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Pretty Is As Pretty Does: The 10 Worst Used Cars and Why

A yellow 1970 AMC Gremlin is parked in an open area.

 

It’s easy to be mesmerized by good looks. Whether it’s a human, a horse, a house or a car, most everyone will admit being blinded by beauty at least once, discovering that beneath that flawless, lovely façade lurks nothing but trouble and heartbreak. Shopping for used cars is a common scenario for this deception, especially if you’re considering a late model that’s been well cared for and fabulously detailed to present for sale.

Even if you test drive used cars and take along a trusted mechanic to check out everything under the hood, there are many flaws that can go undetected. Use this checklist to help you avoid buying a lemon. And keep in mind there are more bad buys out there than just these, so research any brand and model before you buy it.

  1. Chevrolet Aveo

The Aveo has been produced since 2002 and almost every year has had problems but as long as people keep buying this bargain, Chevy will keep making it. It’s sold in over 20 countries under various names and is one of the lowest priced new cars you’ll find. According to Consumer Affairs, even new ones only have a 1.5-star rating for being dependable. The biggest problem is the cooling system in which radiators have reportedly burst from overheating. Used models with low mileage allegedly can’t be driven for longer than two hours at a time without needing repairs, mostly radiator or thermostat replacement. Furthermore, the Aveo is known to just run out of power as it ages.

An orange 2009 Chevy Aveo, one of the used cars no longer produced, is parked.

  1. Cadillac STS

Used Cadillac STS trims were produced from 2004 through 2011 and its biggest selling point was outstanding performance based on its 302 HP V8 engine. The most serious problem it was known for was a clog that often developed in the catalytic converter, a major pain if it was still under warranty and a pricey repair cost if it wasn’t. In addition, the STS has chronic shifting troubles and technical malfunctions that mess up the electrical system. So pretty… but so high maintenance.

  1. BMW X5

BMW’s are many people’s dream car, a symbol of prestige and success. The X5 is mid-size was marketed as an SUV/Sports Activity Vehicle and has enjoyed spotty sales since its inception in 1999, selling an average of 40K each year. Since its major flaw is an air suspension system can cost up to 3 grand to repair, it’s a wonder the sales are that high. Besides faulty air suspension, the BMW X5 is also known for persistent oil leaks, faulty thermostats, and frequent water pump replacement. Sure, it’s a fabulous highway performer (when it’s not in the shop) and easy on the eyes but the cost of repairs could put you in the poor house.

A white 2014 BMW X5 is driving past a blurred rock background.

  1. Chevrolet Camero

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, the Chevrolet Camaro was one of the hottest cars on the market. Sleek and powerful, guys, as well as gals, loved tooling around town showing off their hot cars. But the model has decreased in performance since its 1966 debut and the ones made in this century have more problems than ever before. The CarComplaints website reported that the 2010 and 2013 models had the most reported problems, and most were engine-related. Other widespread complaints centered on the timing chain failing prematurely, generally about a $2,000 repair, and the key getting lodged in the ignition, only around $300 to make right… but what an annoying issue.

  1. Volkswagen Touareg

Touareg is what the North African nomads who roam the desert are called, and if you purchase a Volkswagen Touareg, you may find yourself doing a lot of hiking as well. Produced since 2002, the major problems appear to have emerged in later years. Reporting agencies state that the 2007 model was the worst, with multiple complaints across the board. Problems range from a faulty EPC warning light with a repair tag of $5,000 plus to fuel pump replacement, which will set you back around $11K for later models. Unless you enjoy hanging out at car repair shops, pass on this used car, no matter how sweet the deal seems.

A black 2015 Volkswagen Touareg is driving in a neighborhood.

  1. Infinti Q50

A luxury model with stunning looks, the Infiniti Q50 was a highly anticipated car introduced in 2013. It quickly fell from grace the next year, and the 2014 is considered the worst year to buy used. Problems included having to replace faulty pump seals as well as having to invest in a new master cylinder at a cost of around $2,000. Another unique but costly flaw on this model Infiniti is untimely tire wear, an ongoing and costly problem, and brakes that frequently require replacement, at least a $400 job. You’ll be fixing this lemon for a long time, maybe into infinity.

  1. Jeep Wrangler

Since its introduction in 1986, Jeep Wrangler has been a universal favorite among young and old. With handsome, rugged looks and brawn that make it ideal for off-road excursions, its popularity seems unstoppable. But if you’re looking to buy a used model, stay away from the 2008 model, which CarComplaints reports has received the bulk of the 1,655 complaints about all Jeep Wrangler model years. The most highly reported problem is TIPM failure, which typically occurs after you’ve logged about 47,000 miles. It generally costs about $1,300 to fix this problem. Death wobble, another common Wrangler problem, will set you back at least $800. Check out other years with better track records before you buy used.

A yellow 2008 Jeep Wrangler, popular among used cars, is parked in the fog.

  1. Audi Q5

Sometimes a car just has a bad year, and the Audi Q5 is in that category. It was introduced a decade ago, in 2009, and has been a favorite luxury compact car for most years, including the past few. But the 2012 model was the exception, with more mechanical glitches than any other year. The most serious and costly failure to fix is the steering system totally locking up, not only a nightmare but an expensive repair at around $3,300. This typically happens at about 8,000 miles so it may have already been replaced but be sure to ask. In addition, the 2012 Q5 also guzzles oil, an ongoing cost that will set you back around $1,000 to correct.

  1. Ford Explorer

Surrounded by much fanfare as the replacement for the Ford Bronco, the Ford Explorer hit the market to mostly rave reviews in 1991. CarComplaints.com has registered in excess of 12,000 complaints about the Ford Explorer, the majority of them on the 2004 model. The pitfalls of this year’s Ford Explorer run the gamut from the transmission (600 complaints) to the accessories in the interior, which reportedly deteriorated quickly, and an amazing 182 complaints from the NHTSA regarding major engine problems. If you truly want to explore, stay away from used 2004 Ford Explorers.

A 2004 Ford Explorer is in a showroom.

  1. Nissan Pathfinder

The first Pathfinder came to market almost 20 years ago, in 1990. It’s sold well, with around 150,000 sold between 2014 and 2015. But 2005 was a bad year for the Pathfinder, when something in production apparently went astray. CarComplaints revealed that the 2005 model generated in excess of 600 complaints and the bulk of those were related to major transmission problems. In addition, the 2013 model has undergone nine different recalls. One was for leaking transmission fluid that accelerated the engine, putting the driver and passengers in great danger. Best to steer clear of the 2005 and 2013 Pathfinders.

“Dis”-Honorable Mentions

What kind of list of “worsts” would this be if we didn’t include some other terrible rides? Some of our “dis”-honorable mentions include the 1970 AMC Gremlin, all model years of the Hummer H2, the Austin Allegro, and who could forget the company killing Pontiac Aztek. There are plenty of worst-car lists across the internet, but whatever used car you chose to drive, make sure you do your research, so you don’t make the mistake of driving off the dealer’s lot and having to walk back.

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