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Passat or not? Weigh priorities

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Question:I'm in the market for a new car, and I really like the six-cylinder, all-wheel-drive Volkswagen Passat that I test drove. However, I see from Consumer Reports that the Passat has had troublesome ignition and electrical system problems over the past three years. Should I look elsewhere if I don't want to spend rainy evenings waiting for the tow truck? Can the problems be readily corrected with things like aftermarket ignition wires? VW dealers express shock, amazement and denial when I bring this up. Do you have any advice? — John

Tom: This is a risk-management issue, John. When you go to an investment adviser, the first thing she's going to ask you is how much risk you're comfortable with. If you say none, she'll put all of your money in CDs.

Ray: Similarly, if you come to us and say that you want a no-risk (or very low-risk) car, we'll put you in a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.

Tom: Now, if you're willing to take a little bit of risk, we might put you in something a little more interesting, like a VW Passat or a BMW 323i. No doubt about it, those cars are more fun to drive. But you have to be willing to live with the fact that they're not going to be as rock-solid reliable as a Camry.

Ray: The Passat is a great car. We loved driving it. It looks great and handles great. It's available with all-wheel drive. Plus, it's got that ultra-cool blue backlighting on the dashboard gauges. But to answer your question, things like aftermarket plug wires are never going to make it as worry-free as a Camry. Because it's not only the specific parts but also the designs that affect reliability.

Tom: That said, the Passat is no Yugo, either. I mean, it's going to start 99.7 percent of the time — as opposed to 99.9 percent of the time for a Camry.

Ray: So it's a question of priorities, John. If reliability is the single most important thing in your life, then skip the Passat. And put your money in CDs.

Order Tom and Ray's pamphlet "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!" Send $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No. 10 envelope to Ruin, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.


The Magliozzi brothers' radio show, "Car Talk," can be heard Saturdays at 10 a.m. and Sundays at noon on KUER FM 90.1, and on KCPW 88.3/105.1 FM Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Sundays at 10 a.m. If you have a question about cars, write to Click and Clack Talk Cars c/o King Features Syndicate, 235 East 45th St., New York, NY 10017. You can e-mail them by visiting their Web site at cartalk.com.