Reader Question: Electric Flea-Free Cars?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Charles asks: Are there any modern autos that are basic cars without high levels of electronics between the function and the driver? Or do I have to rebuild a classic?
My reply: It didn’t happen all at once – and some of the electronics are arguably what make a car “modern” in terms of superior everyday driveability and low maintenance. For example, electronic ignition (mid-late 1970s) and electronic fuel injection (mid-late 1980s). These two things greatly reduced maintenance and eliminated or greatly reduced problems such as stalling/bogging/hesitation (from carburetors not adjusted correctly) and improved cold start performance markedly – with the cherry on top of better mileage and more power, too.

These systems are very reliable – and rarely need much work.

The same is true for most of the next-generation FI systems (i.e., port fuel injection, which began to replace throttle body injection in the ’90s) and most of the stuff cars began to come with through the ’90s and even into the early 2000s. This includes ABS and traction control – which I don’t think are bad, per se. I’d rather not have either, myself – but I’m an old-school kook!

But beginning around 2005 or so – there is no clear line in the and as some makes/models took longer to cross the line than others- things began to get out of hand. Not just in terms of complexity and cost (e.g., six-plus air bags in most cars; drive-by-wire throttle/transmission control, direct injection, all of which began to appear around this time) but also the Big Brothery stuff I don’t like and suspect you don’t, either.

The most egregious examples being things like automated emergency braking and lane keep assist – which pre-empt the driver – and also the creepy “telematics” which (at least potentially) make it technically possible for others (the government, the car’s manufacturer, the insurance mafia) to monitor your driving.

By circa 2010 many new cars had some of these systems and by 2015 they pretty much all did. As of 2018, they’re essentially unavoidable. This includes the obnoxious auto-stop/start system that kills the engine at every red light.

In my opinion – and your mileage may vary – cars made in the mid-late ’90s through the early-mid 2000s are the pick of the proverbial litter. Their build quality (as a rule) is orders of magnitude superior to cars made before and they are immensely durable and reliable. Cared for decently, they routinely go for 250,000 miles or more before they need major repairs – and the major repairs (e.g., a new transmission) are worth making because the cost to perform the repair is not absurd (as it is becoming with new cars).

One of my specific apotheosis cars is actually a truck – the mid-late 1990s Chevy Silverado. One of these with the 5.7 TBI-injected 350 (or even the 305) and a five-speed manual is arguably the best truck ever made, if you define that as a truck that will easily go 30-plus years with minimal upkeep and which can be kept going almost forever, too.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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