This is a derrived theory of mine; correlation may not be causation . . . if you've got a better explanation that's fine, you can reimburse me the repairs and I'll accept whatever the explanation may be. Seriously though, I hope this will compel people to both treat their car properly, and keep a good eye out when buying a used vehicle.
Over the years, I've heard things like "people don't trade in vehicles without a reason" which is both true in that we all have reasons for whatever we do, but untrue because it implies that people don't trade in working cars. People want bigger, smaller, different colors and just a newer vehicle all the time. I used to be one of them; "ooooh shiny new model!".
Honestly, I got an education on the other side of the fence when I bought my CR-V.
Now, let's talk about reliability for starters. Even with a model that is 99.999% defect free, sometimes you get the vehicle in the 0.001% when they sell 2,000,000 units, you've still got 20 lemons out there, looking for the right sucker. In reality, no vehicle is THAT defect free, and the vehicles with defects typically have one or two issues.
A point that I'm going to beat into EVERYONE'S heads in these articles and I can't stress it enough: GET A GOOD DEALER. If you can't trust the people working on your vehicle, you can't trust your vehicle. That's hard, especially in metropolitan areas, but shop around until you get someone you can trust to do the job right, and not make more work for themselves. If you're in the Westchester/Fairfield county areas, I could tell you stories . . .
A good dealer can make defects go away. You won't find Mercedes listed as high in long term reliability charts, but people think they're the highest quality; people continually stay with the brand. Why? It's "the Saturn effect": who cares if your vehicle has occasional problems if every time something happens, you're picked up, given a loaner and not charged? Lexus and Acura got to the top of the luxury food chain from low defect ratios; BMW, Audi and Mercedes stay there because of service (image doesn't hurt either).
Now, on to the actual "first owner rule" as I call it. Let's talk about my V.
I knew that lady that owned the CR-V before me didn't follow simple things like tire rotations when I got under it to change the rear differential fluid and I noticed one set of tires were whitewalls. On closer inspection, I figured out that the OE duelers were driven without rotation until the fronts weren't usable, then she put different model of brand new tires on the front, and continued to drive the vehicle. Take a look at the repairs I had to do and you start to see where my theory started.
Reading car forums and articles, you find out that sometimes the "break in period" is more important with some makes and models than others . . . in the end, if you think you know better, you can ignore it, but my observation is that it's probably best to follow the manufacturers advice and not risk messing your vehicle up. Scheduled maintenance is something that just can't be ignored either; I've observed that this WILL affect vehicle longevity. Honda pretty much lays everything out (valves were unfortunately wrong in the gen 1 manual and rear diff was wrong in the gen 2 manual), but I vehemently disagree with Honda's tire rotation and alignment interval. I'm a tire guy, I can't help seeing the irony in dragging out rotations.
How quickly problems are corrected also affects a vehicles' eventual health. I HARP on people to get any little knock or squeak corrected if it's under warranty as soon as possible. This not only sets a precedent for a problem predating the warranty expiration, but also can be the "stitch in time that saves nine." Most manufacturers will continually fix a problem you "get on the books" before warranty's end (unless it's Kia, then you're DEFINITELY in trouble).
If you've got a problematic vehicle, what can you do? Look at the repair list again. Get it fixed, get it done right, and bump up the maintenance to 'severe' until it starts to behave better, then you can start to space it out and go back to normal over time. Still, there's no guarantee. I figured my CR-V had mostly stabilized, but $2000 in repairs came out of nowhere (suspension, front joint) and it once again left me high and dry.
The moral of my story is don't make car payments when you're paying for repairs as well.
There's good used cars out there and if you treat them right they'll last, but it really depends on what kind of "first life" it had.
Look at the repair list