Reports has a fairly simple system for showing how reliable a car is predicted to be. The system is backwards, but basically RED = GOOD and BLACK = BAD. If you look at a rating and it’s blank (no color), that means the rating is “average”. Take a look:
Consumer Reports is dedicated to giving you a great deal of information, and they do a lot of polling and testing to come up with their data. If you don’t mind spending a few dollars, it’s a good investment.
The reliability reports show data for each major system of the vehicle from the transmission to the fuel system, but we don’t think all that information is very important to most people. Just take a look at the rating for “Used Car Prediction” in the bottom row. If a vehicle scores average or higher in the “prediction” category, it’s worth considering. If it scores below average, then you may want to rule it out (or at least look at the ratings for each item to see if you can figure out why the overall rating is low).
There is one thing we’d like to point out – in our opinion, Consumer Reports tends to be a little biased towards imports. If you’re considering purchasing a domestic vehicle, we think the Consumer Reports rating is a little lower than it should be. This isn’t based on a specific instance – it’s just that in our years of experience in the auto industry, Consumer Reports tends to favor foreign auto makers. None the less, they provide some great information, and they are also highly recommended. When you combine the Consumer Reports and Edmunds ratings, you should have a good idea of how reliable a car is going to be.
So you know where to go to get information. What do you do with it? We recommend you make a list of vehicles you’re considering and then look up the ratings for each vehicle. If any of the vehicles on your list score poorly on either Edmunds.com or Consumer Reports, you should consider scratching them off your list.
One more thing — Consumer Reports offers a “Price Report” for new or used cars for a small charge. While we’re sure it’s good information, don’t buy the Consumer Reports “Price Reports“, Edmunds.com has the same information for free. Edmunds offers “True Market Value” pricing free on their website and it’s very accurate and useful.