10 Worst Used Car Buys
Buying a used car has always been viewed as a bit of a gamble, despite all the warranties, guarantees and buyer-protection programs offered these days. We’re often told that autos have never exhibited higher levels of quality than the ones built today – yet J.D. Power’s dependability study recently recorded a decline in three-year durability for the first time.
Engines that shut off on the highway without warning, timing chains that stretch and fail, and transmissions that give up the ghost are just some of the harrowing issues seen in some late models. We’ve pulled together our most surprising finds of the past year, based on owners’ online remarks, revealing the used models that may be prudent to avoid.
2006-10 Volkswagen New Beetle
Volkswagen’s New Beetle represented the artful marriage of the beloved Bug shape with the front-drive Golf platform. To retain the proportions of the scabrous Beetle, its arched roofline afforded warehouse-sized headroom up front, but left the back seat wanting. There were four seatbelts, not five, and the hatchback provided just 12 cubic feet of cargo space (a soft-top convertible arrived for 2003). Constrained by its iconic shape, the New Beetle received a mild update for 2006, largely consisting of a redesigned instrument panel and some chrome trim.
Significantly, the 2006 refresh saw the adoption of VW’s reliable 2.5-L five-cylinder gasoline engine, good for 150 hp. Optional was the TDI 1.9-L turbodiesel four-cylinder making 100 hp, which was sold briefly. The Mexican-built New Beetle can induce headaches, owners warn. Chief among them are persistent electrical issues, especially concerning the power windows, trunk release, door locks and short-lived headlamps. Other reported problems include faulty ignition coils, broken air conditioners, truculent transmissions, overheating engines and leaky fuel lines.
2011-13 Ford Fiesta
While Mazda took a vow of poverty when it designed its subcompact 2, Ford’s Fiesta – which employed the same platform – wowed shoppers with its well-appointed cabin in both the sedan and hatchback. Surprising features included an acoustic windshield, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and capless fuel filler. The instrument panel was inspired by a cellphone keypad, and soft-touch materials graced the dash and door panels. The front seats were roomy with good support, but the folding rear bench was cramped and claustrophobic, making it a kids-only space.
A 120-hp, 1.6-L DOHC four cylinder worked through a five-speed manual transmission or six-speed, dual-clutch sequential gearbox that emulated an automatic. Unfortunately, that high-tech automatic is the Fiesta’s downfall. It frustrated many drivers with its jerky shifts, slippage and outright mechanical failure. The transmission has received software updates, but some owners have reported ongoing issues anyway (Mazda opted for a conventional four-speed autobox). Other Fiesta problems include drivetrain fluid leaks, faulty throttle bodies, fast-wearing clutches and loose weatherstripping.
2006-11 Honda Civic Hybrid
Honda has never quite matched Toyota’s cleverness at devising a seamless gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain. Consider the hybrid version of Canada’s favourite automobile as a case in point. The second-generation Civic Hybrid received the same Jetsons styling, enhanced safety features and snazzy interior as the redesigned 2006 Civic. Yet the Hybrid made do with the previous 1.3-L SOHC four banger making 93 hp, mated to a larger 20-hp electric motor. There still wasn’t enough caffeine to prod the Civic from a stop under electric power alone, however.
The Hybrid’s continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission made a return engagement, while the manual gearbox was dropped – perhaps the only feature that made Honda’s hybrids distinctive. There were mechanical issues to contend with, too. Turns out Honda’s battery packs are not always durable. Reportedly, almost one in five 2009-model-year Civic Hybrids have had their batteries replaced – a troubling statistic. Engineers recalibrated the software to reduce the hybrid’s reliance on the battery, but the fix hurt fuel economy, owners complained.
2011-13 Chevrolet Cruze
The product of world-class thinking, the Chevrolet Cruze utilized GM’s Delta II front-drive platform developed by German subsidiary Opel and GM Daewoo in South Korea. Two-thirds of the sedan’s structure was composed of high-strength steel to save weight and attain the highest crash protection ratings. The cabin offered good ergonomics and a nicely laid-out instrument panel. Base models used a 138-hp, 1.8-L DOHC four cylinder engine tied to a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. Optional was a turbocharged 1.4-L DOHC four that also made 138 hp, but generated considerably more torque.
Cruze drivers appreciate the car’s serene comfort, confident composure, large trunk and good value. But they also outlined some mechanical lapses. Owners have reported delayed gear changes and very harsh downshifts in the automatic transmission; some autoboxes have been replaced. Also disconcerting are reports of coolant leaks and vapour seeping into the cabin, which can irritate eyes. Other reported maladies include failed water pumps, air conditioning woes, electrical faults, peeling paint and loose door seals.
2007-13 Mini Cooper
Introduced for 2002, BMW’s Mini hatchback was considerably larger than Alec Issigonis’s original 1959 masterpiece – 58 cm longer, 50 cm wider and about 400 kg heavier – recast to meet contemporary crash standards. Visually, it replicated many of the original’s styling cues. The funky cockpit was punctuated by a massive centre-mounted speedometer, metallic trim and retro toggle switches, while the non-existent rear legroom was faithfully reproduced.
The Mini was redesigned for 2007 to meet more stringent safety standards. The previous 1.6-L four cylinder was replaced by a 118-hp 1.6-L DOHC Valvetronic four produced by BMW and Peugeot. The Cooper S featured direct injection and a twin-scroll turbocharger boosting the four banger, good for 172 hp. Too bad the BMW-Peugeot engine is notorious for its failing timing chain and tensioners; a telltale “death rattle” and oil leaks are warning signs. Carbon build-up in the turbo engine can introduce start-up and drivability issues. Other maladies include leaky water pumps, oil consumption and short-lived clutches, fuel pumps and oxygen sensors.
2011-13 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler may have separated, but the relationship did produce the handsome fourth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee. By adopting Mercedes’ stout M-class unibody platform, the Grand Cherokee gained an independent rear suspension and a 13-cm wheelbase stretch that made the Jeep quite grand, at last. Base models got a new 3.6-L DOHC Pentastar V-6 engine, good for 290 hp, while higher trims offered Chrysler’s storied 360-hp 5.7-L Hemi V-8 with a multi-displacement system that toggled between eight cylinders and four to save fuel.
Posh appointments in the five-seater cabin and Mercedes-like refinement added to the Grand Cherokee’s considerable appeal. The luxury Jeep commands big money – yet owners complain it breaks down too often for such an expensive vehicle. A faulty TIPM module can introduce starting problems, stalling at speed, dead batteries and alternators, and other electrical quirks. The optional air suspension system can break, the steering shaft may require replacement and other failures make this Jeep (and the related Dodge Durango) a risky second-hand buy.
2005-13 Nissan Frontier
Nissan redesigned the 2005 Frontier compact pickup to ride on a modified version of its F-Alpha truck frame, which also underpinned the Titan, Pathfinder and other models. The high-strength boxed ladder frame made a rigid foundation for the double-wishbone front suspension and leaf-spring rear setup. The Frontier offered just two configurations: the extended King Cab with two full and two half doors and seating for four, and the Crew Cab with four proper doors and a rear bench seating five in total.
Most Frontiers came with the 4.0-L version of Nissan’s VQ-series V-6 engine, good for 261 hp (a 152-hp, 2.5-L four-cylinder powered the base King Cab). A four-wheel-drive system with 2Hi/4Hi/4Lo modes was optional. The Frontier is generally well regarded, except for one glaring weakness: the V-6 is plagued by a faulty radiator assembly that can allow coolant to contaminate the transmission fluid, destroying the gearbox. Repairs are expensive, although Nissan has extended the warranty. Owners also report short-lived clutches and batteries, worn timing-chain guides and faulty crankshaft position sensors.
2011-14 Chrysler 200
The mid-size Sebring sedan and convertible were recast as the 200, thanks to Fiat’s cash injection after Chrysler’s sale in 2009. Introduced for 2011, the new sedan retained its aging front-drive platform, but with a revised steering rack and suspension settings. The restyled front and rear fascias, decked out with LED lighting and chrome accents, gave the 200 some curbside bling. The much-improved interior featured a new instrument panel and soft-touch armrests and door panels in place of hard plastic pieces.
The 200’s 173-hp 2.4L DOHC four worked with an outdated four-speed automatic transmission in base models, and a six-speed unit in higher trims. Optional was Chrysler’s new Pentastar 3.6L DOHC V-6, good for 283 hp. Unfortunately, unsettling quality lapses were catalogued by owners; chiefly, defective TIPMs (Totally Integrated Power Modules) may introduce engine cut-off at speed and bizarre electrical gremlins, such as windows rolling down after the car is parked. Beyond that, the automatic transmission may exhibit harsh shifting, batteries may die young, and front-end components can wear quickly.
2006-13 Audi A3
North America got the second-generation Audi A3 in the sleek five-door Sportback configuration for 2006. Built on Volkswagen’s front-drive Golf platform, the A3 was 25 cm shorter than the A4 sedan, yet offered similar cabin space. Despite being an entry-level model, it featured Audi’s high-quality furnishings inside. The 2.0T model used a 200-hp 2.0-L turbocharged gasoline four cylinder engine, and the 3.2 Quattro employed a 250-hp 3.2-L V06 tied to a Haldex all-wheel-drive system and VW’s six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), an automated transmission with twin computer-controlled clutches.
The A3 was updated in 2009, while the TDI 2.0-L four-cylinder turbocharged clean diesel joined the lineup in 2010. The TDI turbodiesel exhibited a major flaw: its high-pressure fuel pump reportedly could fail without warning, spewing metal particles throughout the fuel system. The 2.0T gasoline turbo is notorious for consuming oil, and it’s also known for its faulty ignition coils and leaky turbo seals. Watch for wonky DSG transmissions, electrical faults, and broken water pumps and sunshade clips.
2009-13 Chevrolet Traverse
General Motors replaced its creaky minivans with trendy crossover sport-utes that offered most of the practicality of the departed vans. Built on the super-rigid Lambda unibody platform, base models of Chevrolet’s Traverse were front-wheel-driven, with all-wheel-drive being a popular option. It could swallow seven or eight occupants, depending on the seating configuration. Propulsion was provided by a 3.6-L DOHC V-6 engine fortified with direct injection, making 281 hp channeled through a six-speed automatic transmission.
The weighty Traverse had great highway manners, but owners paid at the gas pump: 12.5 L/100 km was significantly less than GM’s minivans could muster. Alarmingly, power-steering pumps can fail or work intermittently, causing some drivers to panic when the steering wheel becomes difficult to turn. The V-6’s timing chain can reportedly stretch, tripping engine-warning lamps and causing drivability issues. The automatic transmission may develop faults and fail completely. The Traverse shares these shortcomings with its brand mates: the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook.
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