If the definition of “cheap” varies in automotive lingo, the understanding of “dependability” is pretty much universal. The family in the market for a car should take a look at these five cheap and dependable models that have the critics singing praises. Let’s take a look:

Comparing Apples to Apples

At the heart of the dependability rating is J.D. Power and Associates. Surveying in excess of 52,000 original car owners of 2007-model-year vehicles, the group ranked autos by the number of reported problems. Then, it tallied the results with respect to the vehicles that presented the fewest problems to their original owners during the first three years of being driven.

Compare and contrast this data with J.D. Power’s dependable manufacturer listing as outlined by Cars; it helps making today’s buying decision — based on model and maker ratings — just a bit simpler. For manufacturer ratings, know that the industry average is a score of 155, and any number that goes lower points to a car maker with vehicles that generally present with a below-average number of problems.

Compact Car: Toyota Corolla

It seats five passengers, gets 30 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. The Corolla competes with the Honda Civic and Ford Focus. While the car is not big on excessive creature comforts, the Toyota Financial calculator shows that California dealers sell a 2011 base model at $17,160, which makes it an affordable new vehicle for plenty of families. The company itself received a 128 rating, which falls well below the 155 average.

Crossover: Honda CR-V

The 166 horsepower rating is nice for towing a small trailer or boat, but the 22 mpg in the city (29 highway mpg) could scare away some consumers, who have suffered a gas price sticker shock. The vehicle actively competes with the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Ford Escape for market share. Its weakest points are performance issues and creature comforts. Honda reveals that a 2011 base model carries the MSRP of $22,475. Honda itself received a score of 132.

Midsize Car: Honda Accord

There are lots of these cars on the road, which is not an accident. Seating five comfortably, the Honda Accord gets 20 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. It gives the Toyota Camry a run for the money and also competes against the Nissan Altima. The instrument panel design leaves something to be desired — as does the infernal blind spot at the right — but the price is virtually unbeatable: $22,730.

New Minivan: Chrysler Town Country

The Chrysler Town  amp; Country seats seven and reaches 170 to 200 horse power. It gets 18 city mpg and 26 highway mpg. It is in competition with the Ford Freestar and Honda Odyssey. Chrysler got a higher than average problem score at 166. Consumer reception is tepid, but not overly negative. The current model year MSRP is $30,160 for a basic model.

Used Minivan: Ford Freestar

Ford itself received a 141 score. The Ford Freestar seats seven, gets 17 mpg in the city (24 mpg on the highway) and competes against the Honda Odyssey and Kia Sedona. This vehicle is nobody’s favorite when it comes to performance and design, and it has since been replaced with the Ford Flex. Even so, there is no arguing its dependability record. Since this vehicle is only available used, Edmunds quotes some prices are being right around $7,900, which makes it the cheapest dependable family car around.

J.D. Power: “2010 Vehicle Dependability Study Results”
Cars.com: “Most Dependable Manufacturers”
Toyota Financial: “Payment Estimator”
Honda: “Finance Tools”
Chrysler: “2011 Town and Country”
Edmunds: “Ford Freestar Review”