The list of gadgets or choice of colours can be a big deal when you’re splashing out on a used car.
But they often get shuffled down the list of must-haves once that same car hits the used-car market, at which point reliability plays a much bigger factor.
Buying a used car that is likely to keep going without a fuss year in year out can bring you peace of mind. Not only that, it can save you serious dollars.
With that in mind, here are some of the cars with a great reputation for reliability.
Toyota doesn’t always produce the most exciting cars, but it typically makes them be unexciting for a long time. Blame it on the engineering, which often tends to the conservative side of the ledger, in some instances missing out on the pizazz of rivals. The Corolla encapsulates that perfectly. It’s never been the cheapest, nor the most enticing to drive, but it’s always tended to go on for a long time. The latest Corolla stepped up the driving fun factor while maintaining that reputation for reliability, something that makes it a solid used-car choice.
Suzuki has long built cars to go on and on and on and the Swift is arguably at the top of that tree. The city hatchback has never had particularly exciting engines (except for the GTI of the 1990s) and they’ve always loved a rev. But they’re borderline unkillable. Similarly, the rest of the Swift package has typically leaned towards the basic side of things, but they’ve been built for a purpose – going the distance, and some. Stick to non-turbo models for that little extra peace of mind and check the basics such as service histories, but otherwise rest assured you’ll be buying a car that has the potential to keep on giving.
City cars have been getting more expensive, and the Mazda2 is not immune from that trend. But look at used examples and you can jag a terrific little car that’s peppy to drive and surprisingly well kitted-out. It’s also beautifully engineered and if it’s been well looked-after (many 2s were bought for light around-town duties) it should have plenty of years still left in it. One plus with the Mazda2 is that Mazda was quick to pack it full of the latest safety gear while rivals often left that stuff on the options list. So provided you can pick something near new you should get the full complement of airbags and, possibly, some active safety systems such as auto braking.
The current 150-Series Prado has been kicking around since 2009. Sure, there have been upgrades, the most notable of which was a shift from a 3.0-litre to a more powerful 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel in 2015 (that same engine got more power in 2021). But the basic body is unchanged, which translates to a spacious wagon with up to eight seats and one eye on the bush. It’s a proper off-roader, and things such as the dual fuel tank (for models with the spare tyre mounted on the tail gate) give it serious outback cred. The trick with a Prado is learning more about how it’s been used. Got a heavy-duty towbar fitted? There’s a good chance it’s done a few laps of this wide brown land with a sizeable Jayco hanging off the back. Similarly, underbody scars could be evidence of a hard life off-road. So do your research.
OK, so the car doesn’t exist any more but plenty of Falcons are still on the road. That in itself is a reasonable CV for the Falcon, while its previous preference as the weapon of choice for taxis added to that reputation. Forget the V8 models, because it’s the six-cylinder (go for a non-turbo one) that’s likely to cause fewer issues and (hopefully) have had an easier life. What the engine lacked in technology it made up for in longevity. The torquey nature of it also meant you could get plenty out of it without having to drive it hard. Gearboxes are more likely to cause issues, as are some of the interior fittings and fixtures. So you’ll still have to do your homework. But buy carefully with one of the later FG or FGX models and there are far worse cars to go a lot longer distance.
The once dominant Holden brand is no more, but there are plenty still on the road. While some Holdens have been hit and miss on reliability – especially with the imported models – the Colorado has inherent toughness built in. Like most utes sold in Australia these days it came out of Thailand and is made for suitably poor roads. So it disposes of big hits and chopped-up roads as well as any. The 2.8-litre turbo diesel delivered stout performance and the cabin is spacious, albeit plasticky in its appearance. Leading up to Holden’s demise it offered a five-year warranty and there were some cars sold with a seven-year warranty, something now managed by a service network backed by parent General Motors.
Like parent company Toyota, Lexus has a similarly lengthy reputation for older cars that have fewer problems. It’s particularly relevant in the luxury market, where cutting edge tech can turn into bleeding edge costly once there are many kays under the tyres. But anecdotal evidence suggests a Lexus can go for many miles with minimal trouble. And if you pick the mid-sized ES sedan – which comes as a petrol-sipping ES300h hybrid – you’ll get familiar tech beneath. That’s because the ES is effectively a rebodied Camry. So many of the mechanical components are shared with the Toyota version, making sourcing parts that little bit easier.
Remember the Top Gear episode where the guys tried to destroy a Toyota Hilux? While they managed to inflict serious damage on it with all sorts of made-for-TV stunts – including dropping it off a 23-storey building that was demolished by explosives – the humble Hilux still fired up, ready for another round. There was no doubt some luck involved, but the bones of the Hilux are very solid. It helps that the car is heavily engineered in Australia, so it’s built for our roads. While it’s not unbreakable, as the marketing suggests (no car is) the runs on the board suggest the Hilux is one tough jigger that will cop an enormous amount of punishment before deciding its time for that big car graveyard in the sky. Just be aware of potential issues with the diesel particulate filters; Toyota had huge issues with failures and has since come to the party with a manual override to clean the system as well as better support if things go wrong.
Subaru was long an engineering company that often didn’t appear to put much effort into how its cars looked. While that’s now changed, the depth of engineering remains at the core of the company and the Forester showcases that nicely. The mid-sized SUV provides the flexibility and everyday driveability of key rivals, but with some surprising off-road ability. Whereas rivals all have two-wheel drive versions, the Forester is exclusively AWD. And they can soldier on for many years with minimal issues. There’s one caveat with Subarus and that’s with their head gaskets. They’re prone to failure, which can happen gradually and may not immediately be a major concern. But they’ll eventually need replacing, and when that time comes things can get costly. Unlike most engines, the heads of which are accessible from opening the bonnet, the Forester (and all Subarus) requires the removal of the engine to access those heads. It’s a big job.
The Pathfinder has been through many iterations, some of which have been quite capable off-roaders. The latest generation car (called R52) that came out in 2013 took the focus off the bush and placed it back on the suburbs. The trade-off was more car-like manners on bitumen, something that put the Pathfinder squarely against the likes of the Toyota Kluger and Mazda CX-9. Like those two, the made-in-America Pathfinder has three rows of seats in a spacious body. While a hybrid version was offered, very few were sold here, with the V6 instead doing the heavy lifting. Looked after it’s an engine that should run for many years.
And one more for the fun of it…
Even a ratty Brumby can still command a few thousand bucks on the used-car market, which is indicative of the love for this compact all-wheel drive ute. The nuggety Brumby has a superb reputation for not only doing much more than many would ever expect of a pint-sized two-seater ute, but doing it for decade after decade. Yep, the only Subaru ute sold in Australia still has plenty of fans decades after the last one was built. Blame it on a reputation for longevity. The average Brumby is still soldiering well past what most would consider a respectable used-by date.