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2009 Hyundai Sonata.


If you're in the market for a used car, the news is good – as long as that car isn't too old.

According to Consumer Reports' recently published annual used-car survey, pre-owned automobiles up to three years old are more dependable than they've ever been, and are getting better all the time. "Even the least reliable car makers are gaining ground on the perennial reliability leaders," the magazine's researchers say.

Those perennial reliability leaders being, of course, Honda and Toyota, whose models have a purported 80 per cent chance or better of being completely reliable. In virtually every category, a Toyota or Honda product of some kind is right in the thick of things for best reliability, resale, and so on. Subaru, Nissan and Mazda aren't far behind here. By way of comparison, VW products, for example, are put at just over 70 per cent reliable.

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In addition, three-year-old used cars fare better in terms of dependability than their predecessors. For example, VW models manufactured from 2002 to 2005 are a mere 58 per cent reliable, and the Toyota/Honda duo 82 per cent. The manufacturer that has made the "most dramatic improvement" over the past decade is Volvo.

So what are the most trustworthy used cars on the market? Broken down by price, here are Consumer Reports "Best Of The Best" for sedans and SUVs:

Less than $10,000: Hyundai Sonata four-cylinder and Scion xB wagon. "The Sonata's standard safety gear makes this car a bargain," noted CR researchers, and the xB has "near minivan levels of access."

$10,000 to $15,000: Infiniti G35 and Toyota Highlander. Both of these can be had with all-wheel-drive, which was a factor in CR's decision, and of the G35, it said this: "The ride is well-controlled and the cabin is quiet."

$15,000 to $20,000: Acura TL and Toyota RAV4. "The TL offers a near-ideal blend of comfort, convenience and sportiness," says CR. The RAV4, meanwhile, is "one of the top-rated small SUVs."

$20,000 to $25,000: Infiniti M35 and Acura MDX. Again, AWD is part of the package with both of these, as is a high level of standard safety equipment. Both of these upscale contenders also rank high in terms of comfort.

For cars that exceed the three-year-old threshold, CR also has a list of five-year-old winners and losers. Firmly in the former category are the Toyota Prius, Acura TSX, Honda Fit, Toyota Highlander and Honda CR-V. Not faring as well are the Mini Cooper, GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook, BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Chrysler Town & Country/Dodge Caravan. Of this latter group, CR explains that they started out with various problems and just got worse over time. In other words, if reliability is high on your list, the latter group is to be avoided. BMWs, in particular, seem to be riddled with problems, and this company has the lowest reliability rate of them all.

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On a similar note, C.R. has an extensive list of cars to be avoided. It's far too long to reproduce here, but includes most BMWs made from 2002 to 2011, most Chevrolet and GMC SUVs and pickups, Porsche Cayenne and Cayman vehicles and a bunch of Volkswagen products.

CR also noted that comparatively new features such as navigation systems, complex communications systems and touch-screen displays aren't all they're cracked up to be. Ford's MyTouch system, in particular, can be problematic.

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