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The Top 10 Most Problematic Cars

driver in a car that has broken down; steam coming from under the hood

You’re in the market for a used vehicle and need some help deciding which cars are a good choice. You can ask your friends or family, research some popular models, and find lots of different choices for great cars to buy.

Perhaps a vehicle catches your eye - one that your research hasn’t told you much about. Your emotions can take over and you may find that vehicle parked in your driveway. After a little while, you start to experience issues time and time again, and end up sinking all your money into keeping your vehicle on the road.

In addition to knowing which cars are good to buy, it would be great to know which ones to avoid. Some cars just simply have more problems than others on average, and you shouldn’t expect that your experience will be any different if you buy one.

With that in mind, here are the top 10 most problematic vehicles:

1. Ford Explorer

The popular Ford SUV has had its ups and downs. When it was first introduced in the nineties, the Explorer made a name for itself because it was smaller than its big brother, the full-size Bronco. It achieved better fuel mileage and had some of the luxuries that weren’t introduced in the larger truck-like SUVs.

After several years, the Ford Explorer became plagued with problems that tarnished its name. It was nicknamed the “Exploder” after Firestone tire issues caused accidents. Then, the 2002 Explorer became the most troublesome vehicle on record after transmission issues became evident. Thousands of Ford Explorers required transmission replacements because they simply degraded internally.

If there’s one vehicle to avoid over all others, it’s the 2002 to 2004 Ford Explorer.

2. Honda Accord

If you’re a gambler, you may want to place bets on how long your Honda Accord’s brakes will last. In particular, the rear brakes on the mid-size Honda wear out at various intervals. One of the most reported problems of any car, Honda Accord rear brakes have been documented to last from as low as 11,000 miles before requiring brake pad and rotor replacement.

The normal symptoms include a significant brake pulsation that can cause you nearly to lose control of your car. Squealing and grinding when you press the brake pedal is common, so don’t be surprised when you’re informed at every oil change that you’ll need new brakes soon.

The culprit vehicles are eighth-generation Honda Accords, from 2008 to 2012.

3. Honda Civic

The world’s best-selling car also has a reputation as one of the most problematic. The Honda Civic has developed notoriety for throwing on the Check Engine Light right before the transmission fails. Just to be clear, the problem is the transmission.

Many transmission failures have been noted right around 60,000 miles. It starts out as with a hesitation to accelerate that quickly becomes a hesitation to move at all, where the engine is revving up like the transmission is in neutral. Internal issues mean a transmission replacement that can cost thousands of dollars if not covered by powertrain warranty.

The offending vehicles are Honda Civics from 2001 to 2005, though other years may still exhibit transmission problems to a lesser extent.

4. Ford F-150

Again, the best-selling truck in North America has made the list as one of the most problematic vehicles. You may think that your F-150’s 5.4-liter engine with broken spark plugs is the reason, but you’d be mistaken.

Ford’s popular pickup is here because of frequent, recurring window problems. In most cases, the window rolls down easily enough but won’t roll back up. It could be any of the windows, although the most frequent complaint is the driver’s front window, also the most used window in any vehicle. The correction is simply a replacement window regulator, but your guess is as good as the next guy’s about when you’ll experience it again. It’s like window roulette.

You can expect window problems in your eleventh-generation Ford F-150, from 2004 to 2008.

5. Dodge Ram

Just because you change your oil doesn’t mean you won’t have engine problems. That’s exactly the case with Dodge Rams equipped with the 4.7-liter engine in the early part of this millennium.

Oil sludge buildup occurs in the oil pan and in virtually every gallery inside the engine, eventually starving the engine of lubrication and cooling provided by the engine oil flow. The end result is a sick engine that requires in-depth repairs or a replacement, depending on the extent of the damage. Engine oil changes may extend your engine life a little, but likely won’t prevent the issue forever.

It’s 2002 to 2008 Dodge Rams with the 4.7-liter engine that are particularly bad, but don’t think other engines are exempt from the problem.

6. Dodge Journey

While you’re making your car payments for your Dodge Journey, be sure to set aside money for rear brake replacements. With astounding frequency, the Journey’s rear pads and rotors need to be replaced - from as soon as the second oil change interval.

You’ll hear grinding and squealing when you press the brake, but because it happens so often, you’d never think the brake pads are worn out until you have to replace the rotors as well.

2009 to 2011 Dodge Journeys are the most affected by this issue.

7. Subaru Forester

The Subaru Forester is unfortunately not the only vehicle in their lineup affected by their most problematic issue. It also affects the Impreza, Outback, Legacy and Baja - but only for vehicles equipped with the naturally aspirated four-cylinder.

The problem is a leaking head gasket. A protective coating on the gasket surface wears off and leaks coolant into the oil, which eventually trashes the engine. Head gasket replacement is required on virtually every vehicle built with that engine - or worse, an engine rebuild or replacement.

The worst offender is the Subaru Forester from 1999 to 2010.

8. Chevrolet Equinox

It may come as a surprise, but the Equinox never came with a diesel engine. It just sounds like it did. Timing chains are the problem, and the symptoms can range from just a rattling noise to a complete engine failure.

The timing chains on affected Equinox vehicles stretch, causing a rattle at first, an engine light next, then timing issues for a rough run, and potentially a broken chain that prevents the engine from running altogether. The symptoms can be noted at 10,000 miles in some cases.

Chevrolet Equinoxes requiring timing chain replacement are equipped with a four-cylinder engine from 2010 to 2012.

9. Hyundai Elantra

Take your pick of problems with the Hyundai Elantra. There are a handful of common complaints across a wide range of years, but most commonly noted are tire blowouts, grinding brakes, and rough-running engines.

Specifically, grinding brakes are the most common issues the Elantra experiences. Brake pads and rotors have to be replaced frequently - way more often than should be necessary.

2013 Hyundai Elantras are by far the most problematic.

10. Chrysler Intrepid

If you’ve owned a car from the second generation of Chrysler Intrepid, chances are you’ve experienced this issue at some point - or possibly more than once. The Intrepids built with 2.7-liter engines are notoriously bad for engine sludge build-up, whether or not the oil has been changed when required.

You’ll typically experience an engine knock to start, the Check Engine Light illuminated, and eventually your engine will just stop running altogether. Engine rebuilds can be performed if the internal damage isn’t too bad, but replacement is the most likely alternative.

1999 to 2002 Chrysler Intrepids with the 2.7-liter engine are the worst of this bunch.

If you own one of these vehicles already, don’t lose heart. All of these problems can be corrected, and YourMechanic can do it for you. Whether you need a window regulator replaced or your brake pads and rotors changed, we’ll get you back on the road in no time.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details
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