Keeping Track: car trouble

Automobile reliability shows improvement

Everybody's got a "lemon" story. But cars are getting more reliable every year, experts say.

The average number of problems reported by new-car owners fell from 65 per 100 vehicles to 19 between 1980 and 2000, according to the April auto issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

SUVs, pickups, and minivans, which used to be less reliable than cars, have made the greatest improvements and are now about as reliable as other cars. The top nine brands for reliability are Japanese, according to the magazine.

The most common trouble spots today?

Electrical systems. They have improved, but also grown vastly more complex since 1980.

Brakes. Today's heavier cars are harder to stop, increasing wear and tear.

Body hardware. Problems still crop up with door handles, seat mechanisms, mirrors, and the like.

How car buyers approach the task

Car buyers hate negotiating, concludes a survey published in the same issue of Consumer Reports.

While most consumers say getting a good price is the most important part of the transaction, 3 of 10 car buyers said they do not negotiate at all. And more than a third visited only one dealer. Buyers named convenient location and friendly treatment by sales staff as the most likely factors to influence where they bought.

"Consumers are constantly saying one thing and doing another," says Art Spinella, head of CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore. "The simple reality is: If you negotiate, you get a better deal."

Among other survey findings: While only 1.5 percent of buyers actually bought their cars online, 64 percent expected they would use the Web to help them find a dealer.

For more information, log on to the Consumer Reports website: www.consumer.org.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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