Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Michael asks: If I want a new car but don’t want all the computer stuff and high repair bills from what they’re building now, what is a good year for a used car which is likely to last several (15?) years but can still be maintained without a ginormous bill? I’m now driving a great 19 year old Toyota Sienna with 260K miles, so it’s getting a little old. No rust here in Arizona, though.
My reply: It’s a question of degree, Mike. Cars have been computer-controlled since the mid-late 1980s. But the extent of that control increased markedly beginning in the mid-2000s, when the car companies began to install technologies and systems that didn’t just run the car’s essential systems but actively pre-empted the driver’s decisions. Examples include aggressively interventionist traction/stability control and – most recently (past five or so years) things like automated emergency braking and lane keep assist
In addition, drivetrain complexity began to increase at a geometric rate as the car industry developed systems to achieve compliance with government emissions, saaaaaaaaaaaaafety and fuel efficiency mandates. Examples include direct injection, cylinder deactivation, very small/very turbocharged engines, transmissions with multiple overdrive gears, etc.
Most of the really bad stuff (from our point of view) became common about five years ago. If you go back to circa 2010 and before – excepting luxury cars, many of which had the stuff that’s now common in all cars first – you should be okay.
Personally, I regard cars made in the mid-late ’90s as being the apotheosis of car design. Throttle body injection (which most had) gave superb driveabiity/reliability and very low maintenance; most transmissions had one overdrive. These cars – and trucks – got as good or better mileage than their current-year equivalents and were much simpler/easier/cheaper to maintain.
They also had (usually) just two air bags (maybe four; almost never six or more) and very little in the way of driver-pre-empting Nanny tech.
I have my eye on an ’85 Olds Cutlass… it has a 307 V8, four-speed OD automatic and no air bags at all!
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Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!
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