Nothing but Trouble: Used Cars to Avoid Like the Plague

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Navigating the new car market can be treacherous, but the used market is significantly larger and riddled with more hidden pitfalls. Used cars also offer the best potential value for your money, provided you don’t end up with a lemon. Even something that passes your initial scrutiny might be a few months away from becoming a clattering heap.

Fortunately, Consumer Reports keeps a running tally on the worst second-hand garbage that money can buy. Taken from its most recent ranking, here are some of the more common models from the last 10 years that scored so poorly in reliability that they aren’t even worth your consideration.

Luxury vehicles, which used to have over-sized and under-strained motors, were a fairly safe bet in the past. You could scoop one up for a fraction of what it was new and comfortably watch the odometer rack up the miles. Things are a little more complicated now that the segment doesn’t only include only soft sedans with a detuned engine. Avoid Infiniti’s JX from 2013 and the QX60 from 2014. Other bad eggs include Lincoln’s 2015-2016 MKC and 2013 MKS, Volvo’s 2015 S60 and 2016 XC90, and Acura’s 2015-2016 TLX.

Buick’s 2008-2011 Enclave isn’t worth your time, nor is the 2009 Lacrosse or 2008 Lucerne. Cadillac’s ATS from MY 2013 and 2015 suffered from well below average dependability, as did Escalades from the last three model years.

If German cars are more to your liking, BMW’s 3 and 5 Series both have a poor reputation for reliability between the 2008 and 2012 model years. The 4 Series also didn’t do well in 2014. Mercedes-Benz had at least one bad year for most of its models. Among the more common choices was the 2015 C-Class, 2011 M-Class, 2015 S-Class, and 2016 GLE. Audi’s 2009-2010 A4 and last year’s A3 should also be avoided.

Volkswagen had a smattering of duds, largely dependent upon model year. The ones you’re most likely to see in used lots are the 2010 and 2016 Golf, 2012-2013 GTI, 2007 and 2014 Passat, 2011-2013 Tiguan, and basically any Jetta from 2010 to 2016 — though some years were better than others.

Mini’s Cooper should also be sold with an optional red flag for the 2007-2011 and 2015 model years.

On the North American front, other commoner-friendly cars to watch out for are the 2011-2013 Chevrolet Cruze, 2010-2011 Chevy Equinox, 2012 Sonic, 2007-08 Chrysler PT Cruiser, 2013 200, the 2014-2015 Dodge Charger, 2013 Dart, basically every Dodge Journey ever made, Ford’s 2013 Escape, the 2011-2014 Fiesta, and 2012-2016 Focus. I also wouldn’t sign off on payments for a GMC’s 2007-2014 Acadia anytime soon.

If you’re into larger vehicles with more ground clearance, the trucks and SUV segments had some exceptionally deficient offerings. The worst included Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD’s from 2012 onwards, (obviously) GMC Sierra 2500s from the same years, Yukon and Yukon XLs from 2014-2015, Chevy Suburbans from 2014-2016 and 2008, 2014-2016 Tahoes, Ford F-250s from 2008, 2010, and 2014, the 2012 Expedition, 2014 and 2016 Ram 1500, and most 2500s from 2012 or later. Toyota’s only dud turned out to be the 2016 Tacoma.

Japan and Korea faired much better overall, however there were some dark spots on its resume. Last year’s Honda Civic is a no-no, as is the Nissan Rouge from 2014, Juke from 2012, and 2013 Sentra. You should also take a pass on the 2009 Subaru Impreza and 2008 Outback, along with Mazda’s 5 and 3 from 2008 and 2016, respectively.

Minivans that didn’t make the grade were Chrysler’s Town and Country from 2008-2012 and the Dodge Caravan from those same model years.

Jeep was chock-full of ill-advised purchases, with the 2007, 2008 and 2015 Wrangler being the most heartbreaking. Other potential lemons included Cherokees and Renegades from the last couple of years and practically every Grand Cherokee built after 2011. Additional FCA flotsam and jetsam came in the form of the 2012, 2013, and 2015 Fiat 500.

While vast, this collection is by no means complete and focuses on more typical passenger vehicle offerings from used car dealerships. I would recommend checking out Consumer Reports’ complete listings to see if a model you’ve had your eye on might begin to evaporate once you take ownership.

[Image: General Motors]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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2 of 151 comments
  • Stanley Steamer Stanley Steamer on Jun 13, 2017

    While visiting a dealer to place an order for the new XC60 I thought I had the deal of a lifetime when I found a 2016 XC90 there for 42k with 10k on the clock. It turns out that one and four others on the lot were all lemon buybacks. It turned me off. But I couldn't be happier with the Forester Touring I picked up at the Subaru dealer next door.

  • Rpol35 Rpol35 on Aug 25, 2017

    While your take on the 2011 Grand Cherokee (issues with the new, first year WK2 model?) seems to mirror other published reports, not so beyond that. I bought a 2012 in 2015, have put 30,000 miles on it and have been very happy with it. Nothing has gone wrong and that pretty well mirrors what I read in Consumer Reports long term experience before making the purchase.

  • MaintenanceCosts It's not really much of a thought in the buying process. I would think twice about a vehicle assembled in China but other than that I really don't care. Looking at my own history, I've bought six new cars in my lifetime (I don't think choice of used cars says anything at all). I think the most patriotic of them were mostly Japanese brands. (1) Acura, assembled in Japan (2) Honda, assembled in U.S. (3) Pontiac, assembled in Australia (4) Subaru, assembled in U.S. (5) Ford, assembled in U.S. (6) Chevrolet, assembled in Korea
  • ToolGuy News Flash: Canada isn't part of the U.S.
  • Dave M. My Maverick hybrid is my first domestic label ever. It was assembled in Mexico with US components. My Nissan and Subaru were made here, my Toyota, Isuzu and other Nissan had J VINs.
  • ToolGuy "and leaves auto dealers feeling troubled" ...well this is terrible. Won't someone think of the privileged swindlers??
  • ToolGuy "Selling as I got a new car and don't need an extra." ...Well that depends on what new car you chose, doesn't it? 😉