Six cars you can drive (almost) forever(Read article summary)
Looking for a car that will last longer than most? Here are some new and used models that have stood the test of time.
Gene J. Puskar/AP/File
The most impressive car I've ever seen in person wasn't a Porsche 911, a Ford F-350, or even a Tesla Model S.
It was a Toyota Land Cruiser.
What made this car stand out, especially compared to my dream car, an incredibly powerful work truck, and futuristic automotive engineering, respectively? This particular Land Cruiser had an incredible 600,000+ miles on it — the highest mileage I have ever seen (or even heard of) on a daily usage vehicle — and was still in good, drivable condition.
Automotive expert Steven Lang and statistician Nick Larivere have put together the Long-Term Quality Index (LTQI), an exhaustive statistical analysis of over 674,000 used cars to help car buyers understand the real reliability of vehicles, beyond the typical three-to-five year "long-term" industry analysis. Each model in their statistical analysis has been assigned a reliability score out of 100, where 50 represents average reliability; 0 is terribly unreliable, and 100 means you could probably still drive the car after letting it wash out to sea, driving it through a building, and hitting it with a wrecking ball.
The following models — both those that have been discontinued and those that are still being manufactured — have objectively proven themselves to be capable of going the distance, provided you take good care of them:
First, 3 Discontinued Used Cars With the Longest Driving Life
For some of us, buying a well-reviewed used car is the smartest way to get long-driving, reliable wheels without breaking the bank.
However, Lang is quick to point out that "The driving and maintenance habits of the prior owner will have a far greater effect on a used car's longevity than the brand." That means it's up to the buyer to make sure the car passes a trusted mechanic's inspection before driving it home.
That being said, the following used cars can offer surprisingly good reliability to second (or even third) owners for years to come, even though their manufacturers are no longer making them.
This compact sedan was only manufactured from 1989 to 2002, and had the sort of forgettable 90s-era styling that made it very easy to lose in a crowded parking lot. But beneath the boring body was an engine mechanically identical to the Toyota Corolla's, with similar reliability to that best-seller. According to the LTQI, the average mileage on a Prizm, as recorded at dealer trade-in, is a decent 136,402 miles (the industry average is 126,358 miles), and issues with the powertrain, transmission, or engine are few and far between. Overall the Prizm receives a reliability score of 69.1.
According to Cars.com, a 2002 Prizm with fewer than 80,000 miles can be snapped up for about $5,000.
This compact five-door hatchback was discontinued in 2009 (model year 2010) after a seven-year production run, when the Pontiac brand folded. Like the Chevrolet Prizm, the engine design was based upon the Toyota Corolla, meaning it also offered good reliability. The LTQI has shown an average mileage of 125,455 miles on the Vibe and gives the model a decent reliability score of 72.8.
You can purchase a 2010 Pontiac Vibe with less than 60,000 miles for under $15,000.
Ford E-Series Van
Also sometimes referred to as Econoline vans, the Ford E-Series full-size vans were manufactured from 1961 to 2014. They were discontinued last year and have been replaced with the Ford Transit. These are generally known as work vehicles, and the only families you see driving them usually have their own TLC television show. However, if you are looking for a working van or a mighty family hauler that can handle a whole brood of tuba-playing hockey goalies, this is the van for you. (Airbrush art on the side is optional but encouraged.) The LTQI gives the E-Series a commendable 77.8 reliability score, and notes that the average odometer reading is 131,483 miles.
2014 E-Series vans with fewer than 30,000 miles can be found for under $34,000.
3 New Cars With the Longest Driving Life
The cars on this list are still currently manufactured, although you can also find used models for less. The LTQI only offers information through 2010 models, but these three cars have proven themselves over time. If you are able to afford one of these cars new or "lightly" used, you can likely expect to drive them for years to come.
These mid-size sedans have been part of Toyota's lineup since 1982, and they have earned a well-deserved reputation for reliability. On the LTQI analysis, the Camry ranks incredibly high with a reliability score of 80.4. The average mileage on these cars is 145,496 miles.
The base price for a 2015 Camry is under $23,000.
This mid-sized luxury sedan is a great option for anyone who has good money to spend on a car, and who wants to combine the comfort of a well-appointed daily driver with the fun of a performance vehicle. The GS has been around since 1991, and it has consistently been highly ranked by car experts. It has a notable LTQI 76.8 reliability score, and the average mileage is 142,057.
The 2015 Lexus GS starts at $55,000. Unfortunately, the GS also holds its value very well, so even a used model can cost a pretty penny.
Toyota Land Cruiser
There is an excellent reason why the longest-lived vehicle I have ever seen was a Land Cruiser. These SUVs are not only Toyota's longest running series (the first Land Cruiser model was manufactured in 1951), but they are widely considered to be "ruggedly dependable." They receive an astounding reliability score of 100 on the LTQI and have an average mileage of 178,654 miles on the odometer.
New Land Cruisers don't come cheap, however. The base price is over $80,000 for the 2015 model. And while it is possible to buy one that is a few years old, expect to find high mileage and a high price tag, since the longevity and reliability are well known.
Toyota for the Win
If you're keeping score at home, you might notice that Toyota is either directly or indirectly responsible for five of the six cars on this list — everything except the Ford E-Series van. (Lexus is Toyota's luxury brand.)
I'm not a shill for Toyota, nor do I have any vested interest in the company. Quite simply,Toyota has proven itself to be an incredibly reliable automaker, and you can feel pretty confident about the longevity of many of the cars manufactured either under the Toyota brand or jointly with it.