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A common concern with cars as they age is dependability—not only that they may not get you to work one day but also that a catastrophic failure could cost thousands of dollars. Major problems are rare in general, but they do happen.
To understand how often such problems occur, we analyzed data on older models from our Annual Autos Surveys to see which ones had the highest problem rates for major systems that often required expensive repairs.
Engine problems are among the greatest mechanical nightmares for their inconvenience, expense, and time to repair. We found that there are more than a dozen older models with problems serious enough to require engine rebuilds.
“Engine failure can be caused by many things,” says John Ibbotson, Consumer Reports’ chief mechanic. “Some engine rebuilds are needed due to low compression from worn piston rings, resulting in lack of power, misfiring, or excessive oil consumption, while others suffer from crankshaft or connecting rod bearing failure, signaled by a knocking sound.” Because of the difficulty and time required to rebuild an engine, repair shops will often replace the original engine with one that has been remanufactured.
A Hyundai Santa Fe owner reported: “The engine seized and failed without warning. Internet research identified a recurring issue with metal shards in engine. Fortunately, the manufacturer paid for a replacement engine.”
Some Subaru Forester owners chronicled their problems with oil consumption. One said: "Oil consumption was measured, proved to be excessive, and the engine block was replaced. This did fix the issue." Having such a major repair done without charge is a relief, but even better is avoiding such problems by buying a vehicle with a rock-solid reputation for reliability.
To help warn both current owners and used-car shoppers, we compiled a list of 11 models from the past decade that stood out as having the most severe problems, as determined by frequency and cost. (Note that the bottom two models are tied for 10th place.)
They are presented below in rank order, starting with the one with the highest problem rate. We included the model year with the greatest problems (and when applicable, a range of years affected by the problem) and the typical mileage range when it occurred. And where possible, we recommend similar alternative vehicles. If no alternatives are presented, that means similar cars had the same problem or another significant one.
The journey to 200,000 miles can be a bumpy one, but it doesn't have to be if you start with a good, reliable car and properly maintain it according to the directions in the owner’s manual. Consumer Reports always recommends that shoppers consult the reliability ratings, based on our large-scale member surveys, to see which models have better odds of being trouble-free. This detailed data can be found on our car model pages.
2014 Kia Optima
2013 Kia Sorento
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
2011 Hyundai Sonata
2012 Subaru Forester
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
2011 Audi A4
2011 Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain
2011 Chevrolet Equinox / GMC Terrain
Model years affected: 2011-2012
Typical mileage: 86,000-124,000
Alternatives without this problem: 2011-2014 Toyota RAV4, 2013-2014 Mazda CX-5, 2011-2014 Honda CR-V