Economic Obsolescence

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Several of the most successful car (and engine) designs were successful because they were around for a long time. The original VW Beetle is an example and so is the small block Chevrolet V8.

Both were in continuous production for decades.

For generations.

Beetles were still being produced (in Mexico) until the early 2000s in largely the same basic form and layout as when the first one was paraded before Der Fuhrer in the mid 1930s. And Chevy’s small block V8 outlasted Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush senior. The same basic engine that was installed in ’55 Chevys was still being installed in new Chevys as recently as just a few years ago (and the current GM “LS” V8 shares many of the same design features, even though parts do not interchange).

Cars – and engines – used to stay in production without major changes for much longer, generally. For example, my ’76 Pontiac Trans-Am is pretty much the same car as a 1970 Trans Am and also a 1981 Trans-Am. The production run lasted 11 years.

This was good for the car companies and for us, the people buying the cars.

The car companies were better able to amortize the costs of designing a new car (or a new engine), including tooling costs – which can be huge. Knowing that a new engine might be in production for 20 or even 30 years encouraged investment in new/radical technologies – because the car company stood a very good chance not only of making back whatever it had invested but also a lot of “gravy” after that.

The small block Chevy, for example, was a wild design back in 1955. It was light and compact; it had an innovative valvetrain that allowed it to rev freely, reliably – and it made a lot of power for its size (it was one  of the very first engines to achieve the magical 1 horsepower for every cubic inch of displacement).

It was such a good engine that – beyond relatively superficial changes such as increases in displacement and the replacement (eventually, after decades in production) of carburetors with electronic fuel injection – it wasn’t retired from front line service until the early 2000s.

Millions of them were made.

Similarly, the Beetle. It got tweaked here and there, but a late ’70s Beetle (or even an early 2000s Mexican Beetle) was fundamentally the same car as a 1930s example.

Because so many were made over such a long time, parts (new and used) were and still are readily available. And cheap. You can buy a brand-new crated replacement small block V8 from GM today, over the counter, for less than $1,500.

That is for an entire engine.

This makes it economically feasible to keep even a fairly ancient (by modern car standards) Chevy in service. Not as a hobby car – as a daily driver. It’s why you still see Beetles – which were last sold new in the United States back in 1979 – still being driven, and not just to car shows.

Rust aside, these cars and cars like them can be kept economically operable for 40 or 50 years.

But that’s becoming less and less economically viable as cars – and engines – become obsolete much sooner. A “product cycle” – industry speak for the shelf-life of a new car – is currently about four years and shortening. Cars are generally “refreshed” – given a major update, cosmetically as well as functionally – before four years go by. It is not a lot of time to make back your investment – much less make much profit.

Not even trucks (which used to be simple, rugged things) last ten years in production without major alterations such that they are – at best – only distantly related to what came before.

Electronics – the pace of change – is partly responsible for this. Today’s state-of-the-art touchscreen and mouse input is next year’s dated, no-longer-supported throw-way (just like a sail fawn).

The mechanicals also change dramatically – and rapidly. Part of this being driven by the distorting effect of federal fatwas, especially those demanding upticks in fuel efficiency that can’t be achieved without radical engineering solutions such as (lately, as a for-instance) automatic transmissions with eight and nine (and shortly, ten) speeds. These transmissions cost more to replace – much more – than an entire brand-new replacement crate small block Chevy V8 engine.

Some of them literally cost more than what it would cost you to buy an entire old Beetle in decent “driver” condition. When the transmission in one of these cars fails, the car is junk.

The practical consequence of all this is that new cars become “old” – economically obsolete – much sooner.

When the “all new” model comes out, the previous model suddenly becomes a candidate for sub-prime loans and – sooner rather than later – the recycling lot. It depreciates even more rapidly and not just because it is no longer “new” (or even newish) but also because parts for it become harder to find and more expensive to find. The manufacturer stops pressing them out; supply dwindles and cost goes up.

It is also becoming more expensive to diagnose the new stuff. That is, to figure out what’s wrong. Which is something generally desirable before one attempts to fix whatever the problem may be.

Did you know that repair shops have to buy proprietary diagnostic equipment in order to be able to service new cars? This is not cheap.

And when their equipment is no longer current with the latest “upgrades” – or they decide it’s not worth it to invest in equipment to deal with the no-longer-newest stuff – they can’t service your four-wheeled Hal 9000.

Throw it away. Buy another.

Monthly payment, that is . . .

This may be accidental – a side-effect of the picked-up pace of everything and of the regulatory regime that today is the principle “decider” of vehicle design rather than the car buying public. Or it could be deliberate policy. The purposeful acceleration of planned obsolescence, with the end goal being not merely to get people constantly buying new but to get them out of buying altogether.

Renting makes much more sense when cars no longer make economic sense.

Note the investment in ride-sharing being made – and touted – by the major players. The hard-selling of so-called “autonomous” cars – which are no more “autonomous” than a city bus. Someone continues to control the vehicle.

It just isn’t you.

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77 COMMENTS

  1. Dang lost my post ,anyway hang on Guys , the Paradigm is about to shift . Watching an older TV series from around 2000 , it stuck me how fast the population is growing. They kept mentioning five billion people , well now at that rate we will probably have 9 billion people on board by 2040 , ( kinda scary , eh ?) well wait for it the “polyclipse ‘ ” will probably happen after a bit as the havenots clamor for their slice of the pie.
    What I would like to see is reasonable pollution standards and a managed sale of of so called ” gov’t lands “.
    Would take some doing but is feasible , good point on the old “classics”( boy those things stink “) the last administration did the poor of the country a disservice with that crazy ” cash for clunkers ” BS. But as long as the old guys can be brought up to a reasonable teir , there is little reason we cant be driving them .

  2. I don’t see an article by Eric for the closure of Victory by Polaris. I suspect that Victory was going to be forced to radically redesign their v-twin to meet new government standards rather than update it slowly as was possible in pre-regulatory times. That could have been the final nail in Victory’s coffin. Harley did the radical redesign much to the chagrin of many of their enthusiasts…but they will survive. Too bad Polaris didn’t just fold Victory under the Indian Banner and then phase out the old models. I think they have just alienated a large portion of their customer base by doing it the way they did.

  3. I have a suspicion that all these pollution regulations, safety regulations and requirements for cars are all part of a plot by bureaucrats with the agenda to simply make cars so expensive nobody who doesn’t make a million a year can afford them.\
    In short the looney leftist pointy headed bureaucrats in Washington plan to make owning a car impossible by making them so expensive to purchase and repair. It is the looney lefty’s idea of Utopia, a country where the 99% are forced into mass transit, where owning a car will become illegal and those who dare will be made criminals.
    Now prove me wrong.

  4. My favorite truck engine is the 71 series Detroit. The same engine that powered US tanks in WW2 powered trucks, generators, sawmills, pumps, boats, tractors well into the 90s until the EPA shut it down. Not the most efficient or powerful, but durable. They will run a couple million miles in a truck.

    • Dave, you’re singing my song. You could turn up a 71 series several hundred rpm and it seemed like they lasted longer if you only used a couple hundred more rpm as the shift point. Of course that was only in big rigs and there was no need to turn them up in a lot of applications except for emergency and I think some marine applications had that feature on demand. I used to occasionally come across a guy with a 12V 71 in his truck. Running the same direction I’d only see him when he passed me or sometimes we were headed to the same place at a port. I’d take an old 379 Pete with one any day.

      I was going into the liquor store this past week and before I could shut the door behind me I heard that distinctive WAAAAA going up high and looked to see if I could spot a work-over unit. The engine I never used but knew others who did was the 92 series and that was a pulling sumbitch.

      I’m partial to Detroit Diesel anyway just because every engine they made from the 53 series on were great. I recall the head of KW retiring in the early 70’s. The guys in the fab shop made a pickup sized KW that was beautiful and powered it with a 6V-53, another great engine family. I’ve always wondered what happened to it. I doubt it was shown in anything but the trucking mag I took at the time. You can still get a 53 series and they’re better than ever. Rebuild kits are available for every Detroit engine I know of.

  5. What I want engineers to do:
    KISS! Keep It Simple Stupid!
    Redesign the Automobile Engine and Transmission so anyone can work on one and keep it running for years. Not likely to happen. If it has, they made an error putting the vehicle in production and they correct that error on a regular basis.
    Redesign the fuel system. Most of the fuel goes out the exhaust. Your engine is not using the fuel efficiently.
    Redesign the engine to last a long time yet use the existing fuel efficiently enough to get better mileage.
    Redesign the transmission so it holds up under bad conditions without breaking. Probably have to go back to a rear wheel drive to do it.
    Make it easy to replace the transmission and the engine and keep a car running a long time.
    Use better parts every where. The doors fall apart on modern cars. Meaning you have to replace the handles, the power features, etc on a regular basis since they are plastic and break easily.
    Automate the factories and keep the workers near the place you buy cars. It is the only way to beat the slave wages of China, India, and other places.
    I too like the older cars simply because you can get them fixed a lot easier than with a mechanic with a master degree in engineering working for over $90 per hour. That was a quote from a local dealer on their “service technicians” charge to the customer per hour.
    Side note: Put an oil supplement in the Camry and it temporarily quit burning oil. Used a 20-50 weight oil as well to keep it from going around the pistons. Toyota designed it to fail after about 12 years with piss poor pistons.

    • $90 per hour would be a break for me. I bought my daughter a VW Passat with plenty of life left in it and found that even simple maintenance had a steep learning curve and required a lift. The local dealers charge $144 per hour.

      Independent shops have told me they “don’t do VWs”. A slow coolant leak and a slow oil leak brought an estimate from the dealer of $4800 for the repair. I haven’t junked the Passat, but it has been moved to the status of a spare car until I manage ther repairs myself.

      I bought my daughter a Huyndai Elantra because it’s a pretty simple car for shade tree mechanics to fix.

      • Ed, I fucked up, bought a 2000 Z 71, an electronic nightmare. If you want a different sound system, find a place to install it and don’t jack with the original since every damned thing on the truck goes through it.

        Funny thing, ’94 is my cutoff point for a pickup since GM installed airbags and went to the 5.7L engine in ’95 which doesn’t hold up as long as the old 350’s. I know 3 early 90’s 350 pickups that now have over half a million miles on the original engine.

        ’96 just became the cut-off point for big rigs since anything newer has to have digital logging as of 1/1/2017, a gimme to companies that make them and almost always the last year to get a non-computer controlled engine. That’s ok too. Just buy one cheap and rebuild it like my friends do.

  6. I am no mechanic. Plain and simple.
    Probably go too long without an oil change on a vehicle.
    Or an air filter.
    Loved the Plymouth Duster with a slant six. Ran forever.
    Rusted out.
    Currently driving a 95 Camry I bought in 1999 with 60,000 miles on it. Has a 6 cylinder in it. Gets about 17 around town. Burns oil like a chimney. But with a little care, it has lasted me all this time.
    Had to replace the transmission because of poor engineering. The car would not go through a foot of snow so I did what any past car would do and put it rapidly in reverse and forward to ease it out of the ice and snow.
    The engineering part is it was designed to fail under pressure where the old Duster had a rear transmission built to last.
    Yes, they are designing all cars and trucks to fail within the period you have a loan for.
    Going to a world market slowed that down really bad and Ford, Chrysler, and GM are close to bankruptcy because of it.
    These dinosaurs still produce records of repair on their vehicles that no one else in the world will put up with.
    The trend is going to be hybrid small engine cars and diesels. VW is making a small diesel engine run with an electric in China right now. I think it is called the X1.
    It is only a matter of time. An all electric with a brand new storage system that lasts forever and takes nothing to recharge is likely in the works. Right now a Nissan Volt has a range of about 70-80 miles on a charge.
    I suggest within 2 years a small diesel recharger will give an electric vehicle at least a 600 mile range.
    I suggest tooling companies with 3-d type printers will give you a vehicle in the 15,000 dollar range.
    If you can go all day long at 75 MPH on a highway meant for such speeds(Ohio has a few right now near Columbus) and do so economically on whatever fuel is currently cheap and available then all the older cars we are talking about are extinct, just like the dinosaurs.
    The big three became extinct without knowing it when they continued to produce junk into the modern age when every other car manufacturer world wide was starting to produce well engineered machines that lasted at least 10 years.
    The EPA has simply moved things along with their demand for better pollution control on all vehicles.
    I suggest you haven’t had a real engineer in automobile engineering in many years.
    What we do have is experts in planned failure of cars within a certain period of time.
    I am no mechanic. But if I can see it as layman average person, then it must be pretty bad.

    • I thought we were all supposed to be living in colonies on the Moon by now, anyway?

      Don’t hold your breath.

      I see a world where the average working person can no longer afford ot drive- and such is not by mere circumstance, but by design- and of all the this high-tech, electronic “green”: crap is the method.

      • Hi Nunzio,

        It’s nice out… if I can get finished with the review I’m working on (Hyundai Elantra) I will go out to the garage and fire up the Trans Am… it always makes me feel better…

        • Oh man, Eric! Those real cars are just what we need to bring us back to the feeling of reality. When WE were in control of what we drove. Those real cars are just looking better and better, aren’t they?!

          Hope you had a GREAT time!!!! (It’s making me happy just THINKING about it!)

          • Hi Nunzio,

            I fired up the orange barchetta … used a jack to raise the pumpkin, get the tires off the ground… too wet and salty to take her out, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t take her for a drive.

            No redwood and leather… but no airbags or computers… and a blip of the pedal causes the flapper door to suck open, hear the four barrel hiss…

            It’ll be dry again, soon…

            • Oh man, Eric! To have a REAL car!!! Thanks for that- it reminded me of what it was like. Just think: Half the people alive today have no clue.

              • Hi Nunzio,

                And this is why I regret not having had kids. And am very open to having them, if I can find someone to have them with (who isn’t a She Clover – and that is no easy thing to find).

                I must pass on what I know. Or at least, what I know I don’t know! 🙂

    • Designed Obsolescence is now required in ALL designs

      Everyone needs to watch the film “The Light bulb Conspiracy” (avail on YouTube ) for a good primer on this BS

      • I already know the light bulb story. Traditional incandescent light bulbs were low margin fully automated production products. Only a ban would force people to buy the high margin made-in-China LEDs and CFLs, so they got one. A few months after the factories in the USA were shutdown a researcher came up with a treatment for the filament that reduced energy consumption dramatically. It would have been a single station along the existing production line. But it was too late. The capital has been scrapped.

        But it’s not required in everything, because what I presently work on doesn’t go that way.

  7. One of the most reliable engines I’ve seen unscientific poll – the for 300 CI inline 6. Chances are if you see an older ford pickup or econoline van, it’s got the 300 in it. I had an 88 bronco with the 302 – had lots of engine troubles – some with the new EFI related and had a burnt valve – maybe eecontronics caused that?

    Anyhow – another shoutout to he 1980s and 1990s Buick 3.8 v-6. Gm used it for years. It had decent power and economy and again, was very reliable. Less easy to work on but it was tried and true.

    • I’m with you, man! Never liked the 302’s- they always seemed like turds to me, and I’ve never seen one with high miles.

      But those 300 straight 6’s ….holy cow! I’ve seen them go 400K miles and still going strong! I think the fact that they used timing gears instead of a timing chain or belt is at least partially repsonible for that longevity- that, and the fact that they were just thick and bulletproof! One of the very best engines, ever! (Most stright 6’s were pretty darn good- probably too because they have 7 main bearings for 6 cylinders….a V-6 only has 4; a V-8 only has 5. This is also why the old 6 cyl. Cummins diesels are so durable. Any straight configuration is just gonna be more bulletproof than a V…more bearings…more monolithic mass.

      • Not all inline sixes have seven main bearings. The ones that do last a long time as a rule but the ones that don’t, not so much.

      • Had poor luck with my 300 Ford six, but I bought it used so who knows what was done to it. My slant sixes, however, have been excellent, and interestingly enough they have only four main bearings.

        • No telling how many miles were on that 300/6 though, right? (5 digit odometers)- and of course, if it was abused and neglected by the prveious owner(s)….

          Those Slant 6’s always had a great reputation- I could never stand them though- they sounded like sewing machines, and didn’t have much power.

    • The 300 has a gear driven cam/valve train. That alone makes me love it. I’m going to give my ’68 Camper Special a transplant with a crate 300 as soon as possible. It’ll last another 50 years once I do that. I already did the Pertronix conversion to eliminate the points on the 360 that’s in it.

      • Exactly, Ed! Those gears/no timing chain or belt, and being built heavy from good old iron and having 7 main bearings, made those 300/6’s as durable as a diesel. (Only downside is: They get really crappy MPGs if ya care about that sort of thing. Bet your MPGs drop when you ditch the 360 for the 300!. 360’s/390’s were pretty solid too- all of these motors were made specifically for trucks. This was when they’d take motors meant for big box trucks and stick ’em in a pick-up. Unlike today, when most gas pick-ups have car motors)

    • I picked up a 1991 F-150 with a 300 straight six a couple of months ago for $1100.00. It has simple fuel injection. I plan on buying a 60’s six banger [200-240 cube] Mustang and put it and a 5 speed in it. I once had a 1974 Ford E-100 van with the same motor-single barrel carb. 3 on the tree was a really solid tank like vehicle. Should of never sold it. In the 60’s they put the 300 six in dump trucks rated up to 30,000 lbs gross vehicle weight. They had the forged crank and the casting numbers for it are — C6TE-6 and C5TE-F. If anyones curious. There are still companies out there that sell these forged internals motors, rebuilt, for industrial equipment, Around $4500.00 no core needed.

      • Mustangs used the small block six. 120,170,200,250. Trucks used the big block six 240,300. These are different engine families. If you put a small block six into a F150 you’ll be creating a woefully underpowered truck. Most people who want to do swaps between these two families go the other way around. They swap out the small block for the big block. (big block of course doesn’t refer to the displacement, but the construction of the block and engine)

        • Brent I meant put the 300 six in the Mustang not in the F-150 I am taking the 300 six out of. I was looking to build an old car that would go forever. I was thinking the 5 speed would help mpg on the highway [with the right gearing of course]. And that 300 six weighs about the same as a 289/302 so it should be feasible.

  8. Being on the tooling side- there’s a weird mix I see first hand in OEM production.

    1st, I’m seeing dies being made in Turkey or Egypt for example(but dies are made a lot of places), coming in not fully tested/functional with the OEM expecting it and then tossing in more money to have them fixed yet still coming in under what they would have paid for it in total from another country with more expertise.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that in a weird way tooling costs have dropped(though in a mildly dysfunctional way).

    That being said, my belief is that we’re seeing global distortions in supply chains that span decades due to global central bank manipulations and that there’s some “malinvestment” tied to it that is going to be nasty when it unwinds one day.

    Those same central bank distortions have also allowed extreme amounts of leverage/debt to support shorter production cycles between tool up costs IMO.

    Take for example the Japanese motorcycle industry, which is heavily leveraged with low profit margins and an industry that has pretty much run for some time on 3 year cycles for tooling in their most competitive segment(crotch rockets). IMO this is all supported by monetary policy in Japan(with a 224% debt to GDP ratio last time I checked) which allows for stupendously low interest rates and facilitates these company leveraging up to support the shorter production runs and more tooling costs.

    So in summary, I don’t mean to be “chicken little”, but I see these global central bank manipulations and creating massive distortions that has fundamentally changed manufacturing and product life cycle in the auto(and motorcycle, etc.) industries in a manner that doesn’t seem to be long term sustainable. (and I haven’t touched on distortion due to gov’t regs)

    When will it blow up? I have no idea, but I can see the trend and draw a conclusion that it can’t go on forever even though central banks and leveraged up manufacturers might be able to keep the proverbial wheels on the cart 10 more years- but that doesn’t mean the model is “sustainable” forever and it doesn’t mean things won’t end badly. It’s all very Austrian IMO.

  9. I love the old cars had many small block chevies but lets be honest the engines were junk. plugs barely lasted 10K carbuerators were the worst thing ever invented points had to be replaced they used oil and if one made to 100K every body would have to go see the car not believing it made that many miles. engines today will go to 300K fuel injection best thing ever happened .plugs go 100K the plugs last longer then the old engines did

    • Hi SP,

      Actually, a circa ’90s TBI-fed 350 meets all those criteria… it will last hundreds of thousands of miles, only needs occasional tuneups, etc.

      I wasn’t defending points or carburetors…. I wish people could read.

      • The Chevy 4.3 V6 is basically a 350 V8 with 2 less cylinders and a crankshaft with offset main journals. They will go over 200,000 miles with no problems.

        If the Chevy 350 of the ’60s and up had been made with today’s modern alloys, roller lifters and hardened steel exhaust seats they would have ran well over 200,000 miles with no issues. GM would have also needed to run a double roller timing chain with steel gears instead of the nylon covered cam gear they used back in the day that would self destruct at about 60,000 miles. Another issue was the quality of the conventional oils. I can’t tell you the number of times on a tear down that I would find a lifter valley and top of the heads caked in paraffin, sometimes a tenth of an inch or more clogging up oil return passages. That simply does not happen with today’s synthetics, and they also flow at sub zero temperatures at start up.

        Even if the old 350’s only lasted 100,000 miles you could have one out of the engine bay in the morning, tear it down in a couple of hours and have the block, crank and heads to the machine shop by the end of the day. When you got everything back you could have it assembled in a few hours and they went back into the vehicle as easy as they came out. Even today complete rebuild kits can be had for the Chevy 350 for $220. http://www.northernautoparts.com/part/ek-ek1070

        What other engine out there can you rebuild in your garage for around $1000 when considering the cost of the machine shop services and master kit? Add a low cost rebuilt Turbo 350 to your old Chevy and your drive train is damn near like factory new.

        • I change oil every 3000 miles using only old-fashioned dinosaur juice and never have a problem with engine goop. When I tore down my ancient Allis Chalmers tractor engine, which had God knows how many hours of running on it, it was clean except where water had coagulated into a creamy foam (cracked head, probably). My dad had an old 327 Chevy that burned oil like a diesel and had endless miles on it, and it was only done in when we forgot to add the requisite engine oil one day.

          My experience such as it is with old cars indicates that the running gear from end to end was generally very reliable. Their deaths came from either neglect or rust, and I won’t even begin to dispute that newer cars’ bodies last far longer than they used to.

  10. There are so many good reasons to keep my old 88 GMC S15 4X4 although it does have electronic ignition and fuel injection it is still fairly easy to work on. My next project is my 94 Dodge 2500 4X4. I plan on keeping both those trucks for years to come for many of the reasons brought out here. I figure I can keep both running as long as I am healthy enough to do my own work, that should be at least a couple more decades.

  11. I’ve liked the Benz diesel cars from 77 through about 86. (the 123 and 126 bodies). the one before, the 115, ran 74-76. Most of the parts on the four and five cylinder options are the same. I’ve been in some crazy place, discovered a leaky water pump, stopped in the first parts house I found, they had it on the shelf for $35 new German OEM brand. Same pump fits 4 & 5 cylinder diesels and six cylinder petrol engines from about 1964 to 86. That’s MILLIONS of cars for a user base. Those are still rock solid, easy to diagnose and fix, even the stupid window switches can be TAKEN APART and the contacts cleaned, and are then good to go for anotheer thirty years or so. Those three chasses (115, 123, 126) did not change, either…. all were run for huge numbers, lots of parts interchange.
    Volvos were another great car…. that rour cylinder valve in head eight port engine was amazing. The ONLY time I’ve ever seem one fail was when the dummy who owned it changed the oil filter and failed to notice the old O-ring had stuck to the block…. new filter on, oil came to pressure, the extra one had no supprt so squirted out…. squirting out all the oil in short order, doing in the big end bearings. That same engine, originally in 1800 CC, was from 1957 through 1973. the same block casting was bored to two litres in 1969. Mild or hot cam, tune that pair of Skinners Union carburetters, they’d run at 80 mph all day long and return 40+ miles per gallon on the cheapest fuel you could buy. I’ve known some of those to still be running strong at 350K, still not using oil, plenty of power.
    The replacement 2.1, later 2.3 SOHC slant four was almost as bulletproof. The aluminium head was not as robust as the heavy cast iron of the earlier pushrod engine. That overhead cam inline four, in various configuratioins, saw a production run that ran from 1974 to at least 1993. Both tose configurations also made great marine engines, and were durable, lightweight, and powerful

    the DOHC inline 5 and 6 cylinder engines were nowhere near as strong. and by about 97 or so they began the change game. Miserable to work on, particularl the ones in there sideways….. slanted toward the rear of the car, stuffing a turbo in there between the head and manifolds and the firewall made it near impossible to get out. I’ve had to dismantle them in place, rework the pieces, and reassemble in place.

    Long production runs are a good thing.

  12. I’m old school. Never was trained on troubleshooting any of those sealed electronic, computerized boxes. So like all the rest of you guys, I’ve done my time with perplexing vehicles that defy diagnosis when the engine dies or won’t start. I decided one day to go back – way back to a ’57 Chevy Bel Air 2-door. No computers. Simple, straightforward. And because they’re true classics, they’re now ‘cool’ and a good investment. Spend $30,000 on a good quality rebuilt Chevy now and in a year, it’s still worth $30,000 if not more. Buy a new X-Mobile from a dealer for $30,000 and a year from now, you’ll be lucky to get half that if you decide to sell it.

    • Hi Tom,

      An excellent point.

      Almost any car more than 30 years old that you buy today will be worth at least what you spent to buy it five years from now, assuming you don’t damage it.

      Meanwhile, almost any car you buy new today will be worth at least 30-40 percent less after five years and after 10-15, next to nothing.

      • eric, back to the day of 100,000 mile maximum cars. I’m convinced most of that lack of mileage was from lack of maintenance, simply not changing oil and filters for the most part.

        A friend in high school bought his uncle’s ’63 Impala with a 327. His uncle had driven that car over 300,000 miles using it to make a living. He was one of the few that changed the oil and filter regularly and used premium oil. The whole car looked new and ran like new. The friend was a putter. One of the guys going down the street at 15 mph. It didn’t last him long. Then again, I don’t recall any car he ever had to last. That putting around(and probably not servicing it which I know he didn’t…..any car)was the death knell of everything he drove.

        He always had an SS model or upscale model, would change wheels and tires for the largest that came stock on any model. He had his girlfriend/wife’s car he drove to work. He removed the air cleaner one day because it was running badly, filter stopped up. He lived out in the boonies near us where I changed air filters on everything regularly as well as oil and filters. He eventually ruined that 350 which had been a good engine up till a life in the dirt with no air cleaner. I used to be on him constantly to put a filter on it and he’d just laugh and say “yeah, I know it” but never do it.

        Back in the 60’s people just didn’t service their vehicles regularly. My next door neighbor a couple years older than me got a new Mustage 289 auto that was a nice car, one of the fancy models. He drove it to college and evidently lots of places as it had 44,000 miles on it when it was about 2 years old. I was changing oil and filter and all the other things involving maintenance one day. He drove up and asked what I was doing and I told him. I had been nearly 3,000 miles without changing oil and filter, something I rarely did. He wondered if maybe he shouldn’t change his too. I asked how many miles since he’d done it. Never, he replied. Good god yall!

        • I thought I was reading my own words there, 8SM!

          You got it! Very few people did regular maintenance in the 60’s and 70’s, says my own observation. You “added oil”- Only person I ever seem to remember actually changing his oil, was my uncle who had a ’67 Fairlane wagon which was still going strong when he sold it c. 1980 with the odometer having gone around a few times, and never having had the engine or tranny touched as far as repairs go.

          I think a lot of the lack of maintenance was not just ignorance, but the fact that it was very common at the time for many people to get a new car every other year or so- the price of cars in relation to other things was much lower than it is today, and many families still only had one- maybe 2 at the most- cars.

          So they were essentially selling or trading their cars before the lack of maintenance would show. When the car was just a few years old, it was being sold for a few hundred bucks to some teenager or middle-aged alcoholic or something, who couldn’t be bothered with maintenance, ’cause it was just a cheap old car, or he was beating on it anyway; or just didn’t care/was irresponsible- and there were plenty more $300 cars around when that one died.

          I think another thing which led to early demise/lack or maintenance, were the flabby rust-prone bodies. Seems pointless to change the oil in a car whose fenders are flapping in the breeze, or which you are going to retire at 100K if you live in the rust belt, because the body is falling apart- so why treat the engine in a manner which would make it last 300K miles, if it’ll be in the junkyard by 100K anyway?

          I wonder how many of these cars from the 60’s or 70’s we see today being advertised for sale “with only 40K original miles” really have 340K miles and are still running pretty good? I’d say A LOT (Either that, or people bought cars and never drove them in the past!)- Heck, when do you ever see an old car with 5-digit odometer ever having more than a few thousand miles on it?! 😉

          And finally [collective sigh of relief], even if you had to rebuild an engine in those cars…it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was much faster to dom, because the motors weren’t shoe-horned in, and covered in gobs of wires and hoses and doo-hickies and electronic components….and the engines were straight-forward and simple, so the job was literally a fraction of what is involved with doing the same today.

          And everything was serviceable- none of this “just replace the whole assembly when it wears out” BS.

          • One thing I think that contributed to longer life was a vacuum on the crankcase instead of exhausting to outside. While vacuuming oil and reintroducing it into the carb probably didn’t help things in the intake it did use that vacuum to let the internals spin easier.

            Back in the late 60’s GM had sodium filled exhaust valves on their pickup engines that contributed greatly to a longer life and when used with propane they were the only reliable engine for any length of time.

            The local electric company had a manager who threw all the business of pickups to the local Ford dealer and his brother who owned the propane business. I grew up driving pickups with propane and the Chevy’s with the sodium filled valves various people had held up and the Ford’s just had one valve job after the other. The local mechanic got rich doing valve jobs on those pickups. You’d see a bunch of pickups sitting there waiting for valve jobs. I had stopped by one day and there the mechanic had one of the propane electric company pickups in there doing a valve job with a line outside waiting. I said something to him like “Damn, those pickups aren’t worth a shit on propane…or much of anything.”. He looked up and said with a big smile “Hey, I like hell out of these pickups” and then laughed his ass off. I was proud for him too. He was a good guy and would rather be out roping and making big money in the competitions but the electric company kept him in fast horses and plenty of cash.

            Wouldn’t mind going back to those days of farm to market drag races. Run what you brung and everybody brought everything they had. I learned my road racing skills out there. Me and my best friend grew up trying to do everything Jim Hall did. We’d have done anything for a ride in a Chaparral.

            • Interesting point about the crank vacuum- I’ll bet you’re right about that! Probably helped keep sludge from building up in the corners, whether ya changed your oil or not.

              Just like the difference a pressurized oiling system vs. just slinging it can make. I bought a li’l Crapsman riding mower 11 years ago with pressurized Briggs- I abuse the heck out of it, out here, trimming up where the tractor cant go, and going across steep slopes, etc. Has just about 1000 hours on it now, and still going strong. If anything goes on the li’l rider, it’ll probably be the hydrostatic tranny- but that motor’ll probably still be good 10 years from now. Never had to do a thing to it other than maintenance.

              • Me too on the Briggs. I have an old AYP rider with the 12.5 HP I/C engine that’s seen 19 years of hard use. It still fires right up. The only tweak I ever made to it was a fuel line shutoff to keep the ethanol spiked fuel from ruining the carb during spells between mowing.

                • While our old 19 horse B&S didn’t have a long life, just dropped one of the cylinders one day, it didn’t have pressurize oiling. I don’t think the Deere we had with a Kaw engine would have ever worn out but getting it stolen we didn’t get to find out. That was a good mower, cost $3400 in 1986 money but a good machine. Now Deere’s are no better or worse I guess than any. I replaced with a Troy Bilt simply because it has a Kohler that’s pressurized and now has Amsoil synthetic and filter on it. It’s a weird thing too. When it’s been sitting a while you can crank on it till the cows come home before it finally fires but runs fine. I found you could simply crank it a few seconds, wait half a minute and the next time it would fire right away. The fuel filter isn’t clogged and it’s been removed and blown out from the delivery end and seems to be clear. I no longer will test them with my mouth, can’t tolerate the fuel fumes. Since it’s an inline filter I’m going to change it for the big marine aluminum units that screw apart for cleaning. I have no expectations of that mower being a tenth of that old Deere but didn’t see one less than $5K I thought was comparable or even close. I measured deck thickness on every brand before choosing the TB and the real selling point was hand control on the hydrostatic transmission. We keep the plastic mower in the pump house. I have no illusion it will hold up like a 30 year old Deere.

                  People always ask us why we have such a big mower, because we can’t afford a zero turn commercial mower. We mow about half or a bit less of the acres we have fenced off. This year with me being gone and a lack of rain, we had cattle in that part too so the mower didn’t get much work. That reminds me, I noticed the other day the battery is dead. Time to use the charger’s desulfate mode and recharge it and find the battery minder and hook it up.

                  • Can you guys find car oil filters for your mowers? I found out that a filter for a Chrysler 2.2 is just the ticket for my B&S -so instead of paying $10 for a “small engine filter”, I get ’em at the autoparts store for under $3. (Gotta love NAPA’s filter sale every spring, too- It really helps when I need the normally $70 hydraulic filters for my tractors! ($120 at the tractor dealer; $70 normally at NAP; $35 when NAPA’s having the sale!)

  13. Every time I see a car manufacturer brag that a model is “all new” I shudder. So much for parts for the antecedent model, which may well be gasping for them in just a few years. Major parts are still no problem for my old Mopars, but try finding some of the lesser items, particularly electrical.

    Other than Big Brother’s dictates, though, the major problem is the consumer. Always lusting for the next newest thing, always worshipping at the great god Whirl’s feet (hat tip to John Randolph of Roanoke, possibly the greatest American no one’s heard of), the consumer’s Sesame Street need for constant titillation and novelty has led to frequent turnover.

    When I asked a co-worker why she was selling her decent-condition Prism, her reply was horribly predictable: “I was bored with it.” Hell, the only reason I retired my Geo Metro with 320,000 miles on it was because my kid flipped it.

    • Hi Ross,

      It’s debt that makes it all go ’round. If people bought what could they could afford this idiocy of throwing away a perfectly sound car just because you want something “new” would be a lot less common. Also, most cars would be simpler and cheaper and less laden with electronic baubles that, while perhaps entertaining and maybe even useful to some, are also massive cost-adders that have driven the transaction price of the average new car over $30,000.

      I’m hip to Randolph!

      • A friend’s mom(high 80’s octogenarian)got stopped by this newbie Hispanice DPS for no license plate light. She said she’d never been treated so badly in her life and I don’t doubt it, he was a real smart-ass. She traded the car over that, only a couple years old Buick. I think she thought he wouldn’t recognize her in a new car.

        Another woman I know traded some car she had because she had a flat which she took as a sign for trouble on everything else, I think it was just an excuse to be in debt for something else she hadn’t had.

        A friend sold his ’93 Chevy pickup on that CFC debacle. He said it was worn out. Hell, all he did was just drive it around. He said the shocks were gone and it had some rattles. I nearly shit and told him I’d have bought it. He said it was old and worn out and I wouldn’t have wanted it. My own ’93 at the time had new shocks, a few front end parts, new doorbushings, new door gaskets and was tight as it could be. Had I not replaced those few parts it wouldn’t have been so tight but was far from rattling(probably a bad shock). People use some of the damndest excuses to trade vehicles.

        Back when CFC was about to happen a guy admitted to me that at the dealerships they were upping the prices of everything so they could ostensibly “give” you more for your clunker. Sheesh

        • When I worked in a service station in the ’70s, a lady came in with her 3 or 4 year old Volvo that she was ready to trade because of a rattle that the dealership couldn’t find.

          I checked it out for her and found that both bolts holding the rear license plate were loose. I put split rings on the bolts and tightened them down. She was furious at the dealer who had made her come back several times, but she did keep her Volvo.

  14. older semi-exotics.

    i like german cars. have driven benzes for years. last one i acquired new was a 1986 560sel. a refrigerator of a car.

    it was such a great car, that after the electronification era starting in 2000, i started acquiring pre-2000 benz coupes.

    by 2006, the last of the sacco coupes had become electronically bullet-proof. i acquired a pair[one in 2009, one in 2010], used but with a cpo warranty. cl500. cl55.

    better looking than the successor coupes. you don’t see many of these on the road these days. the local benz dealer tells me that mine are the only ones that they ever see. the service manager also tells me that they hardly see any of the successors[because they didn’t sell, i think].

    in 2010, i acquired a porsche dealer gm’s 2008 cayenne turbo with 2,100 miles. it now has 111,000 miles. religiously maintained. i would love to find a last year[2010?] of this chassis/interior with fewer miles. cannot find one. neither can my dealer. apparently those that acquired that model are not trading them in. they like them better than the newer stuff.

    and i feel the same way.

  15. Another detriment about the constant change, is that nothing has a track record anymore. Buy that new car with that new engine that just came out, and that will only be around for 3 or 4 years, if that, and you’re the guinea pig. By the time they rack-up some time and mileage, and the defects/catastrophes become apparent, a new one comes out, and the process repeats all over again. So anything you buy now, you’re just rolling the dice. No more 10 years of reliable service to assure you that it’s reliable; no more long-term supply of parts, etc.

  16. I was hesitant when I bought my 2012 Challenger RT because of all of the electronics. As new cars go, the pre-2015 Challengers are fairly simple machines as many parts interchange with other Chrysler vehicles….but they are still far too complicated. I’d much prefer an early 70s vintage, but those are all priced well above my bank account balances. I also wanted to get one before V8 muscle cars,and V8s in general, become myth and whispered rumors.

  17. Earlier in this century when i was still working as a graphic designer I interviewed a number of times with Navistar (better known as International). The reason I interviewed more then once was because I had applied for all their art department openings. Turns out one of the jobs was with the new truck division, the other with the parts division. They had separate marketing (and art) departments. Never ended up working there, probably would have been interesting.

    I was amazed to see the parts division was the much bigger and much more profitable part of the business. I think at the time it was about three times bigger. They were still selling parts for pretty old trucks too. So parts were (and probably still are) a very important part of their business. Granted, repairing more expensive, heavy, revenue generating trucks makes more economic sense then personal cars, but screwing up the replacement parts business (both new and used parts) isn’t going to wonders for good jobs.

    • rich, never fear, China’s here. Peterbilt, KW, Navistar, all China made parts. I replaced a parking valve set on a KW that was violent in engaging, enough to sting your fingers when you pulled it. Sometimes I’d wrap a rubber snubber around one of the knobs to keep from getting stung when it popped out. It was crazy how it did it and one day part of the red knob broke off just from the impact of stopping and being sorry plastic. It’s the first knob I ever saw broken and I’ve driven countless trucks of all makes since I was a kid. I don’t recall ever seeing a made in China Volvo part though. Volvo’s are good trucks but they’re nanny trucks with just a minimum of gauges and lots of idiot lights.

  18. It won’t be too much longer until all car parts made in the United Corporations of America will interchange.

    Valhalla here we come.

  19. The main reason my dad was a Chevy man back in the day was that the parts were so interchangeable. Need a Turbo 350 tranny? Cool, you can get one from a ’78 GMC or a ’69 Camaro, it would fit. You could pair it with a 350, 327, 305. Now? Every sub-model is specific and varies year to year. Scarcity of parts drive up the price. Good for automakers, good for parts houses, bad for the rest of us. Planned obsolescence is nothing more than cutting off your nose to spite your face.

  20. The other issue is all the tight integration. Instead of a stereo that can be swapped out, you now have a “vehicle management system” that controls everything. So if you want navigation, you can get it from the factory or use your phone. If you don’t like crappy Bose speakers, but like the vehicle otherwise, too bad. And your aftermarket Pioneer or Blaupunkt head unit, even if it did fit, won’t work because it can’t talk to all the other stuff in the vehicle.

    Not to mention it is getting harder and harder to mount things like amplifiers and CB/communications radios because of all the airbags and super-thin rear decks, back seats in trucks and the factory using the space under the seats for their stuff.

    • Eric_G, I didn’t realize the whole damned pickup on the 2000 Z 71 I bought was dependent on that “entertainment center” or I would have passed. Part of the entertainment are the various lights in the dash that let you know the ABS isn’t working, the fuel tank you just topped off is empty, the crankcase oil you just changed is low and various other creative problems exist. At least the damned seat belt chime doesn’t stay on and if it does ding when you drive without being belted, it does so only for a few dings and the great thing is it doesn’t always ding, a sure sign the entire system is agly.(screw you spellcheck, agly is a word) Now I find out those entire displays are prone to having the solder points break so changing out all those sensors would just cost money.

      Anybody know of a good OBD ll diagnostic meter?

      • i use a blue tooth module that stays plugged into my ODBII interface. it is from ODB Solutions. I have the ODBLink LX because I have a Dodge Ram 1500 Truck.

        You’d probably need the ODBLink MX Bluetooth because it has software that caters to GM products. Either unit will talk to a smart phone. I use that to monitor all the sensors real time as the Android app allows that. I also found it quire reasonable price wise.

        You can check them out here:

        http://www.obdlink.com/mxbt/

        David Ward
        Memphis, Tennessee

        • P.S. they also have a unit that is wireless so it can be accessed via a smart phone via local wireless or desktop Personal Computer via any wireless network.

          David Ward
          Memphis, Tennessee

  21. This is one of the reason I purchased an ’03 Mk4 Jetta – although it was only sold from ’99-’03 in the US, the same basic Mk4 is still being made for China and other markets. When I was shopping for new lower control arm bushings, I found new pairs of lower control arms with new bushings go for under $90. New from a VW dealer master power window switch (controls all windows an doors locks) was $40. The car is usually simple to work on, parts are straight forward enough to repair half the time (if you want), and there are so many DYI pages and videos out there for the Mk4 that it’s one of the most economical cars out there.

    • Hi Michael,

      Yup. I like my ’02 Frontier for the same reason. Many shared mechanicals with the older not-named “truck” and they are all very durable and very simple for a modern vehicle.

      I would not buy anything made after about 2005.

      That’s not an absolute cut-off, but it’s around the time things began to go batshit.

    • Sorry – I pulled up a dated page concerning the build. The last year of production for the Mk4 Jetta was 2015. Still, 16 years is not a bad run nowadays.

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