We had a great response to our recent article 10 Most Reliable Car Brands. This got us thinking – what are the 10 least reliable brands?
We used the same analysis of 500,000+ cars model years 1995 to 2014, listed for sale on Mojo Motors to determine the average selling price depending on a vehicle’s mileage. Using a linear regression model, we were able to calculate the dollars of value lost as mileage increased and ultimately, the number of theoretical miles where a car lost all value. We were surprised to find many top luxury brands in this list – but we have our theories.
10. Volkswagen – 170,799 miles until worthless
9. Lexus – 170,440 miles until worthless
8. Hyundai- 169,123 miles until worthless
7. Chrysler – 166,076 miles until worthless
6. Kia – 163,536 miles until worthless
5. Buick – 157,164 miles until worthless
4. Cadillac – 156,837 miles until worthless
3. Audi – 153,120 miles until worthless
2. BMW – 151,950 miles until worthless
1. Mercedes-Benz – 147,032 miles until worthless
Volkswagen has their eyes set on being the largest automaker in the world, but their new-car sales in the U.S. are floundering, effectively holding them back from numero-uno status. Their vehicles are well-received by experts, but do get panned for their quality ratings according to this article by 24/7 Wall St. VeeDub loyalists considering their next ride should stick to the basics like the Passat, Golf or GTI. The brand’s premium SUV, the Touareg, is the one to avoid.
Surprised? Despite sharing many of the same technologies as the most reliable automaker, Toyota, Lexus does not have the same long-term reliability. The full size Lexus LS has the least miles to worthless which is a concern considering its hefty price tag. Shoppers looking for high-mileage value would be wise to buy a Lexus SUV or crossover like the RX and GX.
As of late, Hyundai ain’t half bad. When Hyundai redesigned the midsize Sonata and compact Elantra in 2011, they sought to create an entry-level luxury vehicle. In other words, Hyundai built entry-level cars that looked less entry-level and more premium. Like Buick and Kia, two brands that also make this list, stick to their newer models from 2010 and onward for something that holds its value a little longer.
While Dodge is benefited by Ram trucks, Chrysler isn’t so lucky. Chrysler has a reputation of varying quality and shoppers considering Chrysler for the long-term might want to avoid the full size 300 sedan and the Town & Country minivan. Surprisingly, the PT Cruiser and Pacifica are the tops for Chrysler.
Avoid: Town & Country
Thanks to Hyundai’s 32.8 percent stake in Kia, the brand has been on fire since they launched a completely redesigned Optima with Jaguar-looks in 2010. Along with the Optima, Kia’s lineup is among the most beautiful at the entry-level. What isn’t beautiful is their minivan, the Sedona, which is panned for its out-of-date design and efficiency. If you’re looking for a long-term a Kia minivan, the 2015 Sedona might be a good bet.
Buick is hot stuff in China, but in the United States, GM is still trying to shift consumer’s perceptions of the luxury brand. Built primarily on the same platforms as Chevrolets, Buick adds a level of sophistication the bowtie brand can’t quite match. The LaCrosse might be the Buick to avoid in our study, but this is due to the first generation (2005 to 2009) which had an aging engine and platform. Stick to the second gen LaCrosse built from 2010 on - U.S. News rates it higher than the Toyota Avalon.
Cadillac has successfully rebuilt its image thanks to the CTS and ATS launches. Having one of the most popular luxury SUVS, the Escalade, doesn’t hurt either. Despite a world class lineup today, be wary of older Cadillacs which have really hurt the brands long-term reliability.
The least reliable Audi is the Q7, which shares many of its components with Volkswagen’s least reliable, the Touareg. So if space isn’t a necessity in your crossover, consider the Q7′s little brother, the Q5, which is among Audi’s most reliable. Just above the middle-the-pack for Audi is their compact A4 which is good news for shoppers considering Audi’s most popular ride.
BMW, like Mercedes and Audi hold their value for just the first few years of age. As they get older, difficult to maintain techno-wizardry and expensive consumables (brakes, suspension, etc) dings the brands high-mileage viability. If you’re a 3-Series fan, fear not, since your luxury compact scores better than both the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Avoid: 7 Series
Shoppers don’t buy luxury cars to drive forever and this is probably a good thing for Mercedes-Benz and the other two luxury German automakers on this list. The newer GLK-Class SUVs are among their most reliable while their larger GL-Class SUVs among their worst. This matches the pattern with Audi’s Q5 and Q7 respectively. Mercedes’ full-size S-Class sedan, however, is among their most reliable which is important to note since the full size BMW 7-Series and Lexus LS are among the worst for those brands.
If you’re like us, you’re thinking, why are there so many top luxury makes in the least reliable list? Good question! There are a few reasons:
1) Mileage + Price = Reliability
Mileage where price equals $0.00 is a proxy for reliability in this study. When a car is on this list, that doesn’t mean it breaks-down or requires repair more often than the next, it just means its value declines sharply as mileage goes up.
2) Maintenance & Service Expenses
High-mileage luxury vehicles can be very expensive to maintain. The proliferation of complex electronics through all parts of the vehicles from navigation to suspension to the seats means repair costs can become prohibitive. This crashes resale value once the models are a few years out of warranty. If you find yourself in need of a mechanic, this is how to find one.
3) Study of Dealership Inventory
This list only looks at dealership inventory. While there may be many 300,000 mile S-class sedans for sale out there, dealerships don’t carry them. Mojo Motors only offers vehicles from dealerships so we don’t have access to that data.
Please note that while this data is a great way to understand how vehicle prices correlate to reliability, no study of used car reliability and its value is perfect. This is a make-specific study, not a breakdown of models, trims or years. There can be a large variation between model trims and there are many factors that go into the price of a car. Things like color, options, warranties and whether a car is a certified pre owned or not all greatly affect a cars valuation. Our study did not account for these variances.
Written by Max Katsarelas
Data compiled by Michael Milstein