A successful old car salesman once said that he’d received the best advice he’d ever heard from his first customer. He said it was an elderly lady who had a no-nonsense type of attitude. She’d told him, “I don’t care what it looks like or how much technological crud it has in it, just don’t sell me something that’ll break down.” He said that was the best sales lesson he could have ever received: get behind a reliable product, and it will nearly sell itself. In honor of that old salesman, and the old lady, whomever and wherever they may be, we’re taking a look at the most reliable compact cars, researched at Consumer Reports, J.D. Power & Associates, and Edmunds.

1. Toyota Corolla

If not for a recall on the 2010 models for accelerator issues, the Corolla’s track record for reliability would be nearly flawless. The 1.8L four-cylinder engine has been a staple for fuel efficiency and durability. The ’09 and ’10 models are good for up to 27/35 mpg (city/highway), and display very few tendencies toward breakdown. It is also one of the most economical engines to maintain, given that the parts are affordable and many of the labor times for replacement are either average or lower than the norm. The 3-year/36,000-mile warranty that comes with every new Corolla is only average, and the 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty is actually lower than most, but the reliability of the Corolla shows that you may never have any use for either.

2. Honda Civic

The Civic has added features in recent years, like electronic stability control and a hybrid model, that only increase its stature as one of the most reliable compact cars. Aside from some minor recall issues, and the one major airbag recall in July of 2009, the Civic has steadfastly been a stalwart of automotive dependability. It received a minor facelift in 2009, which may have been one of the main reasons for its recall issues, and will debut a brand new generation, the ninth for this particular model, with the 2012 model year. While the concept car showed some very dramatic body changes, only time will tell if this new generation can stand up to the reputation the Civic has spent more than 35 years building.

3. Ford Fiesta

Even though it debuted in the American market in 2010, the Fiesta has spent the past few years perfecting its sixth generation of style and reliability in the compact segment around the world. The 2010 and 2011 models have won some very prestigious accolades, including an international design award, a top safety pick by the IIHS, and Top Gear’s “Green Car of the Year” award. Not only does it display remarkable reliability and technology standards for an economy compact, but it also possesses one of the lowest MSRPs and one of the best fuel efficiency ratings in its class.

4. Volkswagen Golf TDI

The key to this pick is the TDI at the end. On the whole, the Golf has a very spotty reliability record. Its gasoline counterpart can take much of the rap for that mediocrity. The Turbocharged Direct Injection diesel engines are much more user-friendly animals. Diesel engines are famous for lasting longer than their gasoline counterparts to begin with, but the difference between the reliability standards of the gasoline Golf and the TDI Golf are astounding. One has to wonder how the engine can affect the reliability of the entire vehicle to this extent, but it does in the Golf.

5. Toyota Prius

If you’re not shy about kicking in a little extra coin to get a hybrid vehicle, the Prius has withstood the test in its short time of existence, earning a top rating of 10 for reliability from U.S. News and J.D. Power and Associates. It comes with the standard vehicle warranties, 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper, 5-year/60,000-mile on the powertrain, but it also includes a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty on many of the hybrid system components. Though it received some early criticism for fear of the replacement cost of its hybrid components, not many drivers have found the need to delve into their pocketbooks for repairs on a Prius.

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