15 Cars You Can Drive Forever

  • By Website Team Technicians
  • 20 Mar, 2017
By David Muhlbaum

Cars in general have become more reliable over the years. Yet there are some models that just seem to keep rolling along, whistling past the junkyard. We bet you’ve seen one of these still cruising the highway recently. We've identified 15 cars with exceptional—sometimes surprising—endurance and value.

Honda Accord Model years: 1976-Present
Here’s a wager: Next time you’re out for a spin, watch for a nondescript, tan or silver four-door. Good chance it’s a Honda Accord. Combine reliability and best-selling status—a true virtuous cycle—and you get ubiquity.

 Exactly what it is about Honda that provides such durability is the subject of much debate (and much corporate envy/espionage involving Honda’s design and manufacturing processes). But surely some of it has to do with the fact that Honda Motor Company puts its engines and engineering first.

Buick Roadmaster Estate Model years: 1991–1996
Behold the last of the big American station wagons. This General Motors behemoth offers an appealing combination of reliable, modern(ish) technology and retro looks. In the later years of its production, the Roadmaster was armed with a honking 5.7-liter V8 closely related to the Chevy Corvette’s to move all that mass.

Rear-facing third-row seats, wood paneling on the sides, shifter on the steering column—all the elements of the Great American Wagon are there. You can even squeeze a third passenger up front if the ruckus in back gets too loud.

Geo Prizm Model years: 1984-2010
The Geo Prizm is one of a number of vehicles that have at their core one of the most reliable cars ever: the Toyota Corolla. But while the Corolla’s longevity goes unremarked, the Prizm and its stable-mates cause head-scratching as they soldier on into their second or even third decade: What is that thing? How is it still running?

This Corolla clone (marketed as a Chevrolet at one point) also appeared as the Chevy Nova (1984-1988) and the Pontiac Vibe (2002-2010). All of these cars were the product of a Toyota-GM joint venture called NUMMI, a Fremont, Calif. factory that built nearly 8 million vehicles of Toyota’s basic design before it closed down in 2010. These were the first Toyotas assembled in the U.S., and the story of how this location’s jaded United Auto Workers workforce learned the “Toyota Way” and turned out cars just as good as the ones built in Japan is a fascinating one.

 VW Van Model years: 1950-1992
The VW van, which creates instant counterculture nostalgia for baby boomers, keeps finding new generations of fans. Just look at the comic strip Zits, whose 16-year-old protagonist drives one.

A combination of sheer devotion from its fans and a deep reserve of used parts (thanks in part to its sharing many components with VW Beetles) keeps the VW Vangoing and going. Many are sun-faded and seem to rely on bumper stickers and duct tape to hold them together, but some VW Vans actually attract serious collector money: The 23-window models of the 1950s can fetch more than $50,000. And the handful of later-model Vans that were equipped with all-wheel-drive have a committed following in the mountain west's ski towns.

Volvos (Rear-Wheel-Drive Ones) Model years: Dawn of Man-1996
Volvo's secret? It basically built one car for decades under a variety of model names. In its staid Swedish way, the carmaker eschewed fashion and focused instead on quality (and safety). About the only thing that will kill off a Volvo is rust, says Mark Bredesen, the owner of Herndon, Va., import-repair-shop Autoscandia, who’s been working on Volvos since 1978—and the later models largely conquered that problem with galvanized steel. After a first round as the family truckster, these cars often devolve to being the kids' college vehicles—and sleeping quarters at jam-band shows.

Saab 900 Model years: 1979-1993
Let’s just get this out of the way: The Saab 900 is no Swedish cousin to the Volvo 240, at least not in terms of inherent reliability or simplicity of design. Weak transmissions are among their problems, says import expert Bredesen.

That said, this “other” Scandinavian has its own cult-like following that keeps a good number on the road, particularly in New England and Colorado, where the front-wheel-drive Saabs were popular for their great handling in snow, back before all-wheel-drive became a common option.

Subaru Wagons Model years: 1990-Present
The toughness of Subarus (with their standard all-wheel-drive) sometimes gets conflated with reliability, but they’re not the same thing: Just ask the many owners who had cylinder-head-gasket failures.

Nonetheless, many keep on trucking, particularly for owners involved in higher education. Have a look in the parking lots of colleges and universities in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest, where they serve as the transportation of both professors and students. The only way to tell whose is whose is by the bumper and window stickers.

 Mercedes 240D/300D/300TD Model years: 1975 and beyond
If you wanted a Mercedes in the 1980s that got reasonable mileage—that is, above 20 mpg—you got a diesel. That the company sold as many as it did was largely a fluke of federal regulations; the thrifty diesels allowed Mercedes to meet fleet fuel economy standards. They also were built to run forever, with not a single bit of electronics needed under the hood.

Toyota Camry Model years: 1992-forward
The 1992 model year marked the point where the Camry really hit its stride and went on to become a sales and endurance leader.

Two reasons: The styling, which evoked Toyota’s then-new Lexus luxury line, and roominess. Camrys that Toyota had imported to the states up until then had hewed to a Japanese market restriction of being no more than 67 inches wide. For 1992, Toyota decided to build a separate model just for the North American and Australian markets that was 70 inches wide. In so doing, it created a competitor to the 71-inch-wide Ford Taurus, which it would go on to dethrone as the most popular sedan in the U.S. in 1997. It’s held that honor for all but one year since.

 Ford Escort Model years: 1991-2002
Transportation, nothing more. Reasonable reliability. Way cheaper on the used market than a Toyota of the same era.

Virtually nobody gets excited about a Ford Escort, but for people who need a way to get to work for not a lot of dough, this is a prime mover. The 1991 Escort represented one of Ford’s more successful collaborations with Mazda, and it owes much of its design to the Mazda Protégé. The shared DNA can also be found in the Mercury Tracer and Ford ZX2.

Chevy Camaro/Pontiac Firebird Model years: 1982-2002
These cars' refusal to die is not necessarily a function of inherent reliability. It’s the sheer bullheadness of their owners, aging children of the ‘60s and ‘70s, who still want to drive a two-door American sport coupe with a V-8 and rear-wheel-drive and no way is it going be a Mustang (because that would be a Ford.) They can’t afford a new Camaro (or other new, hot sport-coupe offerings, such as the Dodge Challenger). And they can’t afford pony cars from the actual muscle-car era of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which are now only for well-heeled collectors. So that leaves the F-Body cars, in conditions ranging from impeccably polished to primer gray.

Ford Crown Victoria/Mercury Marquis Model years: 1992-2011
These road tanks have been doing a great job taking Granny and Grandpa to church every Sunday for decades. Even though the civilian versions lack the endurance-building parts installed in police cruisers and taxi fleets, such as oil coolers and stronger suspensions, the core components of the American sedan are all there: V-8 engine, solid rear axle, body-on-frame construction. The Chevy Caprice held this niche as well until the mid-1990s, when GM decided to turn its production facility over to big SUVs.

Buick LeSabre Model years: 1989-2005
Despite the best efforts of GM marketing departments to persuade car buyers otherwise, most people realized by the 1990s and 2000s that Buicks, Chevrolets, Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles were all very similar under the skin.

 And yet, it’s the Buicks that got the love in this era, as reflected in the many, many awards the brand won from quality-rankers J.D. Power and Associates. The LeSabre won “most trouble-free domestic” in 1990, and the brand as a whole was the top among domestics for initial quality. Fifteen years later, the LeSabre won “most dependable full-size car.” There were more honors in between those years, and Buick continues to do well in these surveys.

Jeep Cherokee Model years: 1987-2001*
We're going to make an exception to our “no-trucks” rule for the Jeep Cherokee. For one thing, it's not really a truck. As the first small crossover in the U.S., it did not have traditional body-on-frame construction of a traditional SUV.

Despite that, and despite being the last gasp of the dying American Motors Corporation, it did have Jeep toughness in its DNA, excellent off-road abilities and a well-proven, durable, straight-6 engine. Many Cherokees are still roaming America's secondary roads—and Europe as well, in a turbodiesel variant. That comes with a caveat, notes Edmunds’ Drury. “It will drive,” he says, “but is everything working? Probably not. A window might not go down, or a speaker might be out.”

For owners willing to put up with those sorts of niggling problems (or fix them themselves), the Jeep Cherokee can be an interesting combination of a vehicle that will go just about anywhere—and keep doing so for a long time.

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Standard safety kit was part of the recent revision to standard specification across the range, and as such, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and smart city brake support are included. The amount of standard kit you get at this price point is genuinely impressive. Luxury Euro vehicles with stratospheric price points don’t get some of the gear that the 3 Maxx gets standard.

 

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External styling is a Mazda 3 strong point and the Maxx is an attractive small hatch. It is part of the reason the 3 is so popular in Australia – we definitely buy vehicles on style in this country. Mazda’s Kodo design language delivers a fluidity in the proportions from front to rear. The signature swooping design cues might eat into second row headroom a little compared to the outgoing model, but there is still room for two adults in the second row. One exterior highlight is the stylish 16-inch alloy wheels, with sensible sidewall tires that add to the driving comfort around town – more on that in a minute.

 

Controlling the system is beautifully simple via the rotary dial that is mounted within easy reach and is incredibly easy to understand even for first timers. Cleverly, the touchscreen function is deactivated when the Maxx is in motion. The satellite navigation software is quick to load and accurate when directing you to a destination. The audio system works well too, with Bluetooth phone connectivity always crystal clear and never dropping out. You also get DAB+ radio and internet radio integration. The screen displays all you need to work through in an easy to understand fashion.

 

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The second row seats are actually nicely sculpted and comfortable for adults even on longer trips. You tend to sit down into them rather than up on top of them, and the material is both hardy but comfortable. Your passengers will appreciate the second row accommodation, that’s for sure.

 

The small console bin and small glove box don’t offer up much space for workers using the Mazda 3 as a mobile office, but there’s safe storage for a wallet and phone ahead of the shifter and the cup holders/bottle holders are well positioned too. The hatch section is low enough to make loading and unloading gear easy and again, there’s enough usable space to haul the kind of gear that most Mazda 3 owners will need to carry.

 

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