PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- We can tell you how much a car costs, how many miles it gets to the gallon, how much horsepower it cranks out, how much cargo it will hold and how all of that information stacks up to its closest competitor, but none of that does you any good if your car spends more time in the shop than on the road.
"Reliability" isn't some intangible feature car dealers throw out there to make a vehicle sound nicer. It's an actual measurement of how often an automobile model breaks down, its frequent problems and how much all of that is going to cost you in time and repairs. For commuters, shuttlers and those who rely on their cars not only to get from Point A to Point B but to do so multiple times each day, reliability is no small consideration.
Car repair data site CarMD released its Vehicle Health Index reliability ratings recently, ranking the vehicles with the least combined "check engine" repairs and costs. It culled repair data from 151,000 specific repairs performed on model year 2003 to 2013 vehicles from Oct. 1, 2012, to Sept. 30 of this year.
CarMD ranked the Top 100 vehicles overall, top vehicles by category and the most common repairs by make. While we realize the inherent value of the vehicle list, it seemed somewhat less valuable to feature a Top 10 that included five Nissans, three Toyotas, a Mazda and a Hyundai when that doesn't tell a whole lot of the story.
Instead, we got a good look at the manufacturer rankings and saw just how much repairs for each cost, how often they're in the shop, what kind of problems are knocking them out of commission and which represents your best bet when it comes time to buy -- regardless of model year. The following 10 automakers represent the best the industry has to offer, but there's still a whole lot separating the steady performers at the top from the scrap iron at the bottom:
Average repair costs: $472.96
Index rating: 2.84
Mitsubishi does not have any cars in CarMD's Top 100 and has scarcely any cars on U.S. roads. CarMD cites its top-ranked 2009 Galant among the Top 30% of vehicles on the road, but that vehicle's been discontinued. Mitsubishi's posted a 4% sales increase through the first 11 months of 2013, but it's sold only about 56,000 vehicles in the U.S. By comparison, Ford's sold more than 64,000 F-Series trucks here over the same span. It doesn't help that 18% of Mitsubishis require a $374 oxygen sensor replacement and a ridiculous 12% need the catalytic converter changed to the tune of $1,100. It's Mitsubishi's first appearance on this list, but if its new Mirage subcompact and slate of hybrids doesn't pan out, it may be the last.
Average repair costs: $438.35
Index rating: 1.79
Yet another automaker with absolutely no vehicles in the Top 100, with the 2011 Jetta just missing the list at No. 109. The good news for Volkswagen is that it's only getting better with age. Its older model vehicles performed dreadfully, with the 2003 GTI among the least reliable vehicles CarMD rates. Seriously, it's in the Top 1%, which puts it about on par with you pizza delivery person's '80s beater. As it stands, nearly 12% of Volkswagens need a $357 air flow sensor replacement and a whopping 11% require a $1,175 worth of repairs to swap out a catalytic converter. With Volkswagen making strides in recent years to boost its output, reliability and features, expect its score to improve once that 10-year statute of limitations expires on its clunkers of yesteryear.
Average repair costs: $346
Index rating: 1.56
Hey, look who cracked the Top 100! Hyundai's economy marque has three vehicles in CarMD's upper echelons: The 2009 Sorento, Sportage and Optima. Unfortunately, Kia's repairs and repair costs were up, with the average price jumping 8% from $320 in 2012, to $346. The $313 oxygen sensor repairs that plague 9.25% are a problem, but that $1,120 catalytic converter replacement required in 7.28% of its vehicles really stings.
Average repair costs: $404.61
Index rating: 1.09
Dominating the Top 10 didn't mean much for Nissan. Neither did having the Top 2 SUVs and second-ranked sedan in the land. Older Nissans haven't aged well, and they drove up the brand's average repair costs 10% from $366 last year. Updating the catalytic converter just crushes the 14.5% of Nissan owners who have to do so. It doesn't help that its older Nissan Quest minivans are absolutely awful, with the 2006 Quest basically a giant shredder that car owners just keep throwing money into. It joins Volkswagen's 2003 GTI in that dreaded Bottom 1% that should be reserved for demolition derbies, movie stunt sequences and lawn decor.
Average repair costs: $385.82
Index rating: 1.04
Ford has no cars in the Top 10, but came close with its 2012 Ford Fusion (No. 12) and accounts for 22% of the Top 100 from its Ford brand alone. Combined with two Lincolns and two Mercury vehicles, Ford has the most cars on that list. It also holds two of the top three spots in the truck category with the 2012 Ford 350 and 2012 Ford 250.
While its vehicles don't need repairs often, those few fixes get costly. Nearly 6.6% of Ford owners shell out $447 to change the ignition coil and spark plugs, while another 5.5% are set back $890 when they have to replace the control module for their antilock brakes. Oh, and when Ford's cars prove unreliable, they do so in spectacular fashion. Its 2003 Ford Windstar minivan is the absolute worst-rated vehicle CarMD tracks. If your family owns or owned one, we're sure you have lovely stories of summer vacations spent waiting for the tow truck.
Average repair costs: $469.93
Index rating: 0.97
That's a high repair cost, but it changed all of $3 from last year compared with an average of 10% for every other automaker. Still, when a Honda does have a problem, it tends to be a costly one. Though its most common issue is a $112 battery change in 10% of its cars, another 7.5% of owners drop $1,120 changing the catalytic converter and 7.33% lay out $1,222 to replace the ABS module. The good news? CarMD's Top 100 list includes three Acura vehicles and nine Hondas, including the two top-ranked minivans -- the 2012 and 2011 Odysseys. That's a vast improvement, considering earlier-model Odysseys are a common sight among CarMD's Bottom 10%.
Average repair costs: $325.38
Index rating: 0.96
Despite having only one car among the Top 100 -- the 2011 Chrysler 300c at No. 73 -- and watching repair costs jump from $287 in 2012, Chrysler gets high marks by keeping costs low. It top issue is a wonky gas cap that costs 5 cents to replace and its costliest repair -- that pesky catalytic converter that needs replacement in 6.45% of all cars at $1,119 a pop -- ranks No. 5 beneath repairs that each cost $320 or less. Looking good, Chrysler.
3. General Motors
Average repair costs: $304.99
Index rating: 0.91
As GM puts some distance between itself and its government bailout, its cars need fewer repairs and fewer dollars to complete them. Although GM's average repair cost inched up 5% from $290 a year ago, it's much less than the 18% percent hike in repair costs it experienced then. It's also one of the lowest averages on this list and spans 11 vehicles in the top 100, including four Buicks, five Chevrolets and two GMCs. That includes the 2012 GMC Sierra, the top-ranked vehicle in the truck category, and the 2011 Buick Lacrosse, which ranks No. 1 among luxury vehicles.
Average repair costs: $540.53
Index rating: 0.86
CarMD and Toyota want you to notice the company's 15 vehicles in the Top 100 and the 2012 Camry at No. 1. That's fine, but it's tough to get past that highest-on-the-list repair cost. We realize it varies from vehicle to vehicle, with the 2010 Corolla costing just $205 to fix, on average, but that probably comes as little consolation to the poor unfortunate stuck with $1,305 in catalytic converter replacement costs. Even worse, that's a full 12% of all Toyota owners. That's only 11% of Lexus owners, but their cost for the same job jumps to $1,500. Just tack on another $320 for another 14% who have to change their oxygen sensors.
Average repair costs: $312.67
Index rating: 0.80
Hyundai took over the top spot on this list basically by requiring fewer repairs and tamping down the cost of making them. A 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty helps in some cases, but so does having seven vehicles in the top 100.
What's your best bet? Try the Hyundai Elantra or Sonata, which appear in the Top 100 twice each: 2010 Elantra (no. 8), 2013 Sonata (no. 14), 2011 Sonata (no. 37) and 2009 Elantra (no. 96). The 2010 Santa Fe (no. 32), 2012 Accent (no. 69) and 2011 Tucson (no. 93) aren't bad picks either.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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