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Paying for maintenance is inevitable for car owners, but future trips to the auto repair shop aren’t often top-of-mind for consumers browsing the dealership lots. Ideally, shoppers have done research on and have some experience with manufacturers and models to help inform a vehicle-purchase decision, but it’s difficult to predict how reliable a car will be.

If avoiding the repair shop is your top concern, buying a Lexus is a good bet, according to the J.D. Power 2014 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study. For the 25th year, J.D. Power published rankings of the best vehicle brands, based on the average number of problems experienced per 100 vehicles, as well as a breakdown of most reliable vehicles in 21 body-type categories.

The Most Reliable Cars

Lexus products had the best ranking because they averaged 68 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100). Mercedes-Benz took second with an average of 104 PP100, and Cadillac was third with 107 PP100. General Motors, Toyota and Honda had the most category winners. The study included survey responses collected October through December 2013 from more than 41,000 original owners of 2011 model-year vehicles after three years of ownership. Based on those responses, here are the most reliable vehicles in each category:

Compact Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV)
2011 Honda CR-V

Compact Car
2011 Chevrolet Volt

Compact Multi-Purpose Vehicle
2011 Scion xB

Compact Premium CUV
2011 Acura RDX

Compact Premium Car
2011 Lexus ES 350

Compact Sporty Car
2011 MINI Cooper

Large CUV
2011 GMC Yukon

Large Car
2011 Buick Lucerne

Large Heavy Duty Pickup
2011 GMC Sierra 2500HD

Large Light Duty Pickup
2011 GMC Sierra 1500

Large Premium CUV
2011 Cadillac Escalade

Large Premium Car
(tie) 2011 Cadillac DTS, 2011 Lexus LS

Midsize CUV
2011 Honda Crosstour

Midsize Car
2011 Toyota Camry

Midsize Pickup
2011 Honda Ridgeline

Midsize Premium CUV
2011 Lexus RX

Midsize Premium Car
2011 Lexus GS

Midsize Sporty Car
2011 Chevrolet Camaro

2011 Toyota Sienna

Sub-Compact CUV
2011 Honda Element

Sub-Compact Car
2011 Honda Fit

How Reliability Factors Into Vehicle Cost

Consumers value dependability for a variety of reasons: It minimizes repair expenses over the life of the vehicle, meaning you may be able to hold on to it longer than you would a less-reliable model. By shopping for cars less frequently, you can reduce the number of auto loans you have to take out. On the flip side, if you’re the kind of person who likes to change vehicles regularly, cars with good reliability rankings tend to have higher resale value than their less-dependable counterparts, so you could get a significant down payment for your new car when selling your old one.

There are obvious money-saving advantages to having a dependable car, but there’s also no way of knowing what may happen to your vehicle in the future, so it’s important to focus on all aspects of affordability when choosing your next ride. Consider the basics, like the type of car most useful to you and the fuel economy you prefer, but also consider long-term expenses, like how much of the vehicle’s cost you may have to finance and what your loan interest rate may be. Look beyond monthly payments as well, because while you can reduce them by lengthening your loan term, you will also pay more in the long run because of the interest the loan accrues over time.

Auto loan interest rates rely heavily on your credit standing, so it helps to check your credit scores well in advance of visiting a dealership or applying for third-party financing. That way, if you have room for improvement or errors negatively affecting your credit history, you have time to work on your credit. Keep in mind the auto loan will also affect your credit going forward, so it’s crucial to know you can afford your monthly payments — late payments hurt your credit, and if you miss enough bills, your vehicle could get repossessed (a repossession hurts your credit, too).

To see where you stand before getting an auto loan, you can check two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com, and you can review your free credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. The better your credit, the more affordable a car loan — or any loan — will likely be, which is why it’s smart to regularly monitor your credit, even when you’re not planning on applying for any loans in the near future.

More on Auto Loans:

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