Many shoppers interested in buying a car will avoid one that's in its first model year. Some swear by this rule, stating that a car's problems aren't really ironed out until its second or third model year. But is this rule really accurate? We've provided our take for anyone who may be wary of buying a new or used vehicle from the first model year.
One reason many shoppers avoid a first-year car is that its dependability record is simply unknown. No one is sure if the car will have major problems right away -- and some do. It's also hard to know whether the car will be subjected to a handful of recalls, as some new models are. If you're worried about the unknown, buying a first-year model may be a bad idea.
There may not be as much unknown as you think. Today, automakers spend thousands of hours on the road testing cars over millions of miles before releasing them for sale. Cars are repeatedly tested at over 12,000 feet in elevation. They're tested at temperatures well below zero. And they're tested in the extreme desert heat. Test drivers actually try to break vehicles to simulate problems owners may experience. So it's unlikely that a first-year model will develop problems an automaker hasn't seen -- and corrected.
Data on the topic tends to support this conclusion. J.D. Power's Vehicle Dependability Study often ranks first-year models at or near the top of their segments for 3-year dependability. On average, the last few Vehicle Dependability studies prove that first-year models don't fare any better or worse than their longer-running rivals.
The conclusion: While first-year cars offer uncertain reliability, that doesn't mean they're going to be subpar.
Perhaps the best argument for skipping a first-year car is that drivers who choose such a vehicle may miss out on improvements that come later. An automaker may realize a gear lever feels better with a different knob and tightened shift action, for example. Or a missed feature may be quickly added after the first model year.
Shoppers who quickly spring for a first-year model will miss out on these changes -- and they'll miss out on any later special editions, as well. For some drivers, however, missing the occasional improvement is a small price to pay for having the latest and greatest new model.
With such major advancements in automotive reliability over the years, it's hard to say first-year models perform any better or worse than cars in later model years. If you're buying a car and you really want a first-year model, go for it. But don't get mad if you miss out on updates and revisions that come just a few months later.