You might be thinking about buying an older car as a way to avoid having to deal with some of the things that come with new cars, like it or not – and want it or not – including can’t-fix-it-yourself technology and the run-amokness of peremptory/busybody/Big Brothery technology.
For some, it’s getting to be Too Much – and not just in terms of cost.
But – how old do you have to go to avoid that stuff? And how old is too old? The answer depends on how much modern stuff you’d like to avoid – and how much modern stuff (which isn’t all bad stuff) you’d like to have.
If you want to avoid direct injected engines, over-complex (and expensive) transmissions, micro-sized/turbo-boosted engines, auto-stop/start and the naggiest/pushiest driver “assist” technologies such as Lane Keep Assist and Automated Emergency Braking, you’ll want to go back to about 2014 or earlier.
Anything made before 2010 ought to be free of most if not all these things.
But why would you want to be free of them?
You may want to avoid DI – which is replacing port fuel injection – if you want to avoid problems with carbon build-up on the backsides of you engine’s intake valves. This is a hidden problem not many outside of the car business know about . . . for now.
In the years ahead – as the problem grows – more will know about it.
Direct injection shoots fuel directly into the engine’s cylinders; PFI sprays it above the cylinder, just behind the intake valves. Gas is a solvent as well as a fuel. The solvent action of the gas washing over the back of the valves helps prevent carbon (from combustion) from building up. But in a DI system, the engine runs dry – so to speak – and as a result, the engine is more prone to carbon building up over time.
If it builds up enough, it has to be cleaned off – either by a solvent flush of by partial disassembly of the engine. The problem is serious enough that many car companies have been quietly added a separate and dedicated PFI circuit just to wash down the backsides of the valves – which solves the carbon fouling problem but leaves you with a car that has two separate fueling systems – ad so, twice as many potential problems.
It sounds crazy. So, why DI rather than PFI? Because there is a slight efficiency and power advantage. But it’s questionable whether the added cost, complexity and potential for problems are worth it.
If you want to avoid it, ask whether the car has a direct-injected engine or look for “DI” or “GDI” badges.
Many 2014-ish to present-day cars also have automatic transmissions with seven, eight, nine or even ten-speed automatic transmissions – with the top two (or three) gears being multiple overdrive gears, again for reasons of fractional fuel economy gains.
These transmissions sometimes jump forward several gears at a time – particularly when the car is going downhill – which makes the car feel as though it is surging forward, which it is – even though you haven’t touched the accelerator pedal. It’s unsettling – and arguably, dangerous.
These transmissions also sometimes seem to have trouble deciding which gear to be in – understandable, given how many gears there are. And even if the shift feel is fine, you should be aware that some of these seven, eight, nine and ten-speed transmissions are haltingly expensive to replace (they are often not rebuildable) in the event of a failure, post-warranty.
Whereas a five or six-speed speed transmission might set you back $2,000 or so to replace, one of these newer many-speed boxes can cost twice or even three times as much.
This can send an otherwise sound car to the crusher – simply because it’s too expensive to fix the one thing that’s wrong with it. If the warranty doesn’t cover it, you may be out a car – not just a transmission.
It used to be that small cars generally had small engines and larger cars had larger engines. But it is now common for large cars to have very small engines and smaller cars to have micro-engines. Most mid-size cars now come standard with four cylinder engines around 2.0 liters in size (vs. V6 engines around 3 liters) and many newer small cars have engines in the 1.5 liter range and some even less.
V6 and V8 engines are almost gone.
This is being done to (once again) increase fuel efficiency, because the government requires it. Whether that’s any of the government’s proper business is another question.
But because customers still want the power of larger engines, these smaller engines are fitted with turbochargers, which temporarily (when you push down on the accelerator pedal) restore the power lost to downsizing.
But pressurizing an engine stresses the engine – and turbochargers generate a lot of heat, another stressor – on both the engine and its peripheral systems, including the cooling system – as well as the turbo. Supposedly, these very small, very-boosted engines have been built to last as long (and as reliably) as non-turbocharged engines – but we won’t know for sure for many years and historically, turbocharged engines are shorter-lived and more trouble-prone than engines without turbos.
Which is why – historically – their use was generally limited to specialty/high-performance cars rather than daily-driver cars. They were used as power-adders. Today, they are resorted to as displacement replacers.
The bottom line is that a smaller, harder-working engine may use less fuel in theory (and on government tests) than a larger engine. But the larger engine has to work less hard to move the car – and so may use less gas in real word driving – and also last much longer.
This annoyance has become de facto standard in most new cars and began appearing in cars generally within the past three or four years. It’s another encumbrance added to new cars to eke out a small on-paper fuel economy gain. The engine automatically turns itself off when the car isn’t moving – when you’re waiting for a red light to change, for instance – and then automatically restarts once the driver takes his foot off the brake or pushes on the gas pedal.
But these constant stop/start cycles will almost certainly reduce the service life of the 12V starter battery (due to much more frequent discharge/discharge cycling) and the expense of more frequent battery replacement probably negates whatever minor fuel savings are achieved. There is also a slight delay between the moment you want to get going and the engine starting and being ready to go. And while the engine is off, so are engine-driven accessories like the air conditioning.
These systems – like automatic engine stop/start – are becoming unavoidable. Most new cars come standard with one or both and within a couple of years it will probably be impossible to buy a new car without them.
But why wouldn’t you want them?
Because they’re a distraction and – arguably – a real safety hazard. LaneKeep Assist pesters you with lights and buzzers if the car’s cameras detect the tires crossing over any painted lines on the road. The presumption is you’re wandering out of your lane – and so need na “assist” to remind you to correct course. But the cameras (and computers) cant tell whether the lines are simply misaligned (rather than your car) nor whether you meant to cross over the painted lines – as when turning or changing lanes. Buzzers and lights, regardless. Some of the newer systems will actually try to steer you back in the “right” direction – which is as unsettling as feeling a hand on your shoulder when there’s no one else in the car with you.
Automated emergency braking is similarly peremptory – and enervating. The car will decide to brake for you – accompanied by usually frantic flashing lights and buzzers – even when there’s no good reason to brake. For example, a car ahead that’s stopped but signaling a turn and which you know won’t be there by the time you get there. But the automated emergency braking system can’t make such distinctions – and forcibly intervenes. All of a sudden you’re pitched forward in the seat, to the accompaniment of buzzers and lights.
The system also makes passing cars in traffic difficult because in addition to the peremptory/hypercautious braking, some of these systems will also cut the the throttle at the same time, for the same computer-knows-best reasons.
Older cars let you decide when it’s time to hit the brakes – and don’t countermand you when you ht the gas.No gears for the drivers to change, either.
. . .
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