IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Used-car clunkers to avoid

Image: BMW’s sporty large crossover SUV
BMW’s sporty large crossover SUV is cited by both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates for having worse-than-average reliability from the model years 2008 and 2009. An.Niedermeyer / BMW Group MediaPool
/ Source: Forbes

With the average new car selling for around $30,000, and even a moderately equipped compact model going for close to $20,000 these days, cash-strapped motorists have little choice but to purchase a used vehicle.

Unfortunately, a relatively short supply of pre-owned models – precipitated by the 2007-2009 economic recession, when fewer new vehicles were purchased or leased – continues to keep used-car values at or near record-high levels according to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Used Car Guide.

What’s more, even though today’s cars tend to last far longer than did models from 20 or more years ago, like fine wines some tend to age better than comparable models of the same vintage. With used-car values already out of whack, shoppers need to be extra cautious to avoid compounding an already unfavorable financial situation by selecting a more problematic model that will require costly out-of-warranty repair work.

To that end we’ve compiled the accompanying rogues gallery of 10 used cars to avoid, based on data we’ve compiled from multiple sources including reliability surveys, safety ratings, resale values and our own experiences road-testing the vehicles over the years. slideshow: 10 used cars to avoid

Our selections are largely based on both initial-quality/performance and long-term reliability reports for model-year 2008 and 2009 vehicles conducted by Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates. All of the models in our list were rated as being below average in overall reliability by both organizations.

Consumer Reports bases its durability findings on data supplied by owners of 1.3 million vehicles, while J.D. Power’s findings were compiled from information supplied by 43,700 original owners of 2008 model-year vehicles and 31,000 original owners of 2009 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership. Both sources polled participants regarding mechanical and other problems experienced during the prior 12 months.

While we’ve included used cars to avoid in most market segments, we came down especially hard this year on a number of under-performing luxury vehicles, including the BMW X5 SUV, and the Cadillac STS, Jaguar XF and Lincoln MKS sedans. Not only have used luxury-car prices skyrocketed by about 22 percent from 2009-2011, according to the NADA Used Car Guide, but the cost of replacement parts and labor tend to be considerably higher than with similar models from mainstream brands. (After all, there’s a reason that BMW and Mercedes-Benz dealers can treat their customers to posh service-department waiting rooms and the latest models as loaner cars.)

Those looking to the pre-owned market for a less expensive way to obtain upscale brand cachet often find themselves paying dearly for the privilege in terms of steeper repair bills. This is one segment in which we strongly recommend buying a late model “certified” used car from a dealer that’s both been reconditioned and comes with a comprehensive warranty.

Other models in our list tend to be cars and trucks that not only missed the mark in terms of accommodations and performance as new cars but have only fared worse over time in terms of their dubious durability. These include lackluster models from model years 2008 and 2009 like the Chevrolet Aveo subcompact sedan and hatchback, Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger midsize sedans, Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickup trucks and the Dodge Nitro and Jeep Liberty sport-utility vehicles.

While we’ve always tended to favor the Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan minivans as new vehicles for their roomy and comfortable interiors and class-leading family friendly features, by all accounts models from 2008 and 2009 tend to lag behind the competition in terms of reliability. And nobody wants to the kids to be late to school or miss soccer practice because their ride suffers an untimely mechanical issue.

And then there’s the Jeep Wrangler, which remains beloved as a rough-and-tumble choice among the outdoorsy set, but as a used car, unsuspecting buyers can find it just too much to handle with a buckboard ride, stiff handling and added mechanical problems – particularly from potential abuse at the hands of a former owner’s off-road exploits.

Of course, even a vehicle that boasts long-term reliability can prove to be a “lemon” if its been abused, has hidden damage or was improperly maintained. That’s why it’s always prudent to have a trusted mechanic carefully inspect any used car or truck under your consideration to get an impartial evaluation of its operating condition. And always run a model’s vehicle identification number (VIN) through a title-search service like CarFax to make sure it hasn’t been previously flood-damaged or salvaged and subsequently rebuilt.

The good news for those considering a pre-owned vehicle is that analysts see used car prices taking an end-of summer dip, dropping an average 3.8 percent in August and between 3 percent and 3.5 percent in September, according to the NADA Used Car Guide.

“Over the next few months, we expect to see an acceleration in the decline of used-vehicle prices that usually begins as the summer season winds down,” says Jonathan Banks, senior analyst with the NADA. Expect prices to drop further over time as the inventory of used vehicles continues to grow concurrently as more models come off lease and added trade-ins from new-car sales fill dealers’ lots. “This means that for the first time in years, downside price risk is on the horizon in 2013 and even more so farther out into 2014,” Banks says.

More from