America has a car culture. Our country is connected by highways and interstates. For a teenager, a driver’s license and a set of wheels is a passport to freedom on the open road. For service members, packing up the car and driving cross country is just a standard PCS move. As such, the cars we buy need to be dependable, practical and a bit of efficiency never hurts either. USAA put together a list of the top 10 vehicles purchased by service members for 2019. The list is based on internal data from active duty and former military members who purchased a car through the USAA car buying service, obtained an auto loan through USAA, or added a vehicle to their USAA insurance policy between January 1 and August 31, 2019. Note that the list does not cover vehicle specifics like model year or trim level.
Derived from the Subaru Legacy, the Outback is a safe, practical, and reliable mode of transportation which makes it an easy pick for the discerning servicemember. Originally classified as a station wagon, the Outback was reclassified as a crossover in the 2015 model year. It has received the Top Safety Pick Award from the IIHs and a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA. With its large cargo space, the Outback is PCS-friendly and its torquay boxer engine mated to an all-wheel drive drivetrain means that you’ll be able to get around just fine when your assignment manager tricks you into moving to the frozen landscape of Fort Drum.
In 2016, the Toyota Corolla overtook the Volkswagen Beetle as the best-selling automobile in the world when it reached 44 million units sold. The name has been used across a range of vehicles over the years, but we know it best in the US as a reliable and affordable front-wheel drive compact car. While it’s not going to win any awards for styling or performance (although Toyota’s marketing would like you to think otherwise), no one can deny the Corolla’s legendary reliability. Even if you buy a used model with your enlistment bonus, a Corolla can last you through to retirement and onwards.
Originally based on the underpinnings of the Corolla, the RAV4 was one of the first compact crossover SUVs in the US market. While not a serious off-roader by any means, its reliable 4-cylinder engine provides enough power to move you around town while hauling more of your stuff than you could fit in the aforementioned Corolla. Today, the RAV4 offers a hybrid trim and comes equipped with a 7-inch touchscreen, Entune 3.0, Apple Carplay, and Amazon Alexa as standard; plenty of bang for your government salary buck.
Yes, there’s been a million-mile Chevy. Of course there’s a million-mile model of the aforementioned Corolla. There’s even a million-mile Porsche out there. But, the Accord can claim two million-mile examples (one from 1990 and another from 2000). Its status as one of the world’s most reliable vehicles has led to the Accord’s inclusion on the Car and Driver 10Best list a record 30 times. In recent years, the rising popularity of crossover SUVs has led to a decline in 4-door sedan sales. Honda responded by refreshing the Accord for the 2018 model year and boy did it work. Beyond its sleek, almost European styling, the latest Accord offers a surprising amount of cargo space for a mid-size sedan and a suite of safety features which earned it an IIHS Top Safety Pick and 2018’s North American Car of the Year. For the service member that wants an affordable, practical, and sporty car, the Accord can be had with a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine derived from the same block as the famous Honda Civic Type-R. The Accord is also one of the few vehicles you can buy today with the option of a manual transmission. Just keep your head on a swivel for MPs.
Compared to the Camry, the Accord is a sales disaster. In 2007, the Camry outsold the Accord by a margin of 392,231 units. In fact, the Camry has been the best-selling car (not vehicle; don’t worry truck fans, we’ll get there) in America from 1997 to 2019 with the exception of 2001 when it was edged out by the Accord with a margin of just over 24,000 units. Like the smaller Corolla, the Camry is famed for its reliability. Suffering from a loss of market share to crossover SUVs like the Accord, the Camry received a refresh in 2017, though the styling cues are not as much of a departure as the Accord’s. However, Toyota did introduce a TRD trim and a two-tone paint scheme for drivers who want to stand out a bit more. Yes, it’s a bit vanilla, but a Camry will ferry you between duty stations no problem and get great gas mileage doing it.
Yes, it’s another Japanese car, but at least this one’s a truck. Originally classified as a compact pickup, the Tacoma has dominated the midsize pickup market in the US…partly because it didn’t have much competition until Chevy and Ford revived their Colorado and Ranger pickups respectively. But that’s not to say that the Tacoma hasn’t earned its reputation. After all, its lineage can be traced back to the unkillable Toyota Hilux pickup. In 2005, the Tacoma was named Motor Trend‘s Truck of the Year. Overall, the Tacoma is a versatile pick for a service member’s vehicle. It’s capable enough to get you through a posting at Minot AFB or JBER, yet economical enough that filling the tank won’t break the bank if you get sent to somewhere to somewhere with a higher cost of living like San Diego or Hawaii.
The Ram marks the end of the Japanese brands on this list. And yes, the Ram Trucks brand has split off from the Dodge brand under Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Whatever you call it, the Ram pickup is a common sight on military bases, often seen in a matte black trim. Ram trucks have been named Motor Trend‘s Truck of the Year a total of seven times, including 2019 and 2020. Ram trucks also offer plenty of torque if you decide to haul a boat or RV between duty stations.
The Chevy Silverado is arguably the most popular truck in country music, both in lyrics (as Chevy or Silverado) and in music videos. Even if you’re not a fan of country, the Silverado is an extremely popular and capable truck, consistently ranking as one of the best-selling vehicles in the United States. It’s worth noting that the USAA list does differentiate between the Silverado and its upscale GMC counterpart, the Sierra. The Silverado delivers a very capable package of power and performance for your towing needs. It also serves as an excellent candidate for a lift kit so you can cruise around base in style while blasting Florida Georgia Line from your speakers.
These things are everywhere. Seriously, I don’t think there’s a single military base in the United States that doesn’t have a Jeep Wrangler driving around it. I’ve even seen one in Japan. Servicemembers love their Jeeps and the Jeep community (see Jeep wave). Some might argue that the military’s love affair with the Jeep is only natural given the use of the Willys MB Jeep in WWII. However, without going into it, the Wrangler is a descendent of the famed military vehicle in name only. Regardless of this, the Jeep Wrangler has evolved into a cultural icon in its own right. Whether you want two doors, four doors, soft-top, hard-top, doors on, or doors off, Jeep Wranglers offer plenty of versatility and options to their drivers. You can even get a pickup in the form of the Jeep Gladiator. Servicemembers enjoy customizing their Jeeps with militaristic star roundels, reversed American flags, and even the occasional jerry can. Just don’t expect award-winning mpg from one of these.
I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone. After all, the Ford F-Series has been the best-selling pickup truck in America since 1977 and the best-selling vehicle since 1981. If you lined up every F-Series truck variant sold bumper to bumper, they would circle the globe almost four times. In 2017, an F-Series truck was sold every 35 seconds. Ford has achieved such incredible sales figures by providing consumers with the best all-round truck. Fuel efficiency is good enough to drive it daily without bleeding yourmeg wallet dry. That said, the F-150 is still capable enough to haul around the family and your favorite weekend toys. Perhaps its greatest advantage is simply its brand image. Ketchup is Heinz. Tissues are Kleenex. Trucks are Fords. I know this will garner some hate from the Silverado and Ram fans out there, so I’d like to remind readers that this is simply an analysis of the numbers. I’m also not a truck owner, so I’ve got no skin in the game.
So there you have it. Those are the top 10 servicemember vehicles in 2019. It’s worth noting that the USAA list can also be filtered by branch. For example the Toyota Highlander didn’t make the overall military list, but it did take the #8 spots for the Air Force and Coast Guard. Similarly, the Chevy Equinox was ranked #10 amongst Army personnel and the F-250 ranked #10 for the Marine Corps. Only the Navy list featured all 10 vehicles from the overall military list, with the only difference being that the Dodge Ram and Chevy Silverado switch spots between #3 and #4. Regardless of what you drive, just make sure it can get you through your next PCS without incident. And if you’re in the market for your first vehicle after joining the military, try to avoid used car lots just off base, loan sharks are not your friends, and a high interest rate is not a good thing.