When we started discussing buying a new car with my partner, we inevitably had a conversation about the reliability of that car. When I bought my BMW 3 Series 2 years ago, I researched the reliability aspect quite extensively. Getting the most reliable car for the money requires a decent amount of research.
It doesn’t matter if you are buying a new car from the dealership or a 3-year-old car, the reliability aspect is crucial. You’re paying with your hard earn money for something that should serve you, not the opposite. So, today I’ll share with you how I made my research and decided which is the most reliable car for the money I planned to spend.
However, before talking about reliability, we should decide what kind of car we need and define the budget. That would help us narrow down the possibilities and will make the whole research a lot easier.
What kind of car do you need?
When you start to plan on the purchase, you should identify what kind of car do you need. That’s a quite simple decision, but you should be honest with ourselves. If you’re driving mostly in the city, a small saloon or a hatchback would be a good start. Driving in the city means an automatic gearbox and gasoline engine, hands down.
From the opposite side – highway and long-distance driving would feel better with a mid-size sedan or an SUV. In general, everything with a longer wheel-base would do the job. The gearbox is your own preference here, but most people would probably prefer automatic again. A diesel engine might help you save some money from fuel, but it’s worse to the environment.
So what kind of car our own household needs? We’re driving 50/50 city and long-distance. During the winter we’re mostly at home and the car is used for shorter distance driving. However, during the summer we’re traveling a lot more and frequently to the seaside, on trips with friends, meeting family, etc.
This made us think about a car that is at least a mid-size sedan or an SUV. An automatic gearbox is a must, while the engine type doesn’t matter due to the mixed driving and the fact that the car would be with Euro 6 emission standards.
Budget for the new car
Since you picked the type and size of the car you’re looking for, now it’s time to define the budget. This is the moment when you’ll have to get a grip on what you feel comfortable paying for a depreciating asset. Yes, cars are depreciating assets as soon as they don’t serve you to make money out of them.
Financing some of it, all of it, or paying in cash is an important discussion. If you have saved €20k for the past 3 years and you pay the €20k car in cash, you would be left with nothing. If you instead pay €5k down and invest the remaining €15k into dividend stocks or in SP500 index fund, that investment may very well pay for some portion of the car’s lease.
However, a 3-5-year-old upper-class vehicle may cost as much as a brand new middle-class one. If you are having doubts which purchase might be better in such circumstances, compare the spec list of both cars.
When we talked about the car budget at home, we already knew what we like in the middle class and what we do not. In the upper class, where my partner’s Lexus is and my BMW was, the possibilities are more. In terms of engines, safety systems, trim levels, and luxury, the upper class makes sense. It makes sense because of the value of the vehicle for the money we’re paying.
A 3-year-old upper-class vehicle would cost about 30% less than a new one, while it would offer much more safety features, luxury, and convenience than the middle-class. We mainly don’t like middle-class cars because of cheap plastic, poor interior quality, and small engines. The exterior isn’t that important to us, because we don’t look at it while driving.
So, we’re looking at a 3-4-year-old mid-size sedan or an SUV, with up to 80k km mileage and cost of about €20k. In terms of financing, we’re thinking about putting 30-40% down and paying the rest as soon as we can.
The fun starts here and from now on, we’ll be talking about 3-4-year-old used cars.
Which is the most reliable car – start your research
So, here we are, talking about car reliability. Everyone knows that car reliability is relative. You can always buy a unit that is just bad at everything and lives in the repair shop mostly. However, with sound research, you can avoid most of the issues even before you make the purchase. When you narrowed down the possible cars you would like to take a deeper look at and possibly do a test drive, start your research.
The research starts at the dealership’s website. If there are used cars offered there, you might be lucky, because they would most likely offer some kind of warranty right from the start. However, on the dealership’s website, you would get a sense of the realistic price of a well-maintained car. Why is that important? Using third party websites like mobile.de, you have access to millions of cars. Some of them would look extremely cheap and that’s the first red flag.
Fan forums and reviews are your best friends
Car fan forums and YouTube reviews would fill in your search history for the upcoming weeks and months, that’s inevitable. Car forums contain a lot of opinions, stories, and most importantly – issues with these cars. In the dealership’s website, I understood how much a certain car costs, at a 3rd party website I got more variety, but in forums, I can get a sense of what’s wrong with a car.
Car forums are the place where people exaggerate about gas mileage and what could be the reason for a certain mechanical fault. Ignore both of these topics. You’re interested in the reports concerning something wrong with the car itself, not so much about the fix. YouTube can contain a lot of info in terms of mechanical faults as well. However, there are a lot of good car reviewers. They could take you on a trip with the car and show you how everything works with it.
Parts and repair cost
Parts and repair costs are that one thing that you hate paying for. Yet, it’s inevitable, except if you don’t learn how to do basic service yourself. If you’re not qualified and have no experience with car repairs, I would suggest leaving that to the professionals. However, there are certain situations where you could save some money on that.
Ask your mechanic for a written offer before they start with the repair and parts order. When you receive the document, look up the parts and try finding them cheaper. If you succeed – ask your mechanic if it’s fine buying the parts from the place you found them cheaper. He or she would know better and could give you advice.
The most reliable car requires OEM or at least high-grade parts
This is a moment you could turn the most reliable car to the most unreliable one. If you decided to skip on buying OEM parts in exchange for a cheaper substitute, that could lead to problems in the future. Cheaper substitute parts are often unreliable, so when you look up for parts, be certain that they are OEM or at least high grade.
Things like an air filter change, basic service, and other small repairs you can do by yourself if you’re mechanically sound and have some experience. YouTube is full of videos showing people fixing stuff. You bought the most reliable car, this doesn’t mean that you have to pay extra for its service. Yet, if you’re not comfortable doing this, then just don’t do it. Leave it to a professional mechanic.
Recalls from the manufacturer
In certain cases, issues with cars get fixed by the manufacturer for no additional cost. These are called recalls and you can look up for them through the internet or in certain governmental websites. In some cases, people are filing class-action lawsuits due to a fault in the car they bought that they think is not a result of normal use. Or as we call them, a defect.
Manufacturers are rarely admitting certain defects that cost them a lot of money for the recall and repair, so it takes additional work to get buyers interests protected.
Whenever you find a car and you think about purchasing it, look up for potential recalls and if that car was part of the recall. Some owners don’t send their cars for service recalls and if the recall period expired when you got your new car, you will have to pay for the service by yourself.
The most reliable car would have flawless servicing documentation
Whenever you choose a certain car and talk to the owner selling it, ask about the servicing documentation. If there is none, this is another red flag. Well maintained cars would have perfectly described servicing documentation. This is another place where you can find info if that car has been recalled. Also, look up where that car has been serviced – if it was done in approved by the manufacturer shop, this is a good sign. If the services were done in a place you don’t recognize or it’s not showing up on Google, there might be future issues with that car.
These are the main things that I considered in my research for a new car. The most reliable car would be the one with flawless servicing history and documentation, low mileage, and for the right price.
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