Looking for a used car? Need a recommendation? If so, you won’t have to look too far. In fact, you’ll find so many recommendations that it can be hard to see the wood for the trees.
This is why some believe it’s better to take the opposite route.
Why, they ask, don’t you simply make a list of cars you need to avoid at all cost? Surely, this one is going to be shorter, and it may make it a lot easier to arrive at a decision.
In this article, we’ll tell you what we think of this approach – what makes it problematic, and how you can potentially modify it to meet your needs.
But first, let’s get one thing straight. Some people seem to think that cars have become so consistently great that even the worst models and makes are still “good enough.” We understand where they are coming from.
Do we still need to warn against certain models?
Absolutely. And here’s why:
For one, the difference between a “good enough” and a truly excellent vehicle can be tremendous.
True, even the cheapest cars these days are remarkably reliable and perform consistently well. However, they do encounter issues more often and may need more care and attention. These problems will only multiply as soon as you start looking for these models on the second hand market.
Secondly, one reason why cars have improved significantly especially over the past two decades is customer feedback.
It’s not that manufacturers have suddenly become much better (although, to a degree, they undeniably have). It’s that they have learned to involve actual drivers in the development process from day one.
For each new generation, they’ll listen closely to their feedback and make corrections accordingly.
In short: Just as ever, some cars will perform better or worse than others. This difference may be slightly less extreme than it used to be. But it can still be costly.
What’s the worst that can happen?
This is an important question. Because it gets to the heart of the quality debate.
Reliability is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. Rightfully so, in a way, because most people just want their car to work. And that’s what reliability is all about, isn’t it?
Well … not entirely.
Reliability does encompass everything that can go right or wrong with an automobile. At the same time, it can also be misleading. Minor quibbles can get blown beyond proportions compared to far more serious concerns in surveys.
What is the worst that could happen? Certainly, some of the most integral and expensive parts of a car could fail shortly after purchase. Yes, this is a real possibility with some cars – and it could have disastrous consequences.
Which means that giving this some thought is indeed vital.
Who’s to judge?
So you want to know which cars to avoid. That’s a commendable step and shows you’re taking the buying process seriously.
One question remains, however: Who’s to judge?
There are several potential answers to that question, but none of them is perfect:
Dealers: They have in-depth practical knowledge about the concrete issues that certain cars have. However – can you trust them to share it with you?
Magazines: Unfortunately, they often rely on industry support for their reviews, which creates a conflict of interest.
Experts: Mostly, what you’re getting is one woman’s or man’s opinion based on extensive experience of the market and driving many cars themselves. With this in mind, it’s remarkable how often they’re wrong.
Users: The great thing about the web is that you can compare so many different opinions and create a broader perspective. The problem: It’s hard to tell whether these people have the same needs and demands that you do. Without at least a few concrete explanations, most of these star-rating-systems don’t offer a lot of concrete help.
Why do so many dealers and experts recommend Japanese cars?
We’ve even seen comments along the lines of “never buy a used car unless it’s Japanese.” Or, to qualify this a little, “never buy a used car unless it’s a Toyota.”
One reason for these comments is, simply, that Japanese cars dominate reliability ratings. For quite some time, their quality control has been second to none and clearly ahead of most European, British, and American manufacturers’.
However, statements like those mentioned before are clearly taking things too far. Reliability surveys have completely taken over public perception of quality. They are never the full story, however, and, depending on the methods used, can yield strikingly different results.
Many brands are not far behind the Japanese.
This includes, of course, the fascinating ascent to the top by Korean car makers. And not all Japanse brands are equally reliable. Also, Japanese cars, especially Toyotas, are by no means a lot cheaper than their Western counterparts.
In fact, precisely because of their magnificent reputation, used Toyotas are actually quite expensive comparatively.
Finally, reliability is not everything. Other factors matter, too: Functionality, space, handling, performance, and safety, for example.
Surely, it would be wrong to avoid any car made outside of the land of the rising sun.
Why do so many dealers warn against in-demand cars?
It’s something that is very noticeable in many recommendations: Explicit warnings against cars that are
a) very popular
b) considered great.
Typical examples for the former category are Volkswagens, for the latter Land Rover and BMWs. These brands very often dominate the to-avoid-charts, even though we usually associate them with a high quality.
It is impossible to speak for those making these claims.
Here is our take on it:
Failures of popular or luxury cars make for a much better story. What surprise would there be in a review that told you that Dacias weren’t the best cars in the world?
More expensive and popular cars create different expectations. It is well known that this influences reliability ratings, as people simply report more issues with cars they expected more from.
Once a car sells more, more drivers are affected in case something does go wrong.
Cars are an emotional product and, just as in music, popular items can create strong, sometimes even violent opposition.
Repairs for luxury cars are much more expensive than for regular vehicles – thereby increasing the disappointment in case of problems.
All in all, this is not supposed to be an excuse for manufacturers with a lack of quality control. Also, we won’t claim that experts are always wrong when making strong statements against popular or in demand makes.
We do believe there may be a wealth of other factors involved which can make a serious judgement difficult.
Here’s a better approach
So how do you arrive at a list of which cars to avoid?
We have a strikingly simple approach that should give you excellent results.
In a first step, take a look at lists of which models to avoid based on generations. This is a much better method than excluding specific makes and models outright.
Almost every single car, even the fabled Toyotas, have had issues at some point in their history. Manufacturers excel not so much by not making any mistakes ever. They distinguish themselves by responding to them quickly and efficiently and solving the issue.
There are plenty of overviews of the ups and downs of specific model generations. You’ll be surprised to find that even some of the best models ever experienced issues at some point.
Focus on the car at hand.
Secondly, don’t look at all encompassing recommendations so much. Whenever you’ve whittled things down to a few cars that meet your requirements and are within your budget, ask for an expert opinion. This doesn’t need to be very expensive and can sometimes be done by a knowledgeable friend.
But even if you do end up spending 100-150 Pounds on it, this seems like a better investment than spending countless hours weeding through theoretical recommendations and then buying that one model of a great generation that ends up having a lot of issues.