How do you decide if the secondhand car you're looking at is really worth buying? The finishing of the car doesn't really mean good maintenance–it could just mean that a worn-down and poorly kept vehicle has been spruced up just to make a sale. In fact, if a used car has been given a fresh coat of paint, it sort of indicates that the vehicle isn’t as good as it looks. However, there are so many other variables to consider as well. Online research will really help since you get to see consumer reviews of cars from actual owners and get to hear the gripes as well as praises. You should be on the lookout for the vehicles people rate high not just in mileage and looks but even more so in dependability.
Try and look for cars with lots of positive or negative reviews. This way, you can swing towards the favorable ones and steer clear of the models that tend to break down right in the middle of nowhere. Remember, research is key when you're going for a used vehicle because, when the miles pile up, the warranties expire, and any repairs after that will have to come from your pocket and can cost you an arm and leg. To help you a tad, we've compiled a list of used cars you should never buy secondhand because these models have faced a long struggle in the past, and the used versions will be worse for wear!
20 Ford Fiesta
The Ford Fiesta is available in many countries as a sedan, as a mini, and as a hatchback and is basically classified as a supermini. Production started in 1976 and is still on. In total, some 16 million units of this marque have been sold to date, making it the third bestselling Ford car after the F-series and the Escort. So, why are we asking you not to buy a secondhand version of this car? According to Cheat Sheet, the 2011 to 2014 models of the Ford Fiesta had a ton of issues, including transmission, body integrity, and audio system. A user on Edmunds reports the same: “The challenge with the vehicle was the horrible powertrain. Between the engine and the transmission, it couldn't figure out what it wanted to do. This was especially horrible for a stop-and-go or heavy traffic situations such as one would face in a daily commute; the engine kept revving and the transmission kept changing; it was very indecisive. Overall, a decent car once it has a refined or improved powertrain; until then, avoid for your own sanity.” The high points of the car, of course, are its great mileage and its handling–it may be compact, but it drives like a sedan.
19 Cadillac Escalade
The Cadillac Escalade came out in 1999, and at the start, it looked like the GMC Denali’s twin. In 2002, the Escalade was given a facelift to look more distinctive and more like a Caddy than just another luxury vehicle. If online research is to be believed, the Cadillac Escalade really slipped up between the years of 2015 and 2016 by producing a line of vehicles not up to the steep $80,000 price tag!
According to Consumer Reports, "Owners had complaints about the transmission system, powertrain, body components, and paint/finish quality in ’15 models."
The paint of the 16 models may have been made better, but it still was shoddy in power equipment and audio system reliability. While there are plenty celebrity users of this luxury SUV, the quality is disappointing. A user at Consumer Affairs reports that each time there was an issue with the headlamp, including some moisture in it or an LED fuse, the whole headlamp had to be changed–and that costs $2,500! The headlamps are apparently unserviceable, which took us by surprise, too. Other users have reported that the chrome laminations of the wheels flake off, and dealers blame the owners for washing the car!
18 Dodge Journey
According to Cheat Sheet, if anyone buying a used Dodge Journey looked at new car reviews only, they’d be in for a gross misrepresentation of facts. According to a user at Cars, “This car would be a good car for the money if the extras you paid extra for would work.” Apparently, he bought a used car which had 40,000 miles on it, and the GPS broke twice. Then, the alternator fried the battery. He continues to say that for the kind of money he paid for this car, he expected the car to last a lot longer instead of leaving him stranded on the side of the highway. The worst model years to buy of the Journey are 2009 and 2012 through 2015. These are the cars where problems with the engine, the suspension, and the audio components turn up later, and the repairs are pretty pricey. According to NY Times, the Journey faced five recalls between 2008 and 2010. That’s the thing with used cars—you don’t know whether the previous owner got the car back to the dealer to get the problem fixed or not. If the car was never taken for the recall, you'll surely end up with a lemon.
17 Chevrolet Cruze
The Chevrolet Cruze was formally introduced as a four-door compact sedan in 2008, and it replaced both the Optra and the Cobalt. But the history of this vehicle hasn’t been a pleasant one. In 2011, many vehicles were recalled because there were cases of the steering wheel breaking away from the steering column whilst the car was in motion!
Consumer Reports also says that models from 2011 to 2013 are completely unreliable with many problems including those involving engine cooling, transmission, climate control, and general body integrity.
Still, other users report that the car keeps having one issue or the other every month, which means their cars are at the mechanic's for days on end. The thing about buying a used Chevrolet Cruze is that you'd be paying for all those repairs from your own pocket, considering the warranty would've expired. One completely disgruntled user from Consumer Affairs even reported that his car has been in the shop "over 40 times over the last two years and counting for over 80 mechanical issues and he doesn’t expect it to ever run smooth." There have been other recalls for the car over braking issues that have caused almost 30 crashes as well as a risk of engine compartment fires!
16 Chrysler Town & Country
The Chrysler Town and Country was originally introduced in 1989 as a 1990 model and had a long run until it was finally discontinued in 2016. It was then redesigned as the Chrysler Pacifica, which is being recommended by many as a great minivan to buy. However, the Pacifica is a new baby—just a year old, and only now will the reviews start trickling in once the owners have run it for a few thousand miles.
The Town & Country gets good marks for being a solid luxury van with the exception of seats that are a little too curvy. But according to the reviews, its reliability has been a tad doubtful with many instances of it stalling on the highways and refusing to start–the result of frequent transmission errors in the car.
A user at Consumer Affairs states that his new vehicle already has three recalls, and each time, the dealer charged him for a part change that should've been free. The third time, the car stalled in Canada, and he had to have it towed back a distance before a mechanic could reset the electronics, but the mechanic told him not to turn the car off until he reached home!
15 Pontiac Torrent
Car Gurus users have been talking about the awful experiences they've had with the Pontiac Torrent. A common complaint is that the car makes horrible noises in winters, especially when it goes over a bump or a pothole. Clearly, Pontiac didn’t care all that much about body stability. Many complain that it sounds like a piece of junk in all seasons—in other words, all the time. Still, others talk about the fact that the accelerator doesn't work when stepped on. So basically, you cannot make the Torrent go faster. Some have also written that the ignition key doesn't work, making this totally untrustworthy. The Pontiac auto brand became officially defunct in 2010, mostly because of GM’s bankruptcy. Now, the parent company GM primarily focuses on its remaining brands: Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, and GMC. Many of the vehicles of these four brands aren't high on reliability as well. However, most of the Pontiac torrents in the market are lemons. According to Consumer Reports, this is one car you should avoid at all costs, lest it proves costly to you in a more literal way. If you need more convincing, it also has multiple problems with its drivetrain, its power equipment, and its fuel system.
14 Mini Cooper
Those who love the Mini Cooper love it despite it being an expensive car. If you want the Mini Cooper, the Mini Cooper knows it and charges you a bomb for it. Plus, if you get the Mini Cooper customized, the price can shoot up by as much as 30-40%. It comes with a standard three-year warranty and doesn't need much maintenance when it’s new. The Mini Cooper goes fast and is definitely fun to drive. The problem with buying a used Mini Cooper is that the car goes out of warranty. And when out of warranty, the repairs can be very expensive. It also uses premium fuel, which means your fuel economy will go up in flames.
According to Consumer Reports, all Mini Cooper models between 2007 and 2011 prove to be pretty unreliable.
There were plenty of recalls even in 2015, and complaints ranged from slipping clutches to an exhaust rattle. Tailgates were found to be defective, and there were turbocharger failures as well, which makes a used Mini Cooper a bit of a mess. While the Mini Cooper is certainly a collector's car, used-car buyers should perhaps steer clear of it and go for a more conventional and trustworthy car.
13 Volkswagen Tiguan
Despite the Volkswagen being a rather reliable car brand, it did fail with the Tiguan. The most common complaint about the Volkswagen Tiguan was a water-pump failure. Other factors such as high repair costs and a very low mileage also upset its users. There were complaints about the timing chain tensioner as well as total engine failure. According to Car Complaints, this wasn't a reliable car at all.
This SUV proved to be a lemon between 2011 and 2013, as users reported multiple problems, such as power equipment failure, repeated electrical work, and massive engine problems.
If you have to buy a used Volkswagen Tiguan, the only okay year was perhaps 2012. With the 2018 model out, it's now a wait-and-watch for the eventual future of this car. The new model doesn’t just look better and bigger but seems to have some rad technology, which hopefully should fix the previous years’ shortcomings. For the time being, though, since the new model hasn’t been tried and tested all that much, many recommend you not to buy a used Tiguan. The repairs are long and unending; plus, since there's so much wrong with this car, the repairs can cost you a princely sum.
12 Dodge Challenger
If you're a Breaking Bad fan, then you obviously love the Dodge Challenger. Fans would also remember this car from the Quentin Tarantino classic Death Proof. In it is that white striped 1970 Dodge Challenger. If you, too, are in the market for one, we hate to be the one to disappoint you. The recent years haven't been kind to the Dodge Challenger at all. The 2015 models are known to have many problems with body finishing as well as power equipment, and the same goes for previous year models as well.
Consumer Affairs reports that many users face problems with the alternators of the Challenger, which seem to go kaput without warning.
While the car looks tough, many feel it's actually fragile. Problems creep in under 40,000 miles, and each problem often costs almost a thousand bucks to fix. The integrated power module is also a frequent problem. Users have also reported that sometimes, the engine shuts off while the car is being driven, which can be quite dangerous on busy roads. That’s the thing with a used car—you cannot buy one solely based on its outsides. A pre-owned vehicle has to be a reliable one; else, it’s a pretty waste!
11 Audi A4
Since Audi is a luxury brand, most assume that a pre-owned Audi must be a great buy as well. How wrong can you go with a luxury car, right? Apparently, when it's an Audi A4, you can go very, very wrong. According to Consumer Reports, the Audi A4 showed marked improvement after 2011 because major upgrades to the engine happened in 2011. Before this, the Audi A4 wasn't a reliable car–obviously, since it was a luxury car, it would certainly have made for a pleasurable drive. But when we talk about reliability, we talk about pre-owned vehicles. Most cars drive well while they're under warranty, but when the warranty expires, so does the car! Avoid any models between 2000 and 2010. Also remember, buying any pre-owned luxury car means you'll have to shell out more for repairs. According to motoring research, Audi A4 owners pay more than 350 bucks for each repair on average. A car that's under five years, incurs minor costs. For the next five years, repair costs go up because the car often needs a major overhaul. Simply said, any luxury car needing major service should be avoided.
10 Chevrolet Traverse
The Chevrolet Traverse made its debut in 2009. Modeled after the Chevy Trailblazer and the Uplander, it seemed to be a natural successor and, from the start, has had good sales. Why then are we asking you not to buy this car? According to Driving Life, the Chevrolet Traverse has been subject to many consumer complaints since the beginning. Cheat Sheet reports that you should avoid buying a Chevrolet Traverse between the model years 2009 and 2012. Even 2013 and 2016 models seem to be suspect.
Common complaints include problems with the climate control as well as the suspension.
There also have been reports of fires under the hood and malfunctioning windshield motors. Other niggling problems include seat issues and seatbelt failure. Airbags have sometimes not inflated, which is a massive safety fail, and they also have had problems with the fuel gauge, leaving some drivers stranded in the middle of nowhere with an empty tank when the gauge still shows the tank to be half full. The Chevy Traverse isn't a bad car, but if someone got rid of it at a used-car dealer, they probably had a reason to. With so many problems in an otherwise successful car, you shouldn’t go for a pre-owned version of the Traverse.
9 Chrysler PT Cruiser
An owner of the Chevrolet PT Cruiser boldly states on Consumer Affairs that his car literally tries to kill him every time he drives it. It shuts off without any reason or warning even when he's driving at 75 miles per hour on the interstate, which isn’t just dangerous but could also be fatal. He also goes on to say that the alarm will sound for no reason, nearly giving him a heart attack. The horn can also honk equally suddenly and not work when needed. So basically, it’s one terrible car. Frankly, the Chevrolet PT Cruiser looks like a relic that should be in a museum. Most people dislike its design, and rightly so. To the ones who like it, to each his own. That said, it still is a terrible choice if you want to buy a reliable car. According to Cheat Sheet, as a rule, all Chrysler vehicles made in the pre-recession era should be given the boot, which means that that used Chrysler PT Cruiser you're eyeing in the lot because it's cheap is already a lemon. The Internet calls the Chevrolet PT Cruiser other rhyming names like an "abuser," a "loser," and even a "bruiser"! Those should be enough hints for you!
8 Nissan Pathfinder
Despite the Nissan Pathfinder selling over 150,000 cars in the US alone in 2013 and 2014, this is one car you seriously shouldn't buy secondhand. There were some nine separate recalls of the 2013 model alone, involving serious safety issues like brake problems and airbag failure. The 2014 model made it into at least 10 least-reliable car lists, so that’s another year off your used-car list. Users have reported transmission problems and rattling noises.
Other common problems include an erratic fuel gauge and abnormal engine noises caused by slack in the timing chains.
The starter relay is also known to fail, leaving you high and dry because your car won't start. Other recalls involve transmission fluid leakage, which would again leave you stranded in the middle of the nowhere if you didn’t have it corrected in the first place. According to Consumer Reports, the vehicle doesn’t handle all that well either, and the running boards are more of a hindrance than a help. The car will also not run well if it's loaded too much, so basically, this is not an ideal pre-owned vehicle. If you still want to go for the Pathfinder, buy the 1999 model. It has excellent reviews.
7 Jeep Grand Cherokee
The origins of the Grand Cherokee can be traced back to 1983, when AMC wanted a successor to the smaller Jeep Cherokee. It formally debuted in 1992 as a 1993 model in the luxury SUV segment and took off pretty well from there. For years, it was considered to be a reliable car. Things started to change for the worse beginning 2000. Users on Car Complaints report that repairs became more frequent and more costly as the vehicle advanced in model years, and the mileage kept dropping to alarming levels as well. Common problems include the TIPM going bad that causes the engine to not start or become very hard to start, which, in a way, belies the whole purpose of owning a luxury SUV. The electronic shifting was also proving unreliable, and surprisingly, the leather dashboard would often bubble or turn wrinkly, which shouldn’t happen in a car with this kind of price tag. According to Consumer Reports, the worst model years of the Jeep Grand Cherokee were 2007, as well as between 2011 and 2014. Models of the year 2016 also fell way below average. If you have to buy a pre-owned jeep grand Cherokee, these model years must be avoided.
6 Mercedes-Benz GL
A Mercedes-Benz comes with a hefty price tag indeed. And the Mercedes-Benz GL is no different. You would expect a car this expensive to last you many, many years. Unfortunately, according to Cheat Sheet, the GL utility models were plagued with problems from the start. As a way to increase braking performance, the brake pads and rotors were made of a soft material, which often needed replacement after every 20,000 miles. Obviously, no Mercedes ever comes cheap. Vehicles with 7-speed automatic seemed to develop a rough downshift, which is unseemly in a vehicle so expensive. According to Repair Pal, many owners also complained about an engine oil leak that needed regular maintenance. Models between 2013 and 2015 were especially problematic, and many websites call them the least reliable of the bunch. In case you're looking to buy a used Mercedes-Benz, it's better to stick to the E-class or the S-Class sedans. If you want a pre-owned SUV that's reliable and won't cost you an arm and a leg to repair, you may be barking up the wrong brand. Some cars are worth it only when under warranty.
5 Tesla Model X
The Tesla Model X is a new-age wonder, for design-wise, it's unmatchable. The rear seats float on two wing-like rear doors, and the fighter jet-like canopy looks unreal. Plus the car can park itself! However, the makers of this car didn't think the design through. The gullwing rear doors have been known to stop without warning, and that canopy windshield lets in too much sun. The $110,000 price tag doesn't justify the choppy ride and the fact that it drives more like a sedan than an SUV.
Wind noise in the cabin is a huge complaint of many users as are steering problems and door malfunctions.
There are people who placed an order for the Tesla Model X and canceled it but have still not received any refunds. One user on Consumer Affairs complained that his Tesla accelerated while parking and hit a parking pole. When he asked for the company to release the black box, they refused, so his car is still at the body shop for the fourth straight month. Consumer Reports call the 2016 launch of the Tesla Model X as fast and flawed. So, before you put down for a pre-owned Tesla Model X, you should probably wait a few months for the company to work its kinks out.
4 Volkswagen Jetta
The Volkswagen Jetta is sold in many countries under the same name, and in many third world countries, it's a prized sedan. While it's been a fairly successful car, this popular US model has had many reliability issues since 2010. Braking problems are common because of a very commonly occurring ABS module failure in many model years. Users at Car Complaints have also spoken about automatic transmission shifting rather roughly, which badly affects the ride quality. There have been many reports of clutch failures as well. The climate system of the car is also shown to be problematic, with many users having issues with it in hot weather. Plus, various other electrical components can fail without warning. The 2014 to 2016 model years have been pretty bad as well, with owners facing issues with the audio system, poor interior finishing, and on-and-off power equipment. One user at Consumer Affairs reveals that a Jetta often uses soy wiring, which means it has to be protected from the rodents, lest they chew it up. Engine coils also often prove to be a problem, but Volkswagen issued no recalls for it. Plus, with the 2014 emission scandal models, it's better to steer clear of pre-owned Volkswagen Jettas, period.
3 BMW X5
A BMW X5 owner at Auto Express is pretty vociferous about the car’s nonexistent reliability: “This car has had nothing but problems, but I suspect the lack of technical ability within all-out local BMW Dealers plays a large part in this. They simply do not know how to fix things. So far, this car has had oil pressure sensor, two electric mirrors, the starter motor, power steering hoses, sunroof repair, numerous electronics faults all looked at and repaired/replaced, and it has not even done 42,000 miles yet!” So, there you have it—the reason why we say that buying a pre-owned BMX X5 is one bad idea, particularly the model years that happened before the major 2014 redesign. Consumer Reports recommends fully skipping the 2011 and 2012 models but also points out that the 2013 and 2014 models, too, came with their own set of issues. Many users say that it’s one of those cars which have a new problem every month, and most dealers are ill-equipped to find the underlying issue. Common complains are faulty climate control, defective fuel systems, and issues with engine parts as well as the suspension. And because of its luxury stature, once the warranty expires, repairs go through the roof!
2 Audi Q7
The Audi Q7 was launched in 2005 as Audi’s very first SUV offering, and initially, it impressed. Cut to 2015, and it hadn't undergone any major change, so the 2015 model was clearly outdated amidst the newer giants around. The overhaul of 2016 meant that the Audi Q7 models from 2017 and above were really impressive and have been making top car lists in midsize luxury SUVs all over the world. That said, if you do go in for a pre-owned Audi Q7, remember that its main problems usually stem from certain electrical components of the vehicle. Problems with the lights, the ignition, and the fluid holders (due to cooling-system material degrading over time) are usually the first to occur, according to Car Gurus. If you're looking at used cars in the 70k+ mileage, they would be out of warranty and in need of a timing-belt and a water-pump change soon. This means luxury-price repairs as well. Consumer Reports indicates that models between 2010 and 2016 had problems with the brake system, audio components, and general body integrity. Like with all luxury cars, a secondhand model will incur solid repair costs, so don’t get swayed by the cheap price tag–you may end up later paying through your nose!
1 Ford Focus
If we could use just one word to describe how Ford lost its focus, it has to be "transmission"! While Ford extended its warranty to cover transmission problems, the actual wording of the revision was contradictory. The warranty covered "Fluid contamination of the clutch caused by leaking input shaft seals." Unfortunately, Ford also clearly states, "Vehicles may or may not exhibit transmission fluid leaking from the clutch housing." This means that if your vehicle doesn't show the leakage, you may not get a slice of that extended-warranty pie. And that’s because you won’t know of the transmission problems until it's too late. According to Cheat Sheet, Ford Focus was the world’s bestselling car as recently as 2013. Post the whole transmission fiasco, its reliability dropped to the very nadir, and you’ll find dirt-cheap Focuses just about everywhere. Consumer Reports recommends you pass on this car in model years 2012 through 2016 if you’re buying used. Better go for a Hyundai Elantra or a Mazda, which retail slightly higher than the Ford Focus but won't come pre-loaded with a host of problems. The steal deal you may be getting at a dealer won't run well or even resell well…
Sources: ConsumerAffairs.com, CheatSheet.com, Edmunds.com, ConsumerReports.org,
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