Special Report

Seven Cars Most Likely to Be Dumped

Most people buy a car with the goal of getting as much out of it as possible before trading it in. However, a test drive can only reveal so much, and a car can end up being disappointing or unreliable. In these instances, a car may have to be traded in sooner than planned.

According to information released by car data site Edmunds.com, the brand of vehicle you buy may determine how long you will keep your vehicle — whether you will own it for less than four years or more than seven. The average age of a Buick traded in during 2012 was 7.47 years. The average Smart vehicle traded in during 2012 was just 3.09 years. Based on the average trade-in age of the major car makes sold in the United States, these are the cars Americans are most likely to trade in.

Click here to see the seven cars most likely to be dumped

Many of the makes on this list represent only a small part of the U.S. auto market. Five of the seven car brands each had 0.5% of U.S. market share in 2012 or less. Smart, which had the lowest average trade-in age, barely sold 10,000 units last year. By comparison, Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) had 15 separate models that each sold more than 25,000 units. The Ford F-150 sold 434,000 units.

One factor that may contribute to people turning in these cars sooner than most is dependability. Based on the 2013 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, which measures the number of reported problems new owners have with their cars, five of the car brands had more reported problems per 100 vehicles than the industry average. Mini and Smart were worst and third worst, respectively, among the 34 makes surveyed by J.D. Power.

While dependability appears to be a factor for the brands with shorter trade-in timelines, the actual age of the brands may also be a factor. Cars with older average trade-ins, such as Buick, Lincoln and Chrysler, have had a major presence in the U.S. for decades. Companies with shorter trade-in times, such as Smart and Scion, are relatively new in the United States. One factor that likely leads to Smart cars having a lower average trade-in age is that most of the Smart cars in the country are less than five years old.

Two cars that were among the most likely to be returned are owned by drivers that can afford to get the newest model. While Porsche and Land Rover were owned for less than five years on average, both cars have among the highest loyalty ratings; drivers are much more likely to buy another Porsche or Land Rover than most other cars.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed Edmunds.com data on the average trade-in time on the 32 largest U.S. vehicle makes in 2012 to identify the car brands that are turned in in less than five years. Edmunds.com provided us with U.S. sales and market share, as well as the average time on lot for 2012. Edmunds.com also provided brand loyalty data, which represents the percentage of drivers trading in a car who planned on buying the same make or model they owned. For each of these models, we also reviewed J.D. Power’s Initial Quality and Dependability study, which measures the number of complaints by make per 100 vehicles both for new owners and those who have owned the vehicle for three years.

These are seven cars most likely to be sold, returned, or, to put it another way, dumped.

7. Porsche
> Years owned: 4.83
> Days on lot: 47 (12th lowest)
> Loyalty: 47.4% (8th highest)
> Unit sales: 35,403 (4th lowest)

Although Porsches have far fewer buyers than most cars, nearly half the owners who were in the market for a new car in 2012 looked to buy another Porsche, which is higher than most cars. According to rankings by J.D. Power and Associates, there were just 75 problems per 100 vehicles of those new car owners surveyed in 2012, lower than any other car except for Lexus and much better than the industrywide average of 102 problems per 100 cars. J.D. Power also ranked the Porsche 911 as the top Premium Sporty car in terms of initial quality.

6. Land Rover
> Years owned: 4.72
> Days on lot: 49 (15th lowest)
> Loyalty: 44.8% (11th highest)
> Unit sales: 43,664 (5th lowest)

Many people who own Land Rovers remain loyal to the make. An estimated 44.8% of Land Rover owners looking to buy a new car in 2012 purchased another car from the carmaker, one of the few brands on this list that performed well in customer loyalty. But despite many owners returning to the make, quality remains an issue. According to J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study for 2013, owners of Land Rovers that are three years old reported 220 problems per 100 vehicles — by far the worst in the nation.

5. Hyundai
> Years owned: 4.33
> Days on lot: 34 (4th lowest)
> Loyalty: 31.9% (12th lowest)
> Unit sales: 703,007 (6th highest)

Hyundai is one of the few makes on this list that represents a significant portion of the U.S. auto market. In 2012, the company sold more Elantras than the combined total sales of Smart, Scion, Land Rover and Porsche. In J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study, Hyundai ranked worse than the industry average, with 141 problems reported per 100 vehicles, compared to the industry average of 126 problems per 100 cars. Just 31.9% of Hyundai owners looking for a new car in 2012 bought another Hyundai, compared to the nearly 50% loyalty for Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) and Ford. Many other top models from other makes had more than 30% retention of people buying new cars in 2012. Possibly affecting Kia’s staying power with car owners was the misreported fuel efficiency scandal that rocked the company last year.

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4. Mini
> Years owned: 4.22
> Days on lot: 35 (5th lowest)
> Loyalty: 30.1% (8th lowest)
> Unit sales: 66,123 (7th lowest)

Mini is one of the smaller car makes in the United States, with just 66,123 units sold in 2012. The most popular model, the Mini Cooper, accounted for more than half of all the brand’s sales. Sales of the model have been flat in the past four years. Of the 34 vehicle makes reviewed in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, Mini ranked third worst, with 139 problems reported per every 100 vehicles sold.’

3. Scion
> Years owned: 3.99
> Days on lot: 46 (11th lowest)
> Loyalty: 15.5% (the lowest)
> Unit sales: 73,501 (9th lowest)

Americans bought just 73,501 Scion vehicles in 2012, among the lowest sales of all makes covered by Edmunds.com. While the company has just five available models in the U.S., not one of these gained enough traction with consumers to reach even 25,000 vehicles in U.S. sales last year. Another issue for the brand is that just 15.5% of customers bought a second Scion. One potential reason is that the brand targets younger, entry-level car buyers rather than more established customers already in the market for their second or third car. Quality also has been inconsistent recently. Although J.D. Power named the Scion xD one of the nation’s most dependable cars in 2013, across all models the Scion make underperformed the auto industry in dependability.

2. Kia
> Years owned: 3.88
> Days on lot: 34 (3rd lowest)
> Loyalty: 22.5% (2nd lowest)
> Unit sales: 557,599 (7th highest)

Kias get bought fast. The average time a Kia spends on the lot is only 34 days, lower than all but two other vehicles. However, the Kia was one of just three car makes that people held on to less than four years. According to the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, there were 107 problems reported for every 100 new Kias sold in 2012, higher than the industry average of 102 problems. J.D. Power’s vehicle dependability study noted that three-year-old Kias had 140 problems for every 100 vehicles, compared to an industry average of 126 problems per 100 three-year-old cars. The Optima was the highest selling vehicle of the Kia Brand, with 152,399 units sold in 2012. This is a large jump from the 84,590 Optimas sold in 2011, and 27,382 sold in 2010.

1. Smart
> Years owned: 3.09
> Days on lot: 38 (6th lowest )
> Loyalty: 31.9% (11th lowest)
> Unit sales: 10,009 (the lowest)

Smart owners wait barely more three years before trading in their cars, with more than two-thirds of owners choosing not to buy a second car from the make, according to 2012 data. Worse for Smart, not only were owners looking to ditch the brand, but it barely cleared 10,000 cars sold — the lowest of any make for which Edmunds.com compiled data. Smart also did not perform well on J.D. Power’s Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) study for 2012. The survey asked recent car buyers to rate over 80 attributes of their new car to see how gratifying the purchase was for the buyers. Only one car maker, Suzuki, scored worse than Smart in the study.

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