Can it be safe to buy a car in its first model year?

Many driving enthusiasts want a car while it's still the new new thing. This largely explains why well-reviewed sports cars have historically sold at or near MSRP for the first six months, maybe even the first year, only to then become saleproof virtually overnight. Other people, though, adhere to the maxim "never buy a car in its first year." They let other people perform the beta testing.

Would you buy a car in its first model year? Have you? Did you regret it?

I started conducting car reliability surveys at TrueDelta.com back in the mid-1990s partly to provide a third option. By conducting the survey quarterly, we can often provide initial reliability stats on a new car design within six months after it goes on sale, making it possible to buy one before the new has worn off yet without placing a blind bet that the manufacturer caught all of the bugs during development.

While car reliability continues to improve, many new designs have a common problem or two that was not caught during development. This comes through in TrueDelta's car reliability stats, recently updated to cover through the end of March 2014 (vaulting them nearly a year ahead of others' car reliability stats). The primary statistic is the number of successful repair trips per 100 cars per year—an actual number, not just a colored dot (though you'll notice some quick visual indicators as well).

Can it be safe to buy a car in its first model year?

Can you spot when the Fusion was redesigned? The good news: in both cases the second model year has been much better, which could be useful information for people who put off purchasing a Fusion because of its first-year marks.

Nissan also has been a serial offender lately, with its latest CVT exasperating both Altima and Pathfinder owners with a tendency to shudder. Toyota tends to catch and fix bugs in development. Subaru does, too. But put them together and you get at least three common problems in the FR-S / BRZ (chirping fuel pump, iffy idle, tail light condensation). And an all-new car from a new company? The Tesla Model S has been the worst 2013 in our survey by a wide margin. But its owners largely expect to be beta testers, and report exemplary service. (Service centers even order whatever parts are likely to be needed BEFORE the car is brought in.)

Can it be safe to buy a car in its first model year?

First-year models aren't always glitchy. The 2013 Mazda CX-5 had a few common issues—hoods fluttered, mirrors vibrated, some bits rattled. But Mazda appears to have learned from the experience. Few buyers of the all-new 2014 Mazda6 have reported repairs, and the 2014 Mazda3 has been nearly problem-free. The latest Honda Accord and Subaru Forester are other exceptions to the "never buy a car in its first year" rule. Some bets seem pretty safe even in advance of stats.

Can it be safe to buy a car in its first model year?

The Honda Fit has been redesigned for 2015. Does buying an early one seem risky?

Lest you think that some manufacturers always catch problems in testing, remember the Toyobaru. Over at Honda's luxury make, the 2013 RDX and 2014 MDX both have had less-than-stellar first model years. To eliminate a commonly reported vibration, Acura has been fitting the former with a redesigned drive shaft. This doesn't seem like a large enough problem to worry about? Personal tolerances vary.

Those interested in having reliability information before buying a car can check TrueDelta's latest stats. It's even possible to view the specific problems behind the stats.

Most of the site's information is visible to anyone. And anyone who signs up to help with the quarterly survey can access all of it for free.