To Get the Most Reliable New Car, It Pays to Wait

Snapping up a brand-new model is exciting, but it can often result in headaches, according CR's latest reliability survey

New Car Reliability

For car lovers, a dealership showroom can evoke that proverbial “kid in a candy store” feeling, as you ogle the high-sheen brand-new models, dripping with cutting-edge technology. Not to be a buzzkill, but we’re here to advise you to resist, and instead consider a model that’s several years into its redesign life.

Why? CR’s proprietary analysis shows that vehicles tend to be most reliable by the final year of any particular model run (typically five to seven years), after many of the bugs have been worked out, and least reliable in the first year of a redesign, when freshly reconfigured and often touted as “all new.”

“It’s tempting to want to be the first on your block to have the newest car, but that comes with reliability risks,” says Jake Fisher, CR’s senior director of auto testing. “Being patient can save you from years of frustration.”

More on Car Reliability

When a model is redesigned, the name, such as Chevrolet Malibu or Toyota Camry, usually stays the same, but the body, transmission, engine, and other parts might get updates. It may be safer and have desirable features, but with those changes come hiccups or malfunctions, which automakers track through customer complaints and address through updates, recalls, or revisions to how they build the model. In this way, the vehicle matures into improved reliability, making it a choice that consumers can have more confidence about buying. In general, we found that it can take automakers two to three years—or even longer—to address problems in newly redesigned models.

45%

The percentage of new or redesigned vehicles in our 2019 survey with below-average predicted reliability; 33 percent had above-average predictions, and 22 percent were average.

For example, in 2017 CR members reported the Honda Odyssey as reliable. But they reported multiple problems after its 2018 redesign, mainly with the infotainment system and power equipment, causing the minivan to lose its recommendation. The problems have persisted with the 2019 model.

Some automakers can resolve the headaches quickly. The 2018 Tesla Model 3 has suffered from problems including cracks in the rear window glass, loose trim, and paint defects. Members reported far fewer of these concerns with the 2019 Model 3.

Our latest survey shows that fewer members reported those problems, and the sedan now has average predicted reliability—regaining its CR recommendation.

Still, there are brands, such as Toyota and Lexus, that often have fewer glitches with their redesigns. The redesigned 2019 Toyota Avalon and Lexus ES both had well-above-average first-year reliability.