WASHINGTON - Safety is one of the most important considerations for people shopping for new cars, says Jack Gillis, spokesman for the Consumer Federation of America and author of The Car Book.
The 224-page annual car-buying guide, released Tuesday, rates the 1997 model cars rolling into automobile showrooms on several criteria, including crash safety, fuel economy, repair and insurance costs, warranties, safety features and complaint history. The greatest weight is given to crash-test performance.
The Car Book is available at bookstores or for $16.95 from the Center for Auto Safety, 2001 S St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009.
This year's best picks by category:
The ratings for the Cadillac Deville and the Chrysler Town and Country, Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager were based on crash-test data received after the buyer's guide, now in its 17th edition, went to press.
New to the annual guide are sections on children and air bags; financing, including bargaining with dealers and shopping for the best interest rates; and a chapter on maintenance checkups. The book also includes sections on fuel economy, tires, lemon laws and leasing a car vs. buying.
Mr. Gillis also indexed the thousands of consumer auto complaints that are collected annually by the government and found that the Saab 900, Mitsubishi Eclipse and Dodge/Plymouth Neon received the most complaints. The Audi A6, Lexus GS300 and Suzuki Swift topped the fewest-complaints list.
He also calculated vehicle repair costs based on the price of nine parts that are most likely to be replaced during the car's first 100,000 miles.
According to his calculations, owners of three Cadillac models - the DeVille, Eldorado and Seville - will pay the most for repairs. The Chrysler Concord, Eagle Vision and Dodge Intrepid had the lowest costs.
Representatives of auto makers whose cars received the most complaints or had the highest repair costs could not be reached for comment.
"By spending a few extra hours doing your homework you can save yourself thousands of dollars down the road," said Mr. Gillis, a former employee of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.