Study Of Used Cars Recommends Buying Newly Launched Models

NPR icon by Bill Chappell
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In the 2010 model year, the most dependable cars and trucks were either new to the market or had been through a major redesign, according to a study by J.D. Power and Associates. The finding contradicts the traditional stance that consumers should let carmakers work out the bugs in a new model before they buy.

"What we're finding is that quality is improving so rapidly with newly designed vehicles that that offsets any initial teething troubles the vehicle might have in its first year," says David Sargent, a vice president at J.D. Power.

Newly launched or relaunched vehicles outperformed "carryover" models by a wide gap, reporting 17 fewer problems per 100 vehicles (116 to 133), according to the study released Wednesday. Models that were moderately altered, or "refreshed," did even better, with an average of 111 problems reported per 100 vehicles.

"So, consumers can buy a vehicle the first year it's out on the market," Sargent says, "fairly safe in the knowledge that it's going to be as dependable as a vehicle that had carried over from the previous year."

The annual study also found that quality has been on the rise after the auto industry's crisis that lingered until 2010.

J.D. Power's Vehicle Dependability Study, based on 37,000 consumers who are the original owners of three-year-old SUVs, trucks, and cars, found that the number of problems they reported in the previous 12 months dropped to a new low of 126 per 100 vehicles, a mark not seen since the study began in 1989.

Another possible interpretation, he said, is that people who are looking for used cars should be able to find reliable options out there — or, if they own a 2010 model already, they might want to stick with the vehicle they own.

Sargent says that U.S. carmakers such as GM, Ford, and Dodge played a role in the improvements. Domestic vehicles were responsible for 133 problems reported per 100 vehicles, showing that they "improved slightly more rapidly than the imports," he says. Imports generated 123 reported problems per 100 vehicles.

Here's a breakdown of how some particular brands and models did:

  • Least problems per 100 vehicles: Lexus (71), Porsche (94), Lincoln (112) and Toyota (112).
  • Most problems per 100 vehicles: Jeep (178), Misubishi (178), Dodge (190), and Land Rover (220)
  • Midsize car rankings (1-3): Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion, Buick LaCrosse
  • Compact car rankings (1-3): Toyota Prius, Ford Focus, Mazda MAZDA3
  • Midsize pickup rankings (1-3): Ford Ranger, Ram Dakota, Honda Ridgeline
  • Midsize crossover/SUV rankings (1-3): Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia
  • Toyota took top honors in seven model segments; GM won four

The problems owners reported range from wind noise to paint and mechanical issues. But if a related story by the AP is any indication, we could be about to enter a new era of car ownership, in which vehicles' electronic gadgetry becomes the source of more complaints.

"In J.D. Power's study of quality after three months of ownership last year, owners reported more problems with audio, entertainment and navigation systems than with any other vehicle feature," the AP reports.

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