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SLADE COLUMN: Buying that cool new product can come with regret

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Like many middle-aged folks, some of my personal rules about spending and saving money come from years of experience and lessons learned the hard way.

Some of those lessons taught me to avoid, when practical, being among the first people to buy a product that's new on the market. That's because new products can be flawed, whether that product is medicine or drywall or a new car.

Well, I recently broke my own rule, and now it's costing me some money. I'll share the details so that others can learn from my mistake, but first, here's why I have that rule.

Over the years, I've been prescribed pharmaceuticals, for things like allergies or back pain, that were later recalled or pulled off the market because it turned out they had potentially dangerous side effects. Now, if I need medicine, I look for something that's been around for years and is available as an inexpensive generic.

There was also the time when I decided to buy a composite decking product, ChoiceDek, instead of pressure-treated wood.

It was more expensive, but I liked the idea that I wouldn't have to stain and pressure wash the deck year after year — but that was before the class-action lawsuit.

Turned out ChoiceDek, as it was made at the time, was prone to mold spotting.

There were other purchases I made that weren't dangerous or defective, just disappointing.

And there have been lots of products that, thankfully, I didn't buy, but you've probably heard about, such as the toxic Chinese drywall that destroyed the pipes and appliances in people's homes. There are seemingly endless lists each year about toys that can harm children, electronics that catch on fire and so on.

Knowing all this, I went out earlier this year and bought a car during its first production year on the American market, a Ford C-Max.

It's already the subject of a class-action suit (which I'm not involved in).

Now, I like the car in most respects. It's attractive and roomy and drives well. It has lots of cargo room, almost like the compact SUV that I replaced, a 1999 Honda CR-V that served my family well.

My wife and I were attracted to the C-Max because we wanted a vehicle as functional as the CR-V, which to us meant a liftback with enough space and headroom for an 80-pound hound dog in the cargo area. We were unsatisfied with the gas mileage the new Honda CR-V offered — 23 mpg city, 31 highway — but the C-Max, a gas-electric hybrid in the same price range, claimed 47/47 mpg.

Wow. That would mean some big-time savings on gas over the many years we planned to own the car.

You can see what's coming next, right?

The problem is, the C-Max doesn't get close to the claimed mileage. Ford and the Environmental Protection Agency are saying that's because driving habits vary, but hey, I've always done better than the EPA rating in other vehicles, due to my driving habits.

In the C-Max, which displays your miles per gallon at the end of every trip, I've been getting around 40 mpg, and I've done as well as the claimed amount several times. But 47 mpg is supposed to be the average, not the once-in-a-while exception.

That's still good mileage, but it's not the mileage I paid for. And that means I'll be paying around $200 or $300 more each year for gas, at today's gas prices

So what now? I could join the class-action suit against Ford, but such lawsuits tend to make lawyers rich while delivering little to consumers. For example, my compensation for buying decking that cost triple the price of pressure-treated wood and promptly developed mold stains is that some day — the suit was settled in 2008, and I'm still waiting — the manufacturer will have my deck cleaned.

The point is, if I had waited even a few more months, as other consumers bought C-Max hybrids and took to the Internet with their experiences, I would have known what to expect. I might have bought one anyway — 40 mpg around town is still pretty good — but I would have done it with the benefit of others' experience and avoided that feeling of being fooled.

Next time, I'll let the other guy go first.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.

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