The Old vs. The New… Part Two!

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While modern cars are more reliable at first and last longer – for awhile – after about 15 years, when their much more complicated systems begin to reach the end of their useful service life, modern cars become progressively more expensive to keep up and within a few years, uneconomic to keep. If you want to talk about “planned obsolescence,” this is what it’s really all about.

I got into an argument here with another poster about this. I pointed out that a car like my ’76 Pontiac Trans-Am has a very basic drivetrain, the entire thing rebuilt easily and relatively inexpensively. For example, the engine consists of a cast iron lump of metal with a very simple fuel delivery system. There is a cast iron intake manifold (almost indestructible/essentially infinite usable life) and a simple stand-alone fuel mixing device – the carburetor – which can be rebuilt to as-new condition with a simple gasket/seal kit for about $75 if you do the work yourself (well within the capability of a reasonably competent DIY mechanic with a few basic hand tools) or maybe a couple hundred if you turned the job over to a professional rebuilder such as Cliff Ruggles. My old Pontiac’s entire fuel-delivery system can be restored to factory-new condition for a few hundred bucks – and that includes peripherals such as the fuel pump (simple, mechanical, easy to get to and replace). This process can be repeated probably infinitely or at least many, many times, well beyond my own lifetime. My Trans-Am could and probably will be still running 100 years from now.

But a modern car with a fuel-injected engine and computer?

Even if you assume that the often-plastic major components (including the intake manifold itself) don’t deteriorate to the point of requiring replacement after 20-plus years or so, eventually, inevitably, the electrical components – including the computer that controls everything – will fail and will then require replacement. Note: not repair. Electrical components are often not serviceable; you throw them away and replace them with new parts. If you can find new parts… .

And even if the parts are available 20 or 30 or more years down the road, they will be orders of magnitude more expensive than the parts needed to keep an older, pre-electronic car like my Pontiac running – unless there is a miraculous reduction in the cost of these parts in the future. But today, a replacement computer can cost many hundreds of dollars; then there are the multiple sensors necessary for the system to function properly. Each of these little parts has a big price tag. But we haven’t even gotten to the fuel system itself yet. Now we need multiple injectors (most late model cars have one for each cylinder), fuel rails, the wiring harnesses associated with all this… etc.

If you had to replace most of the major components of a late-model fuel-injected car 20 or 30 or more years from now, it is likely you would be spending $1,000 or more just to get the parts – if you can find the parts. (It is very likely that many parts will not be available decades from now – precisely because of the economics. It is cost-sensible to reproduce a $70 rebuild kit for a 1976 Rochester Quadrajet; it is probably not going to be cost-sensible to reproduce a $600 EFI wiring harness for an ’87 IROC-Z.)

Then you’d need a higher order of knowledge/aptitude/skill to actually restore the system. Or you’d have to pay someone who has such to do the work – another big expense.

My friend – the guy who argued with me – said that learning how to competently work on an electronic car is not harder than learning to work on a pre-electronic car. I very much disagree with him. A 16-year-old with a basic socket set can remove the intake manifold from my Trans-Am and reinstall it. The equivalent job on an electronic/EFI car is much more involved, requires more skill and tools. I’ve worked on both, so I’m speaking from experience. The carburetor is a straighforward and basically simple mechanical device; if you have a Holley carb, an extremely simple mechanical device with only a few moving parts that almost anyone can remove/replace/rebuild in literally 15-30 minutes’ time. The equivalent job on a late-model car with a computer and EFI is much more involved, requiring at least a working knowledge of fairly complex electronics as well as specialized tools and diagnostic equipment. Even “trained” technicians often have trouble isolating and dealing with bugs that develop with modern computerized/electronic systems.

The engine itself:

I could have the engine out of my car and on the stand, ready to tear down, in about an hour using basic hand tools.

Rebuilding the entire engine to “good as new” is a simple process, involving some light machine work, a set of gaskets/rings/bearings, etc. and about 2-3 hours of assembly time. If I do the work myself, the cost (machining and gaskets/bearings, etc. ) for the entire job is going to be less than $800. That is for a complete tear down and rebuilding to as-new condition – good to go for another 100,000-plus miles.

If I paid to have the engine professionally rebuilt the cost would be about $3,000.

Remember: My engine needs no sensors,no complex wiring or electronics. The whole “works” can be brought back to functionally new condition for an amount of money that’s not only manageable, it’s proportionate to the value of the car itself.

And this is where you get into trouble with a late-model car. Unless it is a desirable collectible and worth a lot of money – and few late model cars will fall into this class 20, 30 or more years from now – the cost to keep it going (let alone restore it) will be out of proportion to the worth of the vehicle itself.

For instance, something pedestrian like a Camry or Corolla. After 15-20 years, how much will such a car be worth? Probably next to nothing, maybe $2,500 or so.

Who is going to put $1,500 into such a car – for anything?

In the past, an equivalent pedestrian model such as Chevy Nova or Dodge Dart was like my Trans-Am; it was simple, cheap and easy to keep going.

New cars have many virtues, among them “just drive it” reliability for many years from new. But eventually, almost every modern, computer-controlled, EFI-equipped car will reach a point of diminishing returns, a point after which it becomes either cost-prohibitive as such to keep it going – or cost-nonsensical to do so relative to the value of the car itself.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. Another thing to consider.

    The desire for weight reduction for fuel economy and to make up for all the added weight of added mandated junk involves getting strength from carefully designed sheet metal sections. This provides reasonable strength in the directions of normal stresses and works pretty good (after all many race cars use the same idea).

    But, unlike race cars, road cars are driven for many years, and corrosion starts to occur. If corrosion takes .010 of an old style steel frame, no one will miss it. But take .010 off the sheet metal box section and you don’t have much left.

    • True – and also, with regard to race cars, cost is no object – or much less of an object. So, materials such as carbon fiber and titanium and composites can be used that would be too expensive as such or too expensive from a manufacturing/production standpoint, to use in ordinary street cars.

      A big question here is: Why does the government (which is just other people who wield political power) get to dictate that “safety” (weight) is more important than fuel economy? Why shouldn’t the individual consumer be allowed to decide which – or what mix – is best for him?

      More broadly: Why not let the car companies respond to consumers and build cars based on consumer wants/needs across the board? Why should government be involved in dictating anything about vehicle design?

  2. The ventilation fan speed control knob on my 2006 Honda Ridgeline failed in 2009. The fan knob was part of a single temperature control module, which included a modest LCD display screen. The module was replaced under the vehicle’s Honda Certified warranty. The Ridgeline was purchased as a used vehicle; as a matter of policy, I don’t purchase new anymore.

    The temperature control module itself had a selling price of $582.00. The labor fee wasn’t evident on the invoice since this was warranty work. Said fee was probably a bit salty since quite a bit of dashboard disassembly is required just to gain access to the module.

    Gott im Himmel.

    • Hi James –

      Yep, this is an example of the often-startling price of “electronified” components – and new cars become more “electronified” each year. The latest being push-button or keyless ignition. Ten years ago maybe one or two exotics had this feature. Now it is commonplace, even on lower priced cars. Instead of going to Lowes and getting a $5 replacement/spare key cut, imagine the cost of buying a new transmitter – which you’ll be able to get only at the (expensive) dealership. And also the cost of a mechanical lock cylinder vs. the electronic push-button.

      I pity the owners of these cars in 12 or 15 years.

      • Yes, my neighbor’s new Kia(!) has a push button that is used to start and stop the motor. There’s no key, for the doors or (non-existent) ignition switch, actually. He uses a device that I call a “proximity fob”. It’s a device that, if broken or missing, would leave him powerless to do ANYthing with the vehicle. No thanks.

        • Yup! I have a Kia Optima press car with that feature right now. It’s an example of making a simple function excessively complex and expensive. Yeah it’s neat. But is it that hard to insert a physical key and turn it? Really? I don’t mind that the car companies offer this kind of thing; I do object when it becomes standard equipment – which is what’s happening with this and other such technology/equipment that’s arguably superfluous or at least, not especially necessary and which we could easily live without – but which adds up-front expense to the car and very likely major down-the-road expense and hassle. Probably enough expense and hassle to make the car uneconomic to keep after about 15 years – as I wrote in the article.

          Another example: Drive by wire throttle control. Instead of a simple, cheap mechanical cable that connects the gas pedal to the engine’s throttle several manufacturers have switched over to sensor-controlled drive-by-wire systems. Now you’ve got expensive sensors and electronics and software controlling what used to be controlled by a $20 cable.

          And headlights. Now we have “assemblies.” No more going down to the parts place to buy a new pair of $25 each sealed beam glass headlights. Now you go to the dealer and buy a multi-faceted plastic assembly that breaks easily, yellows/clouds up within four years – and costs a shocking amount to replace. Last fall I hit a deer in my 2002 Nissan Frontier. The headlamp “assembly” cost more than the entire driver’s side front fender and trim. Seriously. In my slightly older ’98 Frontier – which still has the old-style headlamps – the cost would have been a fourth what I ended up spending to fix the ’02.


  3. The thing is that the electronics rarely fail, even after a couple decades. But should that happen the aftermarket has it already taken care of. There are reman engine computers. That’s the beauty of a free market, or at least a free enough market, someone figures out a way to economically provide what people need.

    I went to the rockauto website and I chose a 1992 Chevy Camaro Z28, 5.7L, essentially something roughly equal to a ’76 trans am but from the computer era and something pushing 20 years old… right in black hole of just being an old car but not classic. If you want to spend the money to have it just right an AC Delco reman ECU will run $110. If you want to cheap out standard motor products has one for less than $73. Go into the OBD2 era with a 1997 model and it’s $130 and $110 respectively. The difficulty is that the OBD2 ones require programming locally, but that’s no worse than finding someone who could properly resurface a head. Newer stuff appears to use flash ram while the older used a prom chip that could just be moved over.

    • I dunno, amigo!

      ABS pumps (to cite one example) fail fairly commonly, especially after the vehicle is over ten years old. That’s a pricey part, too (and you need special tools and higher-order skills to work on an ABS system competently).

      O2 sensors. Many late-model cars have four; most have at least two. These don’t last forever and they typically cost $40-$70 a piece.

      My buddy Graves is a professional mechanic who owns his own shop. We were talking the other day about all this and he told me something about the new (current) F-series trucks that I found shocking. He claims Ford has fitted them out with an elaborate new type of spark plug with (if I am remembering this correctly) a capacity or something along those lines built into the top of the plug. These plugs cost $50 each. So a basic tuneup would be at least $450 in parts alone.

      A few weeks back he had a Toyota Tundra in for a tranny R&R. Wanna guess how much a new/remanufactured transmission for a Toyota Tundra is?

      My father-in-law has a ’92 Cadillac DeVille. Several electronic systems have failed – including the AC climate control head unit. This cost him $800.

      Maybe I am being a bit negative about the long-term economic serviceability of late-model cars but I think you’re being a tad optimistic about it, too!

      • ABS pumps require the same PM as older cars do. The problem is that the penalty is more expensive for not doing it. Unless you’re going to rebuild the thing special equipment (unless you call a hand vacuum pump special equipment) is not required for most.. otherwise the aftermarket has software. A toothed wheel sensor (located on each wheel) is a very simple device and easily tested.

        There are also workarounds if the electronics by themselves fail, such as: For those unlucky enough to need it, the VAG-COM software and cable is about $30 it appears.

        And that’s a good point, often the internet is the “special tool” that’s needed. Checking on the caddy climate control I found it’s a crap design where if the blower motor draws too much current it can kill the body control module. Seems these can be located used for $40.

        Toyota… it’s going to cost you. Doesn’t matter which one or what year or anything else. It’s a friggin’ toyota. And there’s nothing special between a modern reman trans and an ancient reman trans… they don’t touch the electronics they just carry them over or if they are bad replace them with the bits from some other unit that was too mechanically trashed to rebuild.

        AC repairs have always been sky high… even without electronics. But judging something by GM’s poor execution of it isn’t exactly fair.

        As far as optimistic I’m just going by experience. Mechanics will use fear of the new to their advantage or to just explain their sky high prices… It isn’t all that mystical when you get into it.

        • Yeah, but the point I was trying to make is that with older (pre-ABS) cars it’s a non-issue. For example, I can (and have) rebuilt the entire brake systems in an older car for the cost of the lines, the rotors/drums, the calipers, etc. – but no worry about an $800 ABS pump because it’s not there. No wheel speed sensors and associated stuff, either. The cost of an ABS pump and sensors, etc., alone – before even getting to the actual brakes – might be more than the cost of rebuilding the actual brakes themselves.

          Similarly as regards AC: Yes, repairs are expensive. But most late model cars – even economy cars – use electronic controllers, which are very expensive and do fail (and are more likely to fail because they’re complex electronics). In the case of my father-in-law’s unit, the part was discontinued by GM and he had a lot of trouble and expense finding a good used one. In al older car without climate control AC, the mechanism controlling the temperature setting is much simpler – and therefore, less likely to fail – and when it does fail, it’s easier, simpler and cheaper to replace.

          Transmissions: A new/rebuilt TH350 or TH400 costs about $600 with the torque converter – about half the price of a lock-up equipped electronic overdrive automatic. The old unit has no – zip, nada – electric elements at all. Etc. Yes, Toyotas are particularly expensive. So are Hondas. And BMWs. And so on…

          Did you see my earlier post about my friend (mechanic) Graves and what he told me about the new Fords and their $50 spark plugs?

          Just saying…!

          • As I pointed out in earlier threads, there’s lots of expensive parts and tasks on select vehicles of all vintages. So Ford has a new unique spark plug type that is currently expensive… it will either a) catch on and be cheap. b) not catch on and remain expensive. c) not catch on and the aftermarket will come up with something. Since it’s in a Ford truck, b) is highly unlikely. BTW I can’t find any references other than complaints about a two piece design last used in 2007.

            There was a time people argued that the starter motor was an expensive thing that wasn’t really needed and would eventually break. Why get a complex thing like a starter motor when a simple hand crank would do? Why have disc brakes when drums offer so much more for the person who doesn’t care for his car?

            All import parts are expensive. Always have been. A transmission for a XK120 is going to be expensive. In 1958 or 2011. The market made reman RWD chevy automatics cheap because lots of people use them. There’s lots of simple old and new stuff that’s expensive because few people use it. The cost of an olds toronado transaxle isn’t pretty by comparison.

            sure there are overly complex gizmos… but people choose the purchase the cars with them. It’s always been that way. Some stick and become cheap. Some don’t. Someone probably objected to the heater at one in point at time… what if the hose breaks and it leaks hot coolant all over the interior? The expense to get at it and repair it?

            Ever read the mechanical opinions of Henry Ford circa the 1928ish? All the things that weren’t needed…

            • These are good points (and I’m familiar with Henry Ford’s aversion to things like hydraulic brakes!) but it’s also true that since the early ’80s cars have become more complex at a geometric rate and it’s a truism that the more complex a system, the more expensive and the more things that can go wrong and eventually will go wrong.

              I absolutely agree that modern cars have numerous virtues and are clearly superior in a number of respects. They can be less expensive to own/operate, too – especially if you buy a used one and then drive it for many years.

              But I think we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns; that the constant piling on of new mandates (and new technologies/equipment) is increasing not only the cost of ownership to a point of economic unsustainability for the mass market consumer, it is foreordaining that these cars will be thrown into the recycle bin after about 15 years from new.

              This is already happening.

              In the past it was common to see very old (25-plus) cars on the road, not as Sunday Driver antiques but as everyday transportation. It is much less common to see that today, at least from what I can tell. I rarely see an ’80s-era car and even early ’90s stuff is rapidly disappearing.

              Also: At the car shows I attend, it’s the same cars being restored – cars from the ’70s and before. If there are any cars from the ’80s and up, they are invariably either “stock” (original cars that led sheltered lives, with low miles) or they’re heavily modified (original drivetrains long gone and replaced with aftermarket stuff). I have yet to see a restored early ’80s car (the first generation of computer-controlled cars) or anything newer.

              Many of these are 20-plus years old now. A 1986 IROC-Z Camaro is a 25-year-old antique vehicle. Ditto early Fieros, SS Monte Carlos, Buick Regals, etc. These cars are being modified, for sure – but restored?

              On the other hand, by the 1990s, it was very common to see restored ’70s-era cars – which were then also getting to be 20-plus-years-old.

              Why this disparity? I suggest it’s the expense and complexity involved (with regard to the newer, computerized cars).

              I know for a fact that (as I mentioned previously) I can rebuild the non-computerized, non-EFI 455 V-8 in my Trans-Am from the oil to the air cleaner for about $1,000. That’s not just the engine; that’s everything.

              I don’t know it for a fact (because I haven’t done it) but I strongly suspect that rebuilding a 1986 IROC-Z’s engine from oil pan to TPI would cost a lot more than $1,000.

              Sure, you could lower the cost of doing the IROC by subbing in less expensive aftermarket stuff – but then you have a modified car. And leaving aside the pros and cons of modified vs. restored (a subjective question) there is the objective question of emissions and safety legality.

              If my TA needed to pass emissions, it could do so easily and inexpensively. The major factory emissions control was the catalytic converter. The rest was tuning (ignition, carb). Getting past the visual inspection – all factory components intact and apparently operational – is easy. I know it is easy because I have done it. And the functional aspect of the test – passing the actual tailpipe sniffer – is also easier because the “pass” standards for a mid-’70s car are nowhere near as severe as they are for a post-’80s era car (let alone ’90s-era and newer).

              Also, there’s no OBD interface, so as long as the car passes sniffer and appears to have everything in place, it passes. The OBD car must not only pass visual and sniffer, it has to pass OBD. If the OBD spits out any code the inspector doesn’t like, you fail.

              A related practical consideration is state safety inspection. My car easily passes because all its original systems are fully intact and operational. I do not have to worry about air bags, or traction control or ABS since the car did not come with them originally. However, a modern car’s ABS, SRS, Trac/Stability control systems must all be intact and working. If not – if a warning light on the dash is on or the OBD sends a code (and they plug your OBD-equipped car into the machine to get the codes) you fail. A failed car can’t be registered or have its registration renewed.

              Yes, there are ways of getting around this. But the noose is tighter than it was before – and getting tighter. I don’t like it, but that’s the reality.

          • There’s lots of things I don’t agree with.. such as tire pressure monitors. But except for the government mandated ones what doesn’t work will vanish from the market.

            I’ve never found 25 year old daily drivers to be common in the past. By the time a car built prior to the 1980s was 10 years old it usually had serious rust and mechanical issues. Even if it didn’t have mechanical issues it had the rust… right in the structure.

            Today I see more older daily drivers than ever. I see (some models of) 80s cars frequently. The 70s cars have all but vanished now. The 60s cars only come out for show. There are two early 70s/late 60s cars that I’ve seen in daily service. one is a rusted out POS the other was once in nice shape but it is decaying rapidly. 1990s cars? I just have to walk into the parking lot at work to see tons of them.

            For car shows even ’76 is kinda new… For the monthly show by me it just barely qualifies to be in it. People set fixed dates for these things back in the 90s it seems and never scrolled them up. 80s cars often are not allowed. I don’t go to many but when I look into them they are pretty restricted much of the time.

            Also keep in mind that most 80s cars are still just used junk. Like 60s cars in the late 70s. There just isn’t much interest and what interest there is parallels what was done to 60s cars in the 70s too.

            BTW I see angular F-bodies practically every day. I saw three or so yesterday. Fieros burned. I see 80s monte carlo body cars frequently… there’s one up the road from where I sit right now with stupid over-sized wheels on it.

            The disparity is lack of interest and economic sense. And what I mean by that is just basic body work, mechanical repair, etc. When people are going to pay big money for 80s cars then more will get restored. Someone is restoring though because 80s mustang parts are getting reproduced. There’s no added complexity to restore an 80s car besides uplugging stuff and plugging it back in.

            Keep in mind that everything 82 and newer has all kinds of government nonsense involved in keeping it. These cars also get old in an era where governments harass people about stored vehicles and other such things. Then too is the ‘throw it away’ mentality that fewer people had so cars were kept laying around ages ago.

            Then there is what I think is the primary factor… since 1985 or so cars keep getting better. From 1974 to 1984 cars kept getting worse in many respects. The motivation to keep/restore 80s cars just isn’t there for most people while when you dumped your old car back in the 80s odds are your new car wasn’t going to be as powerful or as big or as something.

            • Yeah – except the roster of government mandated ones continues to increase. And unless the laws are changed, it’s required (as I understand the way state safety and emissions inspections work) that all these systems be intact and operational. Modifying or removing them will cause a car to fail either the visual or functional portion of the test. And if you fail, you can’t register the vehicle (or renew registration) which means you can’t legally operate the vehicle. I don’t like this – I wish it weren’t like this – but it is a reality people are going to have to deal with.

              The only consideration as far as smog should be that the car meets the standard for that year; whether it is stock or modified ought to be irrelevant. But it’s not. A car can pass the actual tailpipe sniffer but still fail the visual portion of the test, if factory parts are not there or been modified in any way.

              Safety stuff: So long as the car’s lights, signals, brakes and tires are in good working order and there’s no structural damage to the car’s chassis, it should pass state safety inspection. But the law says all the government-mandated stuff has to be working, too. If the SRS or TCS light is on (or the OBD sends a code) you fail. Etc.

              Also, as mentioned in my earlier post, the car companies are adding to the problem by making things like keyless ignition a common (and likely soon to be standard) feature. And electronic control of throttle and transmission. Etc. Yes, I agree there are “work arounds” – or probably will be. But with OBD, these may not be legal work-arounds (in terms of state inspections) and are surely going to involve more expense – arguably, needless expense. Example: a lock cylinder in a car like my ’76 Pontiac is a simple mechanical part. Cost: $30 or so. A key is a piece of metal. Cost $5 or less. Both last virtually forever and if/when they need to be replaced the cost – and hassle – is minimal.

              I disagree with you on your comparison of ’80s-era and up stuff to the previous generation. People were restoring ’70s cars in the ’80s and ’90s – when they were younger than ’80-era cars are now. For example: A 1973 Trans-Am or Camaro was 25 years old in 1998 – and in 1998, a car like that was very much the object of restoration efforts. Indeed, long before 1998. Such cars were being saved and restored by the late 1980s – when their values began to skyrocket. This has not happened with the first-generation computer controlled cars, even though many are now pushing 30 years old – certainly old enough to be regarded as classic/antique vehicles. Why would a neat car like, say, an 87 Buick Regal Grand National be any less desirable as a restoration project in 2011 than a ’73 Trans Am was in the mid-late 1990s? Answer: Economics. The ’73 Trans-Am is backyard restorable – on the cheap. The Grand National is not.

              You want to restore the GN’s engine? It’s much more than just rebuilding the engine. You will need to buy numerous small (expensive and hard to find) electronic parts. This is a non-issue with the ’73 Trans-Am. The only electronic part you have to deal with is the (self-contained) ignition. Less than $300, brand-new. Easily rebuilt for a third of that. There’s a simple temperature sender in the intake manifold. That’s it. Everything else is simple – and cheap. As I wrote, you can rebuild the guts of the engine (and rebuild the carb/ignition) for about $1,000. The rest is cleaning and painting – elbow grease (free) and spray paint (nearly free). That’s it.

              I’d bet you that the cost to restore the drivetrain of the Regal to factory-new function and appearance would be 3-4 times the cost of restoring the drivetrain of something like the ’73 TA. And of course you do need specialized/high-level electronic know-how, which you really don’t to restore the drivetrain of the ’73 Pontiac.

              Result? The ’73 TA (and other cars like it) was accessible as a restoration project to young guys without much money but willing to get dirty. The computer-controlled newer stuff is not because it’s cost prohibitive as well as technologically forbidding. I know you don’t agree; that you see them as not all that different – but I think that’s because you’re assuming a higher standard (your own intelligence/aptitude) vs. that of the typical backyard DIYer.

          • The government isn’t the car’s fault. Illinois has no inspections other than emissions checks and those used to go back to 1968… I am hoping they remove the IM240 dynos and ease up on ’82-’96

            I taught myself auto mechanics from the books laying around the house… my father attempted to teach himself in the 1970s… The best of these texts is “Automotive Engines, 4th ed, 1971 by William H. Crouse. The 1980s cars weren’t all that far away from what I learned from that text. The sensors (and there aren’t that many) are simple and rarely malfunction. If I were going to restore an 80s car I wouldn’t even consider replacing them until proven not to be in working order and uncleanable. A restoration of an 80s car shouldn’t need more than $100 budgeted for “sensors”. Back to the book.. I am looking at page 242 which has a complete schematic layout of a VW fuel injection system. Most of these sensors you fear are there. NINETEEN SEVENTY ONE. They are simple things.

            On saving cars you missed my point. People saved a ’73 TA because it was _BETTER_ than what they could buy new in many respects. Cars got worse from ’74 to about ’84 and then started getting better again. It 1988 I didn’t want a ’80 whatever… that was just another smogged slow car… I wanted cars from before 1974! The ’69 mustang was better than an 88 mustang. Practically every car interested person that was a teenager between roughly 1965 to 1995 wanted the same cars built from 1965 to 1973 and possibly some of the remainders until about ’77.

            In the 70s as choice constricted and cars got worse people started buying last ofs and locking them away… BRAND NEW. Last of the V8 interceptors, max….. By 1985 the future was going to be little turbo charged cars… no V8s. If you wanted a performance V8 you better get something old. Remember in 1989 the Mustang was going to become a FWD car based on the Mazda 626 platform!

            Where’s the motivation to save 1980s cars? It’s like asking someone in 1957 about saving and restoring a worn out 1930s Ford. Why? What happened to those cars? They went to teenagers and they got modded…. That’s why that happens to 80s and early 90s cars. Few restore because that’s pointless… they are old and out of date… People return older cars to stock because they have more value that way and aren’t really any less fun… but they too got modded. An 80s car back to stock? Woooeee 145hp! That’s a lot of work for 145 horses. Or maybe a late 80s car… low 200s… wooptie do… lots of work to be half as powerful as today’s cars.

            Having graduated high school in ’89 I learned both systems as a teenager. There is no special knowledge or skills needed for an 80s or 90s car compared to a 60s car. Sure you need a different electronic box for em, need to know some different stuff… A dwell meter requires special knowledge and skill to operate just to change points… not anymore cryptic and confusing than a code reader or multimeter. I have MAC engine analyzer box I bought in the late 1990s at a pawn shop…. I have my grandfather’s too and they aren’t very different. This gizmo is required for working on 70s cars and doing it right. For my ’97 I either grab a code with the code reader or hook up a laptop and use the software for much more detailed info. It just isn’t that different. If you really want to stump a teenager hand him one of those old engine analyzer boxes without instructions and see if he can use it… I bet most who play with 80s on up cars can’t. Hell try professional auto mechanics under the age of 40. Give ’em this thing:

            And see the dumb stares….

            That’s the same model my dad has… the one I learned with.

            • I agree it’s not the car’s fault (government) but that ‘s beside the point – right? The owner has to deal with government, like it or not. Certainly that affects a person’s decision making…

              For example, I will never have to worry about air bags, or “check engine” lights, or “ABS” lights – or OBD. Non-issues. But anyone who owns a later-model car will have to worry, because the law is what it is.

              Air bags alone represent a huge potential hassle and expense. If I have an accident in my car, it’s just a question of fixing sheetmetal. With any SRS-equipped car, the bags must be replaced. Have you priced the replacement cost of air bags? In a car with driver and front seat passenger bags, you’re looking at $2,000 or more – just for the air bags (and the new steering wheel and dashboard).

              ABS brakes: We’ve already touched on this, but, again, you’ve got a whole slew of additional – very expensive – components to deal with, beyond just the brakes themselves. I have no $800 ABS pump, wheel speed sensors, wiring harnesses and so on to deal with. Etc.

              On your second point: Yes, if the ’80s (and up) project car starts out as a running “driver.” But how about a non-running car that has a locked (or very high-miles) engine and which needs a complete rebuild of everything? Do you really think the cost of bringing all of that back to as-new condition will be equivalent to the cost of doing the same job on a pre-computer car where all you’ve got to deal with is a cast iron engine, carburetor and stand-alone ignition system?

              On saving/restoring: If so, how come cars from literally every other period, pre-computer, are in fact saved and restored? ’40s cars were slugs – but people fix ’em up all the time. Model As (and other ’30s-era cars) remain popular… etc.

              Some of the ’80s stuff was very desirable – and still would be – on the merits. For example:

              Big two-plus-two coupes like the Regal GN and Monte SS and Olds 442. Good looking cars, for openers. And: The Regal was extremely powerful/quick (these were as quick as current Mustang GTs) and also weren’t small, cramped – like all modern performance coupes are. Four adults could ride in these things. They had huge trunks. They were very much like their ancestors of the ’60s and ’70s – and those cars were (and are) popular today. The only reason the latter-day ones aren’t being restored, I submit, is the higher cost/hassle involved in rehabbing one vs. rehabbing a pre-computer example.

              Mustang LX 5.0/GT: We are about the same age so I’m sure you remember these as well as I do. They were everywhere in the ’80s and into the ’90s. The ’55-’57 Chevy for Generation X. Very appealing cars that were great performers right off the showroom floor. And how about cool sub-models like the Mustang SVO? That car didn’t suck, either.

              GMC Syclone/Typhoon: First AWD high-performance (years before the WRX and EVO) in a very cool (truck/SUV) package.

              Fieros. You say they suck, but I say they are as interesting – as such – as Corvairs or Beetles, both of which had similar problems yet which remain very popular as restoration projects and collectibles. (Mustang IIs, too. And a Mustang II is surely “less desirable” than a mid’80s-era Mustang GT….)

              The performance/capability of most of these these cars in stock factory condition was better than the performance in stock/factory condition of the mid-late ’70s stuff – yet people routinely restore the slow/too heavy cars of the mid-late ’70s to as-new factory stock condition and they continue to increase in value, despite (in several cases) the fact that they’re slow, get awful gas mileage and handle like trucks.

              Example: High Performance Pontiac magazine just did a feature on the restoration, from the wheels up, of a ’77 Trans-Am. This car had the standard L78 400 (rated 180 hp) and three-speed automatic. New, this car took nearly 10 seconds to reach 60, ran the quarter-mile in the 16s and had a top speed of about 115 MPH. A new Prius hybrid would give it a run for the money.

              The owner brought it back to factory new condition. This is typical. Hobbyists go to great lengths to bring those mid-late ’70s cars to “just off the assembly line” condition – down to date-coded spark plug wires and maintenance stickers.

              People love these cars, even though their V-8s have less power than many current four-cylinders.

              Why is similar love (in the form of restoration efforts) not being shown for the ’80s era stuff? Stuff that was as or more popular when new as the ’70s or ’60s stuff (and so a whole generation surely has fond memories of them, etc.) and which performed well when new – often, better than the ’70s and ’60s stuff?

              There’s only one answer that explains the unique-to-date fall-off of collector/restoration in cars built after the early ’80s – which just happens to be when computers and FI began to become widespread.

            • Addendum!

              I actually owned a ’69 VW with the Bosch FI system. I’ve also owned a few Beetles with carburetors.

              Let’s do a quick comparison of cost. First a sampling of some of the ’69s FI components:

              Fuel injectors (four needed) $64 each; $256 to replace all.

              See: Link removal by request of domain owner

              Fuel pressure sensor: $97


              Regulator: $41


              So, about $400 – and that’s not all the parts involved.

              Now, consider the same engine/same-era vehicle with a single carburetor. Cost? Under $200 – and that’s buying a new replacement. You can rebuild the Solex carb for a fraction of that.

              So, the carbureted, non-EFI VW’s fuel-delivery system can be completely replaced for less than half the cost of some of the parts of the FI VW’s Bosch system. Not the entire “ball of wax.” (Which is often necessary with a car 40-plus years old.) Just a few major parts. If you had to replace the entire FI system, I bet the price would be close to $1,000 or even more – vs. about $200 (or less) for a new/rebuilt Solex 1 barrel…

              And remember: The early VW EFI is much, much simpler than a modern OBD EFI system….

              And there’s no additional electronic gimcrackery. No electronic control of the transmission; no ABS; no traction/stability control. No OBD. No air bags.

              If my old ’69 Fastback had had those things, it would be cost-prohibitive to restore today.

          • If it’s not the car’s fault and still counts, what about if some of the really horrible legislation against old cars sticks and you’ve got go find a new old stock whatever for a brazillion dollars because the government accepts nothing else? Even if cars were made *exactly* as they were made in 1973 right now, the ’73s would still enjoy exemptions the new cars didn’t. BTW, Airbags and antilock brakes date from the early 1970s. Rarely ordered options at the time.

            On totaling cost… on an old car you’re looking at it being totaled for MINOR sheet metal damage. $2000 will barely replace & finish two panels these days. Airbag cost doesn’t even matter… Plus anyone interested in keeping the car can de-airbag it such that the government inspector would never know anyway.

            Not running doesn’t require replacement of everything either, unless one is just using a shotgun approach but that’s a question of skill as a mechanic, not the car.

            30s and 40s cars… how many do you see per year on the road in STOCK form? I see maybe two a year unless I go to a show catering to them, but that’s not on the road either. Modified cars? fairly often in the summer.

            Buick Regals in the 80s did not do zero to 60 in a four and half seconds. In the 80s the only cars that even got got close to that fast that weren’t exotics were made in the 1960s. The rest of your list are some of those models I still see roaming around BTW… There was reason to keep a ’72 Nova… what on earth would cause someone to keep an ’82 Cavalier?

            The 5.0 mustangs of the 80s are being restored body/trim wise… Those parts aren’t being made because nobody is buying them. There are a multitude of suppliers and retailers for restoration parts for ‘79-’93 mustangs.

            Performance? Compared to a 2012 the SVO and old 5.0 mustangs are slow in stock form. At an eighty horsepower disadvantage to the current six cylinder. Few are going to replace worn out go-turn-stop parts with 100% stock. When the engine needs to be rebuilt it’s rebuilt for more power… when the suspension needs replacement it’s upgraded… doing all that work and having stock back doesn’t make much sense. The really picky would choose mods that aren’t seen but they’ll still be there.

            GMC Syclone was introduced around 1996 or so…

            Fiero… I put “fiero restoration” into google… people do it, we just weren’t aware of it. It’s just odd people… every car has a following, even fireball pintos. But it’s never going to be mainstream and neither are Corvairs. And the car was crap because of GM corporate BS and mostly poor quality until the very end when finally corporate let engineers do it right… but by then the name was ruined and the model was killed.

            Better than the late 70s… isn’t that what I just stated? Cars got worse from 1974 to 1984 and then started getting better again. And that’s the point… why keep an ’85 running when a ’95 is better? But a ’75 was often better than an ’84 in many respects and ’69 better than a ’75… so those cars got kept. Then when they were finally surpassed they were of collectable age. A car has to get through that critical age of 10-20 to survive. ‘65-’75 cars had an advantage to make it through that window, why people made the decision to keep them around… The early 80s cars I see most? GM full size. Why? Last of breed.

            I know as well as you do that people who are doing perfect restorations of 1977ish anything are few and far between. Exceptions do not make rules. Pretty much everything ’75 up is modified somehow, someway.

            On the Addendum….

            Where on earth do you get a decent carb for under $200 brand new? A simple 2bbl costs more than that brand new. Come on… I’m not clover… I’ve been around the block. It’s like you’re trying to pull something over on me time and time again or testing me with stuff.

            And once again… The whole thing will never need to be replaced. You are arguing apples and oranges… Oh.. $50 rebuild kit vs. replace *EVERYTHING WITH NEW*. If I wanted a new quadrajet for an ’82 olds delta 88 w/307 V8 it’s going to be more than $200… Quick google shoping tells me $315 for a REMAN on ebay!

            • The key is mandated by law. Yes, air bags and ABS were available on a few (very few) cars in the ’70s but they were not mandatory then, so it’s not required that they be in working order now. SRS has been mandatory since the mid-’90s or thereabouts (and prior to that, we had those god-awful automatic seat belts).

              Recheck the stats on what turbo Grand Nationals were capable of – and also the GNX.

              But, again, the point is almost all these cars were a lot quicker than the mid-late ’70s stuff, yet the mid-late ’70s stuff is routinely restored to factory stock. The newer stuff is not. They get gutted – or thrown away.

              On carbs, lookee here:

              That’s for a VW Beetle 1 barrel. You can by new Qjets for about $400 – and again, rebuild kits cost about $50-$75.

          • ABS isn’t mandatory now. If the argument is that anything originally on the car has to be in perfect working order then that would be the same ’71 or ’91 or ’01. Anyway my point in mentioning it is that these systems are not nearly as complex as you make them out to be. technologically speaking they are decades old.. that’s why they are cheap enough to be so widespread now.

            Plus there are many states like Illinois where there are no inspections. There’s just a bi-annual emissions check in some counties. That’s it. And the emissions test for anything ’82-’95 has gone back to the simple sniffer. ( ) Prior to ’82 is no longer tested. The tests reached their peak with IM240… oh the joy of having some incompetent government employee slip the clutch with the car on the wheel dyno. Back in the 80s and 90s everything was tested back to ’68 with a sniffer test. Government never cared about ABS, climate control, or much of anything besides the mandated emissions test.

            The argument wasn’t capable of… it was as it left the factory. Once talking “capable” it’s the old saying… “speed costs money, how fast do you want to spend?” Which is why people aren’t restoring to stock, they are modifying. Because the cars are easily modified for much more than stock… just as they were back in the late 80s.

            I can say one thing, I haven’t seen any movement to perfect stock restorations in the oddball fords of the 1970s… not since I first ended up into it in the 80s.

            fuel injection = apples, a single 1bbl carb = oranges.

            As to rebuilds… there’s always cleaning/rebuilding the injectors as I mentioned earlier. It applies to most of the solenoid things that are on the cars. (I tend to prefer throttle body cleaner to avoid damaging O2 sensors and dissolving plastics, rubber, etc…)

            BTW, 944s and 928s I see rather frequently on the road. If people can keep Porsches going as daily drivers (I see them year round) then people can keep anything going if they wanted to… but who’s going to keep an ’82 cavalier running?

            But I have a more simple way of proving my point. Until the mid 1980s there were models here and there that were largely unchanged mechanically for decades. These models have suffered the same fate as the vast majority of early 80s cars when they were not significantly more complex or different from cars dating back to the early 60s.

            In 1959 Ford introduced the Falcon unitbody. The last car that used this same basic design for the chassis and engines from the same family, still complete with carbs was the Ford Granada and it’s clones the Mercury Monarch and Lincoln Versailles. They lasted until 1980. They are for all effective purposes, gone. What about the 1979-1984 Fox chassis cars? While the basic unit body was updated the suspension was simple, the drive train was simple, the engines typical carburetored ford fair. Same old Ford Falcon inline sixes and V8s. This is Fairmont, Zephyr, Mustang, TBird, LTD, 82 continentals, and 81-82 Granadas. They haven’t fared any better than their fuel injected counterparts a couple model years newer.

            A perfect way to prove your point is to show that people are restoring ’82 continentals but not ’83s. That was the junction between carbs and fuel injection. Same with mustang, that the carb’d ones are getting restored and the later ones not. Except what people do things like take an ’84 and put a ’91 5.0L in it. They do the same with Mavericks and Fairmonts. The carb’d engines get yanked for the later fuel injected versions. They intentionally add what you’re telling me is the reason the cars aren’t being restored.

            • Hi Brent,

              Ok, you wrote:

              “A perfect way to prove your point is to show that people are restoring ’82 continentals but not ’83s. That was the junction between carbs and fuel injection.”

              I have a perfect case in point:

              People do restore 1979 Trans-Ams – but not so much the 1980 and ’81 cars. Identical in most respects; in fact, the ’80-’81 Turbo Trans-Am (200-210 hp) was more powerful than the standard ’79 Trans-Am (which was powered by a 180 hp Oldsmobile-sourced 403). But the ’79 has no computer control.

              Ditto the same-year Camaro. After 1979, the cars are rarely (if ever – I’ve never seen one) restored to stock. Their original engines are tossed out and replaced with something aftermarket.

              It’s not a power/performance issue. As I’ve noted, the earlier cars were (mostly) slow. Yet it’s routine to see people lavish effort to return these cars to exactly as they were when new.

              On Porches: ‘Cmon now. Virtually any Porsche is a collectible; maybe not an exotic collectible (though many are) but collectible. An ’82 Cavalier is not.

              On FI vs. carbs: It is apples and oranges. FI is much more expensive to replace/work on. Were you surprised about the less-than-$200 brand-new carb for the VW? And – again – that’s the entire fuel delivery system. No MAF or MAP sensors, no pressure regulators, no sensors or computer.

              You’re right ABS is not mandatory, so doesn’t come under the “must have” letter of the law. But since about ’95 air bags have been mandatory. And now (beginning with the 2012s) traction/stability control (and thus, ABS) will be, too. More expense. More complexity. More expensive, complex stuff to break and cost you money down the road…

        • Eric… I might not know GM in great detail, but I know for a fact that 1980 Trans-am’s were not fuel injected. GM’s division V8s died on the carb side of the dividing line. Only the SBC made it across that sedimentary boundary line. Because I remember this, I doubled checked and the 301 turbo used a special 800cfm quadrajet. So nothing special from a technical standpoint. It’s a carbed engine. It’s an example of the fickle nature of what people do with cars, not a technical issue. If it’s a computer controlled quadrajet… those are easiest ones to work with. I know because I rebuilt one. I have a book on quadrajets that I bought for the task. There’s no question it’s the easiest of them all.

          People routinely replace these smogged and crippled early 80s and late 70s engines with more modern fare. So much so there are wire adapters manufactured for the task. The resto-modding adds fuel injection to cars that didn’t have it in the first place. It isn’t stopping people from restoring cars.

          The point I was making with the ’82 cavalier is that it’s the cavalier is the chevy nova of the 80s… The ’82 had a carb. Nova’s are restored/restomodded because they have potential… the cavalier is just crap. Nobody is going bother. That’s the dividing line. interest, perception, comparisons to other vehicles. People have limited time and money… and it’s not the fuel injection… what they choose doesn’t follow that boundary layer.

          What I meant was you can’t take something like 1bbl carb and compare it to fuel injection any more than a 1bbl carb should be compared to a 4bbl. You’re taking the cheapest sort of carbs known to man… at least pick something that approaches fuel injection’s capabilities.

          The 80s is when we suffered under the additive effects of Nixon, Carter, and Claybrook. It’s not remarkable that people don’t really want to relive that in stock form…

          • Hi Brent,

            How could a computer-controlled Quadrajet be easier to work on than a non-computer Quadrajet? GM added an electronic hook-up to the carb (to do I forget what) but otherwise it was the same basic casting, etc. It was/is certainly less tunable than the non-electronic Quadrajet – and so considered much less desirable. Ask anyone who works on these cars.. .

            Both mid-late ’70s and mid-late ’80s cars “suffered under the additive effects of Nixon, Carter, and Claybrook.” But in fact the ’80s stuff was getting better in the sense of power/performance, reliability and driveability. Yet while people very much want to relive the mid-late ’70s in stock form this has not been the case for the ’80s-era stuff.

            There is no good reason I can think of for the lack of interest in, say, a ’82 Z28 Indy Pace Car with Cross Fire Fuel Injection vs the ongoing popularity of a ’77 Z28. The ’82 performed better. It looked better (arguably). It absolutely handled better and it was a much better overall car. Like the ’77, the ’82 was a very popular, strong-selling car when new, too. Yet few if anyone seems to be restoring the ’82s….

            Maybe it’s because the ’82 has a computer and fuel injection and much more complicated electronics (and it’s simple and crude compared with a newer Camaro).

            This is just one example. I could list a dozen more.

            The ’77 car has a 350 V-8 with a four barrel Q-Jet. That is it. No electronics to speak of. The wring harness for the whole car is a surprisingly small bundle. Ignition, lights, accessories. That’s it.

            Replacing just the computer/ECU and fuel injection system/related parts on an mid-’80s era car could easily cost more than rebuilding the entire drivetrain of a car like the ’77 Camaro in the example above. And that’s not even getting into the hassle factor of having to deal with the increasingly complex (and stringent) emissions controls – and tests.

            I’m not just pulling this out of my ass. I’ve personally rebuilt/restored half a dozen ’60s and ’70s-era cars. I know what’s involved, work-wise and expense-wise. I’m also familair with the cost/difficulty of working on later model stuff – and this is what I’m basing my side of this argument on!

          • hi,
            The computer controlled quadrajet does not have all the mechanicals in it for controlling mixture and idle. It’s just a solenoid There’s nothing to touch there. There’s just less to do. If you have it on your shelf, Rochester Carburetors, HP books, page 61. A qjet has a great number of parts on the exploded drawing, someone who isn’t mechanically able to follow it would throw up their hands at the complexity. Plus one could always just swap on a pre computer controlled carb if desired. There’s nothing stopping it, no interaction with the ignition as I recall.

            They started getting better in the mid 80s… It was a deep hole to climb out of. but when each new model year is better than the last… people stop looking back.

            You’re making a guess as to why this and not that. The angular F-bodies of the early 80s are rather popular around where I am at. Saw another resto-modded one last night. The other night there was one in progress parked at some auto service place. I guess it depends if someone prefers Smokey and the Bandit and The Rockford Files to Knight Rider or the other way around 🙂

            Why do you feel that the whole fuel system, computer and all would need to be replaced? Not rebuilt, which much of it can be if its even required. The ECM rarely fails, the injectors and other parts are simple and if anything would just need a good cleaning. I’ve dealt with so many fuel injected cars since the mid 80s up to about 200K miles on more than one and the fuel system has not been an issue other than a single TPS. Oh and a rusted out fuel tank. I’ve never even heard of anyone who replaces the fuel management system. They might buy new injectors if they need greater fuel delivery to match other modifications, but that’s all I’ve even heard of.

            • “Why do you feel that the whole fuel system, computer and all would need to be replaced?”

              Because eventually they will fail. I agree they’re very durable. But 30, 40 years down the road… they’ll fail. An ECM isn’t fixable. You throw it away and start with a new part. Then there are the various related parts such as mass airflow sensor…. they won’t last forever, either. Granted, neither will a carburetor and cast iron manifold, though they’re much more likely to last for much, much longer (I mean 40-plus years, easily). And if they do need to be replaced, it’s simple, cheap and easy to replace them.

              “but when each new model year is better than the last… people stop looking back.”

              Well, then you have to account for the ongoing and growing popularity of the mid-late ’70s stuff vs. the early 70s and ’60s stuff. The mid-late ’70s stuff was inferior in just about every way to the early ’70s, ’60s stuff. Yet people treasure them anyhow and routinely restore them to stock. Why?

          • We are going around in circles. I have already shown that remans are available (they can be fixed) and nobody replaces something that works because it might fail 20 years from now. The original radios and such still work in cars that old more often than not and they see the same conditions. Whatever electronics used for the engine is usually not that far away from the radio.

            The people doing mid-late 70s are exceptions to the masses who stick with 1973 and earlier. It’s always been a pre-74 game since the 80s and it continues to be so. There are more people doing later stuff because the older stuff has gotten harder and more expensive to get but the late 70s cars you point to are still cosmetically nearly the same other than the big assed federal 5mph bumpers. One thing that’s done with mavericks is to take a ’74-’77 and replace the bumpers and associated trim with ’70-’73 parts. I am sure it’s also done with other models. Look at Mustang ii… still just odd balls doing those. Fewer people than those that do fox bodies that’s for certain.

  4. On average you’re correct. I think there are some caveats to both the old and new pros/cons.

    For example, the model of your old car has a lot to do with reparability. If you have a vehicle which was very popular/common at the time, the market demand for replacement parts is relatively high and, as such, the cost of replacement parts is relatively cheap. If, however, you have a collector’s car or relatively rare car, the market for those parts that are unique to it is much smaller and the cost of the parts goes up accordingly. For example, my ’72 Corvette Stingray has some fairly common bits and pieces on it given that it has a 350 small block in her. But it also has some pretty rare bits and pieces that aren’t even replaceable because they’re no longer made and some others that are crazy expensive, much more so than a more widely manufactured vehicle. Some of those parts are not absolutely necessary to keep it running and drivable, but some of them are (think gas tank).

    Another factor worth considering is how well the car was built in the first place. I would wager that a well designed, well built car will give you longer life than most others, all else being equal. However, as with most things, there is a balance to be had between build quality and price. Each manufacturer determines the break-over point for that based heavily on their target market. Thus a Rolls-Royce from the 1950s is pretty near indestructible, but at the same time it would be incredibly expensive to repair. On the other hand, a 1978 Chevrolet would be cheap to repair but, due to the low build quality of American cars at the time, also likely to need frequent repairs.

    Some car models are so common, even with ECUs on board, that the market for these will be significant for some time as well. So the act of repairing it might be somewhat more difficult, the newer and more electronically controlled it is, the more difficult on average, but the cost of the parts might not be much worse than mechanical solutions.

    The point I’m getting at is that there might be a sort of sweet-spot somewhere with all of these variables. That sweet-spot should take into account all the factors you mentioned, such as simplicity of design, level of electronic control, ease of use of more modern models, etc., as well as other factors such as original build quality, availability of parts, etc. And then, of course, you have to factor in individual preference.

    To me, it seems like an old Toyota pickup from the 1980s would be a good choice. Lots of them were made, they’re very reliable, they had some electronic bits but, depending on the year, not that much, and the vehicle is well suited to many of my routine needs. However, I don’t have a family to tote around or have to worry as much about gas mileage. For someone else, a small reliable sedan may be the best choice. For a third, a large luxury sedan. And so forth.

    There’s a lot of factors that could be considered in this, and it’s up to each person to decide on what their goals might be for the project/purchase. Ah, thank goodness for choices. At least we don’t (yet) have to worry about having only one car to choose from and the only question is which year model will the state let us purchase (I’m thinking of the Lada here).

  5. To me, the increased day-to-day reliability is a fair trade off. Cars with carbs and mechanical ignition seemed to need more frequent maintenance; I remember the old man doing work on his cars every couple weeks. I see fewer cars stuck on the side of the road these days – I have to think the electronic systems’ reliability has a lot to do with that. The total cost of ownership may be lower with the more complex cars (better mileage) if you intend to replace your car every 15 years, and not getting stuck is a big advantage for most people.
    But auto maintenance is not my choice for weekend activities. I can totally understand the preference for a vehicle that can be maintained with tools the home mechanic can afford. (I keep toying with the idea of buying a Type 1 Beetle or a transporter for that reason)
    OTOH, dealers have apparently found that newer cars are not generating enough repair revenue. My mother’s CR-V has a “maintenance minder” light, which I think can only be switched off by dealer equipment. It doesn’t indicate any malfunction, just gets you paying at the dealer again.

    • Rally carbs are not so bad if you put them together right and you can ALWAYS make them work with some rework, whereas electronic components must be replaced (if available0.

      Even the constantly maligned points. I have an old Chevy camper that I’ve had for about 20 years. I’ve probably replaced the points once in that time, as part of a general tuneup, not because it wasn’t running. And like the carb, you can always do something with points, enough to get home. A dead pickup or crank sensor leaves you sunk.

      My Jeep is carbed. I replaced the carb with a rebuilt over 80K miles ago (cost $180) and it’s still running fine.

      • Agree. Some carbs are actually very good. The Rochester Quadrajet, for example. It is an extremely sophisticated/precise fuel metering device. It can be tuned to deliver near FI throttle response, cold start performance, etc. It is also much less expensive than FI. A new unit costs around $350 and that’s the “whole ball of wax” – the entire fuel system (except for the fuel pump, lines and filter). Nothing else to buy – or replace. And because it’s a mechanical device, unlike a solid state electronic device, it can be rebuilt almost in perpetuity rather than thrown away and replaced.

  6. If you’re talking about returning something to stock performance with stock-type replacement parts, you’re correct, the older car with its simpler components and systems will be better for that. But there are a few caveats. First, older cars don’t hold up against rust very well–fine in some climates, not fine in others. Drive that ’57 Chevy year-round up here in Minnesota and it will be rusted out in short order.
    Second, if you’re just talking about being able to keep a car running for an extended period of time, there are aftermarket solutions to the electronic problems, such as completely aftermarket computers and sensors that will allow you to keep the engine going–just as those older cars that still function via aftermarket, non-OEM solutions. I agree that a lot of your more recent cars with integrated components will lose that functionality as parts fail, but in many cases those are functions that one can live without (memory power seats, for example).
    Third, don’t forget about the continuing experiments that fuel companies continue to undertake with various mixtures and brews that then appear at your local filling station. These play havoc with carbs, but EFI systems can deal with these variations much more easily.

    My underlying point is that a basic, functioning, computer-controlled EFI system isn’t impossible to DIY at this stage through someone like MegaSquirt, and it is likely to get even easier and cheaper as time goes on. You don’t have to source OEM parts, but can use somewhat generic components and wiring to create such a system.

    • Hi Peter!

      Agreed, there are pros and cons (and solutions) in each case.

      One huge factor, though, that affects newer cars is emissions legality. You can pass smog, in terms of what’s coming out of the tailpipe – but may fail visual inspection if any of the OEM parts have been obviously removed/modified, or the “check engine” light is on.

      I suspect this will become even more of an issue down the road.

      There are also related issues with ABS and air bags – the latter mandated as part of the vehicle’s safety equipment and required to be operational. If the SRS light is on, the vehicle will fail state safety inspection. If you are in a relatively minor – and otherwise fixable – accident that causes the bags to go off, they must be replaced by law for the vehicle to be lawful to operate. But replacing driver and passenger side bags is a $2,000 (or more) job, since the entire dash and steering wheel must typically be replaced. If the car is only worth a few thousand, it will be totaled by the insurance co., even though it could otherwise still be economically fixed/driven.

      ABS: It’s not mandatory (yet) but it’s possible you’d fail safety if the ABS light is on. If the pump’s shot, expect a big bill.

      Beginning with the 2012 models, traction/stability control will be required by law. I don’t know for certain, but I’d bet that since it’s mandatory, all 2012 and later vehicles will be required by law to have this system operational.


      With the older (pre-computer) stuff, you’ve got no such issues.

      Rust? Definitely. But we should distinguish between cosmetic (outer body) and structural rust. It takes awhile for rust to get to the point that the vehicle is no longer safe to drive. Ugly, sure. But still drivable – and cheap.

      My opinion: We are reaching a point of critical mass as far as the public’s ability to keep up with the escalating cost of new cars, including maintaining them long term.

      This is a big part of the reason why, I think, we are seeing an unprecedented rise in the prices of used cars – and why then new car market is still struggling.

      It’s just not realistic or feasible for the average family to spend $30,000 on a car (or even $20,000) when their family income is $50,000 annually or less before taxes.

      We’ve long ago reached the point of diminishing returns with regard to further reductions in emissions output (new cars are virtually emissions-free already) and we are fast approaching the point where “safety” and other mandates are making cars unaffordable for more and more people.

  7. So if you had to pinpoint a year when it crossed over from the older style stuff to the newer style stuff, when would it be? I’m only 33, so not too knowledgeable about when cars got really fancy. My 1996 Volvo 960 is getting up in miles (206k) and years and beginning to show signs of things consistently starting to go wrong (leaky fuel rail, bad ignition control module, etc).

    • Hi Chris!

      Well, there are some mileposts along the road… computerized engine controls began to appear in the early 1980s; fuel injection pretty much replaced carburetors after about 1987.

      ABS and multi-point EFI (vs. simpler throttle body-type EFI) as well as additional electronic stuff such as multiple air bags became standards by the mid-late 1990s.

      There are variables here, but anything with a computer and EFI is going to involve more work/expense than something without a computer or EFI … after a certain point. What I mean is, assuming you didn’t get one of the fairly rare lemons, virtually any late-model car can be expected to run reliably and with minimal expense beyond basic maintenance for the first 10-plus years. Older, pre-computer cars needed more regular minor adjustments. But, the catch with the new stuff is that after about 12-15 years, as you get to the edge of the designed-in useful service life of the various components, the cost to repair/replace the stuff that goes wrong gets more expensive – and the more complex a system is, the more things there are that can (and will, eventually) go wrong.

      My general rule is 15 years and about 200k for a late model car. After that, it’s smart to trade/sell before something big goes wrong – and start iver with a new (or newer( used car!

      • After 20 years of driving cars (and having to hire mechanics for all non-trivial repairs), this article seems to say it about right. The teenage version of me bought a 1993 Mercury Cougar with the 3.8. It had a head gasket fail at about 80K and I was stupid enough to run a quick trade into a 1997 cougar (last of the V8s.) That 2nd cougar was quite good, but after televen years and 180K miles I was starting to get into serious troubles with the emissions components, and things were getting tired. I was lucky to step off for $2K.

        My wife bought a 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and we’re interested in keeping it a long time. We had a winshield crack already and the safelight guy mentioned his 80s wrangler had a 396 Chevy block fitted. The concept of fitting an old gen1 350 with a simple EFI setup after the stock engine gets tired is attractive.


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