Top 9 Most Reliable Small USED Cars

Consumer Reports’ annual car issue is here, and with the death-spiraling economy in mind, they’ve identified the most reliable used cars for all of you value-conscious consumers. Hey, there’s even an American car on the list!

Sure, it’s part of a brand that will probably be discontinued… but it’s there…


Consumer Reports Most Reliable Small Used Cars (for model years 1999 to 2008):

  • Honda Civic

  • Toyota Echo
  • Scion xB
  • Toyota Corolla
  • Toyota Matrix
  • Pontiac Vibe
  • Mazda 3
  • Mazda Protege
  • Subaru Impreza

Reliability data was compiled from the magazine’s Annual Auto Survey, which generated responses about more than 1.4 million new and used vehicles. CR also has top picks for Family Cars, Minivans, Small SUVs, and Midsized and large SUVs here.

Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union, which also publishes Consumerist.

Consumer Reports names the most reliable used cars [Consumer Reports]

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  1. Jakuub says:

    So, the only Car under a US badge is the Vibe, which was actually a joint venture with Toyota? U.S.A.!U.S.A.!U.S.A.!

    • cabjf says:

      @Jakuub: Even worse, the only thing of consequence that GM put into the deal was the money to fund the venture. They designed the exterior and I think slight tweaks to the gear ratios, but the rest is all Toyota Matrix (including the entire interior). On the upside, I just bought my wife a Vibe. Hopefully they stay on the list when it comes time to trade it in.

      • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

        @cabjf: “On the upside, I just bought my wife a Vibe.”

        I have a dirty mind, shame on me for laughing.

    • pockygt says:

      @Jakuub: The Mazdas could also be considered to be American, as they are joint-ventures with Ford.

      And now that I think of it, the Protege and 3 should be grouped together since they’re basically the same car.

      • tgpt says:

        @pockygt: it’s actually even funnier than that:

        The Echo and the old xB are essentially the same car. (As are the xA, the Yaris, and the xD.)

        The Corolla, Vibe, and new xB are essentially the same car.

        The two Mazdas are different generations of the same car.

        So this list of 9 cars actually contains only 5.

        The downside is that all of these cars carry huge premiums on the used car market, and the Scions have all been driven by hormone-addled teenagers and have $2000 worth of rims on them.

        • EarlNowak says:

          @tgpt: That’s not true. My lawyer drives a Scion. I once called her out on it and she said it was reliable and economical. And she liked that toyota would install a spoiler and ipod friendly stereo for her.

        • yagisencho says:

          @tgpt:

          The Yaris is the new ECHO (which was the new Tercel). The newer xBs (2008 onward) use the Camry engine. The xD uses the Corolla engine. Everything else on the Scion cars is different from their Toyota counterparts.

          I’m 36 years old, bought an xB as a family car last year, and an xD this year as my commuter car. And we’re not exactly hormone-addled. But Scion will be happy to hear that their marketing campaign has made a strong impression.

      • supercereal says:

        @Skankingmike: Jim Guest, is that you!?

        But I believe you forgot the sarcasm-meter at home today, while mistakenly bringing in the overreaction-meter….

      • CyricTheMad says:

        @pockygt: You’re a bit off with that actually. The Protege was based off of Mazda’s BJ platform that they had been using since 1998. The Mazda 3 is based on Ford’s global C1 platform that is shared across Ford, Volvo, and of course Mazda. So no, they are not essentially the same car. The 3 was a brand new car on a brand new platform.

        /Mazda fanboy

    • BlazerUnit says:

      @Jakuub: What’s more, the Pontiac Vibe generally has a lower resale value than the Toyota Matrix. The same thing ‘ails’ the Chevrolet Prizm (formerly the Geo Prizm) if you can find one, which is also based off of the Toyota Corolla.

      Further proof that you can use ‘bad’ resale values to your advantage when buying domestic-branded cars.

  2. ScottRose says:

    Too bad I wouldn’t touch any of those cars with someone else’s 10ft. ugly stick.

    • Goodnightbabytron says:

      @ScottRose: To each his own. I am very happy with my 2005 Mazda3.

    • triscuitbiscuit says:

      @ScottRose:
      Impreza… Mazda 3… You have some crazy ugly stick if you think that all of them are ugly. I will admit the xB is bad, but the Civic is just bland as is the Echo, Corolla, Matrix/Vibe, Protege… But the Mazda 3 and Impreza are pretty nice cars.
      Plus I don’t think in these times a person is not looking to buy the prettiest car on the block.

    • ohiomensch says:

      @ScottRose:

      I will definately chime in on the 05 Mazda 3. I have 113,000 miles on mine, had one warranty problem that they fixed at no cost to me, and other than tires, oil changes, and a battery, I have had to do nothing to my car and with the beating it gets, STILL gets 33 mpg on the highway.

      • ScottRose says:

        Yeah, I was just being difficult. To each their own..

        Hell, I love Jeeps, but they apparently get shitty ratings and many people question their looks.

        Tho my ’00 Cherokee with 150K on it runs just fine and still gets about 16 MPG on the highway, just like the day it rolled off the assembly line. ;) No repairs either, and I think I missed an oil change in one 30,000 mile period..

        • noone1569 says:

          @ScottRose: I see Impreza but . . . does that include the WRX? mmm WRX … mmm

          • GearheadGeek says:

            @noone1569: A well-cared-for WRX is as reliable as any other Impreza, but won’t be as cheap to buy, as cheap to insure or as cheap to put gas in. You’ll have WAY more fun, though. We had an ’02 WRX Wagon that my partner put 160k miles on in under 5 years with zero problems. He was offered a ridiculously high trade-in for it in early ’06 and he traded it for an ’06 WRX Limited Wagon.

            My ’05 Legacy GT Wagon is every bit as good but it’s not as small so wouldn’t qualify for this list anyway.

        • Trai_Dep says:

          @ScottRose: I’m unsure if a Jeep owner has the standing to call any other car ugly…

    • Fist-o™ says:

      @ScottRose: Good thing I don’t give a flying Crap if people think my xB is ugly! :)

      And yes I do drive around with my bluetooth headset on. and wear it sitting in starbucks, talking loudly about my important things loudly so that everybody can hear how important I am.

    • Gilbert Tang, Jr. says:

      @ScottRose: And yet you have toilet paper as your icon. Well done.

    • Nearsite00 says:

      @ScottRose: I too also own a Mazda 3 and and have absolutely no problems with it and I still love the looks and handling. The only caveat is that it is a 2007 with only 19,000 miles at the moment.

  3. chrysrobyn says:

    I own a 2006 xB. As ScottRose suggests, it sure looks like it was hit by an ugly stick. It’s very mechanically reliable. It’s never given me an ounce of trouble. It’s got an acre of passenger space in the back seat and everybody gets as much head room as a big pickup truck.

    Only thing is there’s this spot on the hatchback door that looks like the paint is roughing up. I’m in Texas, so it shouldn’t be rust.

  4. BritBoy says:

    Yes, the Pontiac Vibe is actually a Toyota Matrix. Practically identical and so hardly surprising that they appear next to one another on the list.

    You can expect the Vibe to have Toyota reliability at Pontiac pricing…..quite a deal !

    So there are zero homegrown USA cars on the list :-(

    • ohiomensch says:

      @BritBoy:

      What is a home grown car anyway? the Chevy Aveo that is imported from Korea? The Honda Accord that is built in Ohio? Name one “American” made car that contains less than 40% foreign made parts.

    • Jake Muha says:

      @BritBoy: Not true. To compare the Vibe GT with the Matrix XRS (the top of line for each vehicle when they debuted in the ’03 model year), the Vibe was actually MORE than the Matrix. Sadly, no American badge discount there.

      • GearheadGeek says:

        @Jake Muha: Yeah, except for the fact that only suckers pay close MSRP for domestic brands except for a very few exceptional low-volume models.

        • RedwoodFlyer says:

          @GearheadGeek: That’s a 180 from what everyone in the Jeep article was saying…

          @ohiomensch: No kidding. It’s not Toyota who builds stuff in Canada/Mexico and who imports engines from China…

          Benz and BMW moved a lot of production here, Hyundai spent billions on their Alabama plant…etc etc.

          I get chills of the douche variety whenever I hear someone wave their buy america/buy for flag!

    • djsyndrome says:

      @BritBoy: it’s a deal until you have to trust a GM mechanic to try and fix it. Fortunately that doesn’t happen very often – my ’03 Matrix is pushing 150k miles and still runs great.

  5. Saboth says:

    Heh, pretty much what everyone knows. American cars are good on initial reliability, but around 3-5 years fall off the list. What gets me is these days, they cost pretty much the same as their Japanese counterparts. Why buy a Cobalt or Focus when a Mazda 3 or Fit costs the same, has 50% better resale value and has 1/10 the problems?

  6. Xerloq says:

    I want to see a full top 10. Ford is ranked up there for reliability, if I recall correctly, rivaling the Japanese brands.

    I love my ’98 and ’99 Escorts, and my ’95 Camry.

    • TechnoDestructo says:

      @Xerloq:

      Not with Honda and Toyota it isn’t. Maybe with Mazda and Mitsubishi of the same era, or late 90s 2.5 liter Subarus.

    • TheSpatulaOfLove says:

      @Xerloq:

      Don’t try – this site is owned by Consumer Reports, and Consumer Reports just loves the Japanese. You might get slapped for trying to defend American cars here.

      • Saboth says:

        @TheSpatulaOfLove:

        Probably because there is nothing to defend. The only surveys that I’ve seen that say American cars have ANY reliability is JD Powers, and that is referring to initial reliability only.

    • failurate says:

      @Xerloq: Your Escorts are based on a Mazda platform. I had a 1994. Fantastic car.

    • Skankingmike says:

      @TheSpatulaOfLove: get over yourself.

      I’ve owned 90% Japanese and every car I’ve owned has been a consumer reports recommendation.

      You act as if they get a kick back from Japanese companies but when you look at some of their new reporting they actually go into detail about how some Japanese cars have gone down in quality and some American have gone up.

      Get a clue before you spot shit.

    • peachplum says:

      @Xerloq: Yeah, how are we supposed to learn anything meaningful from only the top 9?

  7. Karkus says:

    Everybody telling everybody they should get a small, efficient used car. Good advice…..except it’s too late.
    If you did it a couple of years ago, you got a good price on those, and you’re doing fine new.
    However, since EVERYBODY wants one of those now, we have a supply/demand problem, which means prices have gone up, and they aren’t such a great value anymore.
    Unlike new cars (where they can adjust production to meet demand), used cars are a limited resource.

    • djsyndrome says:

      @Karkus: not necessarily. Toyota’s already pushing incentives on the new Corolla and Matrix, and the Yaris can be had for well under sticker easily. There are only two small cars around me (NorCal) that are going for sticker – the Fit and the Mini.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @Karkus: You can definitely still get any of the small cars at a decent price. Also, crossover SUVs are really hot right now too and a lot of the car manufacturers are pushing incentives for small and medium sized cars, like Karkus said. And they get decent gas mileage and can haul things.

  8. Hodo says:

    My 2002 Mazda Protege has 140k miles and is still running strong. No mechanical issues whatsoever. Other than changing the oil, plugs, and coolant regularly, I’ve had to do virtually no maintenance. Good little car that averages 30 mpg city/highway combined (which is saying something when you drive like I do).

    This car has been so good, I’m contemplating getting a new MazdaSpeed3 even though I can afford a much more expensive car.

    • Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ã‚œ-゜ノ) says:

      @Hodo: I’m with you. The Protege is an afterthought car in a sea of Civics and Corollas but I love it this much.

      Oh, well, I guess you wouldn’t be able to see my outstretched arms. Pity.

    • PlaneDriver says:

      @Hodo: They are great cars. How do your door locks hold up? I’ve read and experienced that the interior locking mechanisms break. I took one apart and noticed that the plastic gears break, which renders the power door locks unusable. You hear an awful clicking sound every time they actuate. Maybe that’s because I live in the desert where it’s 120+ in parking lots in the summer.

  9. MooseOfReason says:

    Whoo! Honda Civic at the top of the list!

    I have a ’96 Civic, though. It’s reliable, though.

  10. Sucko-T says:

    The one caveat to this list is that these used cars all hold their value well, making buying a used model pointless in my opinion. The savings just isn’t there.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      @Sucko-T: That’s one thing I always wonder about these lists. Isn’t it overall just better to buy one NEW because the used ones are probably so old or so run into the ground that it wouldn’t be worth it to buy a car at 100k just to see it die after the additional 40k? I mean, if you were really looking to keep a used car for the long haul. It surely is not that much more expensive to buy a brand new one and run that one into 140k and oblivion, right?

  11. pallendo says:

    The Corolla, Vibe and Matrix are all the same car. Sure the Vibe and Matrix are hatchbacks, but the running gear, suspension and electrics are all the same as the Corolla.

  12. sven.kirk says:

    Used reliability ratings IS a oxymoron.
    Reliability doesn’t mean a thing if the previous owner ran it ragged.
    Now it sounds like a good recommendation for finding these cars used, but as with most states, used = as is/no warranty.

    • TechnoDestructo says:

      @sven.kirk:

      Yeah it does. Some cars take much better to being run ragged. Some take much better to neglected maintenance, too.

      Also, it’s only no warranty if you get one that is past the warranty period.

      AND warranties are overrated. Unless you’re driving a Dodge Caravan or a MkIV VW, they just aren’t worth the cost of a new car, or even the cost of an aftermarket warranty.

  13. hustler says:

    how can miatas not be on that list? You can buy them for $1500, change the oil, and run 100-hours at your local racetrack without incident.

  14. Anonymous says:

    We’ve found in my family that Suburus on the whole are built like tanks. My little brother;s (formerly mine) Impreza has literally never given us trouble besides routine maintenance till just last year. It was a 97.

    And I think the only reason it gives trouble is as sven.kirk said, its the driver’s fault. In this case my little brother and father have run that poor car ragged (as its the car that my father always borrows when his breaks down and low and behold, my mom and I never have car troubles)

  15. Radoman says:

    Small Hondas and Toyotas do indeed hold their value, because most people just keep them, hence there are fewer on the market. It’s that or settle for some cruddy Metro to try and save on gas.

    While the Civic is a great car, I think the Corolla should probably top that list just for using a timing chain instead of a belt way back in 99.

    I know new cars are cheap right now, but seriously folks, you buy a good used Toyota or Honda at a decent price, and you can drive it a couple years without losing hardly any money.

    Depreciation for a new Honda/Toyota when you drive it off the lot is more than your total cost of ownership on a good used model.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I’d bet the Ford Focus is pretty close to the top. Our family owns 2 (an 03 and an 07), and aside from some very minor things covered under warranty on the 03, they’ve been great (crappy stock tires aside). Just because this top 9 list is effectively all Japanese doesn’t mean quality cars aren’t being put together by the Detroit 3.

  17. RandaPanda says:

    So, nothing really to do with the article other than it mentioning the Scion…and that makes me think of the bulky square scion’s that I see driving around my town.

    I was driving down I-44 from St. Louis down to Tulsa, a black scion passed me. I laughed when I caught back up to it and read their bumper sticker:

    “HA! You just got passed by a toaster!”

  18. Starphantom12 says:

    Yeeees. Just got myself an Impreza a couple months ago- 1,6000mi so far, and it’s been great. Looks like my choice of first car purchase was good!

  19. Trai_Dep says:

    You’d think if the “American cars were bad, but now they’re JUST as well-built as the Japanese ones” claim was accurate, evidence would show up on this list.
    It makes me think that the claim is simply PR spin.

  20. Amy Alkon000 says:

    That looks like my little Honda Insight hybrid in red on the cover…or am I wrong about that? It’s a fantastic car, but you’ll probably have a hard time finding one. 1900 lbs, two seater, cool design, and people who have an automatic get 100 mpg easy. (I’m a Los Angeles-dwelling lead-foot with an automatic, so I get 45 in city traffic, and about 65 if the freeway is pretty clear.)

  21. pyehac says:

    Out of that list, I think the Mazda3 is the best looking one (aka not bland)

  22. intrucka says:

    All I have to say is:

    Reliability data was compiled from the magazine’s Annual Auto Survey, which generated responses about more than 1.4 million new and used vehicles. CR also has top picks for Family Cars, Minivans, Small SUVs, and Midsized and large SUVs

  23. mobilene says:

    I dunno, I had to put a new transmission in my ’03 Matrix last summer. Turns out that the manual trannies in the early Matrixes have a known flaw that causes them to fail after 80,000 or so miles. So YMMV.

  24. whitecat says:

    16 mpg? My 1998 Impreza gets 30 mpg. It’s never given me any trouble, either, and it’s a hoot to drive even if it isn’t a WRX.

  25. DoubleEcho says:

    YES! My little 2003 Protege made the list! It’s only got 29k on the odometer, so hopefully I’ll still be driving the little bugger in another 10 years.

  26. tinfoil says:

    I’ll second the Protege. I have a Protege5, and it’s been fantastic mechanically, though tires can be a bit pricey.

  27. WatfordOrn says:

    At risk of angering our overlords, additional inspection is required of any consumer reports report. The auto survey is sent to current subscribers who are most likely to (a) value CR’s opinions on these matters and (b) most likely to buy based on CR’s opinion. Thus, you end up with people buying hondas, toyotas, and the like based on what CR tells them is “the most reliable.” As the next survey comes out, they want to feel good about their purchase, so they promote their cars, and the cycle continues. Takes a major f-up by an automaker to get off of this list (look back…the list changes very little over the past two decades) and it is nearly impossible for a new brand to crack the list.

    Also, the difference between a “reliable” and “unreliable” car these days is tiny, with tolerances typically measured in issues per thousand units. A Chevy Impala is just as reliable as any of these cars from a unit-by-unit perspective.

  28. chemrebel says:

    ’05 Vibe owner here. I absolutely love it. I scoured the NADA guides as well as the standby KBB to make sure I was getting a fair price when I bought it in ’06. And like another poster mentioned, I plan on driving this car til it dies (that’s what we do anyway in general).