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Should I Avoid a New Car in Its First Model Year?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro December 2016

Hello and welcome to the latest round of Ask Doug, your favorite column here on Oversteer except, of course, for all the other ones. Here's how Ask Doug works: You ask Doug. Doug answers. It should be simple enough.

 And, indeed, it is. It's so simple that even you can participate, by emailing me a question at OversteerDoug@gmail.com or leaving me a post on my Facebook page. While I can't promise I'll answer your question here on the site, I can promise that I will at least skim through it while eating Doritos. 

Today's question comes to us from a reader I've named Kenny, who writes: 

Doug, 

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving with your sloth, tapirs, capybara, and anteater. Over Thanksgiving I celebrated getting my first job out of college. I finally have the income to buy a car - something I have been thinking about for a decade. I am considering a new Mazda MX-5 (base trim, no options, manual). My only concern is that there is not a lot of reliability data on a first year model such as this one. What do you think - should I be wary of a first year model?

 Kenny 

First off, Kenny, congratulations on getting your job. Jobs are very important, because jobs earn you money, and with money, you can buy things. For instance: I have a job, and yesterday I bought a ceiling fan. And this has been Doug DeMuro Tells You How the World Works

As for your car dilemma, you raise an interesting question -- should you avoid new automobiles in their first model year? 

I call this an interesting question, because it's something I've heard my entire life: You should never buy a first-year model because the automaker is still figuring things out. By the second year, people seem to reason, the automaker has "worked out all the kinks," solving all the problems and issues that plagued those overeager early adopters during the first year. And that's why you should never even think about touching a new car when it just came out. 

But is this actually true? 

Logically, I'd say that it's absolute hogwash. I mean, just think about what you're saying. Automakers spend zillions of dollars to test new products in an enormous number of situations, and climates, and terrains and altitudes, and they hook them up to all sorts of computers that measure every single aspect of the car, like people running on a treadmill with little wires hooked up to their brain for some scientific experiment. 

By the time a car reaches the market, it has usually undergone 47 zillion total years of development, and it's covered 94 bajillion miles, and they've had it fully functioning in temperatures as low as 57 degrees below zero, and as high as 947 Fahrenheit, and they also drove it underwater from Connecticut to Long Island while holding their breath. 

OK, so this all might be a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. New cars are tested so much that this whole "first year" thing simply has to be a fallacy. 

But then... 

I've owned many cars over the years, and I've become an expert in the minutiae of a lot of them -- like my 2001 Audi A4, and my current Range Rover, and my Ferrari 360 Modena, and blah blah blah I could go on down the list, name-dropping every single car I've had just to sound cool. But instead, I'll just make my point: In each case, the ownership community generally agreed that the early models were more problematic than the later ones. 

Whether it was flaws the earlier models had (Range Rover, Ferrari 360, first-generation Cadillac CTS-V), or just design and powertrain adjustments that improved the later models (Audi A4, Mercedes E55 AMG, Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Dodge Viper), the simple truth with just about every car I've ever owned seems to be this: Later models are generally better than the older ones. And so, Kenny, to answer your question: You should probably avoid the first model year or two and scoop up a later version. 

But... 

While this might be the logical advice, I don't really agree with it. The reality is you can wait on the best version of a car "forever" -- and when does it really stop? If you avoided the Miata in 2008, when it was last redesigned, hoping for a "later" one, why not just wait for the next-generation version? And then it's 2016, when the next-generation version comes out, and you're avoiding it again, hoping for another later version. And so the cycle repeats itself, over and over, and you drive around in some boring economy car while your life slowly wastes away. 

And so, Kenny, screw the logical response. Here's my actual advice: You have a new job. Buy a cool new Miata to go along with it. 

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

 MORE FROM OVERSTEER:
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Should I Avoid a New Car in Its First Model Year? - Autotrader