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Bankrate's 2007 New Car Guide
Dollar$ & $en$e
Status and styling aside, many car-buying decisions boil down to bucks and budgets.
Dollar$ & $en$e
Top 5 most reliable cars
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Joining brands Lexus, Buick and Cadillac atop the reliability list were Mercury and Toyota -- hardly names associated with the tuxedo crowd. Hummer emerged in the report as the most improved brand, although it continues to rank below the industry average.

So, what does that tell us?

"You do have to do your research and you really can't just shop according to reputation," Reed says.

The problem with shopping by reputation, he says, is that what might have been true even just a few years ago may not be true anymore. And unfortunately, it takes decades for reputations to turn around and for car buyers to notice when one brand is improving, and another is slipping, Reed says.

"Carmakers seem to go through cycles where quality falls off. Then they attract attention, and they work to reverse the trend," he says. "Even well-respected brands go through this."

One such brand that has lost reliability is Mercedes-Benz, says Jonathan Linkov, managing editor of autos for Consumer Reports Magazine.

"People might be surprised to hear that," he says. "Mercedes-Benz test highly in a number of areas, and they have good safety gear and strong crash tests, but reliability has been poor. It has been down for a number of years."

Seven Mercedes-Benz vehicles, he adds, are among the least reliable vehicles, according to the annual Consumer Reports reliability survey. Nissan is another well-respected brand that has had reliability issues lately.

One reason carmakers run through reliability cycles is because they might have changed something in their manufacturing process.

For example, Linkov says the carmaker might have changed suppliers, or some component in the car that now doesn't hold up as well as the original design.

Buyers also might be taking a risk by buying a car the first year it hits the market.

"First-year vehicles for every manufacturer have their hiccups," Linkov says. "We see this as a tooling up period. Problems often come from trying to rush something to market too quickly before they might have worked out all the bugs."

Shopping by region is no better than shopping by reputation, Reed says.

"You know, the domestic automakers are getting better, but they are still haunted by problems. And there are some good Asian automakers, but they aren't all 100 percent reliable," he says.

Linkov agrees that shopping by reputation can be a tricky business.

While Linkov recognizes some consistency over the years in several manufacturers, he says, "We recommend the whole line for only two brands -- Honda and Subaru. Just because there are some good Asian manufacturers, that doesn't mean all Asian cars are good. Just because there are some unreliable domestic manufacturers, that doesn't mean all domestic cars are unreliable."

-- Posted: Oct. 11, 2007
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