The 10 Most Reliable Cars Ever Made
Cars and SUVs from the 1990s to 2010sby Ciprian Florea, on LISTEN 09:50
Some say cars aren’t as reliable as they used to be. While it is true that modern vehicles enjoy a shorter life cycle than some cars built in from the 1970s to the 1990s, some of the automobiles that are available right now, new or used, are reliable enough to be driven for at least a decade and up to 500,000 miles.
Many of these cars also don’t have major issues and are relatively inexpensive to repair anyway. Expert websites like Consumer Reports and J.D. Power have plenty of into about that, but we compiled a shorter list with the 10 most reliable cars of all time with examples from the 1990s to the 2010s, and even 2020.
The most reliable cars of the 1990s
The Honda Civic is one of the most reliable car nameplates. It’s been praised of its dependability ever since it debuted back in 1972 and it has been a success story ever since. The fifth-gen model is particularly known for its reliability. Built from 1991 to 1995, it comes from an era when automakers started to add more technology into their cars, but they were still relatively simple compared to modern vehicles.
Sold in hatchback, sedan, and coupe body styles, fifth-gen Civics are still present on the road and many of them have hit the 300,000-mile mark without major repairs. Honda’s four-cylinder engines are not only reliable, but efficient too, being able to return more than 50 mpg on the highway. This Civic is among the most reliable used cars you can buy today.
Volvo 900 Series
The 900 series arrived in 1990 as a replacement for the 700. It was almost as boxy, but some styling features were streamlined. Volvo also introduced new four-cylinder engines, including a turbocharged, 2.3-liter, and innovative safety features. Much like most rear-wheel drive Volvos, the 900 series is known for being highly reliable and for running for years and years without major issues.
Although you won’t see as many 940 and 960 models compared to fifth-gen Honda Civics, they’re still a popular sight in many European countries, especially in Scandinavia and Central Europe. The 900 series lived on until 1998, when it was replaced with S80.
Modern Mercedes-Benz cars may be luxurious and packed with loads of tech, but they’re not the most reliable. Many reliability studies put them behind less expensive cars, but they also usually lose to Lexus in the premium department. But things weren’t always like this.
Mercedes-Benz used to make tough cars that you could drive for at least 500,000 miles with only minor mechanical issues. The W124 that followed in 1985 and remained in production until 1995 was very similar in terms of dependability.
The cars fitted with the turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline six diesel engines were particularly popular and these engines proved to be one of the toughest from Mercedes-Benz. Many of these Mercs are still around and they’re still reliable, even if they’ve already clocked 300,000 miles.
The most reliable cars of the 2000s
Just like the Civic, the Accord is a highly reliable Honda and the seventh-generation model from 2002 to 2007 scored high in most dependability tests back in its day.
The Accord was included by Kiplinger on its list of "Cars that Refuse to Die," noting that the fact that Honda "puts its engines and engineering first" is an important part of the car’s solid reliability.
Consumer Reports also had good things to say about this generation of the Accord, including that owners don’t have many problems with these cars. When it comes to the best used cars on the market, you can’t go wrong with an Accord built in the 2000s.
The Toyota Corolla is one of the best-selling nameplates in the world. And that’s not just because Toyota is a global brand and the Corolla is an affordable car. It also gained a reputation for dependability and good quality, mostly beginning with the 1990s. In the 2000s, the Corolla reached its peak, hitting all reliability test and list with a hammer to raise above other popular and sometimes more expensive nameplates.
Both Consumer Reports and J.D. Power raved about its long-lasting reliability, also describing it as a no-brainer for compact-car buyers. The 1.8-liter engine that Toyota offered in the Corolla starting 1999 lived on for two decades in various Toyota models. Corollas built in the 2000s are by far some of the most reliable small cars out there.
Unlike the Corolla, the Lancer took advantage of Mitsubishi’s success in the World Rally Championship to boost sales, but the standard Lancer was a pretty simple car. Introduced in 2000, the sixth-generation Lancer was built in North America with a 2.0-liter engine and became a popular choice on the affordable sedan market.
The Lancer also proved highly reliable with good ratings from the big publications. It also topped Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index for many years. The legacy continued after Mitsubishi redesigned the Lancer in 2007.
The most reliable cars of the 2010s
The current Toyota 4Runner was launched in 2010, so it's the oldest car for the decade. The fact that it's present on most "best reliable cars" list is proof that not having too much technology and driving assist features keeps a vehicle dependable.
The 4Runner was ranked high for durability by Consumer Reports for 13 consecutive years, which makes it one of the most reliable vehicles sold from 2010 to 2019.
Read our full review on the Toyota 4Runner
The Toyota Camry competes in the same market as the Honda Accord and it’s been a bit more popular in terms of sales. Actually, the Camry has been America’s best selling sedan for almost every year since 1997. This isn’t because it’s just an affordable midsize sedan with generous room for passengers and luggage and decent quality interior. The Camry is also recognized as one of the most reliable cars out there.
The Japanese sedan was at the top of Consumer Reports’ reliability rating for every single year starting 2002 and won dependability award from J.D. Power for three years during the last decade.
Read our full review on the Toyota Camry
The Lexus ES is based on the Toyota Camry, so it’s far from surprising that this sedan made the list. A more luxurious alternative to the Camry, the ES features a fancier, sportier exterior, a revised interior with extra features and fine materials, as well as more powerful engine choices.
The ES also scored top reliability ratings with Consumer Reports in the last 10 years and trumps competition from German premium carmakers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi.
The ES was also awarded the highest reliability rating for compact premium cars by J.D. Power for every model year from 2012 to 2019. The Lexus brand is doing good overall too, being considered as the brand that builds the most reliable luxury cars.
Read our full review on the Lexus ES
A competitor for the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV-4 is yet another vehicle from the Japanese automaker that stands out in reliability tests. Consumer Reports testers haven’t reported major issues with the SUV from 2012 and it seems that the upgraded models from 2013 and 2016 are just as good. While it might not be the best in its class in terms of power and quality, the RAV4 soldiers on with excellent reviews on dependability for almost a decade now.
For 2018 and 2019, the RAV4 scored "Great" reliability ratings with J.D. Power, in both cases with more than 80 points out of 100.
Read our full review on the Toyota RAV4
Bonus - The most reliable cars of 2020
2020-model-year cars are obviously too new to judge, but many of the vehicle sold in 2020 have been around for a while. At least enough for Consumer Reports to release a list of the 10 most dependable cars. And it looks like this:
- Mazda MX-5 Miata
- Toyota Prius Prime
- Toyota Prius
- Lexus GX
- Hyundai Kona
- Mazda CX-3
- Lexus NX
- Toyota 4-Runner
- Mazda CX-9
- Lexus GS
Just like in our top 10 for the 1990s to the 2010s, the majority of the cars on this list are made by Japanese automakers. No fewer than nine out of 10 come from Japan, while the other one is made by a South Korean automaker. Six cars on this list are Toyota and Lexus models, made by the same parent company.