The Teenaged Car

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Cars aren’t just in short supply – they are getting older all the time. IHS Markit – which keeps track of such things – just reported that the average age of a currently in-service car is 12.1 years.

Almost a teenager!

This is a trend that has been ongoing for some time. It is not a function of the ‘Rona and the imprisonment – the “locking down,” as it is styled – of the population, which was stymied from driving and from buying a new replacement car for most of the past year.

People have been hanging onto their cars for longer for a long time, for some time.

It is merely getting longer.

If you’re over 40, you can probably remember when a twelve-year-old car wasn’t just an old car. It was a worn out car. Crow’s feet – in the form of spider-webbing paint; arteriosclerosis – in the form of hard-starting and stalling, the oil and alternator lights flickering. Rust – like decaying joints.

It was getting to be time to get a new car.

But that was 30 years ago and the times they are a changing. Have changed.

People are holding onto their old cars for longer – or buying an old car and driving it rather than buying into a new car. The reason why is simple. They are doing it because they can.

This didn’t used to be the case.

And – schadenfreude moment – we can thank the government for that.

One of the unanticipated consequences of Uncle’s brutal regime of mandates and fatwas, especially as regards vehicle exhaust emissions – of which practically nil have been permissible since the mid-’90s – is that engines made since the mid-’90s have been designed to such fine tolerances and are generally of such high quality – in order to be as efficient, tight and thus, “clean” as possible – that they last almost forever.

And the rest of the car usually looks good for that long, too. Or close to it.

A 70,000 mile engine runs like a new engine. It is common for gas engines – not diesel engines – to rack up more than 200,000 miles before they need a repair expensive enough to make it not worth repairing it.

Relative to the buy-in cost of a new car.

Especially a new electric car.

This sets up an interesting dilemma – for the government and the big corporations that have become its unofficial agencies as well as its lampreys. Both want very much to get people into electric cars – for reasons that are different but also complementary.

The government wants to tether the driving public’s mobility to the electric umbilicus, which government already controls – as the source of the high-voltage electricity electric cars sup on is controlled by what are styled “public” utilities. Which are like “public” schools in that they are both functionally under the control of the government.

The car companies – which are corporations – need to get people into electric cars, having gotten into electric cars themselves, in order to get along with the government they’ve become both parasitically dependent upon as well as the virtue-signaling (and virtue-enforcing) stooges thereof. The managers of these corporations are not stupid people; they know there is at best a very small market for the electric cars they need to sell – having bought into the politics of the electric car.

But if not enough people buy what they’re trying to sell, it will mean the end of many of them, probably, given how much money some of them have put toward the making of electric vehicles that have proved to be very hard to sell – without massively discounting them or getting the government to partially buy them, using other people’s money – of which there’s only so much it can spend before people chafe at the taking of it – and stop making it to be taken.

Normally – historically – attrition would solve this problem. New cars became worn-out cars pretty rapidly. One didn’t see that many old cars in regular service because they were rarely capable of it. They were teenagers’ first cars – the hand-me-down beater cars they drove to school and to their part-time jobs after school at a fast-food place –  not cars driven to work every day by their parents.

Who needed to get to work.

But the cars made over the past 20 years or so can be driven until their teenagers have teenagers of their own – by which time the old car will finally have become a worn-out car.

That is a long time to wait, for those pushing electric cars – and those needing to sell electric cars, right now.

Or at least, very soon.

2030 – the date by which time EVs are supposed to be the only cars on the road or at least most of the cars in the showroom – isn’t very far down the road. A very large percentage of the cars currently on the road – which are not electric cars – are likely to still be on the road in just over eight years from now.

And for many years thereafter.

How much longer can the electric car pushers afford to wait? And what will they do – about all of those old and getting older but not getting worn-out not-electric cars – when they can’t afford for buyers wait any longer?

It is likely there will be a push – literally – to get those old but not tired cars off the road.

Japan has been doing it for years, via pedantic “safety” and “emissions” inspections called Shaken that regulate older cars off the road by denying them registration renewal if some petty – but often hugely expensive to fix – excuse can be found to fault them for being not quite new-car perfect in some way. Several excuses are often found.

This is how the Japanese government supports the Japanese car industry.

It is also why the average Japanese lives in an apartment hive not much larger than the typical American home’s foyer.

The Japanese being among the first in the First World to live the WEF’s Third World mantra about owning nothing – or almost – and being happy about it.

Will Americans also be happy about it?

We’re likely to find out pretty soon.

. . . 

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  1. Then there is beyond the teenaged car. The resurrection of many decades old cars that were left for dead or junk yard resurrections are becoming more and more popular. Some of them very extreme. It’s kind of amazing what can be saved these days.

    • Hi Brent,

      A buddy of mine has – don’t laugh – an old Chevy Astro van. Remember those? V6, rear-drive. I dig it. Of course, so does he… and he won’t sell it!

  2. Interesting observations. I remember quite well the days of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Many of the cars built then were simply roached at 10-12 years — often LESS. I remember a neighbor with a ’79 or ’80 Mercury just furious to discover it rusting through after only two years. I vividly remember Chevettes with floorboards rotted completely out, and a guy who had a Vega that the rear axle slid out of. Cars were considered pretty clapped out by 80 to 100,000 miles. I remember Merle Haggard’s wistful lyric questioning if America could once again build a “Ford and a Chevy (to) still last ten years, like they should.”

    Prompted me to do some math on my fleet of four vehicles. Average age: exactly 12. Average mileage: 132,000. I don’t plan on getting rid of ANY of them if I can help it. What in hell am I going to replace them with? I’ve never spent more than $14,000 for a brand-NEW car (and that’s including freight and taxes). Today the AVERAGE cost is probably triple that.

    Yes, the vehicles do last longer today, but they literally cost a fortune, and repairs are often obscene. It didn’t used to be a big deal for an average barnyard mechanic to pull a smallblock Chevy and have it rebuilt for a few hundred bucks at the local machine shop, or swap out a bad Ford C-4 transmission out of a pickup truck in an evening with the help of a friend and a few beers. You’re not going to be casually doing that kind of thing if your contemporary DFI turbo shits the bed at at 200,000 miles.

    The new Ford Maverick trucklet for $20k+ looks like it might be an interesting possibility — but only relative to today’s degraded “market.”

    • Modern vehicles are not meant to be repaired by mechanics with a moderate level of skill. They’ve been INTENTIONALLY over-engineered, and though they have a good track record of making it to 150K miles more often than not, IF properly maintained and not thrashed to death, but once a major component goes, and it doesn’t have to be a spun rod bearing or a transmission reduced to shavings; even one of the electronic modules failing can be a repair that the car isn’t worth anymore. The worst part it, between the connivance of the auto makers, their suppliers, and state and Federal regulations, many parts, especially those that are emissions-related, have rapidly become “unobtanium”. Ever more, the idea is to prevent keeping the old rides viable, no matter the ingenuity of shade tree mechanics.

      To add further insult to injury, many municipalities are by default BANNING DIY auto repair, under the guise of “code enforcement”, or “environmental protection”, or “s-a-a-a-a-f-t-e-e-e”, but it’s all about the Big Nanny State decreeing that you’re not competent to repair your own ride nor to handle tools nor chemicals necessary. The elitist busybodies that push for these intrusive ordinances sneer at the notion of DIY-ism and self-reliance and look down their noses at folks that deign to twist wrenches on their own rides.

      • We’ve bought two new cars recently (the last couple of years). In both cases, I opted for the “platinum” warranty. I don’t trust the quality of the VW generally. And I don’t trust something obscure but “unobtanium” not to fail on the Kia. I would really like the assurance that the cars will last for ten years, because they are absolutely capable of it. “Trust but verify,” as they used to say when only the Japanese cars would reliably go over 100K miles.

    • Hi X,

      Yup; pros – and cons.

      There are more pros if you own a late ’90s/early-mid 2000s vehicle with EFI and tight build quality but without all the rest they’ve agglutinated cars with, especially over the past five or so years.

      My ’02 Frontier is a vehicle that ought to be viable for another 20 years. Though it has a computer, its EFI-fed engine is pretty straightforward and its manual transmission is not much different than a manual made 40 years ago. No traction/stability control. No “adaptive” anything. No “assistance.” And I love it for exactly those reasons!

      • Ditto my 2006 MX5 manual transmission. The last year without TPMS. As far as I know, the only onboard computer it has is the ECU/ECM, I forget which MAZDA calls it.

      • Add my 2003 Ford Escape, pretty basic XLS model but a nice V6 and great handling (Ford Mazda joint effort explains that). Manual HVAC controls you can set without looking.

        It does not have antilock brakes! Couldn’t believe my luck on that, real brakes that really haul it down with great pedal feel.

  3. Looking at that chart, the average age of cars accelerated after 2007 or so. That coincided with a couple of events: the impending financial crisis in 2008-10 and the advent of the FMVSS 204 and 208 changes to cars as the NHTSA started mandating tougher side imapct and roof crush standards to be phased in beginning in the 2007 model year and continuing till 2011 when every new model car had to have them. As a result, cars became more costly and a lot more homogeneous. It has gotten to the point where all crossover vehicles and sedans essentially look the same. The same stylists are used to design vehicles among all the carmakers.

    People are also holding onto their cars because today’s cars absolutely suck.

    Supply chain and existing cost issues for new cars have pushed the price of used cars to astronomical heights. I just sold a 2007 Ford Mustang GT, a car I clearly don’t need, for $2000 more than it would have sold for in 2018. Strange times

  4. On: 2030 – the date by which time EVs are supposed to be the only cars on the road or at least most of the cars in the showroom – isn’t very far down the road.

    What a horrible thing for the off road community. What are they supposed to do? Carry a spare battery pack behind them on a trailer? No only would adding a trailer with a spare battery pack’s weight reduce the range, but switching to the spare, towed battery pack would suffer just the same from weight as it would have never changed. At least a gas burner loses weight from its payload as primary fuel is used and then spare fuel is used, thus increasing the range, however little it may be.

    I guess the future is filled with Mavericks with roof top tents going off road (gravel road) to some “beautiful” scenic camping area at 1/3 battery charge from everyone’s new hives.

  5. Kurt the Truck turns 30 this July, 1991 Chev Silverado C2500 350 V8 four speed auto 2WD.

    9 years ago had the trans rebuilt, they fixed a sketchy rear engine main seal, and the leaky intake gaskets at that time as well. I was out around $3800, about tax and license fees here in WA on a newer low end rig then. 4 years ago I replaced the A/C compressor. That’s about it, gazillion of these trucks over the years so parts are available and reasonable cost. It still looks great, interior has held up really well and outside also. Runs absolutely fine.

    There is no way I could justify replacing this truck, I can replace many parts for just the transaction cost on a newer truck. I’m not thrilled with the newest family vehicle the 2018 Grand Cherokee, it’s only redeeming trait is towing ability for the kid’s RPod. Wish I’d kept the 2005 Grand Cherokee and dumped money into fixing the howling bearings and fish biting transmission. Live and learn.

  6. My fear is that the PTB will come out with a mandatory “cash for clunkers” type fatwa to get all the reliable transportation out of our hands. My hope is that enough of us serfs will push back hard enough to send them running for cover. To paraphrase an old saying they’ll have to pry my car keys from my cold dead hands…….and as a side note I’ll never own a car that doesn’t use actual old timey keys. 😝

    • you’re not wrong.

      the same justification for obamacare’s legality (and drug illegality) can be used to determine anything you must purchase or not

      the only question will be the political will to do it

  7. I really need to figure out how to get the engine on my ’02 A6 Avant rebuilt. I’m certain that it needs new piston rings. Although there is no super-huge black cloud (or anything like that) when it runs, it has already fouled the factory cats. I didn’t know that and the dishonest mechanics without whom I’ve sought advice, happily directed me to replace the cats while fully knowing that the replacement would soon again be fouled with oil. Some people suck man.

    Good thing I didn’t take Audi Arlington’s advice and replace the cats with Audi brand for freaking SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!! I got aftermarket cats installed for like a couple grand and it was AFTER THAT… that I became educated enough to know (reading enough forums) the real problem.

    The reason I gotta put in a quart of oil every couple hundred miles is because it’s burned off into/through the cats and exhaust! I mean, it goes *somewhere*, right?! So until I get the oil consumption (aka “piston rings”, aka “engine rebuild”) problem fixed, I could replace those cats for eternity and they’ll keep getting fouled!

    I gotta get that engine rebuilt before the Zombie Apocolypse man!!

    • Maybe the rings are sticking- don’t tear it apart yet! Old neighbor was a Chevy mechanic he solved many oil burners with a overnight soak in the cylinders with solvent (Rislone? Sea Foam? Don’t remember the exact thing he used.)

      I don’t know if your cats would like this though, see if you can find a mechanic able to do this. Done wrong equals hydrolock and a ruined engine.

      Also intake valve stem seals failing can use a lot of oil.

  8. Here in NC, anything over 20 years old doesn’t have to have an emissions inspection. My Suburban fell off years ago and my pickup will fall off next year. This eliminates a test that I have to pay for and eliminates anything emissions-related from kill my registration. I plan on keeping up my maintenance and keeping them forever. Both are well supported by the aftermarket, all the way up to replacement engines and transmissions.

    I just bought my wife her “last car I’ll ever buy” for her retirement-a 2021 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. We’ll see if it makes it long enough to fall off the emissions wagon.

  9. Eric,

    A month or so ago, I read an article that quoted Toyota as saying that, even in 2030, 85% of their cars would still have tailpipes.

  10. Re: government inspections finding an expensive reason to ditch an old car. Here in the US, unless the Federales take over car inspections, I don’t see this happening in a large swath of the country (read that to mean Red States mostly). Here in Kentucky, we don’t have emissions or annual inspections. They didn’t in Nebraska when I lived there either. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but by 2030? Or at all in some places? I kinda don’t think so.

    • I pray that you’re right, Jim. Trouble is, right now, a bunch of entrenched special interests and left-wing loonies have the Codger-in-Chief under THEIR control, and can get Executive Orders to do whatever they want, with Congress stymied to stop the nonsense and the Federal judiciary generally feckless as well. So we might see these mandates imposed upon the reluctant red states, else their Federal funds get impounded.

  11. Eric,

    You’ve written about the Cuban propensity for car maintenance. If Cubans can do this, than certainly Americans can. They’ve emission regulated my S10 off the road, for now, with its impossible-to-find-a-working-replacement MAP sensor. But I can fix that problem, I just have too many priorities before it.

    And don’t think I won’t hide a gas cylinder somewhere to run 25%/75% argon into the intake, either, resulting in zero NOx emissions and complete combustion (little to no CO or unburnt hydrocarbons). Don’t threaten ME with a good time.

    I’m happy to see these unintended consequences throw wrenches into their compliance machine. And it is our wrenches, our vehicle maintenance and ability to (*shock*) repair machines that will continue to confound them.

    If they’re not careful, they’ll launch that decentralized manufacturing paradigm that will be their undoing.

      • 1994, and 2.2L.

        But I’ve bought and tested many MAP sensors, and though few believe me, NONE of them work. By that, I mean they don’t respond to changes in air pressure, and demonstrably so. I’ve built one that works (lets you drive like a bat-out-of-Hell) out of an electronic pressure sensor meant for other purposes, but it still won’t pass the emissions test. It will need adjustments, according to what data I can find on output voltage vs. pressure, but I haven’t gone there yet.

        And yes, I’ve tried both new and used parts, cheap and expensive. It has been quite a vexing issue.

        • Hey Bad,
          Concerning your S10.
          Have you ever done a “smoke” test on the intake to check for vacuum leaks?
          Have you ever pinched off the vacuum hose to the brake booster to see if it makes a difference?

          Do you have any exhaust leaks?

          Are you 100% sure that the engine is 100% mechanically sound?
          Have you used a vacuum gauge to check for weak (or broken) valve springs or worn out cam lobes? Compression and/or leakdown tests are not enough.

          Any of the above can change what the map sensor “sees”. And what happens is that the signal that the map sensor sends to the ECU is “what it sees”, which may be incorrect, at which time, fault recognition says “shit ain’t right”, check engine light comes on.

          • William,

            Nope, I’m sure not 100% sure of its mechanical soundness. I haven’t done a smoke test for vacuum leaks, though I’ve checked all the connections several times. Doesn’t SEEM out of order. I could do a check with a vacuum gauge, and probably should just to be sure.

            The primary issue with the MAP sensors is they don’t work. I can simply send them 5V and monitor the signal voltage as I apply vacuum to the port. They either don’t work at all, or very little. The one I built DOES work, and the truck drives well with it installed, and it doesn’t throw a code/ check engine light. It just isn’t “tuned”.

            Maybe I should make a video documenting this phenomenon.

    • The nice thing about pre-computer cars is that if you can keep them from rusting away you can keep them going practically forever. If the central planners get their way we may well have to be as resourceful as the Cubans have been.

      • It depends on the vehicle, Jason. If it’s something ubiquitous like a VW Beetle or Plymouth Valiant, likely. Even then, I’d sock away some spare fan belts, a carb kit or two, set of plugs, cap, rotor, condenser, and maybe even a few hard parts like a spare alternator, starter, and power steering pump. If you’ve something like an International Travelall (along with the Chevy Suburban, one of the original “Mormon Movers”), your “parts storage” list had better be somewhat more extensive.

  12. ‘Shaken that regulates older cars off the road … is how the Japanese government supports the Japanese car industry.’ — EP

    True for Japan’s commuter rail and subway cars as well: major components are replaced at frequent fixed intervals, and trains themselves retired after short service lives, to be exported to the developing world.

    Buenos Aires, for instance, has some former Tokyo subway cars operating on one metro line.

    In a meeting with Tokyo subway maintenance managers, visitors from New York asked about the MDBF (Mean Distance Between Failures) on the Tokyo subway. Confused looks were followed by several minutes of intense discussion in Japanese. Finally it emerged that MDBF was not even calculated in Tokyo, though they supposed it might be several million miles.

    New York’s MDBF hovered under 10,000 miles at the time … in a system derided at its low point in the mid-1970s as ‘electric sewers.’ 🙁

  13. I have read several articles in the past wherein a Honda or Toyota engine with over 100k miles was broken down, and internal clearances and dimensions still met factory specs. In ages past, when some US made engines got much over 100k miles, they were considered shaky.
    As the cost of new cars continues to climb, justification of repair expense will as well. Besides comparing the cost of the repair with the sale value of the car, one must consider the cost to replace it with new as well. One can do a LOT of work on a car for whatever the average price of a new car may currently be. Likely enough to put it in near new condition. Now if one could only get a loan to do it.

    • Hi John,

      Yup, the specs/tolerance for an engine like my ancient TA’s 455 are loosey goosey compared with any modern engine.I doubt my 455’s internals could be machined/made as “tight” as a new engine’s – which isn’t surprising given engines like my ’76 TA’s 455 were designed in the mid-1950s!

      • Your TA’s old 455 (“Super Duty”?) could indeed be rebuilt with tight tolerances, it’s what’s called “blueprinting”. Along with polishing intake ports, checking and correcting minute differences in piston and rod weights, crank balancing, and so on…all operations of a high performance engine builder, not a mass production operation like the Pontiac engine plant ca. 1975. Modern engines, being typically aluminum alloy blocks and heads with steel cylinder sleeves, of necessity have to be more precisely machined, in order to cope with the higher thermal coefficient of expansion of aluminum. It took upgrades in machine tooling that heretofore had been fairly much the domain of aerospace outfits and makers of big steam and gas turbines like General Electric and Westinghouse.

        As for the 1950s vintage of that Pontiac engine, sure, it’s as dated now as the old Pontiac flathead straight-eight was when the V8 made its debut in 1955. Even then, the engineers at Pontiac came up with a hopped-up version of the venerable flathead with high compression, four single-barrel carbs, and a hot cam that put out nearly 300 ponies, not bad for an engine which by then was considered a “boat anchor”! The entire purpose of this project was baffling, but the marketing folks at GM decided to NOT give the new V8, which was issued the following year, BTW, as an example of “product placement”, I believe that Pontiac loaned the producers of “I Love Lucy” a 1955 Pontiac Star Chief convertible specifically to show off their restyled lines with the new V8s, showing that “Heap Big Pontiac” was more than a “Big Heap”, e.g., they were no longer a line of stodgy, staid, “conservative” vehicles.

        • Hi Douglas,

          I wish the 455 in my car was a Super Duty 455! Which – as I’m sure you know – had a unique block and heads; also heavy duty everything. My 455 is a plain ol’ low-performance (2 bolt) version, amped up with a hotter cam and the usual low-buck tricks. But it still has the 6X heads with the appx. 120 cc combustion chambers and resultant 7.6:1 CR (yes, really). I could probably get 50 more horses out of it just be swapping on a set of 9.5:1 Edelbrock alloy heads. But then it’d be obviously modified and I’d rather keep it as a time capsule. It’s still plenty fun, even so!

          • I remember that! 7.6:1 compression! Sheesh, it’s as if Pontiac had pulled their old flatheads out of the boneyard! Yep, that’ll cut down on the ponies, but this was the “malaise” era, where “performance” was now a BAD thing…and not only those that shamed Americans for driving “gas guzzlers”, but also the insurance mafia, that had a hissy over anything with so much as a “screaming chicken” on the hood, even if it was just a few ounces of plastic film bonded to the finish that didn’t make the ride GO any faster!

            • Hi Douglas,

              Yup! But it still made 200 (rated) horses in ’76 – a big number for ’76. And it had a lot of potential horsepower locked up in all those cubic inches. Even with 7.6:1 CR my lightly modded 455 is probably making an honest 300-310 horsepower (RA III grind cam, RA cast iron headers and 2.5 inch duals; tuned ignition and carb, etc). It won’t outrun a new Corvette. But it makes me smile more!

          • Perhaps you should look into a set of hypereutectic or forged pistons and get the old injun into that 9.5 CR sweet spot. It would pump up your efficiency and power and very likely mpg’s. That way you could jeep your stock heads…

    • Yes. I have a 2005 Acura MDX with north of 270,000 miles. It runs great, has minimal oil leaks. The suspension and the timing belt were done about 3 years ago. It is one of the best running cars I’ve ever owned. The transmission just crapped out. Instead of buying an overpriced new or even used car, I am putting in the money to fix it, replacing the trans with a JDM unit. I’m going to be out about 2.5k, but it’s cheap compared with a new one. I will probably get at least 3 more years out of that trans, so it isn’t a big deal. The other manintenance and repairs will be nickels and dimes. So, what you are saying is spot on.

  14. I don’t know much about modern, 2016, ATs, but older ones most definitely do need service at 50k. They need a transmission fluid transfusion. Even though many manufacturers claim they never do. Well, at least until the warranty expires. Had a 1998 Audi A6 with less than 100k on it that had a worn out transmission. The owners manual recommended that the AT fluid never needed changing. Curious that when I dropped the pan the contents looked more like very dirty chassis lube than transmission fluid.

    • I have an 86 blazer….I change trans fluid and filter about every 3ish years on a TH400 transmission, but man is that thing smooth, you almost cant tell it shifts at all between the 3 gears it has

    • The key, John, was “normal” service, versus “severe”. Now, what, pray tell, did automakers like Audi define as “severe”? Not just driving in the hot deserts of the Southwest, or in dusty conditions, or in a lot of freezing weather….even just short trips where the engine and drivetrain never got completely warmed up would also be “severe”! But it gets even “better”…I used to have a 2007 Pacifica, and there wasn’t even a dipstick to check the fluid level or quality! And when I got it, one year old and with 17K miles on it, I was specifically warned to NOT pop off the inspection plug before the five-year, 60K engine and drivetrain warranty expired, or else it’d void it. Even then, several years later when the car was past that point, I inquired of a local transmission shop to do a fluid and filter change…they said they would yank the plug and have a look, but unless there was something amiss with the fluid or the PCM was “throwing codes”, they’d not touch it, as Chrysler recommended to just leave the damn thing alone for 100K miles. So, it appears that Mopar, like other makers, was planning for “obsolescence” at 100K miles, and figured that under virtually all conditions, their cars would make it through the warranty period, or, by recommending no service for the first 100K miles, to ensure that no one touched it, or, if they did, they could wash their hands of the mess.

      However, I recall that initially car makers that offered automatic transmissions also claimed that they didn’t need regular fluid changes. Then that changed to 3 years, 36,000 miles, which was also coincidental with what were the first engine-drivetrain warranties that were longer than the customary 1 year, 12,000 miles of youre.

      • Likewise this Audi had no dipstick. It apparently is quite common for the last 20+ years. I changed it out myself and suffered a bit of sticker shock when I found the correct fluid at over $25 a quart. One change improve AT performance, but given the condition the old fluid was in I suspect at least one more change was needed. Fortunately, I found someone who was overly enchanted with the Audie badge that traded me a 2002 Mazda Protégé 5 in good working order even up.

      • The removal of the transmission dipstick is a crime against car owners. My 2003 Lexus and 05 Acura both have them. I use them for my annual drain and refill. It’s cheap insurance.

        • Hi Swamp!

          Yup – and this trend is old. I can remember when transmission pans had drain plugs. They stopped installing those sometime in the ’70s – which made draining the transmission a messy PITAS, like changing engine oil by dropping the oil pan. This was done to discourage the average person from changing their own tranny fluid – or even changing it at all.

          • Manual gearboxes and differentials can be just as frustrating. Most have a plug, usually with a square rather than a hex fitting, to check and/or replenish with gear oil. You “check” the oil level by cracking the fitting; a small trickle should come out, and normally you don’t have to replace nor add as long as the seals aren’t leaking and you didn’t get the thing submerged in water. Quite a few rear ends have a rubber plug either on the “banjo” or on the side of carrier; and they can test one’s patience to remove! IF you have to drain the oil on these units, typically there’s also no bottom drain plug; many rebuilders drill and tap one after going through the process of suctioning out the old crud. Yeech.

            And yes, even then Detroit was doing what it could to discourage DIY maintenance. Methinks that this was part of the reason for all that Gott-damned plumbing under the hood of makes during the “Malaise Era” which, when you’d raise the hood and see a mess of vacuum hoses and ductwork, you’d then slam down the hood and say, “Fuck this shit!” About twenty years later, around the turn of the Millennium, ANOTHER irritating feature cropped up…the ENGINE COVER, often held in place with tamper-resistant screws. “Don’t Touch!” is something you say to a THREE-YEAR-OLD, because, well, he’s THREE, but saying that to a supposed ADULT that PAID for that car…that’s just infuriating.

            • Actually, you do need to periodically change out gear oil. My MX5 owners manual suggests every 50K. Older US cars and newer trucks have far more robust gear boxes than modern cars do, so one might get by without doing so.

          • Oh, and what about the earlier (like mid-60’s and earlier) autos that had torque converter drain plugs? Man, how I have wished for a TC drain and a pan drain to do a complete fluid change on an AT without soaking my shirtsleeves in cat vomit smelling ATF.

            • Amen, Crusty…

              I loathe doing tranny fluid changes on a car without a drain plug. If you haven’t got a lift, it is a guaranteed mess. I have an old tarp I drag out for the purpose when the time comes.

              Speaking of annoying: How about small equipment such as push mowers that have no drain plugs for the oil? Awkwardly turn the whole thing upside down to get the oil out of the fill plug. Gotta love that!

              • Remember when a discussion about a “tranny” would provoke a response, “Torqueflite, C6, or Turbo-Hydramatic?”. Sheesh.

      • Another data point. VW found out, with the Aisin-Japanese-made 09G 6-speed auto that the “lifetime fill” was causing them warranty issues. So, they changed the maintenance recommendation sometime around 2008 to 40 Kmiles for a drain and refill. At 40 Kmiles, the fluid is no longer red, and is showing signs of needing to be changed, though not nasty-smelling and full of friction material. This trans has that stupid combo drain plug and level check standpipe lunacy, so it is a royal PITA to do a simple level check. VW used to be (in the air-cooled and early FWD era) the DIY-friendliest brand, but not any more.

        • Crusty, if you think that’s bad you should check out the procedure for changing the “lifetime” fluid in a “sealed” Subaru CVT. Definitely some planned obsolescence going on there.

          • Hi Jason,

            I would never buy a CVT-equipped vehicle. I don’t like they way they feel/sound and I am leery of their spotty track record for durability. I see no good reason to choose a CVT over a conventional geared automatic; the slight MPG benefit the CVT may provide will be of little consolation in the event of a catastrophic failure and – regardless – a conventional automatic simply feels and sounds “right” whereas a CVT always feels and sounds (to me) like it is slipping.

          • Revealing a masochistic tendency with trying to mess with that Subaru, Jason? Don’t feel bad…after I got the payoff on my 2014 Ford Focus, I PUNTED on it, as although the warranty was extended to 100K miles on that dual-clutch monstrosity (the car had 78K when I traded it in), I was in no mood to “figger it out”, and even the prospect of doing so much as a serpentine belt change had me saying, “no thanks”! And that was an ECONOBOX. But at least that little beast got me through an expensive and messy divorce.

            Locating a vintage “Vee-Dub” or some old bat’s ’65 Valiant is looking better all the time.

          • Funny thing, the Jatco CVT on an 07 Versa I work on has a dipstick on a short fill pipe, unlike the VW. Yeah, the long term reliability just isn’t there on CVT’s in general, and I’m not sure with the metal push-belt design it ever will be. The Versa makes up for its easy to check CVT with a horrible to replace serpentine belt and tensioner. You have to remove the right side engine mount to replace the tensioner. What an awful design.

            An air cooled VW is looking better all the time.

            • Hi Crusty,

              Or something like my Trans-Am! I can change all eight plugs, in about 15 minutes, using nothing more elaborate than a 3/8 ratchet and a spark plug socket. I can have the carburetor off the engine in about the same time and rebuilt on my bench in about an hour for less than $100.

              My buddy who is a professional mechanic and owns a shop has different stories to tell… about new cars!

  15. My Dodge Cummins pickup reached drinking age five years ago. A guy just opened a vehicle restoration business a few miles from us, so I’m considering paying him to spruce it up. I just “built” a comparable new one on the Ram “Build & Price” website, and it would cost at least double what I paid.

    • Nearly about the same in terms of actual purchasing power that you paid for that ’95. That’s what inflation does to us. But yeah, as long as the venerable Dodge with the Cummins diesel is still going, why replace it? Every month you make it do is a month w/o expensive truck payments. I know a finance manager at a local Ford dealership here in Sac town, and he says it’s gotten totally friggin’ unreal…guys are walking out with contract for A GRAND or MORE per month! And that’s often for six or seven YEARS! I can’t imagine someone allowing himself to get into that degree of financial slavery.

      • Yeah, being retired I don’t use it much. Just pulling our RV and odd errands. If something happened to it I certainly couldn’t justify $60k.

      • Save up some money, and you can do an enormous amount of work on an old car/truck for half the price of a new one. Most likely making it close to “like new”

  16. As I type this, the weekly renters in the house next to me have their Mach-er-E Mustang plugged in via a cord to the driveway out in the open in pouring rain with cloud to ground lightning. Seems a little un-saaaafe but what do I know. When my wife saw it (before they plugged it in overnight) she said, that Subaru has it’s gas tank cap in the front of the car. My young daughter says, uh Mom, that’s a Mustang.

  17. ‘Almost a teenager!’ — EP

    From WSJ’s article on the same subject:

    ‘Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Jim Farley said he wants the company to have an “always-on” connection to Ford’s customers and break the traditional model of selling a car and simply waiting a few years before the owner returns for an upgrade.

    “Like with your phone, there will be new features added every hour, every day,” Mr. Farley said in an interview last month. “I think that’s where the real competitive race is.”

    GAHHHHHH!!! *spews lunch into a wastebasket*

    This is what i HATE about SaaS (software as a service): not only does it render the device temporarily inoperable, but often it also tampers with the UI (user interface).

    An unseen hand messing with the UI outside my control consumes me with rage.

    And in a vehicle, it might compromise saaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety, too.

    It’s like a malevolent saboteur altering your house’s floor plan overnight, without permission. Closets and bathrooms are still there, but with the entrances moved, you can’t find them no more.

    Eric’s plaint that cars have become cell phones on wheels has tainted the mottled mind of ol’ Jim Farley, that’s for sure.

    Jim Fartley ain’t gonna sell me no always-on touchscreen on 22-inch gangsta wheels, programmed over-the-air from Dearborn. Ain’t takin’ yo SaaS no more, Jimbo.

    No short-haired yellow-bellied son of tricky dicky
    Is gonna mother hubbard soft soap me
    With just a pocketful of hope
    It’s money for dope
    Money for rope

    — John Lennon, Gimme Some Truth

    • Makes sense though, if you build engines that routinely last 200,000 miles and you want to get people out of their old cars what better way than the cell phone method of constant updates that eventually render the phone useless, normally years before its service life would otherwise be over. Just keep sending updates to the cars till eventually the old operating system can’t handle the new update and it crashes, rendering the car useless…. Unless you want to spend 4grand for a new computer. But why do that when you can take that 4 grand and put a downpayment on a new car with none of those issues. I guessing at some point someone will come up with a way to convert these wheeled cell phones into analog and keep the basic functions of the car, namely getting you from point a to point b with some music, operational.

      • There’s one difference…even the top of the line cell phone is about a grand. About 3X to 4X what a reasonable cellular phone with ADEQUATE features and performance ought to cost, but still affordable for many. And many, especially the young, have already gotten acclimated to having the “latest and greatest” every two years, because it’s “cool” and everyone wants to “party with the ‘cool kids’.

        Meanwhile, my LG VI, on its second protective case bought for cheap off of Amaze-On, and it had already been out for 18 months when I got it in late 2017, still soldiers on. I’ve already got its backup, which is even a tad older, a Microsoft Lumia 950 that runs Windows Phone. Between the two of them, I can probably hold out until 2025.

        As for rides, I’ll pay off my 2020 Fusion and just do my best to keep it smart and functional. On the lookout for a decent VW Beetle, or even a Kombi, or another Dodge Dart or Plymouth Valiant, for good old-fashioned basic transportation! However, I’ve got two gas-guzzling project vehicles in mind…the first is an early to mid-70s Mopar “B” body two door, like a Plymouth Satellite Sebring or a Dodge Charger SE, either with a decent LA “small block” with a four barrel carb. The other will be my “Beast”…a Mopar “C” Body, and on this, I’ll go for a luxury liner. A 1973 Dodge Royal Monaco with those huge front bumper guards that just scream, “FUCK YOU!”, along with the hidden headlamps, and a huge, thirsty 400 or 440 through a TorqueFlite to let that behemoth bomb down the freeway at 85 mph like a luxury hotel with hubcaps.

    • everyone wants to sell you a subscription model

      i won’t be surprised when EVs reach market saturation, you find yourself shelling out $$ every month to the dealer to keep it going – a permanent lease

      • Don’t given ’em any “Ideers”. I could just see where folks aren’t actually ALLOWED to “own” their rides, rather, they have to LEASE them from an AUTHORIZED dealer, and likely pay directly in fees and SALES taxes to the money-grabbing state for the “privilege”. Now, that’s going to make tort law re: automobiles rather interesting, but methinks the “cure” will be yet another excuse to reach into your wallet. Part of the “fees”, which will be considerable, will be a State-mandated “insurance” policy, at the behest of the insurance mafia. Basically, it’s going to boil down to which group of money-grubbers prevail… the insurance companies, the banks, the auto makers and their dealer networks, or the trial lawyers.

        Of course, since “your” vehicle isn’t really “yours”, I can see all manner of snooping and busybodydom wreaking havoc on what was once the cherished freedom that Americans once treasured…to hit the OPEN road! Such things as “is this trip REALLY necessary” (gotta “go ‘Green’ “, ya know…), or if you annoy the TPTB via (anti)Social Media, your “Social Credit” score gets so low that your “privilege” to drive is suspended until you see the “error of your ways”, you “racist”, you…or the AGWs can pull you over for no reason at all (since most of these “Johnny Cabs” may be self-driving, they won’t have a “moving violation” as an excuse, let alone a reason to “mulct” you!) and effect a search sans need for warrant, since you don’t have an “expectation” that the Fourth Amendment applies to a piece of equipment that you’re “leasing”.

  18. The work truck turned over 380K this month. 2011 F-150 with towing package and 4WD. Still starts first try. Has something up with the fuel line, seems to be excessive pressure build up in the tank. Screws up the fuel gauge and sets the check engine light, but a quick fill-up to blow off the vapor buildup seems to take it back to normal for a day. I need to get it in but can’t go without it while the shop plays rock-paper-scissors to determine who gets to drop the tank. Paint is getting pretty tired, as is the chrome on the plastic bits. But I finally got the seat set the way I like it, so now I want to see how much longer I can keep it. There’s talk that next year’s budget will include my new truck, but it’s early in the process and the bean counters always cut something to look like they’re doing something so I won’t hold my breath.

    OTOH, my personal vehicle is a 2016 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk with 50K miles. Lately it has been squawking about needing a transmission service. When it throws up the code it also locks the transmission in whatever gear it happens to be in until I pull over and “reboot” it. Might be under a recall, so it has to go to the dealer. Soonest the nearby dealer can look at it is mid-July. Need to check with Grand Junction and see if they can get it in sooner.

    • I don’t know much about modern, 2016, ATs, but older ones most definitely do need service at 50k. They need a transmission fluid transfusion. Even though many manufacturers claim they never do. Well, at least until the warranty expires. Had a 1998 Audi A6 with less than 100k on it that had a worn out transmission. The owners manual recommended that the AT fluid never needed changing. Curious that when I dropped the pan the contents looked more like very dirty chassis lube than transmission fluid.

      • That would be my diagnosis too. Because it has the towing package there’s a transmission temperature probe. The transmission temp goes above normal (but not hot), just before the shutdown. Has to be a simple fluid/filter change.


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