Vehicle popularity is no guarantee against design flaws.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 2004

Dear Tom and Ray:

A friend of mine, Chris (his real name), is about to buy a U.S.-made car, brand-new, off the showroom floor. I suggested that he might want to consider buying a model of which lots of units are sold. It's my idea that the more popular a car is, the less likely he will be to end up with a lemon. Also, if a car is common, repairs and replacement parts might cost less. Is this a good strategy for buying a new car, or am I all wet? -- Gary

TOM: Well, you're not all wet, Gary. But you are a little damp.

RAY: You're right when it comes to parts and service. If you buy a Ford Taurus or a Chevy Impala, parts are going to be cheaper and easier to find. This will be particularly true as the car gets older, because there will always be a good-size group of owners maintaining demand for the parts. And later on, you'll have plenty of junkyard parts to choose from, too, since what's popular on the roads eventually becomes popular in junkyards.

TOM: You'll also find more mechanics who are willing and able to fix them, simply because more of their customers drive them. So, your advice is good from a parts-and-service point of view.

RAY: But you're wrong about avoiding a lemon. As far as we can tell, there's nothing about a car's popularity that makes it less likely to have model-wide defects. You might remember that DaimlerChrysler had to recall 1.3 million of its popular minivans for rear latches a few years ago. And Ford Motor Company just recalled 1.2 million Tauruses and Sables because their air filters can catch fire. So, popularity is no guarantee against design flaws.

TOM: You might also think that if a manufacturer makes hundreds of thousands of a particular model, it'll have more opportunity to work out the kinks and avoid individual, manufacturing defects. But in our view, the number of manufacturing defects per vehicle has more to do with the amount of care, thought and money the manufacturer wants to spend to get things right.

RAY: On the other hand, we can think of at least one good reason for buying a popular car if you're concerned about major defects. At least if you buy a popular car, you'll have a lot of people to join with you in the class-action suit.

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