In Pictures: 10 Smart Cars To Buy Now. Buick... In Pictures: 10 Smart Cars To Buy Now. Buick

Remember when automakers offered customers all kinds of incentives to flip their cars and trucks every three years? Cheap lease deals and seven year loans were catnip to many a driver who wanted to be seen in fresh wheels. So pervasive was incessant car flipping that many car owners became “upside down” on their car loans as unscrupulous dealers and ignorant buyers allowed customers whose trade-ins were worth less than what was owed to roll forward the shortfall into a new loan on a new car. Thus, consumers were financing 120% and more of a new car’s value at closing.

Not any more. Reckless financing deals took down Mitsubishi in the U.S., and ultimately contributed to the falls of GM and Chrysler. The companies have closed and consolidated so many factories that they aren’t over-producing cars and trucks like they used to.

Consumer research and trend analysts are telling carmakers to get ready for slow growth from this year’s projected 11.5 to 12 million new vehicle sales because the hammering of home values and 401k accounts is going to keep people in their vehicles for a good seven or eight years and maybe more.

The good news, even for people who aren’t wild about the prospect of holding on to the same wheels for a decade, is that automakers are making longer term ownership more possible through better engineering and overall quality. J.D. Power’s Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS), which ranks cars based on surveying car owners about three years of ownership, showed this year that Detroit automakers continue to narrow the long term quality gap between them and the leading Asian makes. Twenty-five of 36 vehicle brands have improved in long-term dependability in 2010, compared with their performance in 2009. And for the first time in the history of the study, a Detroit model, the 2006 Buick LaCrosse, had the lowest incidence of problems. Seven of the top ten models in this year’s ranking were from General Motors and Ford.

To come up with this list, we looked at three years of J.D. Power’s VDS Studies to see which vehicles showed up in the top three positions in their segments over 2008, 2009 and 2010, which would reflect vehicles sold in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Those were the LaCrosse, Toyota Prius, Honda Ridgeline and CR-V and BMW Z4. But we don’t want to be chained to Power’s rankings. We also added to our list--for reasons of our own scrutiny of the products, their history and various rankings -- the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, Hyundai Elantra Touring and BMW 3 Series.

There are other vehicles that could have been added to the list if we expanded it. The Lexus ES350 sedan, Subaru Outback and Toyota Corolla each have reputations and data to make them good choices for a decade, as well. But to keep the list to ten models, we were a bit ruthless, and wanted to add some models like the Jetta TDI and Hyundai, which we feel are good bets with some added benefit of being fun to drive and not such obvious choices.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own — we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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