I'm in the market for a new car and I...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2000

Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm in the market for a new car, and I really like the six-cylinder, all-wheel-drive Volkswagen Passat that I test drove. However, I see from Consumer Reports that the Passat has had troublesome ignition and electrical system problems over the past three years. Should I look elsewhere if I don't want to spend rainy evenings waiting for the tow truck? Can the problems be readily corrected with things like aftermarket ignition wires? VW dealers express shock, amazement and denial when I bring this up. Do you have any advice? -- John

TOM: This is a risk-management issue, John. When you go to an investment adviser, the first thing she's going to ask you is how much risk you're comfortable with. If you say none, she'll put all of your money in CDs.

RAY: Similarly, if you come to us and say that you want a no-risk (or very low-risk) car, we'll put you in a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.

TOM: Now, if you're willing to take a little bit of risk, we might put you in something a little more interesting, like a VW Passat or a BMW 323i. No doubt about it, those cars are more fun to drive. But you have to be willing to live with the fact that they're not going to be as rock-solid reliable as a Camry.

RAY: The Passat is a great car. We loved driving it. It looks great and handles great. It's available with all-wheel drive. Plus, it's got that ultra-cool blue backlighting on the dashboard gauges. But to answer your question, things like aftermarket plug wires are never going to make it as worry-free as a Camry. Because it's not only the specific parts but also the designs that affect reliability.

TOM: That said, the Passat is no Yugo, either. I mean, it's going to start 99.7 percent of the time -- as opposed to 99.9 percent of the time for a Camry.

RAY: So it's a question of priorities, John. If reliability is the single most important thing in your life, then skip the Passat. And put your money in CDs.

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