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Car Guide 2006    

Buying experience

  What to look for and look out for when buying a car.
How to find quality in your next car

While it's still possible to get a "lemon'' -- a new car that has a plethora of problems -- the truth is that new vehicles today are more reliable and better built than ever. The days are long gone when a dealer sent you out the door with your new car and the advice, "Make a list of things you find wrong and bring it back in a few weeks and we'll fix them.''

J.D. Power and Associates' most recent Initial Quality Study of new car owners showed that 2006 models had the fewest problems of any year on record -- a 59 percent drop since 1992.

A more extensive study by Consumer Reports mirrored the J.D. Power findings. Since 1980, the number of glitches in new cars has been cut by about 80 percent. Nearly every manufacturer has significantly improved their products year to year.

But as with any competition, there are vehicles that rank at the top of the quality lists and ones that rank at the bottom. So how can you tell if the vehicle you're considering is a high-quality vehicle?

See for yourself
Here are 10 of the key things to look for at the dealership:
10 keys to look for
1. Look at the seams.
2. Match colors.
3. What lies beneath?
4. Under the hood.
5. Eye the glass.
6. Door "thunk".
7. Interior design.
8. Exposed wiring.
9. Little things mean a lot.
10. Serious test drive.

First, check out the body of the car, looking beyond the styling and paying attention to the details.

1. Look at the seams. Check the gaps between body panels. Are the gaps uniform throughout? A well-engineered and constructed car will show the same body gaps around the doors, the trunk and the hood. Pay particular attention to this on vehicles that have been significantly redesigned or are all new to the market. Although the old adage about not buying a redesigned model in the first year generally no longer applies, varying body gaps may indicate the assembly process needs some adjusting.

2. Match colors. Pay attention to the places on the body where different materials are used, such as where a nose made of a composite plastic material meets the steel of the rest of the body. The paint should not noticeably change hue from one surface to another.

3. What lies beneath? Look under the car to see what protrusions, particularly at the front, could get hung up on parking berms and rip free. Most cars have some sort of air dam underneath the vehicle at the front to aid in cutting aerodynamic drag. But such air dams should be mounted far enough back so parking berms won't rip them off or should be mounted in such a way as to bend rather than break when encountering an object.

4. Under the hood.  Even if you're no mechanic, closely inspect the engine bay. Most cars have a cover that surrounds most of the top of the engine. Make sure it's mounted securely -- you shouldn't be able to shake it. The same test should apply to any battery covering. Look at the wiring. It should be either covered or tightly bound together to prevent anything from coming loose.

-- Posted: Aug. 1, 2006
 
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