Car shoppers have a lot to sort through when looking for a new car. Is it big enough for the family? Does it have good fuel economy? Often, one of their biggest concerns is how much a car will cost to repair over time. We take a stab at translating a lot of information to give shoppers more peace of mind. That’s why we came up with the Worry-Free Index.
Cars.com’s Worry-Free Index gives consumers a list of cars that editors are confident will provide the most worry-free ownership experience, based on reported reliability, low expected maintenance and repair costs, and strong warranties. We took the market’s top 120 sellers through September 2014 (about 90 percent of new cars sold) and analyzed reliability scores from thousands of Cars.com consumers over the most recent model years. We also scrutinized expected repair costs, which gauge the frequency and seriousness when things go wrong. But reliability alone isn’t the only component of what makes a car worry-free, so we looked at five-year estimated maintenance costs and manufacturer warranties, as well.
The inaugural index looks at 2014 models. We disqualified cars in the first year of their current generation as well as any cars with poor crash-test ratings. We looked for both good data and complete data, disqualifying any cars without enough consumer reliability scores. Strong scores reflect cars that have a solid track record with lots of information to draw on. A vehicle can score a maximum of 350 points.
Many Toyota, Lexus Models
Including its Lexus luxury division, Toyota had six of the WFI’s top 15 cars, including the top two. The popular Lexus RX 350, now in the twilight years of its third generation, finished first thanks to excellent reliability scores and relatively low expected maintenance costs.
Detroit automakers had four cars in the top 15, while the Hyundai Santa Fe and Santa Fe Sport, bolstered by index-leading warranty scores, landed at Nos. 5 and 14, respectively. Honda and its luxury Acura division, meanwhile, had two top cars in the top 15.
America’s best-selling sedan, the Toyota Camry, is at No. 6 with its hybrid variant. The non-hybrid Camry sibling landed at No. 21; not quite on the top 15, but still in the top half of all the eligible cars. The Camry’s popularity goes to show just how much consumers want worry-free cars. Excluding the Dodge Challenger, whose heavily revised 2015 model is now in dealerships, sales for this year’s top 15 worry-free cars are up 1.1 percent year-to-date through September. That’s no easy feat, given many of them have been on the market in current form for three or more years.
An August 2014 survey of new-car shoppers by the National Automobile Dealers Association found more than three-quarters of car and truck shoppers said build quality and reliability were “important” or “very important” in their car-shopping decision. That was a higher ratio than nine other factors, including fuel economy and advanced safety tech. Meanwhile, cost of ownership, which includes maintenance, was important or very important to 69 percent of car shoppers and 70 percent of truck/SUV shoppers, ahead of factors such as fuel economy, safety tech, performance and design.
Editor’s note: This list has been reformulated to reflect a change in our data sources.
Cars.com photo illustration by Paul Dolan