By: Brett Shainfeld

Older Cars vs Newer Cars

Everyone either knows about or knows somebody that has been through the perilous journey of shopping for a used vehicle. From certified pre-own to private sellers online, walking the tightrope of finding a reliable vehicle and getting a good deal can seem like a dangerous game to navigate. Over the years, sellers have introduced new methods to verify a car’s condition on the secondary market, including third-party web-based vehicle history reports like Carfax that are meant to demonstrate a vehicle’s accident history and alleviate the responsibility of consumers to determine whether a car has been through damage that may leave lasting effects on the vehicle. Dealers have introduced certified pre-owned programs, buying back vehicles and meticulously inspecting them with the expertise of manufacturer-trained technicians, then putting them on the market at a discounted price to consumers. With all of that said, while these innovations have slowly rolled out over the years to quell the anxieties of purchasing a used vehicle, there still remains a stigma attached to the used car market. The positive experiences go mostly unreported, with the nightmare stories overshadowing the market and generating a degree of fear amongst prospective automobile buyers.

In response, buyers look to new cars as not just a flashy, shiny new gift to themselves, but as something that represents exceeding reliability. Consumers are willing to pay sticker price for the added value of reduced anxiety from a used vehicle, in which buyers constantly wonder with every bump and tick what the previous buyer failed to disclose. This time-honored theory on automobile purchasing has resonated with consumers, but are newer cars actually more reliable vehicles? What is the actual reliability of newer cars? Let’s look deeper at the debate of older cars vs newer cars.

The Reliability of New Cars and Old Cars

A host of recent national surveys on buyer behavior demonstrate that reliability is the chief concern amongst those in the market for a vehicle. Even above safety concerns or new tech features in vehicles, having a reliable automobile tends to hover at the top of the list for consumers. As Ed Kim, Vice President of industry analysis at the automotive consulting firm, AutoPacific, states, “A lot of it comes down to this perception that new cars will break less, even if it’s not what the reality is. Consumers are wary of what they perceive to be the cost of used-car repairs.”

The part of his quote that may stick out to some readers is the note that perception on new cars breaking down less frequently isn’t necessarily true, but Consumer Reports annual car reliability surveys have supported this notion. Their recent reports have shown that there are plenty of new cars shown to be less than perfect when it comes to maintenance issues, some having far more problems than one may expect.

One such example is the Tesla Model X, which rated out as the least-reliable vehicle in Consumer Report’s 2017 survey. Vehicle owners complained of top-hinged “falcon” doors that were less than dependable, as well as an air-conditioning system that proved faulty.

Another example comes in from Jaguar with its first-ever F-Pace SUV, with consumers reporting frequent front differential leaks. Just as well, technical problems have occurred regularly with infotainment screens freezing up and locking.

Consumer Reports sends out an annual questionnaire to members in an effort to obtain reliable data. They received information on more than 640,000 vehicles in their last survey on reliability, so the reports cover the spectrum on vehicle data, covering vehicles from 2000-2019. In the survey, Consumer Reports asks questions about problems that occurred with consumer vehicles in the previous twelve months and includes information about whether or not they were serious, whether they were caused by an accident, if they were under warranty and more info. It’s estimated that a typical model in the survey has around 200 to 300 samples, and Consumer Reports utilizes additional brand history and reliability on similar models when less data is available.

What the Consumer Wants

What Consumer Reports showed was that, in their national survey of over two thousand licensed American drivers who planned on buying a vehicle over $5,000 in the next two years, drivers who stated that they were only interested in a new car expressed wanting to avoid maintenance and repairs with used cars. 43% stated concern over potential breakdowns, while 51% placed value in a new vehicle warranty. 44% of drivers added that they were concerned about the cost of maintenance with a used vehicle.

Are Newer Cars More Reliable?

Inventions in the used car buying game have changed the game and made buying used a viable option for risk-averse vehicle owners. Checking reliability scores from services like Consumer Reports can go a long way in getting validated, inspected opinions from vehicle owners and contributors with information that extends far beyond what you’ll find in an advertisement barrage.

Many manufacturers now offer warranties that extend to used vehicles, so finding a reliable model that’s both used and still under warranty is a possibility. Depending on where you purchase the vehicle, many dealers will now offer full warranties for certified pre-owned vehicles, adding a layer of buyer protection on the secondary market. They may also include perks like free loaner vehicles and prepaid maintenance, both of which are designed to incentivized buying used and put the buyer at ease.

When buyers figure in amenities such as warranties, loaner vehicles, and prepaid maintenance, coupled with the pre-owned certification, suddenly a used vehicle doesn’t seem much different from a new car… other than the lower price tag. Regardless, introducing an independent mechanic that you trust into the mix when shopping for a pre-owned vehicle should be a necessary step.

Consumers of both new and used vehicles in the state of California are further protected by a piece of legislation known as California Lemon Law. Should vehicle owners find that their vehicle is constantly having issues that fall under warranty, whether opting for a new or used car, they may have purchased a lemon vehicle. Should you find yourself struggling with getting adequate repairs done as specified in a warranty, reach out to an experienced Lemon Law attorney such as Lemon Law Now, to learn more about what your options are as a consumer seeking restitution.