All-Time Greatest Lemons

Written by on September 7, 2012 in Money - No comments | Print this page


The best reason in the world to buy a used car is and always has been the price. But how do you know that great-looking car you’ve been looking at will hold up to the rigors of your life and daily routines? Based on online commentary and reviews from real buyers, here are the top ten worst used cars you can buy.

1) 1995-2002 Ford Windstar and 2004-2007 Freestar
Ford’s reputation isn’t so good these days, and you’re likely to get laughed and pointed at by your friends while driving one of these suburban assault vehicles unless you’ve got a houseful of kids. If you do, they’re probably still laughing at you, but at least they’ll do it in private. The worst part is, the joke’s on you with these lemons! Power steering pump and electrical problems that are hard to pin down, transmission failures with little or no warning, and faulty sliding doors all make the Freestar and its predecessor the Windstar a soccer mom’s nightmare. Of course they’re really cheap if you’ve got the money to sink into battling the constant gremlins Ford included standard in these models.

2) 2003-07 Saturn Ion
Not too many people even remember Saturn anymore. They had a strong run for around a decade and then disappeared like a vampire in sunlight. Suspicion for what model gets credit for killing the economy-directed company falls on the ’03-’07 Ion. Difficult to start in cold weather, prone to ignition switch and front-end strut mount failures, the Ion had its share of problems. Perhaps the scariest and the one that makes this a really bad buy for your money is the fact the electric steering has been reported to fail suddenly and without warning. At 25, this is hopefully not a big deal, but at freeway speeds, your money is probably better spent taking the bus.

3) 2002-03 Nissan Altima
For a midsize vehicle, the Nissan Altima isn’t a bad one. Good fuel economy and plenty of legroom makes this model a decent sale. Until we consider model years ’02 and ’03, the Altima actually holds its own. But in these model years, Nissan apparently dropped the ball on their engineering. Crucial ceramic components could fracture and be sucked into the engine, destroying the engine beyond the capabilities of even the most gifted mechanics to resurrect. Add in malfunctioning crank position sensors, radiators, and head gaskets, and you’re better off with a bicycle.

4) 2002-05 Audi A4
Sure, it’s got the sophisticated European styling you’d expect from a low-end luxury sedan, but the Audi A4 is so riddled with problems from headlight to tailpipe one has to ask who decided to let the trained monkey draw on the schematics. Failing ignition coils, headlights, transmissions, and clutches make the ’02-’05 A4 a great time not to have owned one.

5) 1999-2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee
If you like your mechanic enough to fund his retirement, then pick up one of these wonders of vehicular engineering ineptitude. This yuppie offroad conveyance leaks oil out of nearly every join in the engine and is prone to sudden transmission failure. Of course, if you buy one of these, your mechanic will think it’s Christmas!

6) 1997-2003 Chevy Malibu
Why they even bothered putting an electrical system in this car is a mystery for the ages, considering the laundry list of electrical problems. Add in the wheel bearings, fuel pump, battery, alternator, and you’ll have a very nice-looking paperweight for your driveway.

7) 2002-05 Ford Explorer
We’ve circled back to Ford again. While these models didn’t have the fatal stability problems of their predecessors, they did have severe automatic transmission problems, leaked coolant, and were plagued with numerous electrical problems.

8) 1998-2003 Chrysler Intrepid
These cars were very popular because of their sleek styling, but the problems with the engineering didn’t come out until much later. For starters, the engine Chrysler used was a fuel-injected 2.7-liter V6 that tends to develop sludge formations more quickly than many same class vehicles. Other notorious problems involved the torque converter and transmission. Even the air conditioner and brake system was faulty in this model, which is why it earns the number one place on our Wall of Shame.

9) 2001-05 Honda Civic
Not only is the Honda Civic statistically the most stolen car in America because of the ludicrously simple to jimmy locking mechanism, but these four model years take the cake6for problems. Transmission and steering components that failed at low mileage, standard transmissions that had to be rebuilt because they slipped out of second and fifth gear, faulty alternators: When we say this car has it all, we’re not talking about accessories packages! The only more or less universal positive about this car was that the engine was relatively trouble free.

10) 1999-2002 Saab 9-3 and 9-5
The fact the model numbers look like bonus levels for a Super Mario Brothers game should be enough to warn most people off these cars right off the bat. Leaking head gaskets and seizing in the four-cylinder engine was more than bad enough, but because of the alignment of the engine and oil pan, sludging of the engine was and remains a constant problem. Sure, they get great gas mileage when they run, which is a good thing. You’ll need that extra money to pay the premium rates to have this rolling European horror show fixed!

All references and citations:

This is a guest post.   Buying a car is one of the most important stages in life in North America. Before you make a purchasing decision, educate yourself by reading the right material from credible sources, such as Kanetix – Canada’s best online insurance quote comparison service. You can read their article on Tips For Buying Used Cars and you can also learn about which cars are most popular in Canada from this article: Top 10 Cars In Canada.

Image by James Barker:


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