Should you avoid buying the first year of a new car?

The old rule of thumb says yes, but lemons come in all ages.

Brian Cooley Editor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and The PHM HealthFront™. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
Expertise Automotive technology, Smart home, Digital health Credentials
  • 5G Technician, ETA International
Brian Cooley
2 min read

There's a bunch of all-new or freshly relaunched cars on the market or coming soon: the Volkswagen ID 3, Lincoln Aviator, Porsche Taycan and Polestar 2 are just a few that you may be tempted to jump on early. Should you buy the first year of these, or any model of car? The conventional wisdom says no: Wait for other people to do the debugging for you. But I'm not so sure that old rule is so hard and fast any more, for several reasons:

Watch this: How to buy the best year of a car
  • Cars are made with much more precision than even 20 years ago, so there is much less variance around things like engine seals, machined tolerances and paint application quality.
  • Shared platforms and parts are much more common across models, meaning the guts of any car you buy is more likely to have already been deployed on another car already.
  • Specialty suppliers handle most of a car's manufacturing on behalf of the carmaker. You don't have to worry if a favorite car brand makes good windows, seats, head units or transmissions -- they don't make any of them, specialists do.
porsche 996

An entire upgrade industry has been built around an engine design weakness in many Porsche 996 and 986 cars that can cause them to self-destruct more often than normal. A little hindsight helps you avoid things like that which have little to do with avoiding first-year models.

  • Warranties and competition in the market have created an atmosphere in which makers of buggy cars can't survive. Ask your local dealer how much major repair work they get today compared to 20 years ago. Tumbleweeds.
  • Less desirable years of cars do still exist, but they aren't always the first year. Any year can be buggy, or mark an important improvement in features or technology that occurred midcycle.

That last one is particularly important. Ask owners of 986/996 Porsches, or late '90s/early 2000s Jaguar XJs if they wish they'd bought a different year of the same model. The first-year cars weren't the problem, several years were, and weren't fully revealed until some time after launch.

New Defender

The New Defender is red hot, but do you want to be the one to find out what Land Rover forgot?

Land Rover

The best inoculation against almost all of these pitfalls: 

  • Buy a late model used car. Nothing beats hindsight and young used cars can be almost indistinguishable from new these days.
  • Check Technical Service Bulletins on any used car you consider, as well as any open recalls. Both are easily searched online.
  • Get familiar with a car's version history, which can be found on its model page at Wikipedia or via numerous brand fan sites that often have a post summarizing a model's revision history.