When New Cars Get Old

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All cars become old cars, eventually.old car new car lead

But the aging process is different for modern cars – by which is meant cars built since (roughly) the latter-half of the ’80s, when computer controlled engine management and fuel injection came online. Like a genetically gifted athlete who works hard to maintain his body, they remain “youthful” much longer than cars built before modern engine management, fuel injection and the superior quality control (largely due to the automation of manufacturing) of the modern era.

150,000 miles is as nothing. Most any modern car with that many miles on the clock – assuming it was treated reasonably and maintained decently – will still be “tight” (and reliable) whereas few cars built prior to the modern era made it that far without major work – engine rebuilds, extensive body repair (necessary due to the older stuff’s tendency to rust much sooner) and so on.

But, like so many things in life, there is a downside to this upside.old car new car 2

It is that while almost any modern-era car will run for many years – and many miles – without asking for much more than routine fluid/filter changes – when things do begin to go wrong, the cost to make them right – relative to the value of the car – can very quickly become prohibitive. It’s a kind of mechanical sudden-onset senility. Fine one day, then – just like that – not so fine.

Here’s an example:

You own a 2001 Honda Civic with 170,000 miles on it. The car is worth maybe $2,500 or so  – but it still runs great, and looks pretty good, so you’d like to keep it. Probably the engine has another 50,000 miles of life left in it – maybe another 100k.

But then one day, the transmission starts to slip . . .age of cars graph

If the ’01 Civic were something along the lines of  a ’75 Chevy Nova, a brand-new or rebuilt automatic transmission would cost about $670 or so (at current prices; see here if you don’t believe me).

The Nova has no computer controls, so the transmission itself is cheap – and because of the simple front engine/rear-wheel-drive layout, removing and replacing it is not a difficult job. A couple hours’ labor, maybe, for someone who has a lift and knows what he’s doing. Let’s call it $250 for the labor.

A reasonably handy person could do it himself for free in an afternoon, with a floor jack and some basic hand tools.tranny replace pic

But, even if you have to pay someone to do the install, the total cost of the job should still be around $1,000 or so – perhaps less.

Worth doing – even if the car is only worth about $2,500.

What happens when the cost to replace a failed transmission is $2,500 – and that’s a ballpark price for a modern car’s electronically controlled automatic transmission – but the car itself is only worth $2,500?

Junkyard time.

The same Catch-22 applies to the engine. The Nova’s straight six (or smallblock Chevy V-8) can be completely rebuilt from the oil pan to the carburetor for about $2,500 in parts and labor.  In fact, you can buy a brand-new (and warranted) GM replacement V-8 for less than that (see here). And again, the install is pretty simple – within the capabilities of a shadetree mechanic with basic hand tools, a service manual and the patience to see it through. But even if you had to pay someone to pull/replace the engine, it is a much easier – and so, cheaper – job in a car like our hypothetical rear-wheel-drive (and fundamentally simple) mid-’70s-era Nova than is removing/reinstalling a modern FWD car’s engine/transaxle assembly.junked caddy pic

And it’s not merely the engine.

Well, it would be – in the case of the Nova.It has no electronics, no package of sensors and wiring harnesses – all of which work together as a unit and without which (and one of which) the engine will not work properly, if it works at all. A modern car such as our ’01 Civic has all these things – and some of them (like the fuel injection system) can by themselves cost as much or more to repair/replace than our Nova’s engine.

The same rule applies to other vehicle systems – the brakes, for instance. In the older, pre-ABS cars the major parts were the master cylinder, the lines running from it to each of the car’s four wheels – and the rotors/calipers or drums (and related small parts) at each wheel. None of these were particularly expensive to replace when necessary – as contrasted with a modern car’s ABS/electronically governed braking system, which has some very expensive components – such as the ABS pump, a part which might cost you $800 to replace. One could rebuild the Nova’s entire brake system for that – and probably have a few bills left over.junked car pic 2

Granted, the modern, ABS-equipped car’s brakes are better – they stop the car faster and with much greater control. But the Nova’s brakes are simpler and far cheaper to fix.

Point being: You can keep a car like that old Nova going for almost forever – and for not much money.

The modern car – not so much.

Who is going to put $2,500 into a $2,500 car?

junked cars lastWithout a working transmission, our $2,500 Honda is beer can fodder. You might get a couple hundred bucks for it as scrap. But if you put $2,500 into it for the new transmission, it’s not worth $5,000. It’s still worth about the same $2,500 – and you’ll face the same Hobson’s Choice the next time something expensive goes awry. Which it inevitably will – and likely sooner rather than later once you’re past the (roughly)15 or so years from new threshold at which most modern cars begin to become money pits.

Once you do reach this point, the smart move is usually to just cut your losses – and walk away.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  44 comments for “When New Cars Get Old

  1. March 20, 2014 at 9:49 am

    I decided to keep my honda 98 civic ex 5spd at 220k miles. I am doing a second major engine overhaul: new timing belt, starter, radiator system, and all fluids. I plan to keep it as long as it can. I like to be an old school guy even I am 28 years old. I could get a new BMW M3 but the up-keeping cost to own a E92 or E46 M3 is crazy. I just rather to spend my money on ammo, guns, etc to get ready for a tyrannical government that is about to come. I truly believe the car I have will be a very hot investment when a gas per gallon hits $10 or above. We, Americans, are too addicted to cheap gas and that is about to end. I could see USG is playing a bait and switch game on us: start with cheap gas, build many crazy mandates to make car more heavier and force us to pay for those stuff, and then indirect cause the gas skyrocket (going war with other nations or control the gas supply) to force us to buy a more expensive car with the “save gas” mentality. But those old cars that are so reliable is being thrown into junkyard and crushed to corner us with the crazy expensive cars. It’s a win-win for USG because USG will get tax from us and to produce a propaganda message that they have created several thousands of jobs from this. Not only that NSA montiors where we go at all the times because all new cars are built with GPS and NSA’s candy toys.

  2. MamaLiberty
    March 20, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Yes indeed, and I’m approaching that point with my 2001 Saturn. It has cost me nothing but original purchase (0% loan) and basic maintenance so far, but I’m fearful of the day something goes wrong…. I’m not in a financial position to spend big bucks to fix it… or to buy another car. There is zero “public transportation” here, and I’m too disabled to walk far. It’s a dilemma I’m not too fond of contemplating, but I really need to think and make some plans for the inevitable.

  3. JoePA
    March 20, 2014 at 9:58 am

    I use to work on cars many years ago as a do it yourself mechanic. Todays cars are nothing more then computers with four wheels. I’m down to changing my own oil and nothing more as everything is 100,000 mile service with warranty voidance clauses. Newer cars …….post 90s? now get on average 300,000 miles before major engine/tranny work. That’s the trade with newer cars, they run better and longer but are very difficult if not impossible for the laymen “do it yourselfer” to work on.

    In short….newer cars rock! My days of lubing ball joints, replacing break pads every few months, adjusting engine timing, replacing spark plugs etc are long gone and good riddance!

    • Randy
      March 21, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      I agree, Joe. Many of us are old enough to remember when most any car approaching 100,000 miles was ready for the junkyard. We also remember ignition points, v-belts, carburetors, and many other things needing constant attention.
      Many newer cars can outrun an old GTO, use half the gas, last 3 times as long, and require a fraction of the service. Yes, they are more expensive to buy, but far, far cheaper overall when the above points are factored in.

    • Shoal Creek
      March 21, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      One thing about newer technology is that (if you really are a do-it-yourself type of person) you can rebuild and restore a pre-emissions year car with new technology (bolt-on EFI to replace carburetors, bolt-on transmissions to replace older less efficient transmissions, higher quality brake, suspension, and steering parts, high quality wheels and tires, etc) to make an old car run like a new car with good reliability, power, and efficiency. In many cases, an old engine rebuilt with new parts can achieve even better MPG, power, and longevity than the new engines because the older cars, despite being made of steel, are often lower weight from not having all the required bolt-on “safety” equipment and because emissions systems tend to reduce fuel economy and power, That plus cast-iron engines are extremely hard to kill given a proper engine management system (unlike aluminum engines that can be killed with a single occasion of overheating from a leaky radiator hose or a bad temp sensor).

      My point comes down to: if you really like to do-it-yourself, then you can rebuild an old car with modern equipment and have the best of both worlds–easy/inexpensive maintenance and repairs coupled with increased efficiency and power. Plus both worlds, when put together, synergize to create unmatched longevity (think cars that can go a million miles with only minor repairs and routine maintenance).

      • JoePA
        March 22, 2014 at 3:41 pm

        Keeping an old car going forever is a joke. Visit an antique car show and talk to those guys. They don’t rebuild their cars and enjoy them or even use them. Those cars are garage kept “weekenders” and are in constant need of repair. Hardly a realistic vehicle in any form, just my opinion but I mandate reliability.

        • eric
          March 22, 2014 at 4:08 pm

          Hi Joe,

          I have a nearly 40-year-old car that is driven often – and could be driven regularly. It would need occasional adjustment, certainly. But – and I speak from direct experience here – it’s mostly minor stuff involving very basic hand tools and basic automotive knowledge. For example, I drove an early ’70s Beetle to work – in DC traffic – every day, year ’round – for several years back in the mid-1990s when it was already more than 20 years old.

          • BrentP
            March 22, 2014 at 4:52 pm

            Eric, if you lived where I do your Pontiac would be decimated by rust in just a few years.

          • eric
            March 22, 2014 at 5:13 pm

            Certainly.

            But in AZ (and other such places) there are rust-free Pontiacs as old mine that are still very much in everyday use.

            My ’69 VW was rusty, but still providing reliable everyday service for me in the mid 1990s (in the DC area; lots of road salt in winter). It might be – and probably still is – being driven today. It’s not that big a deal – money-wise or work-wise – to stitch in new floorpans in a car like that every 15-20 years or so.

          • BrentP
            March 23, 2014 at 1:22 am

            DC is can’t possibly be a lot of road salt. In the rust belt cars like Ford Galaxies driven by old ladies have frame rust failures. These cars would turn up in the 1990s. Low mileage, dealer serviced daily drivers and the frame would be shot. I can’t tell you how many cars I’ve passed on buying for structural rust. My ’75 maverick I had to have structural rust welded up and did less damaged areas myself with fiberglass and aggressive treatment. Low mileage hand me down car from my grandparents.

            But the rust doesn’t stop at the body. It attacks everything. I’ve replaced brake drums and rotors because they were rusted out. Working on everything becomes orders of magnitude more difficult.

            I would not drive anything older than the late 1990s everyday in this environment. Even then, the battle must be fought. There’s no way of keeping a car of that vintage going forever in this environment without a monumental amount of attention. I have to scrape and repaint much of the underside of my ’97 this year. I am not looking forward to it. But at least it is much less frequent and much less intensive than what I had to do driving a 70s car.

          • eric
            March 23, 2014 at 6:49 am

            Hi Brent,

            I lived there for 25 years. Believe me, they use a lot of road salt. To excess. They love to dump it – at the slightest pretext. Here (SW Va) also. For four months now, the roads have been white with salt.

            I understand your point – and don’t disagree that rust is a big issue with older cars. But I can also state – from direct personal experience – that one can absolutely drive an older car for years in an area subject to hard winters (and road salt) and not have the car actually become unsound.

            Sure, it’ll happen eventually. But when you do the cost-benefit (vs a new car) you may discover you come out way ahead with the old car.

            I know I did!

          • Helot
            March 23, 2014 at 1:58 am

            Ah-men, BrentP, my fellow rust beltarian.

            Except for this part:
            “I would not drive anything older than the late 1990s everyday in this environment. ”

            I would,… if it was cheap, or it if spent it’s life sheltered in a garage.

            I imagine you’d agree. … And those don’t count, do they? Ha!

            Anyway, I think maybe eric needs to re-phrase this a bit, “It’s not that big a deal – money-wise or work-wise – to stitch in new floorpans in a car like that every 15-20 years or so. ”

            Ya. *It is* kind of a big deal, otherwise everybody would do it.
            I know I don’t want do do it, and I’m a glutton for punishment.

            That whole, “blood, sweat and tears” bit.

            I like ya eric, but no way. Or, maybe I’m lazy? ….Yeah, I’ve gotten lazy over the years, but still, as a former “Go Getter” and having scraped the rust off many a vehicle,… there’s just no way in heck I’d want to replace the floorboards in a VW.

            I’ve had my chance, I severely wanted to. I’ve added up the costs. All I can do is nod my head,… and it ain’t up and down.

            Replace a timing chain, ok.
            Replace a fuel pump, ok.
            ….but floorboards?

            Ok, so maybe I’m being un-optimistic a tad?
            if I was 18 or so, the answer, it’d be different.

            If I had the garage space.
            If I had the time….

            Bottom line: yes, and no.

            I’ve restored cars, and it’s hell. But it’s also not a bad time,… in the end.

            I’m just rambling. The answer is an individual one.
            Do what you want.

          • BrentP
            March 23, 2014 at 2:38 am

            Helot, the last 70s car I daily drove I still have.
            I bought it at 20 years old with 20K miles. It had minor rust when I bought it. I fought rust the entire time. If I ever get it back on the road I have rust to fight. Car has just under 60K on it.

            No. I would not even take one that was perfect out into the Chicago slop. The only way I would do it is after a complete restoration where the entire car is taken down to bare metal and every surface inside and out gets coated with the finest in modern paints and coatings to protect the steel. Either that or start with a new body and do the same thing.

            That perfect car in the garage… all its coatings to protect it on backsides and underneath failed 20 years ago. The coatings are compromised. One winter of salt spray and it will start showing rust.

          • eric
            March 23, 2014 at 6:40 am

            All true, Brent –

            However… it will take years before the rust becomes a structural issue.

            Understandably, no one wants to subject a collectible classic to anything that will accelerate rust of any kind – superficial or otherwise.

            But, assume you have a four-door Fairmont or Nova from the mid-70s. It’s not collectible. But it can be a cheap way to get around for many years – even if exposed to road salt. Sure, the fenders and quarters will blister. You may even get Fred Flintstone floorpans.

            But how long before the frame is compromised?

            In my experience, it takes decades for a car to reach that point – even if driven regularly in winter. By which point – well, who cares?

            If I buy something like a mid-70s Nova sedan in good “driver” shape for $2,500 and drive the snot out of it for even 10 years – I have gotten my money’s worth and then some.

            Right?

          • BrentP
            March 23, 2014 at 2:40 am

            Oh and my 70s car, right after I bought it I went through and repaired all the failed undercoating. I found every cracked and bubbled spot, scraped it, painted it, re-coated it. I did that every summer. Modern cars are so much better.

          • eric
            March 23, 2014 at 6:32 am

            They are better… in some ways!

            But not all.

            The obvious way in which the old cars were better – for people like you and I – is that they were very easily and very inexpensively maintained. Even if they did need maintenance more often.

            The ’69 VW I commuted into and out of DC every day for several years in the ’90s was virtually free transportation at a time when I was very much in need of virtually free everything. I bought it for $700. An oil change cost less than $10 (because it only needed about 3 quarts of oil – and no filter to change, just a screen). The single barrel carb may have needed occasional adjustment, but it was idiot-proof and unless you beat it with a hammer, it would do its job. Same for the extremely simply ignition/electrical system. It cost almost nothing to keep that car going. Sure, it was slow, crude, cold (and hot) as well as leaky and rusty. But it worked – most of the time – and when it didn’t, it was always something easily (and cheaply) fixable by me, typically with very basic hand tools. I never once had to call a tow truck and slump off to the dealership with my tail tucked between my legs … and my wallet open.

            It can cost a lot to keep a modern car going – long before it even gets old.

            Now, granted, the modern car will usually not require much in the way of fiddling – and this is a boon to the person who does not want to fiddle, or who lacks the skills/time to do so.

            But they will pay for that in the form of higher purchase price and much higher repair costs when something does go wrong.

          • BrentP
            March 24, 2014 at 10:32 am

            Eric,
            DC is nothing. Come to the great lakes region.
            I get outside of the great lakes region and I see living fossils of cars on the road. Cars too bland for anyone to care about that went extinct in Chicago years ago.

            I’ve done it too. Here. Spring is rust fixing season. I’ve got two holes to fix on my mazda from this past winter.

          • eric
            March 24, 2014 at 12:18 pm

            No doubt!

            Though lately, even SW Virginia has gotten pretty damn bad. Going on four months now of a really hard winter; more “events” (snow, ice) than I can recall, each one prompting the VDOT trucks to spray salt all over…

          • BrentP
            March 24, 2014 at 10:49 am

            Structurally unsound is quite a severe measure. It’s like saying a car can be abused until the engine locks up years down the road.

            People got rid of their old cars due the need of expensive repairs back in the day too.

            I’ve watched old cars put into service and disolve. If you don’t care if the car falls apart around you in way that modern cars don’t I guess I can’t argue with you. But there’s a reason people didn’t keep cars very long back in the day.

          • eric
            March 24, 2014 at 12:11 pm

            All true, Brent –

            It’s also true that back then, drivetrains were – typically – in need of significant repair/rehab well before 100,000 miles.

            But - the cars were less expensive and while they did hit you with more frequent expenses, these expenses were comparatively small by today’s standards and (to a great extent) DIY-doable.

            Consider a basic carburetor and mechanical fuel pump vs. a modern port fuel injection (or DI) system. The mechanical pump typically hung off the engine block, held in by two bolts. Replace it for maybe $40 (today’s money) with basic hand tools. FI? The pump’s in the tank (pull the tank) and the pump will cost several times more – typically.

            A carburetor – assuming some meathead hasn’t overtorqued the mounting nuts and warped the casting – can be torn down and rebuilt by almost anyone with some basic aptitude, some patience and basic hand tools – for the cost of a rebuild kit ($70?). Good to go for years to come, once done – plus some occasional adjustment/cleaning (again, very inexpensive and very easy to do).

          • Eightsouthman
            March 24, 2014 at 12:30 pm

            eric, older cars that had carburetors would have lasted much longer than they did with nothing more than an OD tranny. We blasted up and down the road turning 3-4000 rpm@80mph compared to 22-2500 rpm or less these days.

          • eric
            March 24, 2014 at 1:14 pm

            Amen that, Eight!

            My ’76 TA now cruises at 2,200 at 75.

            Because it has an overdrive transmission.

            Before I installed it, highway driving was torture – for the car. With no OD and 3.90 gears in the pumpkin, it buzzed along at 3,300 at 65.

            Now it’s quick off the line – but has long highway legs, too!

          • BrentP
            March 24, 2014 at 4:32 pm

            Since 1986 I’ve had fuel injected cars under my care and knowledge base. This includes two cars within spitting distance of 200k miles and one which has exceeded that. All others in excess of 100K. Even the ’86 got pretty close to 200K, high 180s as I recall, when it got smashed and I gave up on it. So we’re talking close to a million miles of fuel injected cars I’ve dealt with personally. Not owned them all, but I did a lot of the work on them and knew of all their failings. What have I done? I sometimes have to clean idle air control valves.

            Clean. Not replace. It’s a $50 part, so it’s not expensive, but I clean them anyway. The cleaning lasts for years.

            That’s it. No seasonal adjustments of the carb. no rebuilding the carb… I’ve done all that. Fuel injection has proven its worth to me. I replaced one suspicious TPS… but I was fighting a losing battle with that car for other reasons and that replacement may have been needless.

            For a fuel pump I just did that in my ’97 Mustang at 201K miles. I sprung for the expensive motorcraft one which is an upgraded ’97 cobra part. So it cost me. However, I could have spent less than $40 if I had wanted. There are reasons I spent the extra money, and to me it was well spent, especially when I found the top of the existing pump well rusted and getting the stainless lines off was a pain… but I could have done cheaply only replacing the pump itself.

          • eric
            March 24, 2014 at 7:14 pm

            Yeah – but let’s talk after the car is 30 (or 40) years old!

          • BrentP
            March 24, 2014 at 9:44 pm

            It’s already at 17 years old and 201K miles.

            It’s doing far better than my low mileage ’75 Maverick was doing at this age.

          • eric
            March 25, 2014 at 6:01 am

            That’s great – but let’s wait another 17….

            There’s a really nice-looking ’75 Malibu sedan for sale at the local used car lot. It’s original, in outstanding cosmetic and mechanical condition and has only about 30,000 miles on it and they’re asking something like $2,400.

            A car like that I could keep going for next to nothing for the next 40 years.

            Much as I love my ’98 Nissan truck, I know it is getting close to the Event Horizon of its life. Maybe another 5 years before it starts to become a money pit – because of electronics and emissions….

          • BrentP
            March 25, 2014 at 12:24 pm

            LOL.
            Always the higher standard for the modern stuff and the cream puff life for the older stuff.

            If I daily drove one of those it would last a few years and then need to go to the junk yard unless I put a great deal of time and effort into preserving it against the elements and then it would take heavy damage. And that’s on top of the much greater mechanical care needed and assuming modern lubricants prevent mechanical failures.

  4. Pedro
    March 21, 2014 at 11:27 am

    I think the sweet spot for vehicles was the mid 90’s up until MY2006. Why? Traction control/ Stability Control and all the other government nannies became mandatory in MY2007.

    I absolutely love my 1998 Civic hatchback. Besides being light weight, It’s dead simple to wrench on and it’s virtually bulletproof. The only luxury option it has power steering. Everything else is manual (windows, mirrors and locks). No key less entry fobs to worry about getting wet or dying and only one very basic but robust computer to control the engine.

    Part of what makes these cars so amazing is their double wishbone suspension. For years I had heard about how great it was in the Hondas but it wasn’t until I sold my 2008 Civic (with struts) and purchased a 1998 (double wishbone) did I realize how much driving dynamics have suffered due to government mandated edicts.

    I wish Honda was allowed to build these cars again. An updated 2000 Model Year Civic Hatchback with a 185HP DOHC VTEC engine and 6-Speed would be a vehicle I would purchase over and over again. Every time I would crash it, blow it up or wear it out I would just go out and buy another one until I’m dead of old age or my needs change. The cost of development and production would be virtually zero as all of the tooling for this theoretical vehicle was paid for 15+ years ago.

    The realities of our regulatory and funny money freedom facade make this impossible to become a reality. This alone shows just how enslaved we truly are.

  5. Randy
    March 21, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    In some ways, newer cars are easier to work on. Plug-in diagnostics can pinpoint problems, many issues are solved by popping in components, and who misses fixing the old drum brakes or problematic v-belts? Seals are better designed, smaller engines often allow more room to work, and performance mods are often easier and cheaper. I’m 55 years old, and had to learn a lot to keep up with maintaining and improving my vehicles. It was worth it, and cars are now better than ever. I’ll always love the old stuff (especially Pontiacs), but for reliable daily drivers, the newer cars can’t be beaten.

  6. tom
    March 22, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    Eric: Your example of the $2500 civic needing $2500 in repairs, and still only being worth $2500 while accurate, doesn’t take into account the replacement cost of viable transportation. I have old cars (95, 97, 98 & 02) and have had to put a lot of $$ into them recently. However, if I have a $2500 repair bill that makes my car roadworthy, that is a much better application of funds than buying a replacement car. (Especially if I’d try to keep it cheap and buy a low-priced used car.) Kinda like, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t”

    Of course, the risk is that after plunking down the $2500, something else may break equally catastrophic. $$$$. With my fleet of junkers, I do worry about throwing good money after bad.

    • eric
      March 23, 2014 at 7:17 am

      Agreed, Tom!

      The trick is knowing when the time has come to cut your losses…

  7. dom
    March 24, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    Ya’ll think we’ll see this car on the roads soon?

    http://www.eliomotors.com/

    • March 24, 2014 at 7:51 pm

      Dom,

      It is fuel efficient (49cty/84hwy), relatively light @ under 1500lbs, and quick enough to keep up with traffic (0-60 @ 9.6sec) and can reach 100+ mph.

      It will be good for consumers if a car like the Elio sells well and performs well.
      Hopefully the car will make it to the market.

      I have seen other promising cars that promised much, yet not make it to the marketplace. Time will tell if this car will succeed.

      • dom
        March 24, 2014 at 7:56 pm

        It will be under 7k dollars too!

        • Jason Flinders
          March 24, 2014 at 9:05 pm

          It looks like a death trap to me. Maybe OK around town, but I couldn’t imagine taking something like that out on an interstate full of semis. They claim it is “safe” but to paraphrase what a wise man once said, “you cannae change the laws of physics!”

          • Boothe
            March 24, 2014 at 9:43 pm

            C’mon Jason – I cruise around on a machine that only weighs 437 lbs. (dry), will do 0-60 in 2.5 sec., has no airbags, no roll cage, no seatbelts and no cab. I’m. Still. Here. I’ve seen many a full size heavy American automobile mashed flat by a semi and even lesser vehicles. I’ll grant you that your survivability in a full size SUV in a crash is better without a doubt; you’re right about the laws of physics. But mass is no guarantee.

            We drove around for years in a couple of 1982 Honda Civics that only weighed 1,730 pounds and probably didn’t perform as well as the Elio will. Did I mention that I’m still here? I’d say it’s more a function of the driver’s ability and self preservation instinct than it is the crash rating of the vehicle. Stupid people do stupid things and, Clover notwithstanding, tend to remove themselves from the gene pool. People like that won’t be safe driving a tank.

          • March 24, 2014 at 10:27 pm

            Boothe,

            Jason might have a point.

            Everyone should be outfitted with big strong vehicles that can survive an accident on the highway.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbIvs5JeOcY

            Will the Elio receive the prestigious 5-star Sherman rating?
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iScCTgXj2jM

            Will people stop running red lights?

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_7Zpjm3RZo

            Taiwan red light runners:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWnteYqHNJA

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ce2MjYQS5Q4

            As you noted: Some people will not be safe even in a tank.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTcr7AwCCBw

          • dom
            March 24, 2014 at 11:24 pm

            I’d buy and drive one in a heart beat. Been riding motorcycles my whole life and I’m still around. What really keeps me up at night is thinking about driving one of the death trap semis and having a 747 crash into me… Yikes!

          • eric
            March 25, 2014 at 6:05 am

            Hi Jason,

            What Boothe said…

            It’s true that if you get hit, you are more vulnerable in a small car (or on a bike)… but if is to a very great extent avoidable.

            Long-time riders know about situational awareness – about “riding paranoid.” Assume every other vehicle in your vicinity is operated by a kamikaze intent on death and mayhem. Be ready.

            Anticipate.

            If you do – and don’t count on others to guarantee your safety – the odds are much more in your favor.

            There’s still risk, of course.

            But the same’s true about eating a burger every now and then.

          • Boothe
            March 25, 2014 at 10:52 am

            I have no problem taking my chances with a sub-compact car or even a motorcycle. But that eating a burger thing or just going out to eat…
            http://www.popcrunch.com/15-of-the-grossest-things-ever-found-in-food/

  8. Michael
    March 25, 2014 at 10:49 am

    Eric,

    I’ve posted similar comments before, but my wife and I purchased a 1995 Dodge Caravan used in 1998. The van had 45,000 on it at purchase. I will say right off that it has not been a perfect vehicle, with the transmission being the biggest pain-in-the-butt item…had one rebuilt and have had two Chrysler re-mans put in it, the last at 142,000 miles. All of the work on the transmissions was done by a local Dodge dealership.

    However, since that last tranny went in, the van has pretty much behaved itself and now has just over 262,000 miles on it. It’s my daily driver. I’ll admit that it is not pretty with the green paint fading and rusting in places, but at this point it’s a relatively cheap drive – just fill it up and change the oil on a regular basis.

    I will say, however, that I pick my battles when I decide if I’ll fix something. The air conditioning went out in 2011 for the second time. Not fixed. It leaks a small amount of oil…not fixed. I did have the motor mounts and axles replaced over the winter because it shuddered on acceleration and was unpleasant to drive…that did cost a few dollars. However, with my daily drive, which is right around 100 miles round trip, I’d rather pour the miles on a “beater” than onto a brand-new car that I’m still paying for.

    I guess that’s what it comes down to for me – I hedge my bets and fix things that need to be fixed to keep it safe for daily commuting, but I recognize that when something big fails (in my case, again), like the tranny or engine, that I’ll probably be done at that point…but, at this point, it runs well and does what I need it to do (including hauling stuff from time to time). I hope to get it to 300,000… :)

  9. Dale Alexander
    March 30, 2014 at 11:47 am

    A little late to the game here. No mention of the current crop of very new engines such as the Mazda pushing 12.75:1 CR and the HCCI stuff looking at 14.0:1. These are engines that only a few years ago would only be found in the racing world and as such, command a lot of attention when rebuild time comes around. I believe that we have now arrived at the point where if anything goes wrong inside the engine, it is a throw-away proposal. That will keep the cost of ownership way up in the coming years. Add to that the additional cost as we move the CAFE up to 54.5 mpg with small, high revving turbo’s that the general driver does not/will not maintain (think synthetic oils, frequent changes, turbo cool down times), and the cost benefit of an older vehicle tips in it’s favor even more.

    • eric
      March 30, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      Agreed, Dale –

      The next several years ought to be interesting indeed….

  10. Moleman
    September 26, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Scary thing is: It’s not just the major components like the injun and tranny that you have to worry about on the modern cars as they age…it’s all the little BS- like all the various Electronic Control Modules (even one in the steering columns of many vehicles now!), which can cause major problems, and be a bear to diagnose. Or just get a few gunked-up/loose connectors or one loose/broken/shorted little wire somewhere in the system, which might be near impossible to find, and will not only wreak havoc, but can cause endless misdiagnosis (and expense).

    As complex as these vehicles are, it’s entirely possible and all too common, to have several very minor things go wrong at once…..and render the car useless and virtually impossible to properly diagnose- even if the ultimate causes and remedies are nothing more than little $5-$50 fixes.

    This was so even on older vehicles of even moderate complexity (I went nuts once with an 86 Nissan I was flipping- I didn’t have a clue; every mechnaic I knew had a different idea- finally, it was only a junkyard parts puller who knew that it was the crank position sensor, which was built into the distributor shaft in that era- Imagine today, with the cars being 100x more complex?!)

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