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10 Compact SUVs You Should Avoid Buying Used

Aug 11, 2023Aug 11, 2023

Compact SUVs make some of the most practical and efficient daily drivers, but some are teeming with issues.

Whether they're full-size, midsize, compact, or crossover, SUVs are flooding the market, especially the used market. These days it's very easy to find cheap used SUVs with ridiculously powerful engines that can satisfy people's need for towing heavy loads for those weekend family getaways. But what if families don't need huge amounts of power in their car or towing is not really their thing, that's where the compact SUV comes into play. They offer ample space and comfort for a family at an affordable price.

Generally, sports utility vehicles are reliable and sturdy cars and there are lots of cheap SUVs that are built like tanks. However, there are plenty of compact SUVs that are not so good when it comes to reliability, and there are some older models that people should be cautious about buying. Using data from Car Complaints, Vehicle History, and Consumer Reports alongside information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as well as owners' experiences on Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds, we have made a list of 10 compact SUVs you should avoid buying used.

There are lots of things you need to know before buying a used Chevrolet Equinox and one of them is that older models can be problematic. While newer versions have improved reliability dramatically, some first-generation models suffer from lots of faults. The 2005 Chevrolet Equinox is from the first generation, and unfortunately, it's not that good. One of the main problems is a blown head gasket which can lead to engine failure, as Car Complaints reports. It's also one of the most filed complaints with the NHTSA for this model Equinox.

Many owners on Edmunds comment on the head gasket problem along with a variety of electrical issues and transmission hassles. One owner said they had to replace the transmission immediately after they bought a used 2005 Equinox, and another calls this model a nightmare. Another owner reports of problems with the 'throttle actuator control module' failing and 'when it goes out you won't go, all you can do is coast to a stop'. If you want to avoid major hassles and headaches, steer clear of the 2005 Chevrolet Equinox.

If you want a small SUV to avoid buying used, give the 2013 Ford Escape a very wide birth. Car Complaints has an "AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE" stamp on its page for this model Escape. Out of the 17 recalls it has, 2 of them are because of engine fires. Engine problems receive the most amount of complaints on Car Complaints. They also find the worst problems of this model Escape are engine shutting down, transmission failure, and power steering failure.

There are over 2300 complaints filed with the NHTSA on the 2013 Escape, and over 1100 of them are about the engine. Reports on Vehicle History show that 'several drivers report transmission shudder and rough shifts' and notes that 'records of transmission failure and complete loss of motive power are not uncommon'. Other problems include engine overheating and unintended stalling. Another cause for concern is this vehicle's tendency to rollaway when it's in Park. This got fixed with a recall from Ford, but it is still concerning. While many may love the 2023 Ford Escape, the 2013 version is best avoided.

Related: Here's How Ford Escape Ownership Can Potentially Bankrupt You

This is one of the most popular small SUVs in America and many people would say that the Honda CR-V is the perfect family SUV. That might ring true for new ones, but not for the 2015 model. Some of the more common problems are starter failure, engine stalling while in reverse, and front-end vibration, according to Vehicle History. The vibration is one of the worst problems of the 2015 Honda CR-V, as reported by Car Complaints.

Transmission vibration features a lot in owners' experiences on Consumer Reports as well as oil leaks and a slipping transmission. Various owners on Edmunds comment on the intolerable vibration, especially when idling, as well as having transmission failure at very low mileage. It's not surprising that out of the 591 complaints filed with the NHTSA, 221 are for the engine and 142 for the power train.

Some of the most reliable Japanese cars ever made come from Nissan. With models such as the Leaf, Altima, and Armada, it's easy to see why. Unfortunately, Nissan missed a trick when it comes to the 2012 Juke. According to Car Complaints, one of its worst problems under 100,000 miles is transmission failure. Another is the engine not turning over and not starting. They go on to say that 'overall the worst problem category is Nissan Juke engine problems'.

Consumer Reports records that of the 4 recalls from the NHTSA, 2 of them are for fuel system pressure sensors that 'may not have been sufficiently tightened during production. As a result, the fuel pressure sensor may loosen with vehicle usage and cause a fuel leak' which can cause a fire. Additionally, some owners on Kelley Blue Book comment on transmission failure, with one owner experiencing that in under 65,000 miles. Another calls it a lemon after having various electrical issues and broken parts in just 36,000 miles. The moral of the tale is to avoid the 2012 Nissan Juke if you want a reliable small SUV.

Related: The Real Reason Why Everyone Dislikes The Nissan Juke

Some would argue the Jeep Cherokee changed the automotive scene forever by bringing the term 'SUV' into the mainstream in 1974. The Cherokee has come a long way since those early days and generally, it's a durable little monster. Sadly, though, the 2014 Cherokee is one of those model years that can't hold its head up high for being reliable. Reported issues on this model include poor build quality, failing transmission, engine oil leaks, and engine stalling.

Vehicle History reports this small SUV also suffers from a 'serious widespread issue of the cruise control failing to cancel'. There are many reports from users of multiple electrical gremlins as well as transmission failure before 100,000 miles. Car Complaints says 2014 is the worst model year of the Cherokee for transmission problems and has the AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE stamp on its page. Numerous people on Kelley Blue Book report on transmission issues - one under 11,000 miles, as well as the multitude of mechanical problems, heavy oil consumption, and loss of power. One owner says it's 'been a complete headache in terms of repairs and performance'.

Some of the most affordable used SUVs come from Japanese car companies, but unfortunately, another small SUV from Nissan makes its way on this list. This time it's the turn of the 2005 Xterra. This one suffers from a widespread defect with the radiator leaking coolant fluid into the transmission causing transmission failure. There are many other issues, but it's this 'one' problem that makes Car Complaints call 2005 the worst model year for the Nissan Xterra.

NHTSA has over 800 complaints on the 2005 Xterra, with 412 of them being for the power train, 166 on the cooling system, and 113 relating to the engine. Many owners on Edmunds comment on the radiator and transmission issue along with the expensive costs to fix it and Nissan's refusal to assist in these matters. It's a real shame because we know Nissan can do a lot better than this.

Toyota's reliability status is well-documented. The RAV4 SUV continually wins the hearts of the Americans, however, they're not immune to having some bad model years, few and far between, but they do exist. In the small SUV segment, the 2007 RAV4 is a year to avoid. Some of its worst problems as noted by Car Complaints are engine failure, clunking noise when turning the steering wheel, and excessive oil consumption.

With nearly a thousand complaints filed with the NHTSA, 269 of them relate to the steering and 194 to the engine. It's a shame as the RAV4 is mainly a reliable car and is the most reliable compact SUV in 2023. So this 2007 model is a stain on the RAV4's reputation. Vehicle History calls it ' a problem-ridden year to avoid for the popular SUV'.

Related: 10 Reasons Why The Toyota RAV4 Is The Best-Selling SUV In America

Even though Jeep discontinued the Liberty in 2012, you can still find it on the used market, but there are some model years to stay well clear of. The 2006 model year is prone to engine problems including engine failure before 100,000 miles, but the most pressing issue is the window regulators malfunctioning causing the windows to go down on their own and not come back up. This is far more than an annoyance, it's dangerous.

On a sunny day, you might find having the windows down a pleasant experience, but when the weather turns cold, that's a different story. But more worryingly, what if your Liberty is on the drive with the windows down, it's an invitation to any would-be robbers. Or if you're driving on the highway and the window suddenly goes down causing a major distraction and a safety hazard, as one complainant notes with the NHTSA. This window regulator problem earned the 2006 Liberty the worst model year on Car Complaints. It's among the list of many things we don't miss about the Jeep Liberty. According to Vehicle History, it’s one of the ‘most common problems found on the 2006 Jeep Liberty’.

For a small SUV, the GMC Terrain is a rather capable car. It's no Subaru Forester, which is Consumer Reports' top pick for a small SUV and is arguably the best compact SUV to buy, but the Terrain is generally not too bad. However, the 2011 Terrain is a black mark on GMC's reliability. This model suffers greatly from engine problems making 2011 the worst model year according to Car Complaints.

NHTSA has 378 complaints received on this model Terrain, with 167 of them to do with the engine, as well as 73 for the power train. There are other problematic areas as Vehicle History notes that it's 'received a lot of negative owner reviews mentioning sudden breakdowns, fuel pump failures, and transmission problems'. Multiple owners on Edmunds report issues of engine stalling while driving and breaking down, going through excessive amounts of oil and one owner calls it a 'problem child'.

There are some things to know before buying a Volkswagen Tiguan, especially when it's a used one. For instance, the 2010 Tiguan suffers a lot from engine failure at around 97,000 miles, as noted by Car Complaints website. Engine issues are also the most reported complaint with the NHTSA for this model Tiguan.

Other problem areas for the 2010 Tiguan include water pump failure, fuel pump failure, and a variety of electrical faults as noted by owners on Edmunds. One owner states 'It is the most unreliable vehicle I have ever owned'. Similarly, previous owners on Kelley Blue Book experience issues with the water pump, transmission, mechanical problems, and engine misfires.

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M. S. Grayson has been an automotive enthusiast for over three decades. If it has an engine and wheels then it has been an interest of his. From everyday cars to sports cars, classics to supercars and hypercars, there is not much in the automotive world that has not caught his attention. His passion for cars started at an early age and has only grown deeper over the years giving him plenty of experience to write about something he loves.