Hidden In Plain Sight… With Low, Low Monthly Payments

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If people could not or did not finance new cars, new car “sales” would probably drop by 75 percent – and two-thirds of the currently-in-business car companies would probably be out of business.

What does this tell us?

First, the current “market” is an artificially created and very abnormal one – like Frankenstein’s monster and just as destructive. It is not a coincidence that the explosion in brands – and the geometric increase in the number of individual models sold by each brand – coincides precisely with the rise in easy credit made possible by no-cost (or next-to-no-cost) money (i.e., interest) and loans stretched out over 5-6 years.

It was not all that long ago that the typical new car loan was just three or four years.

But perhaps the most insidious aspect of the flim-flam is the way it hides the cost of government mandates and regulations from the eyes (and thoughts) of the typical American – making them seem “affordable.”

Or at least, we don’t notice how unaffordable they’ve made new cars.

It’s really quite brilliant, in a Dr. Evil kind of way – like withholding. Many workers never actually have to send the government a check, because the money’s already been taken before they ever even get to touch it. Similarly, long-range financing and low interest on that long-range financing makes the bloated MSRP sticker price of the typical new car seem more manageable because the payments are broken down into monthly chunks. It is no accident that car salesmen are trained to get the buyer to focus on the monthly payment – not the actual sticker price of the car itself. They will ask, “How much can you afford to pay per month” – knowing that, say, $400 goes down a lot easier than $40,000.

Since most Americans are innumerate as well as impulsive and thoroughly conditioned Consumerists, it’s no hard sell to get them to sign up.

And that is what makes possible the shoving-under-the-proverbial-rug of things like the federal “passive restraint” mandate that gave us the now-common 4-6 (or more) air bags that every new car has and which add – according to most estimates – about $2,000 to the bottom like cost of each and every one of those new cars. Ditto the Fed’s “clean diesel” mandates that have jacked up the sticker prices of vehicles with otherwise-efficient diesel engines by 20 percent. There is a literal laundry list of such mandates, ranging from the minor to the major – but each costs something and those costs are all folded into the price of the car.

Now, if it weren’t for extended-range payment plans, the cost of all this rigmarole would be much more obvious – and offensive – to consumers. More to the point, it would be obviously unaffordable.

Instead of that $400 per month payment on the $40,000 car – spread out over 5-6 years to ease the financial burden in the perception of the well-marinated Consumerist – said Consumerist would be staring at $600 or maybe $800 a month for the same vehicle, scrunched down into a three or four-year payment plan.

And that, in turn, would make it much harder for the government to continue blithely imposing its mandates – costs – onto the backs of consumers, because consumers would simply stop buying cars and the wheels of industry would cease to turn.

And we can’t have that.

Thus, the pyramid scam goes on. The regulatory burdens increase and with them, the cost of the end product. “Finance” greases the skids by making it all seem affordable when it’s really not – and the Dumbos keep signing up for payment-in-perpetuity and wonder why they’re perpetually broke.

The tragedy is we’re still in control and could throw the proverbial switch overnight and then “change” – the real thing – would come. If even 20 percent of people who currently finance new car purchases on the 5-6 year plan chose instead to buy a lower-cost used car outright, with cash money, it’d impose some much-needed financial discipline not just on the car industry – which supinely accepts and often loudly amens every new federal “safety” (and “emissions”) mandate proposed by non-engineer, know-nothing bloviating politicians – but it would also put a crimp on this disastrous living-beyond-our-means train-wreck-in-the-making that is modern America.

Throw it in the Woods?

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49 COMMENTS

  1. Let me tell you about the car of my dreams:

    A 1997 (I would probably enjoy a later model year, but emissions standards for my locale mean that 1998 and newer models must pass a dynamometer test AND an OBD test) Mk III Volkswagen Jetta. The CL model, with the 1.8 liter engine and 5 speed manual transmission. One with a sound and un-compromised body. The condition of the engine and transmission are not so important, as I’m fully capable (having the tools and experience) of overhauling both. The car is solid, well made, and is capable of efficiency approaching 30 MPG. The engines on the Mk III models are known for durability; it is not unheard-of for these engines to run 300,000 KM or more before a complete overhaul is necessary.

    The CL model is fairly rare…but can be had in the market for 3000$ Cdn. I am presently driving the Mk III 1997 VW Golf…which is why I’m looking to “upgrade” to the Jetta. The Golf is a very fine little vehicle…but I’m a big guy, and the Jetta is a bit more roomy than the Golf.

  2. I grew up being around the business with my Dad being a salesman at Wallace Chevrolet ( brought home a brand new Yenko Nova and took my friends and I down the dragstrip at Englishtown once ), then sanding cars down as a kid in the back of Wallace Chevrolet in Linden NJ to finally owning my own small used car business. I also sold cars at several new car dealerships and was Corvette King at Wallace in Linden for a short spell before moving on. I loved the car business.

    I remember the leasing guy in the dealerships always seemed a little lonely with few interested in such a thing. I also remember there was a certain sector of the population who were only interested in “how much is this gonna cost me a month” and the response was usually ” if I can get the payments down to that per month will you buy it” ?

    My question is, now that renting, er, leasing is THE thing to do. What are the percentages of people who rent/lease as opposed to buying?

    Rgrds
    Tom

  3. My last car was a Geo Metro hatchback (Chevy Metro, Suzuki Swift) that I bought used, 2-1/2 years old, with 40K on it for $2700. I had that car for ten years. I’d still be driving it if our Pennsylvania winter road salt had not eaten it alive. It had a 3 cylinder engine, a stick shift, 2 air bags, an AM/FM radio and not much else – no power steering or brakes, and no air conditioning. But it did get 40 to 50 mpg and would cruise at 65 to 70 mph all day long. I’d buy another car like that in a heartbeat even now, if such cars were ever offered again in the US. Too bad they probably never will be.

    • I think they will, actually. Our current system is not sustainable. I don’t say that because I’m happy about it; I say that because it is what it is. Debt-financed consumerism can’t continue – let alone expand – when the middle and working classes’ earning power/net worth is stagnating or declining, as it has been for at least a decade now. People with $40k annual incomes spending $40k on a vehicle (plus all the related expenses such as high-cost insurance, property taxes where applicable and the high cost of repairing a modern car when it breaks) worked (if you can call it that) when things like home-equity-fueled credit expansion made it possible to float the monthly payments. That’s gone.

      Now gas is back to $4 per gallon, too. Yes, it will probably go down some – but will it return to a manageable $2 or so? Or will we be grateful for $3.20 and think that’s a “deal”?

      Bottom line: Circumstances are causing more and more people to rethink the wisdom of spending $30k (or even $20k) to get from “a” to “b.” It’ll be interesting to see how models like the Fiat 500 do when they arrive later this summer…

      • The problem is that the central bank and the welfare/warfare state that it has brought about is making us all poorer. Gasoline is at early 60s prices if paid for with early 60s coins.

        • If only we had early ’60s coins!

          Another aspect of the Fed that bothers me is that it assaults saving while almost forcing people to become speculators (i.e., play the stock market by “investing”) because if you merely put aside your money, it is worth less and less as time goes by. It’s like trying to hold water in a sieve. This, in turn, forces people to keep on earning “income” (to be taxed), so that people can never reach the finish line (so to speak) but instead spend their lives grubbing for money, so that grubbing for money itself becomes the main purpose of life, not the means of paying for it.

          • Hear, hear, to both BrentP & eric!

            If we want to truly strike at the root, we should all be after the One True Evil that enables tyranny and enslaves us all–THE FEDERAL RESERVE which is neither Federal nor has reserves.

            Central banking is a cunning method of enslaving entire populations without their knowledge…and wrecking their civilization in the process.

            I look forward to the coming banking crises because we’ll hopefully return to a hard-money system, which is the key to liberty and prosperity.

  4. BUT I suspect that most new cars are NOT bought for transportation because there is nothing wrong with the car being traded in. In the US new cars are bought for social social status.

    • Hi Bill,

      Excellent point. The status thing has become as out-of-control as the American Empire. It’s one thing to buy a 911 and actually use the thing’s capabilities. It’s something else to buy the currently typical 300-400 hp “luxury-sport” (sedan/crossover – whatever) and drive it the same as a blue-hair in an ’86 Buick. Most of these people would never know the difference if someone did replace the direct-injected, variable-cammed wonder under the hood with the ’87 Buick’s mill. So long as they’ve got ‘dem 20 inch ree-uhms (and the $50k price tag dangling from the fender like Miss Maybell’s hat from Laugh in) they’re happy.

      Ghetto culcha – garish public boastfulness about money and status – has taken over the mainstream.

  5. I think a more accurate loan amount for 40,000$ would be about 800$ a month give or take. Also, as I recall in a decent dealership maybe less than 5% of new cars are payed for in cash, while maybe less than 10% of used cars are purchased outright.

  6. “Working on a modern car isn’t any more difficult, just different”

    Brent, I happened to be at a GM dealership and learned two things; I will never buy a FWD car (OK I already knew that one) and I will likely not buy any modern car unless it has a lifetime warranty:

    At the parts desk I heard the following “Well Mam, it’s $1100 labor just to remove the transmission” and “That ABS control module is $578.” I can get the transmission out of Eric’s TA in less than two hours with nothing but hand tools. For $578 I can replace every part of the brakes on my Tacoma with brand new stuff, including the lines. You said this person would just “go without ABS.” Really? How will he get his “safety” inspection with all those idiot lights lit up on the dash?

    Back in the garage I walked under a nearly brand new GMC Acadia up on a lift. The entire drive train, front suspension, and subframe were on the floor (they had been removed from beneath). The heads were removed. I asked the tech what they were doing to it, “Head gasket?” “New lifters” he says. I asked “Why didn’t you just pull the heads from the top, why drop it?” “Oh you can’t get to anything on top.” he replies while pointing at the large engine sized indention in the firewall. Perplexed, I say, “It’s brand new, why does it need new lifters already?” His answer was, “Well it’s direct injection, and people don’t take care of it right.”

    When I got home I tried to find the relationship between DI and lifters that would cause them to fail and what kind of “care” is required to prevent this disaster but thus far have been unsuccessful.

    So what happens to this car when its $43K value has dropped to 4 or 5 and its been purchased by a family of moderate means whose method of dealing with car repairs is Dad and his brother-in-law JimBob in the driveway with hand tools? Do ya think AutoZone will have a $20k lift in the loan-a-tool program? Does JimBob have 20K for the deposit?

    Different indeed.

    • Angry’s spot on. I can (and have) pulled the transmission out of my Trans-Am in under two hours with basic hand tools. And I mean basic. 9/16 box wrench to remove the torque converter to flywheel bolts and bellhousing to transmission case bolts. Remove the driveshaft; support tranny with a floor jack and remove the rear mount/crossbar… slide the tranny back and lower… done!

      He also makes a great point about “safety” and “emissions” equipment. In my state, at least, it is the law that the car’s mandatory safety equipment – the stuff it came with originally – be operational. If not, you don’t pass state safety inspection – and can’t legally register or drive the car. If the “check engine” (emissions) light is on, the car fails inspection and cannot be registered or driven.

      Pre-computer cars don’t have to worry about that.

      Also, I would not want to be driving a 20-plus year old “modern” car with air bags that could develop a fault and go off unexpectedly. I like to read the owner’s manuals of the new cars I test drive and in doing so came across something interesting. Several warn that the air bags must be replaced at a certain mileage/time interval. Note: Not “checked.” Replaced. This is a $2,000 job (or more). And bet your bippie they include the warning to cover their asses against future liability claims arising from unexpected air bag deployments.

      No thanks, man.

      And again – you can’t just disconnect ’em. The “check SRS” light will come on – and then you fail inspection, just as an older car would that had its seatbelts cut out.

      • Yep I wonder about my airbag sometimes and what would happen if (when) it malfunctions and my steering wheel explodes while traveling 70MPH. And remember how ABS works; it cuts pressure to the locked wheel, and now that the (soon to be mandatory) “stability control” systems are tied to it a malfunction becomes all the more likely and you could find yourself without brakes because the nanny mistakenly thinks one or more wheels are locked. Of course that is at some point far in the future when the vehicle has depreciated to the point where it is driven by poor folks who couldn’t afford to do anything about the idiot lights when they came on 11 months before hand.

        Let them eat cake!

        • Well I just registered as PBF, I was AngryOldMan. Avatar doesn’t seem to work, and the forum hates my login…

          • The forum is a separate piece than this blog area. Uses a completely different database. Do you want to email me the avatar and I’ll try?

        • Well, Clover one of them is – my 1983 Honda GL650. Technically it’s an early ’80s model, however the CX/GL series was introduced in 1978 and the ’83 is nearly identical to the ’78. (Main difference being the ’83 GL has shaft vs. chain drive and a mono-shock rear vs. twin shocks; but the V-twin engine is identical.)

          Carburetors; no computer. Simple layout. The bike is as reliable as any new model – and much easier to diagnose/fix when something’s not working right (especially when you’re on the road and don’t have access to full array of shop equipment). Dirt cheap, too. You can buy a low-miles bike like mine for less than $2,500 and it will give you better fuel economy than a $30,000 Prius.

          I ride mine all the time; not every day – but several times each week. I have no fears or hesitation about taking it anywhere and routinely go on long (70 mile-plus) rides.

          I could also drive my ’76 TA every day, in terms of driveability/reliability. I don’t, because it’s a low-mileage show car and I want to keep it that way. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t drive it every day if I wanted to.

          A better example of an older vehicle that could be driven every day is something like an early ’70s Ford F-100/F150 pick-up or Jeep CJ. Upgraded with an overdrive transmission, such as vehicle would function very much like a modern pick-up/SUV, but it’d be much less expensive to buy/operate, as well as easier/cheaper to keep up for a person with basic mechanical aptitude and common hand tools.

    • Eric, I noticed it was up. Glad you like it. If get away from these discussions perhaps I’ll write more. 🙂

      I drove carburetored cars as my primary transportation for many years. I’ve rebuilt carbs. On two particular cars I got to the point where I could adjust the carb by feel. I know them quite well. Carbs however cannot make the fine adjustments that computer controlled FI does. These fine adjustments lead to longer life as the engine is always running optimally. O2 sensors and others allow the management system to adjust to the fuel on the fly. Some grand conspiracy is not the reason they aren’t used any longer. I am sure carbs seem fine in nicer climates than the one I am in, but I don’t miss messing around in sub zero (F) weather with the mixture scew and idle because its so cold that even my winter adjustment no longer applies. I like having a computer that does all that for me.

      I could build my ’73 maverick into a modern car killer too… but like your trans-am it would become a beast to deal with on a daily basis. For those that don’t know, mavericks are essentially mechanically identical to early mustangs. There is a vast pile of parts out there to achieve that with. Another thing is that you valuing your labor to do all of this, engine rebuilds, transmission replacements, suspension upgrades, etc and so on at zero. My ’97 I totally replaced and somewhat upgraded the suspension because I wore it out. I lost track of what I spent but it was probably over a grand and it took a considerable amount of my time. If I were to value my time appropriately, it was a loosing effort. But I enjoy doing it for the most part, and it appears you enjoy the work as well, but everyone isn’t like us. Most people don’t know how to fix/replace so much as a lawnmower engine let alone enjoy doing it. They don’t consider this a valuable way to spend their weekend. You are paying, in your time with the old car or the old technology. It’s cheap in dollars, but not time.

      When I was in my early 20s I had the same opinion as you… old cars are fine. Why pay all that money… I wouldn’t even consider a car built after 1975. Then I started working for a living instead of having a graduate student stipend and having all the time in the world. Now I had money but not the time.

      What makes some cars a pain to get at stuff is FWD. A modern RWD car is as easy to work on as the old ones in that regard. Sure the 4.6 SOHC is kinda stuffed in to the SN95 so some things are difficult to get at but that’s no different than 428 or 429 stuffed into a ’69. Formalized knowledge? Special tools? Not any more or less. Just different. We weren’t born knowing how to adjust carburetors. There’s a lot of knowledge needed on an old car. You have to diagnosis on systems, you have to know a causes b, because of c. OBD2 and the manuals that describe the codes and why they are set gives a wealth of knowledge to figure out what’s gone wrong.

      Parts sharing hasn’t gone away… it’s gotten better. Now parts are shared across makers. Your GM car might share the part with or Ford or a Honda.

      Breaking down of parts? Well… I know that well… from my old cars. Coatings, rubber, plastic, etc and so on start to break down. These materials are just as vital to the health of a ’70 as they are to a 2010. Now that my ’97 has crossed into the breakdown zone, I vote modern again. The plastics and rubber materials are much better. I’ve had the plastic bushings in the distributor fail on my ’73. Distributor ceased to function. As I posted earlier, just to have a shot the old cars would need to be redone with modern materials where appropriate.

      Restored early 80s cars… you’re talking dark ages vehicles here so there isn’t going to be much popularity. But I’ve seen/heard of them. I’ve seen various 80s mustang projects. 80s mustangs are just starting to get reproduction parts. On the GM side I think the support is going to the Buick GNs. And it seems building KITT replicas is something people do. This is appropriate, because the battle in the 80s was 5.0 Mustang vs. Buick GN. The void… the area where a car is just old and the factory support is gone and the aftermarket hasn’t bothered yet is apparently getting wider as cars last longer. This leaves factory restorations not economically viable. Imagine it’s 1978 and you have a ’68 Firebird that needs work. Factory restoration? HA. Pretty much nobody restored then… they kept original or modified.

      AngryOldMan… you are comparing what a dealer charges vs. what you can do on your own. Dealers are expensive. Period. If I brought my ’73 Ford to the dealer and asked them to replace the clutch dollars to doughnuts they would charge me they did for my ’97. (throwout bearing gave up in winter, as do all the large repairs on my cars, and since I don’t consider dropping a transmission in the cold to be a fun way to spend a weekend I take the car to someone) Modern apples to old apples. Not modern oranges to old apples. What do you think replacing the transmission on an olds toronado is like? I bet it sucks as much as a modern FWD car, maybe more.

      Safety inspection? That’s a government scam. One of the few Illinois doesn’t have. BTW, remove the bulb.

      GMC Acadia: The DI thing sounds like muffler bearing BS to me. As to pulling the engine… sounds like a design issue or a tech time issue, something some old cars had too. Some old cars had stupid service needs too like pulling the engine to replace the back to spark plugs. Or perhaps a tech would do something that would be insane for a shade tree mechanic because it was faster for him with the equipment he had at his disposal. There are examples of this throughout the age of the automobile. Then again, on some vehicles it’s very fast to drop that subframe so long as you have a lift. Early 90s saturns are what I am thinking of here. Was an SAE project car I got familiar with.

      BTW, home lifts are quite affordable these days. I need to buy one. 🙂

      Eric and AOM, airbags that go off on their own… falling off steering wheels… we both know that if we are going to argue rare failures we might as well discuss exploding pinto fuel tanks and countless other such faults of the old designs. We all know that they existed but romantically ignore them. We also don’t consider the old special tools all that special any more. Things like engine analyzer boxes, timing lights, special tools for OHV valve work, differential work, etc and so on. Oh how about that old special GM lock plate remover to work on a steering column? (I made my own for that). The first special automotive tool was probably made just before the first car.

      • Np!

        Ok, back to the back and forth…

        You write:

        “Carbs however cannot make the fine adjustments that computer controlled FI does. These fine adjustments lead to longer life as the engine is always running optimally. O2 sensors and others allow the management system to adjust to the fuel on the fly.”

        True. When everything – including the O2 sensors – works. When an O2 sesor goes bad or some other fault develops, the system goes into open loop and so is no longer running optimally. Just like a carb in need of adjustment. Except the FI system’s “adjustment” may involve replacing $70 (or more) a piece 02 sensors (some new cars have four of these) while the carb can be fixed – usually – with hand tools and some spray cleaner.

        You write:

        “Some grand conspiracy is not the reason they aren’t used any longer.”

        I agree. I don’t think I ever suggested otherwise. FI is here because of the need for automakers to comply with federal emissions and fuel economy requirements. Carbs are not as efficient – and as you say, they can’t be fine-tuned as precisely. But FI is much more expensive than a carb to the consumer – which was my main point/objection.

        You write:

        “I could build my ’73 maverick into a modern car killer too… but like your trans-am it would become a beast to deal with on a daily basis.”

        Why? My TA has a mild hydraulic cam and is extremely docile. A huge V-8 like that (455) can make a lot of power without going crazy. I could drive my TA every day if I wanted to. I don’t because it’s a low-mileage collectible car. But something like your Maverick? Hell, I built one of those – a Grabber clone – a few years back. Mild 302 with the three-speed auto, no headers (damn hard on the Mav) but duals. Pulled plenty of vacuum to run power brakes and AC. My buddy drove that car as an everyday commuter in Northern Va/DC – about as tough a driving environment as you can imagine short of Bangladesh.

        You write:

        “Most people don’t know how to fix/replace so much as a lawnmower engine let alone enjoy doing it. They don’t consider this a valuable way to spend their weekend. You are paying, in your time with the old car or the old technology. It’s cheap in dollars, but not time.”

        Yes, true. But the difference is in the past basic maintenance and even more involved stuff was still within the realm of the backyard mechanic. As Angry pointed out, a person of modest means maybe had an Uncle or son or someone he knew who could fix the car … or he could learn to do the basic stuff himself. And because the drivetrains were so much less complex, even major jobs such as a tear-down/rebuild where not that technically involved. That is gone today. Pulling codes and replacing parts is what even some dealer techs do nowadays. Because even they have no real understanding of the “ghost in the machine.” The fact is – and I say this based on actual conversation I have had with engineers and designers working for the major automakers – cars are reaching a point of complexity that almost requires an advanced degree to understand. And people with advanced degrees tend not to want to work as mechanics. The cars are moving toward “sealed hood” – other than some very basic maintenance, they run for “x” time/mileage interval and then get recycled. That is where we are headed. From the horses’ mouth – people on the inside, doing the designing. No kidding.

        You write:

        “Restored early 80s cars… you’re talking dark ages vehicles here so there isn’t going to be much popularity.”

        Really? As compared with the mid-late ’70s, say – when a Z28 was making 185 hp? Yet mid-late ’70s cars like the Z28 (and Trans-Am) and many others are desirable collectibles. How come something like an ’85 Z28 with the L69 HO (190 hp) V-8 and five-speed stick isn’t? Or the even more powerful TPI cars that followed? These were hugely popular during the ’80s; just as second gen. Camaros and Firebirds had been previously. But unlike the earlier (pre-computer) Camaros and Firebirds, the “modern” (computer-controlled) models are just too expensive (because too complex) to restore. And unlike the older models, they’ll never be inexpensive – or at least, affordable – to restore. It is not cost prohibitive to do a full mechanical restoration of, say, a 1977 Z-28. Redoing its 350 V-8 might cost $3,000 or so – and that’s paying someone to do the work. I’m talking about rebuilding the entire engine – as well as the fuel/ignition systems along with it. You could easily spend that much on just the electronic components (sensors, computer, wiring) in the mid-’80s version, without even touching the engine itself.

        Consider the difference in cost/complexity of the exhaust system of an early ’70s car vs. a current year car:

        Replacing the entire system from the manifolds back involved, what? Some 2-2-1/4-inch tube and a muffler. A lot of times you could literally bolt these pieces on and even if you did need to weld, it was usually very simple welding.

        The current year car? Multiple O2 sensors; two (or even four) catalytic converters; these parts alone can cost $500 or more – more than the cost of replacing the entire exhaust on the car above – before you even add in the exhaust pipes/muffler and install work. Have you checked out the price of a set of headers for a new Camaro?
        Compared them to the cost of a set for, say, a ’77 Z28?

        Other systems are similar. Ignition, for example. The ’77 Camaro has a stand-alone HEI; the unit itself plus the integral coil and so on. Cost for a brand-new replacement? About $300. How much is coil-on-plug (eight separate coils) ignition in the current Camaro? And then all the other related parts…

        You write:

        “AngryOldMan… you are comparing what a dealer charges vs. what you can do on your own. Dealers are expensive. Period. ”

        True – but the difference is that with the typical modern car you have no real choice. As Angry points out, very few people can pull a drivetrain out (from underneath)… but with the typical front-engine/RWD car of the ’60s, ’70s transmission removal was within the reach of anyone with some basic mechanical aptitude in possession of some hand tools and a floor jack. (You mention the FWD Toronado. True. But, again, that was the exception – not the rule. The reverse is true today.)

        You write:

        “Safety inspection? That’s a government scam. One of the few Illinois doesn’t have. BTW, remove the bulb.”

        Absolutely. But that doesn’t alter the fact that it is the law and if you fail the inspection you cannot legally register – and thus, drive – the car. Removing the bulb doesn’t work – if the inspector is doing his job. They are supposed to check the car to see that the indicators illuminate at start-up and then go out. Plus, with OBD, the “trouble code” will be noticed immediately by the diagnostic computer your car is hooked up to during the inspection.

        • And in Texas when the station hooks up to OBD it now goes to a state database, you pay, and then you cannot go to another station like we used to do. The state is immediately notified of what’s wrong with your car and you have 10 days to fix it. They haven’t yet started sending the SS around to steal your car when you don’t comply but I can see that coming.

          • We have the same in Virginia.

            The only way out is to buy a pre-OBD car.

            You made a great point about the burden that compliance costs impose on people of modest means. In the past, if the car had a tired engine that maybe smoked a little, you could still legally register/drive it. Now, if you fail inspection – which can happen over a trivial/minute uptick in emissions output – you’re screwed. Fix the car or drive with invalid/expired tags and registration and hope the cops don’t spot you. VA does (or did) have a waiver provision after you spent”x” amount of money trying to get the car to pass, but I’m not sure whether that’s still in effect and I am sure the amount of money you have to spend first is considerable.

            The worst part, though, is the “safety” crap. You can make a reasonable argument that emissions output affects the so-called commons; i.e., we all have to breath the air. But air bags? If the bags in my car don’t work the only potential victim is me. Therefore, it’s not – or ought not to be – a public (legal) issue.

            Of course, the Clovers don’t see things this way.

          • Just wanted a list of associated BS:

            – insurance
            – state inspection
            – registration
            – property tax
            – gas tax
            – county sticker
            – emissions inspection

            Did I miss anything?

        • Sensors:
          When the sensors work… when will they not? In over 195,000 miles of driving the O2 sensor bliped the MIL once. I reset the MIL and it never came back. That was years ago. I have another OBD2 car, a little 4 cylinder FWD car. Has over 108K on it. I know the car’s entire history. The only time the MIL has ever come on with this car was an ignition fault covered under warranty. Weak coil or something of that sort as I recall. It was nothing that couldn’t happen to a stone age automobile. You keep referring to these horrible breakdowns that supposedly happen to modern cars. I haven’t experienced them. The worst was the diff ring gear losing a couple teeth on that little four cylinder car… and that’s a gear, stone age cars have those problems too. My parent’s cars have been somewhat more problematic, but I’m looking at another 400K miles there and that’s where I can find an intermittent O2 sensor issue. Oh I forgot… I had to replace the O2 sensor on the ’82 olds with the computer controlled quadrajet well after it rolled it’s odo over.

          If I put all the O2 sensors issues together they don’t add up to the carb rebuilds and screwing around getting the mixture set up right.

          Fuel Injection:
          FI to meet federal emissions and CAFE? That means that our overlords are driving technology and thus responsible for the advancements. This is one of the arguments they use to justify further regulation of our lives. Modern FI was driven by the marketplace. Far more primitive systems can meet current federal regs if that were really desired. The new CAFE doesn’t come into play for another year or more. Last step up was 1985. If anything it is to produce the larger and/or more powerful vehicles the market demands while living under CAFE. Or it could be just to produce larger and powerful vehicles without resorting to seven liter V8s. I simply reject that our rulers are driving our technology. Our technology is driven in spite of their rule. They want us all in tiny crappy cars or not in cars at all.

          This argument is like, why don’t we all use vacuum tube computers instead of these new fangled micro-chips. The vacuum tube computers can withstand an EMP and keep going… they can be serviced easily by replacing tubes every hour. And so on…

          Restomodding:
          Driving a powerful old car every day with a heavy clutch and a lopping cam? 400hp (net not gross) old fashioned carb’d horsepower isn’t exactly a streetable situation as some of your articles have clearly pointed out. And it’s not just because of 14 inch wheels. Sure the suspensions can be made to handle well, but it comes at a cost to comfort and all weather usefulness. DC? Where the whole the place shuts down for a little snow…..

          Do it yourself repair:
          There’s nothing special about modern cars that regular people can’t fix them. Back in the day that uncle knew how a bimetal spring worked in a choke. If you can understand that and the basics of fuel-air-spark-vacuum that it took to repair cars that couldn’t tell you what was wrong with them you can repair modern cars. The problem in car repair is too many people relying on the car to tell them what is wrong with them and not understanding how it works if anything.

          There is nothing about a major teardown that really changes with the technology. So there are few solenoids to check/remove/install in an auto trans rebuild… that’s not a big deal. Solenoids have been used for starter relays and starter engagement back into the 1930s. So now they are in the transmission and the fuel system (a fuel injector is a solenoid)… what’s the big deal? Same principle, apply current, get linear movement. I have to adjust a solenoid just to set idle on the carb of my ’73.

          As an engineer I can safely say you’re taking the wrong message. When they say understand, they mean UNDERSTAND. Down to levels that aren’t necessary for repair. As to the intelligence level of mechanics well many could barely get by in the carb days. An intelligent, skilled, and honest mechanic was always a rare find.

          I’ve been going to self serve junk yards for 20 years. There are many people of lesser economic means that can fix their computer controlled cars themselves. Do it yourself repair hasn’t gone away by any means. Judging by the junkyard business I say it’s grown because of the expense of professional repair.

          Restoration:
          Except that 80s cars are being restored, just not the ones you think should be restored. The fox body mustang reproduction parts are coming on the market pretty regular these days. The ones picked from the 70s are few and I am sure you know that. I remember the 80s and early 90s where getting parts for 70s cars, especially the ones that were a bit odd was rather difficult.

          Replace all the electronics? Why on earth would you need to do that? I’ve never seen a car that needed it. I fail to see what is so complex about an 80s car that would make it expensive to restore. An engine rebuild doesn’t generally touch the electronics. It doesn’t need to. I am arguing against the absurd here. I should counter with the absurd proposition of restoring totally rusted out old cars before the body’s started getting reproduced. And even today it’s absurdly expensive. But that isn’t so absurd because rust is a major problem for them while electronics failure requiring total replacement is not a major problem for 80s cars. It just doesn’t happen in any significant way. Unless we are going to start saying a ignition module is a huge expensive pain in the ass compared to setting points (with the special tools required to do it)

          Exhaust system? Your ’76 should have a cat unless it’s been removed. An air pump and whole host of 70s add on emissions systems that are very expensive to replace. The solution was of course to remove them and not replace them. (lots of people threw them out in the 70s which makes it all that more expensive) And guess what, people do that with modern stuff too. MIL eliminators are even sold so people can do that. Remove the cats, fake the signal from the aft O2 sensors. It’s a simple resistor. If you can understand how a blower motor works in an ancient car you can understand how to fakeout the computer of a modern one.

          All these modern systems work on very simple principles which have existed for decades upon decades. Someone who actually understood the function, the principles of a 1956 Chevy would have no problem with a modern car if he had the same willingness to apply himself to a 2011 Chevy that he did to reach that understanding of the ’56.

          Dealer repair:
          No choice? Not in my experience. Not even close. Transmission removal/rebuild outside do it yourself? Please go read some the forums of FWD cars. When my little FWD car had the diff problem I found a wealth of information on that transmission in forums specific to that car. Some of these guys took the trans in and out like it was no big deal… and it really isn’t if you don’t have to do it in a chicago winter. \

          Inspections/etc

          It seems your concern is that someone can no longer kludge together an ill-running car and pass. How are you going to fool IM240 with your carb’d car? You’re relying on the age exemptions and low-low standards on the state level not to repair the car properly. OBD2 is very powerful for the do it yourselfer. With some simple software it’s possible to get information of usefulness that required very expensive shop equipment to obtain from a 70’s car.

          PreciousBodilyFluids:
          SSTs? I should show you my ‘70s shop manuals. They aren’t slacking in special tools either. You do the same with a modern car as you did with those old ones. You make a tool, you work around it, you buy some generic version there of and make due.

          On the acadia topic, bad design or design for manufacturing being above design for service has been going on since cars were first built. If you want to blame anyone here, blame the central bank that is making us all poorer or the inflated UAW wages so that such things are necessary.

      • “you are comparing what a dealer charges vs. what you can do on your own.”

        No, my point was that some people will not, or can not, pay to have someone else work on their vehicle, and that we are moving to a world where there is no choice. My question, “What happens to this car?” was really meant to be, “What happens to this family?” The dealer is charging for time, and $1100 at a place with access to every SST called for is going to translate to about two weeks in the driveway for Dad and JimBob. And yes they will do it no matter how cold or hot it is because they have no other choice.

        The Acadia was no doubt very cheap and easy to put together in the factory, it was obvious that I was looking at a single unit which once outside the car was very easy to assemble, and then the car was lowered onto it. But what they have done here is like buying a huge refrigerator first, and then building a house around it that has doors to small to get the thing out when it breaks. So to replace the fridge you must tear down the house. It is in effect a $40K + disposable appliance. Bad idea.

        The dealer in question has been around for almost 100 years and is currently owned by the fifth generation of this family. They are HUGE. They didn’t get that way by selling muffler bearings.

        My ’70 Mach1 with a 351 Cleavland in it surely called for pulling the engine to get the middle spark plugs out, and you can be damned sure that when I had it out it was getting new plugs, even if they only had a few hundred miles on them. 🙂 And when that engine made its way into my BFF’s ’65 GT fastback (after he pounded on the shock towers for a long time with a BFH) there was no other option. 🙂

        Eric look at these morons:


        pimp my ride pontiac trans am

        http://www.streetfire.net/video/pimp-my-ride-pontiac-trans-am_638207.htm

        • I didn’t make it longer than 5 seconds. I can’t deal with the “culcha” of ghetto blacks gesticulating and mumbling their idiot doggerel – much less endure the sight of the once-great cars they ruin with dem ree-uhms n’ shit.

          Gnomesayin’?

          • That is in fact the only episode of that show I watched on MTV. I was really looking forward to it too, a restoration of a TA, can’t wait to see this. But then I saw it. Uhg. They did a nice job on the paint, but that is all. I don’t think they even opened the hood.

        • An espresso maker in the console. Jesus Christ. “It’s never been done before.” I wonder why.

          A chandelier? Maaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh! Where bees mah EBT card?

          Wrong bird. Those ’80-81 Turbo T/As came with an offset bird specific to the turbo hood. So what do these idiots do? They put on a bird decal made for the earlier (non-turbo) cars that looks totally wrong on this car.

          “Dukes of Hazzard style” … huh? The car’s factory turbine 15×8 wheels looked great when new and fit the car, unlike the disproportionate/oversized and oh-so-predictable 20-inch ree-uhms they’ve been replaced with.

          Then, the predictable Nog-Noise Maker. Maaaaahhhhhnnn!

          The saddest thing, though, is that the guys who nigged this vehicle to the nth degree do have talent; they could have restored this car right. For $30k, it could have been a national show winner.

          But no. They had to turn it into an atrocity.

          And they didn’t even touch the engine/mechanicals.

          But it can play rap cRap at top volume…..

        • “And they didn’t even touch the engine/mechanicals.”

          That’s the best part. These motherfuckers do everything else, but pop the hood or show the under body. There you sit with a coffee making/chandelier having shit wagon on 20s with a oil burning engine and transmission slipping base, bouncing around on dead suspension. If Xzibit showed up at my house trying to take any of my cars I would tell him to fuck off and just give me the electronics and I would just put them in my house.

          • Dead suspension that now has an extra 50-75 pounds of unsprung weight per corner to deal with. Morons.

          • Pimp my ride… I saw an episode with a ’68 Mustang. Rusted out floor pans. They never addressed the rust that usually goes with that… but worse… these idiots used their own crudely made replacements. ’68 mustang floor pans have been available as reproductions for more than 20 years now. A simple phone call and a little money would have gotten them perfect looking and fitting new floors.

            • I don’t watch the show (because anything with “pimp” in it has about as much appeal for me as a serving of scabies) but from what I can tell, the object is to transform a car into the most luridly garish manifestation of ghetto black culture imaginable. Thus, loudness and a fixation on shiny things (much like a crow will peck at a piece of aluminum foil) become the paramount considerations. Take a POS late ’70s Malibu worth $1,800 and fit it with $3,000 worth of “twennies” and $5,000 worth of earthquake-reproducing bass reflectors so its owner can play his odious cRap “music” while shuffling down the street… with the stock 187,000 mile 305 still under the hood.

              Looks at me! I bee’s a playah. Gnomesayin’?

              The seepage of underclass black desires and attitudes into the mainstream of American life is perhaps the most lamentable development of the past 20 years.

          • Once again: Maaaaaaahhhhhhhn! That’s the mentality we’re dealing with.

            Also: Did you notice that he blew right through the stop sign – after weaving his old POS car almost completely across the double yellow?

            Gnomesayn’

  7. While I agree with the basic premise of financing hiding the costs imposed by our rulers, one factor that should likely be considered is that cars last considerably longer than they used to. Ages ago a car had lost nearly all its value by the time it was five years old if it took that long. In salt and snow regions cars would be well on their way to dissolving. Regardless of how many new dollars the fed creates, the car itself still has to have considerable value at the end of the loan. And five year old cars just didn’t have it back then.

    Another factor that has made cars more expensive is what people expect in a car. As people become more productive things become less expensive to make while incomes to purchase them grow. This is true with cars as with anything else. The auto industry simply doesn’t have the rate of productivity increase that can beat inflation so the prices end up higher in dollars.

    These longer lasting cars with more goodies and power everything were a product of market demands and competition. It has become pointless to offer a new car that doesn’t have power everything. It will cost more because of economies of scale and then will compare unfavorably to used cars on the market.

    Airbags are one of many government mandates that started out as a option that auto manufacturers added to sell cars. When airbags had problems and weren’t widely ordered the option was dropped only to become mandated when our rulers decided we should all have it. However, it is the safety culture that has brought about marketing vehicles with bazillion airbags, not the government, even if the government may be responsible for some of the safety paranoia of customers.

    While without government mandates some cars would be somewhat cheaper and we wouldn’t have so many SUVs, the vehicles themselves probably wouldn’t be all that different provided free market competition existed. Without the government induced dark age of roughly 1974 to 1986 free market vehicles might be several years ahead. Six year financing would have happened as soon as some captive auto credit division noticed the cars lasted long enough and retained enough value to take the risk. More interest for them, more cars sold. Once it worked with one the rest would follow.

    • That’s true – but…

      The older (pre-computer) cars could be rebuilt and re-used almost indefinitely. Modern cars, on the other hand, have a much more definite shelf-life. After about 15 years or so, they become uneconomic to keep running as expensive parts that are not easily replaced like EFI/emissions components, the computer, wiring harnesses, plastic engine parts, etc., start to fail.

      I’m not sure about the “power everything.” That was made possible by an affluent buyer base, which t a very great extent no longer exists. My guess is that many people today would be more receptive to a car that could be ordered without all that stuff, if the MSRP were lowered accordingly. Imagine, for example, a brand-new $8,000 car. As reliable as any other current car, just with manual windows and locks and (ideally) no air bags. I bet people would snap such a car up, if it were available….

      I do agree with you on the effect marketing has had on consumer expectations. I’ve ranted before at how retarded I think it is that so many suburban Moo types are trundling along in 360 hp SmooVees and so on…

      • I waited hours and yet the failed comment still appeared the next day…

        Modern cars are really no more expensive to keep beyond their design life than old ones. Labor is the problem, not parts. Do your own work and it’s not bad either way.

        I believed for many years that the simple car could sell. But in today’s manufacturing world it just won’t work.

        Automotive suppliers have made all the things that used to be high money options off the shelf and easy for development engineers to use.

        If there was a desire to make a price leader base model it’s cheaper just to offer the power windows at the crank window price. It will probably take tens if not hundreds of thousands of units to equal the development cost for manual windows.

        A car stripped down to an MSRP of eight grand into todays devalued dollars even by the government’s numbers is a $1450 car in 1970, which wouldn’t even buy a VW bug and is $545 short of a base Ford Maverick. Even a base ’71 pinto was $1919 ($10653 today). That buys you a Nissan Versa with some money to spare. And looking at the specs it out classes a 71 pinto in every way.

        Let’s say this government stuff has really stunted things and that modern pinto should cost half of what it does… We could go 50% higher to see what our modern pinto equal would be like… that gets us the 1.8S versa and many other cars with all the modern gizmos… Just look:

        http://www.edmunds.com/nissan/versa/2011/features-specs.html?sub=sedan&style=101331388

        • I dunno, man…

          Let me give you an example:

          The “fuel system” in a pre-computer ’70s-era car like my ’76 Trans-Am consists of a cast iron intake manifold (virtually indestructible/lasts 100-plus years) and a carburetor (made of aluminum; can be rebuilt/re-used almost indefinitely). I can restore to as-new condition the entire fuel system for $100 or so. A brand-new replacement intake costs about $150. A brand-new carburetor about $300. A fuel pump (mechanical) is a $35 part. That’s pretty much it, other than some hoses. Even if you include the gas tank and replace every fuel system component with brand-new parts, the total cost (for the parts) is only about $1,000. And the installation/labor requires no Mad Skills nor specialized equipment. Very basic stuff.

          Now the modern car:

          It has multi-port fuel injection with an electronic/plastic injector for each cylinder. So a V-8 has eight injectors. The injectors will eventually fail and are throw-away (not rebuildable) parts. Expensive parts. There is often a plastic intake that will not last as long as cast iron and which will cost a lot more to replace when it needs to be replaced. (If you can find a replacement. Intakes for 40-year-old cars from the ’60s and ’70s are abundant. How abundant do you suppose a plastic intake for something like a ’95 Taurus will be 20 years from now?)

          Plus all the related electronics/sensors/wiring. Multiple O2 sensors; a computer to run it all. Etc.

          The cost to replace the major EFI components (just the parts) is exponentially more than the cost to rebuild/replace the intake/carb in an older car. A couple grand, if you had to replace most of the major parts. Plus the labor – which most people will have to farm out because of the greater technical complexity.

          It is economically reasonable to spend say $300 rebuilding the carburetor/replacing the fuel pump, etc., in an older car that’s worth maybe $4,000. Is it worth spending $1,500 to replace/do major work to the EFI system of something like a ’90s-era Corolla that’s only worth about $3,000 or so?

          Ditto other components; for example, the transmission. A rebuilt (non-electronic) TH350 or Super T10 4-speed is less than $1,000. What’s the typical cost of a modern/electronic OD transmission? Twice that or more.

          Have you checked the price of an ABS pump recently? How about the electric controller for a climate control unit?

          Better have a deep wallet!

          Get into a relatively minor accident in a modern car with air bags and the air bags deploy – and often, the otherwise repairable car is a total loss because of the cost to replace the air bags (and steering wheel/dashboard), which together can easily be $2,000 or more. That’s before you factor in the cost of repairing the actual body damage. If the car only has a retail value of $6,000 or so, you’re done – junkyard time.

          A pre-air bag car is fixable (economically). The air-bag-equipped car often isn’t.

          It’s principally the electronics (“safety” and emissions-related) that have made modern cars more expensive to keep up when things begin to go wrong (though they do compensate you with needing fewer repairs and less maintenance – usually – for the first 10 years or so of their lives).

          You’re right on the cost of the new cars – but, if we could take advantage of the economies that have reduced manufacturing costs and nix the government crap (plus the crap the “safety” PR has convinced everyone they have to have) then the cost of new cars could be far lower.

          Consider, for example, the cost of some Indian and Chinese cars – that sell for $5,000 or less.

          Are they chintzy/cheesy compared with what we’re used to? Yeah. But bringing them up to a reasonable level of quality is I think doable.

          The bottom line as I see it is that many people are beginning to realize the consumerist/finance-it/in-debt-forever cycle sucks – and they want out.

          It’s a similar story with houses. The oversized (and over-the-the-top) McMansion is out; smaller/simpler – and less costly – is in.

          • If you want carbs, engine driven fuel pumps, and all the rest of the ancient technology you’ll get reliability and durability of those systems. You’ll also be limited to the performance they were capable of. One of the driving factors that brought about these modern systems was to produce more reliable and durable automobiles.

            I’ll ignore the dark ages and just compare 1970 vs. 2010 for nice round numbers. The peak of the mechanical control era and todays electronic peak. I don’t know about you, but I’ll gladly pay for the reliability, durability, and performance of a 2011 Mustang (introduced in 2010) over a 1970 one for daily use (as transportation, not as a collectible). Even with modern fluids and fuels and materials being applied to the 70 where applicable.

            The second thing I’ve noticed is that you are apparently comparing do-it-yourself/aftermarket to shop (dealership?) pricing. There isn’t exactly dealer support for 40 year old cars, but if there were it would cost. People who have someone else work on their classics pay through the nose. Working on a modern car isn’t any more difficult, just different.

            I don’t know when the injectors in my ’97 will fail, but for most people 195K miles and 15 years is forever. Certainly less frequent than carb rebuilds. I’ve had the early design plastic intake manifold fail twice in the coolant cross over. First time was sudden and under warranty. By the time the second one developed a small hairline weeping crack in 2009 the service manifold from Ford was rare and expensive. The aftermarket provided me one sold through amazon.com for $180 or so that had an Al cross over. For new cars I’ve found that automakers don’t seem to do the crossover in plastic any more. So you’re left with a manifold that has surface finishes for good flow that are simply not possible in iron or aluminium without tons of hours spent polishing on the inside of the part.

            A replacement intake manifold for a ’95 Taurus 20 years from now will be about as easy to find as one for any large volume 40 year old car that was considered dull in its time and doesn’t share engines with anything people collect and restore. Ease of getting parts decades later is driven by popularity/demand, not process, not material. I can get an aftermarket plastic manifold for my mustang because it’s a mustang. I will be able to get one 20 years from now… because it’s a mustang. In 20 years I may be able to get a reproduction of the ford service manifold for cheap. Now the performance head and intake manifold I bought for my old Ford I6 to get some extra power out of it… you don’t want to know how much… I’ll just say I could have bought a built AOD for that much. But that’s the cost of being different.

            We’ve had computer controlled cars in mass since about 1982 when even the carbs were computer controlled. The computer controlled quadrajet is easier to rebuild than the older models BTW. Anyway, fleet age keeps going up and up. Those cheaper to fix cars weren’t so cheap when paying other people to do it either. People junked them too. And junkyards are how many people still get their parts today and have been keeping their cars alive for the last three decades as they did before.

            ABS pump? live without ABS when it dies. You still have better brakes than in 1970. Reman Transmission? The computer controls won’t dramatically effect buying a reman unit. It’s just another part they carry over or swap out. Price will come down to market forces. Something people don’t fix? Hard to find? Expect to pay. Common GM collectable car… cheap. A built ford C6, AOD, or AODE for a small block V8 can be had for around two grand, your choice.

            Airbags? like the ABS pump… you have what you had in 1970 if you don’t fix it, no airbags. I’ll wager government regs make replacement airbags cost too much and people deciding to go without keeping ABS pumps more expensive than they would be otherwise.

            Climate control module… really depends on the car model and year… just like some things for old cars. Some are cheap, some aren’t. There’s always the self serve junk yard too.

            I’ve applied all the skills I learned when I was driving 20 something year old 1970s cars to the relatively modern cars and it all works out just fine and way cheaper per mile. I have found the fears of modern cars are just that, fears. And I am sure some repair shops love using it as an excuse for high prices, but it’s just an excuse.

            Cheap cars from China and India? There’s a reason Chinese prefer Buicks. Anyway cheap cars go one of two ways… the way of the Yugo (poor quality leading to removal from the market) or the way of the Hyundai (not so cheap anymore).

            That took way too long… 🙂

          • I agree to this part, “The second thing I’ve noticed is that you are apparently comparing do-it-yourself/aftermarket to shop (dealership?)”

            The rest of it I can’t. I wish I could find an early days Honda Civic. Even an early 1970s model

          • Hey Brent,

            There’s is nothing inherently unreliable or not durable about carburetors (let alone a “simple” engine such as an OHV cast-iron V-8, say). True, the carb may require more occasional minor adjustments. But that is a very small thing (and, again, well within the scope of almost anyone who can change their own oil – very much unlike a modern PFI or DI system). A person could easily keep a carb’d car running reliably – and cheaply – for 30 or 40 years. And not as a weekend-only toy/classic, either. The fact that not many people do it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. As a related example, there are many people who do ride 30-plus-year-old motorcycles – with carbs – every day or just about. It’s not the carbs – or the “old” engine designs – that were the main reason for the sketchy reliablity of ’60s and ’70s-era stuff. The quality control of the era was just poorer. GM is still making an “old” engine – its current V-8s. They are still OHV/pushrod designs. Not really all that different (excepting the fuel delivery system and the computer that controls it) from a 1970s-era V-8. But the quality control todayis much better – which to a great extent explains the improved reliability/durability.

            Power/performance? The 455 in my Trans-Am makes 360-plus hp (and could easily – and cheaply – make a lot more). I could bump it up to 400 hp or more with a $150 camshaft and a few hours of time… it’ll run with a new Mustang GT 0-60 or 1/4 mile. True, the Mustang will eat me alive in cornering and stopping. It should – it costs $30,000! If I were to spend $5,000 on suspension and brake upgrades, my ancient TA could match the Mustang’s handling/braking; maybe even beat it. Such upgrades are – again – easy and fairly cheap to do. The main deficit a car like my Pontiac has relative to the new muscle car is wheels/tires and brakes. The stock suspension is actually pretty good. Seriously.

            But the main point I’d make here is that a car like my old TA (or any RWD coupe from that era) can make very high power for much less cost. You can buy a mail order 350 hp small bock Chevy for under $2,000. It may not go 200,000 miles without a tuneup – but you can rebuild several times it for about $1,500 per event, as necessary. Probably the main weakness of the older stuff was the ignition system (and that mostly applies only to 1975 and older stuff, which still had points). Most cars after that time came with transistorized ignitions – and even if not, it is simple (and again, cheap) to upgrade this. I’ve done it myself several times. That – plus an OD transmission – will improve the everyday drivability of a ’70s-era car exponentially. I’m saying this based on direct, personal experience – as someone who tests drives new cars every week and also owns/drives older stuff. Once I added overdrive (and a modern ignition) to my ’76 Pontiac, it drove very much like a current-year car. It even gets comparable gas mileage. Not great mileage. But comparable – for what it is, relative to similar current-year stuff.

            Again, just saying.

            That’s pros and cons. To a great extent, these are subjective things. A person who just wants to drive and never bother about what’s under the hood will obviously prefer the modern car, which may not need more than oil/filter changes for the first 100,000 miles. But on the other hand, he will pay to enjoy that maintenance-free lifestyle in other ways. A person who likes to work on machinery and doesn’t mind doing more frequent regular adjustments may have a different perspective.

            Your statement about modern cars being just “different” to work on vs. harder is one I very much disagree with. It is very hard just to get at components on many new car engines because of tight packaging. You definitely need more in the way of formal/specialized knowledge – and tools, too.

            On parts:

            In the past (at least as regards American cars) engine families were smaller and the same basic engines were used in many different models. The small block Chevy, for example. In production in the same basic form for 40-odd years. While displacements varied, most parts interchange readily so it is simple (and cheap) to find most necessary parts, from tuneup items to cylinder heads and pistons. Same as regards the small block Ford, etc.

            And my main point here (in the earlier post) was that with such engines, the major engine components will probably never need to be replaced or repaired. Cast iron is forever – or as close to it as you can get. The plastic components used in modern cars isn’t.

            Twenty-something years is probably about the outer limit of a modern car’s economically and practically useful service life. This is damned impressive, especially when you admit – as I freely do – that the modern car will likely not need much for the first 10-15 years or so.

            But as its major (and much more intricate/complex and thus, expensive) systems deteriorate, a point will be reached when the modern car is no longer worth fixing – or even can be fixed.

            I’ve noticed something here that’s relevant to the discussion: I attend a lot of classic car shows but so far haven’t seen any restored 1980s-era stuff. You know, IROC Camaros, GMC Syclones, Mustang 5.0s, etc. Oh, there are plenty of well-kept, low-miles original cars – and modified cars, with their original drivetrains no longer there. But I have yet to see a restored/rebuilt early-mid 1980s anything. What does this suggest? A 1982 Z28 is now almost 30 years old – and without doubt as much an antique as my ’76 Trans-Am or a ’66 GTO for that matter. But have you ever seen such a car in restored condition?

            I haven’t.

            I suspect the reasons why are what I’ve been writing about: It’s just too expensive and complicated to restore such a car. I doubt the aftermarket even makes the reproduction parts you’d need – because, again, the cost is prohibitive. Just imagine what the cost of a new wiring harness/computer for that ’82 Z28 would be vs. the cost of a new wiring harness for my ’76 TA….

            PS: Your article is up on the Main Page (U Rant)… good stuff, thanks!

  8. One factor that should be accounted for is that cars way back when had lost nearly all their value by the time they were 5 years old if it took that long. A car’s useful life simply did not permit financing longer than about 3 years. Today’s cars last much longer and thus can permit longer financing. No matter how much cheap money the fed throws out the car still has to have significant value over the life of the loan.

    Would cars be cheaper today without all the government mandated crap? Sure. But much of what makes today’s cars cost a lot would be required by the market. Just about every car you look at is going to have PS,PB,AC,and power locks and windows. So many people expect those things and more it costs too much to offer cars without them.

    Airbags are an interesting case as they were initially offered to serve a market desire. Automakers withdrew them because of the faults and poor sales. The government doesn’t mandate a bazillion airbags but the marketeers selling cars in a safety paranoid culture do. (not that government hasn’t helped create that culture)

    Much of what is mandated by government would have been demanded by the market in one form or another as people’s standard of living increased and the cost of offering them decreased. After all, the government normally picks something that already exists and forces it on people in some less than optimal way.

    Government would like to take credit for all the advancements with their regulation, but their regulation caused the dark age from about 1974 to 1986 and gave us millions of SUVs. Meanwhile their mandates lower people’s standard of living by not letting the market work properly to weed out the undesirable features and allow good features to follow a normal course where they become inexpensive.

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