Inside Baseball

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Here are some things to know about new cars the car industry probably would prefer you didn’t know.Businesspeople Sharing Information

* It doesn’t matter what brand you buy – 

Not nearly as much as it used to, that is.

The trend toward homogeneity – especially within a given segment (e.g.. “compact crossovers under $30k”) is such that it’s becoming hard to tell what you’re driving without looking around for the badge. But it’s much more than purely superficial sameness. The really important commonality is that – with a rare exception every now and then – they’re all “reliable” and “durable.”

A quarter-century ago, buying a Toyota or Honda over a Chevy or a Ford (to say nothing of a Hyundai) was the smart move. The Toyotas and Hondas of the Friends-era ’90s were more than just slightly better-put-together. The competition was crap in comparison. But the Quality Gap has narrowed to negligible since then; indeed, it is quite possible that today’s Hyundai’s are better than today’s Toyotas. They – the Hyundais – certainly come with better warranties.

So, focus your buying eyes on the car you like – and worry less about the brand. It just doesn’t matter as much as it used to.

* You may never need another car –methuselah

Oh, you will probably want one. But (see above) the build quality and engineering that went into whatever new car you’re about to buy is such that – absent abuse – you can safely bet on it being a faithful companion for at least the next 15 years – and possibly much longer than that.

Treat it well, give it regular fluid and filter changes – and the powertrain (the engine and transmission; the parts that make it go) could go for 200,000-plus miles before showing signs of getting tired. The body ought to remain solid – and the paint looking good – for 20-plus years, even if you never wash the thing and even if you leave it sitting outside.

Take a look around the next time you’re out driving and notice how many cars that are easily ten-plus years old still look nearly as good as they did when new. Your next new car will probably look this good (and last that long) too.

You might get sick of it, eventually. But the odds are that will happen long before it gets sick – and the time comes to put it down.

* They all “handle” better than most people are capable of driving –  cornering pic

It’s nothing like it was when I was a kid back in the ’80s – and learned to drive in the cars of the ’70s (and ’60s). Which were barely competent at legal speeds – and often completely out of their depth at higher speeds. It was easy to unsettle one; to lose control at speeds not much higher than the posted speed limit. Suspension technology was primitive; tires were awful (compared with what’s available – and common – today). A good driver could easily out-drive his car.

Today, it’s reversed.

From the lowliest Prius to the top-heaviest SUV, lateral grip (the ability to hold a corner without breaking traction) in any new vehicle is high enough that few people will ever drive the vehicle fast enough to get close to the vehicle’s limits of grip. They’ll reach their limits as drivers first.old car cornering pic

A given car may have more precise steering feel – and so on – but unless it’s driven at Ludicrous Speed (i.e., extremely illegal speeds) the average driver will never be in danger of losing control due to the vehicle losing control.  

This is both good – and bad.

Good, because cars are more stable and predictable – and so, less prone to loss of control.

Bad, because they are deceptively easy to drive fast – and do not encourage drivers to develop skills or an awareness of their own limits as drivers.

* Their gas mileage is (comparatively) atrocious – gas hog pic

How many new cars crest 40 MPG on the highway? Other than hybrids and diesels – just a handful.


Despite leap-frog technology advances (transmissions with overdrive gearing that cut engine RPM to a fast idle at highway cruise speeds; low rolling resistance tires; precise metering of fuel via electronic engine controls, wind-cheating aerodynamic shapes, etc.) there are only a handful of 2014 cars that get better gas mileage than many cars delivered back in 1984. And those cars did not have the technology advantages of today’s cars. They had three and four-speed transmissions instead of today’s five and six-speed transmissions, boxy shapes – and they had carburetors – the same fuel-feeding technology used by the Model T Ford 100 years ago. Despite these handicaps,  several (e.g., Chrysler Aries K, Renault LeCar, Plymouth Champ) got better than 40 MPG.


Because they didn’t have one thing all new cars have:

Excess beef.fat car pic

Check it out: A 2014 “Smart” car – pretty much the smallest new car you can buy – is quite the porker. It weighs 2,315 lbs. A Fiat 500 – also “small” – weighs 2,363 pounds. A comparably sized ’70s-era VW Beetle weighed about 1,600 pounds. An ’84 Renault LeCar weighed 1,790 pounds. Take a car that weighs under 1,800 pounds and fit it with a modern overdrive transmission and electronic fuel injection and you’d have a 50 MPG car. But a 2,300 pound with all those advantages will be a 40 (or 35) MPG car.

You can have light weight – and great gas mileage. Or so-so gas mileage in a “safer” – heavier – car.

But you can’t have both in the same car.

* No new cars are slow- slow car pic

Or, put another way, all new cars are pretty fast.

There isn’t one that can’t hit at least 110 MPH – and most are electronically limited (due to the speed rating of their factory tires) to that and could go faster. Even a Prius hybrid – taken to be the slowest thing on the road – is faster than many of the V-8 muscle cars of the ’70s.

A Prius can tickle 120 – I assure you. As it was built, my 1976 Trans-Am (equipped with a 7.4 liter V-8) was all done by then – mechanically limited by its gearing rather than held in check by an absence of horsepower.

And zero to 60? The slowest new cars – that would be the Prius – only take about 11 seconds. To get a handle on how quick that is, consider the performance of a ’70s-era VW Bus. It took about 45 seconds to make the same run.

Today, you can buy several new cars that have power enough to go from stationary to 60 MPH in less than four seconds.Porsche pic

But the truly telling difference – Now vs. Then – is that ordinary family cars (a Toyota Camry, for instance) accelerate as or even more quickly than the high-performance cars of the “good old days.” Most do the 0-60 run in the seven second range – and many are in the six second range. The average family sedan of the Disco Era did it in about 10 seconds.

For fun – to get a sense of how good we have it now (in this respect, at least) go back and read a circa 1990 issue of Car & Driver and check the 0-60 times of the cars being reviewed.

It’s startling… in a  good way.

For once.

Throw it in the Woods? 


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  1. Most of what Peters says about newer cars is true, except perhaps the reliability issue. Certainly bodies last longer than they used to, but mechanically I doubt it. My dad bought beaters by the dozen when I was a kid–200,000 miles on a car were barely a ring break-in for him. Those old bombs ran forever, and were cheap to fix.

    The one objection to my statement is that there might have been a selection bias at work here: almost by definition the cars dad bought were survivors, cars that for whatever reason just hung together better than most others. So our faithful clunkers might have been the exceptions, not the rule. Anyway, I miss the days of the $5 tune-up kit and $15 timing light.

    • Ya know, Ross, I’ve always driven high-mileage survivors, too. I think the reason they survived, is because they were driven, and maintained by the previous owners- i.e. maybed the PO was a commuter and put 600-700 miles a week on it (Not uncommon in places like Long Island) – so the car would get a lot of highway-speed use; the erl was changed regularly; and preventative maint. was done/things fixed before they crapped out.

      Compare that to an older low-mileage car: I remember my friend’s mother paying a ludicrous amount for a very low mileage c. 8-9 year-old bubble Caprice. I warned her not to do it; and esp. not to pay nearly double for it- but she didn’t listen. Car turned out to be the biggest piece of guano, of course….because it had spent most of it’s life just sitting; being used for occasional short trips only; and every part on the car was likely the one it came with from the factory- (Wouldn’t surprise me if the erl was orig. too!)-The car needed a valve job the day she bought it (I had told her it would- though I had never laid eyes on the car)- Needless to say, that expensive low-mileage little-old-lady (she knew the lady) car, was the biggest POS she ever owned- despite those Caprices being good cars- and she sold it before long, and took a real beating on it- not getting a third of what she paid for it- never mind what she put into it. -Funny thing was; when she bought that car for like $7500, I was driving a’78 LeSabre that I paid $125- and drove for 2 years without doing a thing to it, other than changing the erl a few times…..

      The average person doesn’t get it: Low-mileage may be good if you’re buying a late-model car…..but it’s the worst possible thing with old cars- as they’re the ones that weren’t driven nor maintained. Cars that aren’t driven just sit and rot and deteriorate. Little Old Lady doesn’t fix anything until there’s a major failure, ’cause she don’t know it’s broke [sic] till the car doesn’t go anymore.

  2. My last GM purchase was a 2004 Malibu Maxx. It’s had many, many, problems including a poorly engineered entire front suspension & steering. If GM willingly repaired these defects – no problem, but instead they sent their bureaucrats to deny responsibility. GM’s new “fix” for this vehicle is to have announced “recalls” – currently 3 – but to not repair anything with the excuse that parts aren’t available.

    GM should be long gone but instead have been awarded, for poor performance, with a huge bailout that taxpayers are forced to fund.

    • Agree with you on the GM bail-out.

      But could you define “poorly engineered entire front suspension and steering”?

      Were the problems nuisances? Or more serious?

      • From Eric: “Were the problems nuisances? Or more serious?”

        Problems: 1) Electric power steering was new that year to the Malibu, it was troublesome from the start and currently intermittently stops functioning – not too safe and one of the items of “no parts available”. 2) Steering shaft (from steering wheel) design defective – made terrible noises when turning – not much confidence in safety 3) Constant, unidentifiable source, noises from the front suspension 4) All the dash gauges quit functioning before I drove it off the lot. 5) Fuel gauge error reading requiring fuel tank replacement. 4) Defective exhaust system requiring replacement. 6) Poorly designed fuel pressure system causing constant check engine warning.

        This car (Malibu Maxx) – medium sized hatchback V6 – was an excellent concept, with unique features, but as with other GM vehicles, like the Citation, the quality and reliability wasn’t there. A plus: the engine and transmission of the Maxx have held up well – 115k miles.

        • Hi Libertyx,

          Thanks for the detailed explanation. The problems you describe are fairly typical of “modern car problems.” Definitely annoying, but – my opinion – not catastrophic, such as major early engine failure or structural (frame) rot within a few years from new, as was once not at all uncommon.

          My impression is that new cars tend to have more in the way of glitches (especially intermittent and hard to nail down electrical issues) that can definitely be aggravating as well as expensive. but which are different animals than the stuff that used to commonly go wrong with cars.

          The upside to the older stuff is that it was usually more DIY-fixable whereas when an issue crops up with a new car, it is often something beyond the ken (and tools) of the average person…

          • eric, like my wife’s mid 90’s Cutlass Supreme, deemed at one time, the worst car on the road along with it’s stable mates. So, what was so bad? 260,000 miles and still purring. What was so bad was the electronic glitches, and I cussed hell out of them, and there is no excuse, but the durability of the car itself is outstanding. Sure, it’s just inexcusable or at least, maddening, that you have to put up with continual warning lights but if you can ignore them, and I realize a great many people can’t, and even I couldn’t come to terms with the air bag light(this is serious stuff)coming on due to a worn out alternator. Still, this car is like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps going and going and going. Mechanical problem, forget about those. Keep the oil and filter serviced, the transmission filter and fluid changed, a bit of something like Bar’s Leak in the coolant(and changed every couple-three years)for leak control(don’t know of a problem with that)and lubrication of the water pump and all’s well. I know many people(it’s long haul country, hot temperatures, long roads and high speeds)with these cars and they don’t bat an eye at a quarter million miles. But oh, those damned warning lights of all sorts. If you can ignore them, the cars are good for…well, who knows? Still a huge number of them on the road. My wife’s car, drive along till you brake and turn left, ah, the Check Engine Soon light comes on, never fails. But what’s to check? I dunno. It’s serviced(all my vehicles, not just this one and no matter the brand) out the wazoo and nothing ever goes awry. You can turn the ignition off, restart and the light isn’t on or you can just ignore the damned light and it’s fine too.

            How many times I have seen the “problem list” of all cars and hardly ever is there mechanical problems, just electronic glitches. Seems like I recall 90% of all car problems now are electronic. Like you said Eric, the mechanicals are virtually problem free. Look out, the Air Bag light is flashing, it’s about to explode. No, wait, it’s nothing but low voltage from a worn out alternator….never mind. This crap will drive you to drink, and to think that’s illegal….sheesh…..

    • I know how you feel on the parts situation. We’ve had brand new cars sit on the lot for 6 months wainting for parts. The bad part is they are Still making them new with the same part we can’t get. These car companies don’t care once it’s sold.

    • I had a 2000 Prizm that was pretty decent, but of course that was really a Corolla. Before that I had an ’88 Celebrity wagon, pretty decent for over 200k mi., but then several things wore out at once: brakes, struts, exhaust. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the water pump, no go w/o that, and not worth putting it on.

  3. Hmm…thinking about quality/reliability/durability of newish cars…. [as I’ve said before, I’m not too familiar with newer cars, as I don’t like ’em/don’t care/am no longer in the physical business]

    But just the glimpses I’ve been seeing:

    *The 6.0 Powerstroke diesel debacle (Only modern-day Detroit could screw-up a full-size workhorse diesel!)

    *The Duramax debacle….

    *The Ford Variable Cam Timing debacle.

    *VW STILL has electrical problems.

    *Toyota drive-by-wire problems.

    *Using glue instead of nuts and bolts/welding body panels.

    *Non-serviceable trannies- Can’t even add or change fluid.

    *Weak suspensions: A-arms on many vehicles are so light that you can bend them practically by hand (Includes Dodge trucks, and many Jap economy cars)- I’ve seen late model cars totalled-out from hitting a curb!

    ….needless to say, I’m not convinced…..

  4. From Eric: “The really important commonality is that – with a rare exception every now and then – they’re all “reliable” and “durable.”

    Consumer Reports, and my experience, don’t agree with the quote. GM, Ford and Chrysler are consistently less reliable than Toyota and Honda. I owned GM vehicles exclusively for many years and they all had too many problems. My most recent purchase, a 2012 Toyota RAV4 V6 4WD, after two years has had zero defects and zero returns to the dealership – excluding regular maintenance.

    I’d like a new Camaro but don’t want the poor quality hassle.

    • Hi Liberty,

      Yeah, but we should define “reliable.”

      Does it mean a major mechanical failure? Or does it mean some annoying but relatively trivial thing such as a “check engine” diagnostic light coming on?

      These days, it’s typically the latter.

      And “quality”:

      Same thing.

      The car has “hard plastic”… etc.

      The big stuff is light-years better across the board than it used to be. Consider, for example, body panel fit. Can you recall a car model built during the past 20 years that had obvious poor panel fitment? Noticeable variations, one car to the next on a dealer’s lot?

      How about paint? The typical new economy car has a nicer/better finish (applied by robots) than high-end cars used to have. I can’t recall the last time I encountered (as an example) orange peel or runs or any other obvious defect. And the paint typically lasts literally three or four times as long in terms of gloss retention, etc.

      • Not quite true, Eric. I’ve had so many customer complain about body panel fit on the 2013 escapes. Paint on Ford anyway isn’t that great. They don’t even paint the lower insides of the doors.

          • The doors on my ’12 mustang are completely painted. The inside is probably the same dull color the body gets coated with before the color coat goes on.

            The inside of the trunk, underbody, etc and so on haven’t gotten color coat in ages. But it is paint and given ’97 at least as durable.

          • Ditto that.

            I’ve been reviewing new cars for 20-plus years, too.

            I’ve seen areas not clear-coated, but that’s not the same thing as unpainted.

      • eric, I’ve seen videos of “some” don’t remember the brand, manufacturer running their complete bare bodies through vats of some sort of anti-corrosion chemical that the primer is applied over. Like you say, robots spray paint what appears to be every surface including inside doors, behind braces, etc. I used to help a friend with a body shop occasionally and never noticed unpainted surfaces on anything, anywhere. When you get new body panels they are primed everywhere you can see and if you have to cut one apart(the original)you’ll see they have paint behind braces and double panels. I’m not speaking of any particular manufacturer.

  5. I like to read your articles most of the time. I do not care at all about your modern cars — over-priced, over-complicated pieces of junk in my opinion. Priced for fools and rich people.
    I still drive my 1972 Dodge Dart 6 cyl. economy line Dart — the only new car that I have ever bought, ordered via Cumberland Dodge in Nashville. Paid for in 1974. I drove a 1970 Dart 6 cyl. for a while. Only regret: That I did not order factory air, but it was too expensive [over $400 1972 dollars I best remember].
    I will drive it until I die or as long as there are parts for it.
    You can have your modern toys. Keep resisting the traitorous totalitarians.

  6. I’m pretty sure Dodges are still disintegrating after a few years…and GM products are still blowing head gaskets before the first 100K-mile spark plug change. Some things NEVER change!

    • Hi Mole,

      I’m pretty sure that’s dated info (and exaggerated). The GM head gasket issue (IIRC) was a problem affecting the Chevy Cavalier and maybe the Cobalt. Both have been out of production for some time.

      “disintegrating after a few years…”

      More like after ten or so.

      Dunno how old you are, but I can remember when the typical new American car was obviously worn out (and often, rusted out) within 5-7 and about 70,000 miles.

      There really isn’t any modern analog to this – that I’m aware of.

      • Interesting points, Eric.

        I’m 52, so I am familiar with the old cars. I’ve worked with cars most of my life, too- in one capacity or another- so I do have some opinions. But, I haven’t kept-up with the newer cars, so I’ll have to take your word for that.

        Here’s my take:

        70’s cars: Rust roblems, definitely! Wearing out at 70-80K miles? Hard to sasy- you would see that a lot…but most people were more lax about maintenance in those days. I’d be surprised if a lot of components on the new cars weren’t wearing out right around the 70-80K mark. (Correct me if I’m wrong on that)

        80’s cars: Pure crap. ’nuff said!

        90’s: Still a lot of crap. Some started getting better in the late 90’s.

        00’s: Not familiar/don’t care, as they have no personality/are too complex/have too much gov’t BS. But I’ve already seen a good number of them that were “unfixable”, ’cause even after visits to the stealershippppppppp and sending a few grand….they can’t fix ’em.

        But I’ll tell ya, GM products- esp. Buick, olds and Chevys have been blowing head gaskets regularly since the 80’s; all through the 90’s…and I haven’t really kept up with them enough to know about the 2000’s- but since almost every injun these days has aluminum heads, I don’t see the problem going away.

        Speaking of 70’s cars: MKy cousin has a ’71 Mustang- 6 cyl. She bought brand new- only car she’s ever owned all these years. Spent most of it’s life parked on the streets of NYC…little over 100K miles on it. Still going strong, and I don’t recall her having any repairs done in the last 20 years….(And that’s the hardest life a car can have- only being driven occasionally and living on the streets of NYC). Sometimes they fool ya….

      • eric, I recall someone on this forum mentioning once going to a Dodge dealership in the late 60’s looking for a small muscle car and some on the lot already had rust on the inner fenders. This was in the NE somewhere since it doesn’t rain here often enough to rust THAT quickly. It only took Chryler 30 years to overcome that problem. Which brings to mind all the white GM p;ickups from the last 25 years with grew primer showing. I have recently seen some not even ten years old and they’re still doing it. Haven’t they had enough time to fix this problem? Other colors, no problem, but this white thing is getting to be ridiculous.

        I had a GM paint specialist tell me that orange peel paint jobs varied from region to region. If you wanted smooth paint get a northern vehicle since the orange peel was a way to avoid refraction from the southern sun that eats paint. Now I see almost all new pickups having metal in the paint no matter what the color, even black ones. Hey, they’re catching on anyway. It does make the paint jobs pop and hopefully last longer. We don’t need salt to destroy vehicles here, old Sol will do it toot sweet for you.

        People always talked about how tight my 93 Chevy pickup was. Did I replace the door bushings? Yep, it’s no big deal and makes a difference for sure but I had replaced the door gaskets also, the really big diff. It’s not expensive or difficult to do and makes your vehicle seem like new again. But don’t go “try” to get some door gaskets for your Focus without enduring the parts guys laughing.

        • Back when I was in college our SAE chapter put together a natural gas powered *white* GM pickup truck. Guess what happened? Yep. The paint peeled showing the grey primer. That truck was a ’90 I think.

          • BrentP, yep, 90’s were some of the worst. All the way through the 90’s they continued to be terrible. I don’t get it. None of the other colors did this so why did white continue to be bad? They got sued once for this so you’d think……

            I was recently looking at a new Peterbilt. Sheesh, CNG, LNG and even electric hybrids….who knew? I have no problem with CNG or LNG for those who want to spend the xtra cash but hybrids??? Of course the pics of the hybrids(and some were the big rigs too)were GREEN. I didn’t delve into it but got to wondering if all hybrids were that color. Does nothing go untouched? Peterbilt, the ultimate truck, defiled…….

  7. “Reliability and durability” Eric? I spent many years as a car salesman, and when asked about these issues, I always used to reply “that reliability and durability are moving targets, and with rare exceptions everyone’s products (vehicles) were generally getting better all the time.”

    • Exactly, Fred.

      There isn’t anything new (or recent) that’s comparable, piece-of-shit-wise, to something like an ’85 Hyundai Excel. Much less a Yugo.

      Sure, there are occasional problems. But I can’t recall an instance of an entire car being obviously shoddy – or literally falling apart within a couple of years – as was fairly common before the ’90s.

  8. Re: modern car acceleration: My 2012 Camry Hybrid has as good acceleration or better than the 1991 V-8 powered Sedan de Ville I once owned. The hybrid runs rings around the equivalent 4-cyl cars and only surrenders in the face of the V6’s.

  9. For forty-plus years I’ve owned a succession of small, basic, (relatively) inexpensive city cars, starting with a 1976 VW Rabbit, a Geo Metro hatchback, a Plymouth Horizon hatchback, and others. I’ve been driving a Toyota Yaris hatchback for the last 7 years, and earlier this year I reserved an ELIO for myself. I really hope that Elio makes them – or at least makes me mine. If I get that I should be all set for the rest of my life (government intrusions and artificial controls not withstanding). Otherwise, if the Elio never makes it into production, sooner or later, when it’s time to replace the Yaris, I’ll buy a used Mitsubishi Mirage hatchback – unless something more affordable and fuel efficient comes along in the meantime.

  10. Add a few more mandatory expensive doodads to your car, I not only pull in more sales tax but I can pull in bigger registration fees based on curb weight. A double whammy as only the taxman can do.

    Eric, I know that buying a used car is better than buying new because of absurdly high priced and instant depreciation. What do you think of buying used cars from rental car companies. Someone told me not to because rental car drivers abuse the cars, but I think that’s bull. I can’t imagine the rental cars are truly treated worse than personally owned cars AND it seems like cars can take quite a bit of abuse before there’s reallyca noticeable difference. What say you? The rental car companies -seem- to have pretty good deals.

    • We do a bunch of rental car company’s maintenence. Ther airport is just 2 miles away. They are crap, trust me. They actually do no maintenence, just oil change. They don’t even want ANY type of inspection. The only reason we even do them is for the old oil that we use for heat.

    • Can’t speak to rental co’s specifically, but it seems that the wide availability of subprime auto loans is keeping most used car prices absurdly high.

      My 2012 Camry Hybrid’s KBB value is so absurd (too high) that I wonder if everyone has lost their minds. That’s why I bought new, when I finally bought a car.

      • You’re so right, DC, about used car prices. I often look at Craigslist, and just shake my head- No bargains anymore. Heck, forget bargains…nothing even close to reality/sanity anymore! Hope I can keep my vehicles going forever, ’cause paying $10K for a 15 year-old pick-up truck (same as mine!) ain’t gonna fly with me; and neither is paying $50K for a new one..not that I’d have a new one anyway, no matter what they cost. And forget the really old stuff that I’d really like to have….everyone thinks their old POS that they parked 15 years ago because it was too wretched to drive and too rusty, is now a collector’s item worth $20K! (Just the other day, saw an old-style ’82 Jeep Cherokee, asking $18K !!!!!!)

    • Rental cars lead a hard life….but FLEET vehicles can be amazing, because they are often driven by people who drive for a living/are heavily monitored/trained..and because of awesome maintenance. I’d never buy a rental- but I bought a 98 Ford Clubwagon ex-fleet vehicle in ’01 when it had 240K miles on it….that was 13 years ago, and all I’ve ever had to do to it is a fuel pump and heater core. Most reliable vehicle I’ve ever had….still runs like new.

      • Yes, most larger fleets do maintain their vehicles. I think it has a lot to do with liability. Some of the smaller businesses are a different story. But I don’t entirely fault them, most are having a hard time and can’t afford it.

        • I think it has a lot to do with large fleets having their own mechanics/service facilities, too. And they’re often OCD about repairs and maintenance. I used to know a guy who was a diesel mechanic for UPS…holy crud! They were meticulous about their trucks!

          On the other hand, most small businesses farm out their stuff/just do minimalk basic maint./don’t fix it till it breaks/let Lenny The Shipping Clerk have a crack at fixing it if it ain’t runnin’ right…. Maintaini9ng vehicles ain’t their thing….they just try and minimize expense, and keep ’em running as long as they can, however they can. Big, big difference.

          • Alot of the fleets around here are cutting back on fixing it themselves. I guess they figure the cost of having employees dedicated to it is getting prohibitive. Especially with how complicated they’re getting.

  11. I have two older commuting cars, a 1994 Lincoln Town Car with about 140k miles (curb weight 4,039 lbs.) and a 1997 Lincoln Town Car with about 150k miles (curb weight 4,040 lbs.). Both are 2nd generation models with the big Ford 4.6L V8 SOHC engine paired with the 4R70W 4-speed overdrive transmission. My use of them is probably 75% interstate driving and 25% city driving. If I drive them sensibly – don’t floor the accelerator and keep the cruise set on 70-72 mph on the interstate – I regularly get 23-25 mpg on both of ’em. Both have digital dashboards with onboard computers that I can check at any point during a tank of fuel.

    My parents have a 4th-generation 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis with about 160k miles (curb weight 3,970 lbs.) and the same engine & drivetrain as my Lincoln and they’ll regularly get close to 25 mpg during interstate driving…and they drive faster than I do!

    My opinion is that regular vehicle maintenance is the KEY not only to longevity, but also above-average fuel economy. The bonus is that these vehicle platforms (Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, & Town Car) are one of the SAFEST cars to be inside if involved in a crash.

    I once saw a Grand Marquis turn over on its roof and slide to a stop after brushing a bevel-bottomed concrete center dividing wall on the interstate at approx. 70 mph. The two elderly occupants climbed out of the car and were standing on the shoulder, waiting for the fire department to arrive, and sustained only minor injuries. THAT is why I drive big, older FORD passenger cars.

    • I love those cars. Some of the best made. I have a couple GM’s and a town car I paid 400 dollars for. Guy thought the trans was junk. Catalytic converter was just plugged. Another good one is the 4.6 T-birds and Cougars. I could get 30mpg at 55 in my 95.

  12. Businessmen vs. Bureaucrats

    A businessman’s success depends on his intelligence, his knowledge, his productive ability, his economic judgment—and on the voluntary agreement of all those he deals with: his customers, his suppliers, his employees, his creditors or investors.

    A bureaucrat’s success depends on his political pull. A businessman cannot force you to buy his product; if he makes a mistake, he suffers the consequences; if he fails, he takes the loss.

    A bureaucrat forces you to obey his decisions, whether you agree with him or not—and the more advanced the stage of a country’s statism, the wider and more discretionary the powers wielded by a bureaucrat. If he makes a mistake, you suffer the consequences; if he fails, he passes the loss on to you, in the form of heavier taxes.

    A businessman cannot force you to work for him or to accept the wages he offers; you are free to seek employment elsewhere and to accept a better offer, if you can find it. (Remember, in this context, that jobs do not exist “in nature,” that they do not grow on trees, that someone has to create the job you need, and that that someone, the businessman, will go out of business if he pays you more than the market permits him to pay you.)

    A bureaucrat can force you to work for him, when he achieves the totalitarian power he seeks; he can force you to accept any payment he offers—or none, as witness the forced labor camps in the countries of full statism.


    The businessman’s tool is values; the bureaucrat’s tool is fear.

    • Nice analysis of bureaucrats vs businessmen. I see the same phenomenon at play inside many large American corporations, which have become bureaucratic nightmares where those who play politics and game the system succeed at the expense of those doing the real work.
      Symptoms of institutions in decline.

    • Worst of all is the businessman bureaucrat: the businessman who cannot succeed on his own ability, so therefore seeks favors for his busness or demands restrictions on his competitors. Typically a large, established company that wishes to remain so, but is so hampered by its own weight it cannot innovate.

        • Eric, don’t you mean all of them? The rent seeking is the only thing keeping them is business. Ford somehow (undeservedly) got this reputation for not taking tax money, but still got low interest loans from the govt. Ford I know is run by idiots too. If you knew of all the issues we have to deal with from them, it’s worse than you could imagine. I figured they’re all like that. The education system is turning out mental defectives left and right.

          • Grant, you are so correct. Years before the GM debacle, Ford got $8B in fed loans but somehow it never made the news. They had made so many bad trucks and cars they were dying. It wasn’t just one product either although their diesel pickups had sucked for years and cost them a huge market share. Their gasoline “trucks” weren’t anything to write home about either and then there were their throw-away cars everybody at the parts store laughed if you tried to find a part for.

            Since then everybody has had to step up quality and while that’s a good thing, everything is way over-priced, not such a good thing. 8 year loans are regular these days with 10 year loans not uncommon. Imagine paying for something you haven’t been able to stand for the last 5 years, nightmarish.

            I need a new pickup, think I’ll go buy a new Ford King Ranch edition so I can advertise for really rich people….or the Eddie Bauer model…….or the Harley Davidson model…… I’m at a loss why people want these types of vehicles. The big 3 have “Texas” and “Oklahoma” editions. Why anyone with Texas plates wants an Ok edition is another mystery, same for vice versa. I sometimes smile or even laugh out loud at my proposed NY version. Would that be shag carpet in the bed? Anti-gun rack in the back window? No bumpers cause they’ve been knocked off and bare wheels cause the wire wheel covers have been stolen? Or is it the new pickup sitting by the house with flat tires cause it’s too much hassle to drive? I have lots of time to think about these things…..between avoiding clovers.

        • 8S, what I don’t understand (in addition to all the “themed” luxury pick-ups which cost more than real estate) is all the 4×4 P/U’s and SUV’s…. You wouldn’t DARE actually go off-roading with one…might scratch the fancy paint, and it’d cost you $2500 to repair..or imagine the dmage to the AWD+ABS delicate CV-joint drivetrain if you actually drove it on a rutted fire trail?! Or the rust issues if you were to take it on the beach?! So basically, these $30K-$75K+ vehicles are for looking at.

          Or the crew cab dually pcik-up with heated leather seats…yeah…lets see the cement crew piling into that! 😀

          Don’t forget the 6.0 diesels that need $5K worth of work to be able to keep a heasd gasket in ’em. Or the Duramaxes (I don’t know how one keeps head gaskets in them)

          And the guy’s financing the rest of their lives for these vehicles….then trying to sell them a few years down the road for half of what they paid for ’em….which no one is going to pay……

          I just don’t get it…..

          • One thing to the folks who buy new vehicles, THANKS! Without you I have no idea what I would drive.

            Once you have determined it is not a lemon or fixed what made it one, scratched and dented some panels so I won’t feel bad when I crush them, eaten 80-90% of the purchase price, I am quite happy to have your ‘junk’.

          • Funny thing is (And I’ll bet you’re like this too, Me2…) I get more pleasure out of owning some nice older vehicle that I got for a song, than I would out of driving some uber expensive high-end new vehicle. Knowing I’m driving for cheap is half the fun. Not having to carry comp & collision; and having a vehicle that is distinguishable from all the other look-a-likes, is part of the joy, too.

            Only down-side is, it seems to be getting harder and harder to find older cars in decent shape these days, much less at a reasonable price. (I love the ads that say “New radiator; thermostat; waterpump!”- Translation: “I left the head gasket for you to do”)

          • I haven’t had too many actuall headgasket problems, unless they’ve been chipped. Mostly it’s misdiagnosis. When they added all this crap to the diesels in 03 none of the older experenced diesel guys had to relearn a whole new system of crap. That and when they first came out there was very little tech support. Ford didn’t even know how to fix them. International and Ford spent alot of time in court blaming each other for the problems. Luckily this new 6.7 has been pretty reliable so far. Now we have this problem of 2012-14 Fiesta and Focus clutches in the DPS6 automatic shifting manual trans.

          • Yeah…the 6.7- if you don’t mind getting 14 MPG out of a diesel….

            Fact is, the 6-leakers (6.0’s) all Blow out the head gaskets- over and over, unless the head bolts are replaced with ARE studs. Ford, under warranty won’t do the ARE studs…they just keep replacing the stock gasket and stock head bolts until the truck is out of warranty…then the owner can spend five grand getting it done right, if he’s not wise enough to have sold the truck before that.

            The 6.0’s can be made decent (not great) with the ARE studs; EGR delete and a few other expensive tweaks. Oh, yeah, and you have to pull the cab off the chassis to change the turbo or do a full head job.

            And mind you, I LIKE Ford… (well…I used to…)

          • Moleman, We’ve had cusotmers in here with 300k+ with original injectors, and headgaskets. One of the biggest problems we’ve run into is lack of cooling system maintenence. Diesels are very prone to cavitation damage. You can do the turbo without pulling cab on 6.0 I can have them swapped in 2.5 hours. The headgaskets can also be done in chassis. It’s just easier on the back to pull cab, and the timeframe isn’t much different. I get customers allthe time that get 18-22mpg with the 6.7. The cooling systems (yes 2) are really expensive to flush correctly. There is 151 steps to it and it’s about 1k to do. But other than that the only issues with them the last year is EGT sensors and The Cab and Chassis turbos, it’s different than pickup body.

  13. From my OBD II scan tool manual:

    …An important part of a vehicle’s OBD II system is the Readiness monitors, which are indicators used to find out if all the emissions components have been evaluated by the OBD II system. They are running periodic tests on specific systems and components to ensure that they are performing within ALLOWABLE LIMITS.

    Currentlt, there are eleven OBD II Readiness Monitors (or I/M Monitors) defined by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency….

    My neighbors new (4 cylinder only option) six speed transmission $32,000.00 Ford Escape gets a whopping 20 -22 MPG no matter how the 82 year old old man drives it.

    As Ayn Rand and so many others have pointed out: once bureaucrats control any product or service stagnation sets in and new ideas, methods and innovation is regulated out of occurring.

    • The readiness indicators are just that everything is up to OT and in steady-state so to speak. Many OBD2 monitors are designed not to light the MIL before the engine reaches OT. OBD2 is a pretty simple system.

      • @BerntP – Not that computer diags are bad, just that hundreds mandates from bureaucrats (who never invented or designed a thing) stifle what inventive auto engineers might be capable of, if set free from concrete bound regulations. My 20 year old TBI car gets better mileage then 90% of the new cars I have to choose from. Building codes is another area that keeps us stuck in the past and dissuade innovations in construction. Try building an extremely efficient Earthship home in any populated area. You cant.

    • Hi Gary,

      You’re on to something.

      I’ve owned my Trans-Am for more than 20 years. It used to be an incandescent gas hog relative to the new cars. It’s not anymore.

      I have driven several during the past year that use about the same – or more – gas than the old Pontiac does.

      My car averages about 16 MPG and can approach or even pass 20 if driven gently.

      Not bad for a 40 year old muscle car with a 7.4 liter V-8 and a carburetor!

      So, how come?

      The main thing is the overdrive transmission I installed. It dramatically cuts cruise RPM (to about 2,000 at 70 MPH).

      It is also comparatively light. Though it was considered a heavy car in its day, my old TA weighs hundreds of pounds less than its modern equivalent, a new Camaro SS.

  14. “Take a car […] and fit it with a modern overdrive transmission …”

    Is this even possible at this point? Literally, electronics et al – is this adding in point-of-failure for the car, esp. WRT EMP? Or is there a mechanical option for the modern shtuff?

    As noted previously, I have a 6-cyl Buick that could benefit from such an operation… might even have the space to up it to an 8… 😀

    • Yea it’s possible to some degree, depending on the manufacturer. Some companys make a stand-alone module to control it. Depending on the model, they made a non computer controlled overdrive transmission for the Buick bolt pattern, The 200-R4. Even a FWD could be done with patience.

      The Gear Vendor Under\Overdrive add on unit is an excellent option. It’s mostly used in trucks though. The actually work as a gear doubler. For example, 1st- 1st over..etc. A few of out customers have them. Having one on a diesel truck with a 5 speed auto works great. I’ve been wanting one for my 92 F250 4wd, with a 460. It gets 10mpg empty or with 25k lbs. on it.

    • I look at all this and wonder where we would be with a true free market. While some great technologies have developed, what could have developed? What about what is rarely mentioned, cost and owner control? There have also been some great concepts forcibly sent to the curb.

        • I doubt IP is the real hold-back. Back in the mid ’90s I was involved in a project that investigated something very similar. It was tubular and not spherical but same concept.

          Main points of concern were, poor seal, high wear, distorted chamber profile. I have not seen any significant advances that resolved these issues.

          Also, pneumatic and Desmodronic valve systems achieve the major performance benefit of rotary valves without the listed disadvantages.

          • Also I forgot to mention that the new diesel injectors have a reaction time in the micro seconds using piezoelectric crystal disc stacks. They can do up to 5 firings per power stroke. I think soon they’ll be able to use it for valve operation.

          • Meh…. Gimme the good ol’ REAL diesels with a mechanical injection pump, that can run even without a battery- now THAT was reliability -and what’s the point of all this high-tech crap? The old mechanicals would get the same or better MPGs (equipped the same- i.e. turbo, etc.) and not have all the piddling complex expensive-to-repair crap to go wrong and drive ya nuts. I don’t see modern complex injectors lasting 300K miles- been my experience that they’re good for 100-120K. Not that the old simple ones would last longer…but these fancy complex ones are about 5 times more expensive to replace. What’ll a set of injectors for a recent Duramax cost ya???

          • Me2, Desmodronic valve systems, seems like forever since I heard that term, shades of the old Mercedes racers. It would seem like the pneumatic systems would be expensive but then maybe not. When you can keep a 1.8L engine revved to 22,000 rpm for a few hours there must be some benefits(no springs is quite a benefit in my book). I have wondered(out loud to some engineers at times)why no one uses the pneumatic system on production cars but got no answers. I’m guessing it’s due to patent costs.

          • Moleman, it makes my old ’93 GM Turbo diesel seem all that much better every time I think of the cost and complexity of the new diesels as well as big brother watching everything I do. Wish I could find a new body for it. I gotta wonder if that space where the computer would be on gasoline pickups is considered illegal under the new “no secret compartments” law for vehicles(now, that’s real insanity there, as if there are no legitimate reasons for one).

            I see very new diesel big rigs down on the side of the road constantly now, at least a couple or more a day. Before computers you saw very few trucks on the side of the road. Early this year we drove around one down in a quarry pit every day for a week while they tried to get it sorted out. The driver said it just quit running waiting for a load. Turned out to be computer related although I don’t know which one.

          • So true, 8S! The whole secret to the diesel’s reliability and efficiency was it’s simplicity. That’s all gone now. There’s a reason that the old 7.3 Powerstrokers and 12V Cummins are bringing absurdly high prices these days….

            Brickman (a national landscaping/maintenance co.) went back to buying gas trucks for their fleet (Mostly one-ton cab & chassis)….the newer diesels are so inefficient/unrelaible/expensive to maintain….

            And what’s with a lot of these new diesels, that you have to add some additive to a special reservoir with every tank of fuel?! Diesel costs more now…the trucks gets worserer[sic :D] MPGs, and plus ya gots’ta add some ‘spensive additive constantly…pay several grand just to change the injectors….the cooling system is more complex than the Space Shuttle…and if the damn things just quits on ya as you’re driving down the road, you’re almost definitely in for a long siege and a draining of the bank account, as you mentioned above.

            They’ve essentially killed the diesel. First, 35 years ago with the GM 350 “diesel”- now with all this nonsense. In few years, you won’t be able to give away any of the new/made in the last 10 years diesels…..

  15. I was behind a McLaren MP4-12C yesterday. 0-60 on them is 2.9 sec
    He took off from the stoplight easy while in 1st, then nailed it in 2nd. So fun.

    Oh, and thanks for reminding me of the LeCar. What a POS that thing was (used to have a coworker who had one).

      • I used to pick-up junk cars for a living. I’d HATE it when someone’d call me with a Le Car! (And I probably pciked up more of them in the 90’s than any other car)- IO wouldn’t get $30 for ’em at the scrap yard… I’d have to charge people to take ’em away, ’cause it wasn’t worth my time to take ’em (I’d generally haul most complete cars away for free).

        Damn, I hated those things! (Ditto Yugos…but they were rare)- Every time I’d see a Renault, I wanted to strangle a Frog with his own beret! 😀


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