The Most Reliable Car Brands for 2021 [See Who Made the List]
Which car manufacturer gives you the most bang for your buck?
If you ask most personal finance experts, the traditional wisdom is that you should strongly consider a used car instead of purchasing a new car off the lot. As you’re probably aware, cars depreciate in value the moment they’re driven off the lot, so if you buy used, you’re letting someone else take that depreciation hit.
On the other hand, buying used can be risky.
You don't really have a way of knowing whether or not the previous owner drove the vehicle like it was a rental—and you could be stuck holding the bag for major repairs to the tune of thousands of dollars. Replacing or repairing parts like the transmission, suspension, or head gasket, usually start at $1,000 and can go up drastically from there.
Once upon a time, I subscribed to the philosophy that you should only buy used cars. Throughout college, I owned a series of different clunkers that I bought used—each of which came with their own set of problems. It seemed like once every 6 months I'd find myself on the side of the road with my hood up, wondering how much it was going to cost this time.
As I advanced in my career and became a little more financially comfortable, I made the decision that my days of being stranded roadside were over. At this stage in my career, I’m willing to pay a premium for the peace of mind that when I put my key in the ignition and turn it, my car is going to start the first time, every time.
That being said, if I’m going to purchase a new car, I obviously want to make sure that it’s going to be a vehicle that will be reliable for several years to come, and require minimal maintenance along the way.
With that in mind, we’ve done the leg work for you and researched the most reliable car brands for 2021 so that you can make an informed decision about your next ride.
Related: When Is the Best Time to Buy a New Car?
Let's Look at the Data
We’re pulling data from two different sources in order to provide a balanced and accurate view. Consumer Reports releases the results of its Auto Reliability Survey each year, with brands ranked based on actual customer experience through recent vehicle performance. These details are reported by more than 300,000 car owners, looking at the past 3 model years.
We’ll also be looking at the Reliability Ratings from RepairPal. These rankings are compiled based on analyzing and comparing invoices from 2,000 repair shops. The rankings from RepairPal also consider the cost of repairs in addition to the frequency of issues. The repair cost is weighted against the purchase price of the car, as you would reasonably expect repairs on a luxury vehicle to cost more than repairs for an entry-level model.
|Brand||Consumer Reports Ranking||RepairPal Ranking|
While the results from these two rankings appear to be quite different at first glance, there are some significant commonalities that can be used to form a conclusion. Certain brands rank well with both Consumer Reports and RepairPal, and others rank in the bottom half in both lists, even if there is some level of variation.
Mazda, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and Lexus rank at or near the top on both lists. If you’re looking for the most reliable car brands, these five should certainly be included.
Ford, Chevrolet, Jeep, and Volvo rank in the bottom half on both lists. If reliability is a major priority, you might want to eliminate these brands that ranked poorly on both lists.
The Best Car Brands to Choose From
Mazda improved from 2nd place in last year’s rankings from Consumer Reports to take the crown away from Toyota this year. If you choose a Mazda vehicle, you won’t have to sacrifice style or fun for the sake of reliability.
Consumer Reports noted that part of Mazda’s reliability can be attributed to Mazda’s redesign process. While other brands may completely start over for a redesign, Mazda makes fairly small changes. The result is improved reliability from those new models.
It’s also worth pointing out that Mazda still makes some models without a touchscreen infotainment system, unlike most brands today. While these computerized systems offer compelling features, they also add to the price and result in many issues and repairs. Keeping it simple can be one of the best ways to reduce maintenance costs on the vehicle.
Toyota may have been ranked behind Mazda in the latest standings from Consumer Reports, but Toyota has topped the list in each previous year that Consumer Reports has been ranking car brands. At 8th in the rankings from RepairPal, Toyota ranks comfortably in the top 10 there as well. With a strong reputation and consistently high marks for reliability, Toyota is a safe choice.
Consumer Reports also ranks the most reliable cars for 2021 and both the Toyota Prius and Prius Prime rank in the top 10 (1st and 6th respectively).
Honda ranks at the top of RepairPal’s list and 5th from Consumer Reports. Surprisingly, Honda had spent a few years outside of the top 10 in the rankings from Consumer Reports before moving up 7 spots from 12th to 5th this year.
Hyundai has developed an excellent reputation for dependability, finishing 6th in the Consumer Reports rankings and 4th from RepairPal. Additionally, Hyundai offers some of the best values, making it an excellent choice for budget-conscious shoppers who don’t want to sacrifice reliability.
As the luxury division of Toyota, Lexus offers the same level of reliability that you’ll find from Toyota and the others already mentioned. Lexus is consistently near the top of the rankings from Consumer Reports, making it the wise choice if you’re looking for a reliable luxury vehicle.
Consumer Reports has Buick ranked 4th (the highest ranking for a domestic manufacturer), while RepairPal ranks Buick at 13th. The 4th place ranking from Consumer Reports may come as a bit of a surprise, up from 18th the previous year. According to Consumer Reports, Buick’s small product line leads to fewer problems for customers and significant improvements in terms of reliability.
What to Consider When Buying a New Car
If you’re researching or shopping for a new car, here are just a few of the details that should be on your radar.
Your Specific Needs
If you’re focusing on a few specific brands that have proven to be reliable (like Toyota, Mazda, Honda, and Hyundai), the next step is to think about your specific needs in order to determine which model is right for you. Of course, there are plenty of choices from compact cars to massive SUVs. Think about your current needs as well as how those needs might change in the near future, to be sure that you’re choosing the right model.
Have a Game Plan
It's shockingly easy to get the short end of the stick at the dealership. Even if you feel like you're well versed in the ways of car salesman trickery, there's a lot of tricks of the trade that you might not know about. We urge you to download our free e-book that was designed as an insider's guide to car buying that is sure to keep you from getting bamboozled.
Of course, price and budget is a major factor whenever you’re buying a car, new or used. Establish your budget ahead of time based on what you can afford, and don’t get swayed into exceeding your budget. Thankfully, you can buy a reliable new car without breaking the bank, but you’ll need some discipline to avoid the temptation of spending more on features and options that you really don’t need.
Reliability of the Specific Model
While we looked at the reliability rankings for brands as a whole, you’ll also want to research the reliability of any specific model that you’re considering. Within a particular brand, the reliability can vary pretty significantly from one model to another. And since models can change each year, the reliability ratings may also vary from one year’s model to the next. With just a little bit of online research, you can be sure that you’re choosing a reliable model.
Longevity and Warranty
Consider how long you plan to own and drive the vehicle. In terms of value and budget, holding on to the car for a long time is usually the best option. Replacing a car every couple of years will lead to higher overall costs and less bang for your buck.
Reliability ratings can give you an idea of which vehicles will offer the best long-term value, and you should also consider the manufacturer’s warranty. A strong warranty can provide additional peace of mind and save you money for several years to come.
This is one that people tend to forget about until after they've made their car purchase. You should know upfront that it's likely that your insurance rates will increase as a result of purchasing a new car since a new car is worth considerably more than a model that is a few years old.
Use a platform like Susy.com to compare insurance rates instantly.
Final Thoughts on Reliable Car Brands
Choosing a new car that you want to purchase is a major decision and should involve plenty of research. Reliability is one of the most significant factors that you’ll want to consider and thankfully there are a handful of brands that have proven to be solid choices based on the actual results from previous customers.
Toyota, Mazda, Honda, and Hyundai should all be considered if reliability is your priority. If you’re in a position to shop for a luxury vehicle, Lexus has the best reputation and rankings.