Save Money in the Long Run With the Most Reliable Cars

Which are the most reliable cars? Reputation and longevity are only part of the equation; maintenance is key, too. What you need to know, and the brands that stand out

The Rugged, Yet Sleek Toyota 4Runner
The rugged, yet sleek Toyota 4Runner. Photo: Chastity Beene

Spend More Now For Fewer Costs (and Headaches) Later

Reliability is a buzzword you often hear when car shopping. And it makes sense: buying a reliable car is one of the more important factors to consider. There are a number of brands that are are known for reliability, such as Toyota, Lexus, Acura, Honda, and Subaru, and many others that are pretty good as long as they are well maintained. But reliability isn’t all about the magic of the brand; there are some other important pieces of the reliability puzzle to ensure your new car lasts through the miles.

Consumer Reports compiles much of the data used to determine the most reliable cars from actual drivers of new and used vehicles. Drivers of the brands previously mentioned report fewer problems throughout the first few years of ownership. Regardless of brand, hybrid vehicles and sedans have also earned a reputation for reliability.

And, even the most reliable cars can end up leaving you stranded if they are not properly maintained with regular oil changes, tire rotations and following the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule.

The calculations can be complicated, but finding a good car or SUV is actually pretty easy. Below are some good vehicles that have a history of reliability, reasonable ownership costs, and solid resale value.

The Rugged, Yet Sleek Toyota 4Runner

The rugged, yet sleek Toyota 4Runner. Photo: Chastity Beene

Renowned Brands Known for Their Reliability

Vehicles like the Toyota 4Runner and Highlander have a pretty stellar history of reliability, cost of ownership, and resale value. Toyota’s midsize SUVs are known for lasting 200,000 miles or more without too many issues. Maintenance is pretty routine and cheap, especially since it is a Toyota. On top of that, the resale value remains high for Toyota SUVs, thanks to that reputation for reliability. The Highlander is a more family-focused vehicle with plenty of new technology, helping it score an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus award. The 4Runner is more rugged and earned good safety scores from the NHTSA. Both have plenty of space and check all of the important factors listed here.

This year, Toyota also launched the 2024 Grand Highlander. Utilizing the familiar name of the dependable two-row Highlander, this family SUV has more space and a third row. Even though it is new to the market, Toyota is banking on that long history the smaller  model has with drivers already.

Subaru is another brand with many models that excel in reliability and safety. When it comes to the IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus and NHTSA five-star safety rating, you’ll often see a few Subaru models. The Subaru Crosstrek is one of the more reliable new models, along with the well-loved Forester model. The Forester and some other models like the Outback and Ascent also landed on Kelley Blue Book’s list of lowest cost-to-own vehicles for a few years. Drivers tend to hold on to Subaru vehicles for a long time, which is another testament to the quality of the brand.

Honda, and its luxury division, Acura, both earned high scores from owners for reliability. Honda has a lot of popular cars and SUVs that are known to run for a long time without much fuss. In fact, the company states in its warranty that owners can drive 100,000 miles before any major maintenance is necessary. The compact Honda CR-V and smaller HR-V have been on the market for many years and have proved to be dependable models. Maintenance is a little more expensive on Acura vehicles, but you’ll find most Honda models have affordable ownership costs.

The Xse Hybrid Badge

The XSE Hybrid badge. Photo: Scotty Reiss

The Reliability of Hybrid Vehicles and Sedans Makes Them a Compelling Choice 

There are also plenty of hybrid vehicles to choose from that come from these reliable brands. Hybrid powertrains have actually had 26% less problems than gasoline vehicles over the last few years. The Toyota Camry Hybrid, RAV4 Prime, RAV4 Hybrid, Corolla Hybrid, and Highlander Hybrid all have high scores of reliability and low ownership costs. These cars and SUVs tend to offer the best of both worlds when it comes to fuel economy, using electric when possible and gasoline for the other times. That helps makes a tank of gas go further, saving money in the long run. These models tend to cost a little more upfront, but make up for it down the line.

It’s worth noting that this does not apply to plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. Over the past few years, these powertrains have proven to have more issues than traditional gasoline vehicles, though they run on newer technology and there are fewer of them on the road than hybrids.

Sedans like the Toyota Camry, Corolla, and Honda Civic are everywhere for a reason. These best sellers are good on gas, spacious enough for most situations, and are just generally easy to own. Whether you buy new or used, these models should serve you well past 100,000 miles without much fuss. Just make sure you get those oil changes!

Lexus Gx 550.

I love the looks of the new Lexus GX 550. Photo: Connie Peters

Toyota and Lexus are Trusted Starting Points for Quality Vehicles

Realistically, Toyota and Lexus have the most models to offer that are also dependable. Some of the highest-scoring Lexus models include the UX SUV, ES sedan (in both hybrid and gasoline) along with the ever-reliable Lexus RX and NX, which both come in hybrid and gasoline models. Lexus managed to have many vehicles with high reliability scores, proving to be a top brand for new cars in 2023.

For reliable Toyota vehicles, you really can’t go wrong with any of the models that have been around the block a few times. The Camry, Prius, 4Runner, and RAV4 come with reasonable price points and inexpensive maintenance, which makes for drivers who tend to be satisfied with these vehicles. Plus, resale value tends to be better on vehicles with proven reliability histories.

Reliability and the Cost Of Ownership 

The great thing about a highly reliable car is that it should have a higher resale value, But But before counting those chickens (or buying a car that is considered reliable), you’ll need to consider the cost of ownership and how it impacts its value.

The cost of ownership includes things like maintenance, repairs, and even fuel. Basically, the money you are putting into the vehicle while it’s in your care. It can even include insurance, fees, and insurance. There are many reliable cars in the luxury segment that check all of the boxes, but come with higher maintenance and insurance costs. For the resale value, you’ll want to consider what you might get for it in the future. You might find a great vehicle that fits all of your needs but the brand is notorious for having poor resale value. So it can end up costing you in the long run.

If Reliability Matters to You, Don’t Get Swayed By a Pretty Face

Our heads can be turned by sexy sports car or the power players on the road, but those can be the ones that don’t last as long or cost more to maintain. So, taking reliability factors into consideration now might net you a better deal in the long run.

Also, avoiding a car that’s known to have problems in the first few years of ownership is a good idea, and skipping a vehicle with high maintenance costs is just a smart move.

But the good news is, there are many models to choose from that check all of these boxes. And, they can be pretty and powerful too, as long as you take care of them.

Amanda Cline is an automotive enthusiast from Southwest Florida. She has cultivated her love for cars from a young... More about Amanda Cline