Reader Question: How Far Back?

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

Don writes: Regrettably my 2006 Taurus rusted out in salty northern “Ill-Annoy” and I bought a 2016 Malibu LT 2.5L with 60,000 miles.  It gets 31mpg overall, which is nice but it is in the shop now because half of the ASS system failed… the starting half!  It’s a fast car to be sure but visibility is very poor and it is not easy to get in and out. The touch screen totally annoys my wife and she’s now happily driving our 2000 4.8L Silverado 2WD which gets 20mpg around town. How far do I have to go back to avoid direct injection, turbocharging, and much of this electronic gimmickry? Visibility is also a major problem on the new cars with big window pillars, high window ledges and hunchback trunks. Aside from a 1962 beetle, I had a 1993 Town Car which turned out being the cheapest car I’ve ever owned… ran the pants off that thing. My first car was a 1931 model A which I rebuild and drove back and forth to work daily in 1967 so I’m very technically aware. Now, at a still very active 75 years old (I’m the oldest lifeguard at our local YMCA), I’m looking for a reliable car to carry us into the sunset.  Any thoughts you might offer us cranky, but fit and active, old coots directly or in an article would be much appreciated. I thoroughly enjoy your writing and read all of your contributions to LRC.

My reply: I get this question often. Almost every other day, in fact!  I suspect I will get it even more often as we move along because almost all new cars now come standard with ASS, direct injection and many other things, besides. Which would be ok if they were optional (and opt-in) but of course, we can’t have that!

The only way to avoid all of this is to go back to 2010 or earlier. You can still find newer cars without things like ASS and DI but many will have other equally annoying things. Personally, I would go back even farther – to the early 2000s/mid-late ’90s. As I have written before, this is the “sweet spot” of car design. Cars from that era had all the qualities that make modern cars so great – including superb build quality and nearly maintenance-free drivetrains that will usually run for 200,000 miles or more with decent treatment.

The problem, of course, is that those cars are now 15-20 years old or even older. But it’s arguably worth finding a basically solid one and spending say $10k to rehab the drivetrain or whatever else it needs to bring it back up to reliable/presentable condition. I’m planning on doing exactly this when my ’02 Nissan Frontier needs it. I’d much rather put a new engine or transmission in this truck – maybe get it painted, etc. – for $10k than spend twice or three times that on a newer truck with ASS, DI and various “safety assistance” tech.

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

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1 COMMENT

  1. SOME people don’t understand why I’m rebuilding my 93 Chevy Turbo Diesel(hey, they don’t have shit for power man). They have enough racer boys. And I consider 18 mpg on a mechanical injection or any other one ton truck to be damned good.

    So let’s look at the downsides. No computer, wait, that’s no downside. No bluetooth, ok easily and cheaply added. No ASS, great, once again, a good thing. Great visibility and big un old mirrors, not a down side for me. Non-electric seats but really comfortable, unlike my Z 71 with a dead drivers seat on the floor. The stereo, not attached to any other thing like the Z that won’t run without it.

    I’m trying to come up with negatives. Oh, the a/c, that old R 12 that will freeze your ass out on the hottest day but that’s terrible for the environment…..no, it’s just not a money maker for du Pont. Rear drum brakes…..those brakes that GM reverted to after going to rear discs for a few years, only 3.5″X14″ shoes that never get balled up with gravel and mud and have laste 250,000 miles and are still good. That old gas guzzling 11.5″ rear-end that is bullet-proof and it still gives 18 mpg.

    Smart cruise control, how do I live without it? As if I wanted it. It has “resume”(way back long ago, a friend with a new pickup was miffed by the button that said “resume'”. We rolled on the floor with his over-thinking it. Wait, no dirt, uh, air bags, yep that’s horrible, the very reason that 94 is my cut-off year model. No “pedestrian friendly” front end. Now that’s a horrible joke for a one ton pickup. Too much added weight with sound deadening sprayed on the inside panels and insulation all around the engine compartment including the hood.

    I’m getting to the bad parts again. No climate control, you actually have to twist a knob or two. No rear air even though you can turn the front registers and blow dry hair in the back seat. It blows a puff of smoke now and then when you’re wailing on it and shifting gears. Need to turn my Heath boost controller up a bit I guess…..or not. Big ass, blacked out windows you can see out of every direction and a sloped off hood so you can see the ground just a few feet in front.

    I’ll admit you might not want to hem me in parking behind me so I can’t get out. You’d be wrong about the “can’t get out”. And the old rear bumper made out of drill pipe just laughs at pushing little stuff like Caddy’s or another pickup. The front bumper has pushbars from the factory not that they’re really needed with the Ranch Hand cattle killer on the front.

    Storage room all over the inside including to the side of the rear seat, inside two sections of the console, Captain’s chairs and a floorboard you can store just about anything in and under the rear seat. Must be the reason I have always had notes under the windshield wipers when I’d return to it saying “When you get ready to sell this truck call — —- —– and ask for —–“.

    Poor eric, having to drive that old 70’s car. He probably gets those notes too. File 13.

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