As America goes Cuba, politically, it is becoming Cuban – vehicularly.
You have probably read about the aging of the vehicle fleet – that the age of the typical car in service right now is now pushing 12 years old, an age at which most cars would have been scrapped 20 years ago.
Today, most new cars are more expensive – and much more intrusive. It is almost impossible to find one that doesn’t come standard with an electronic hydra of “assistance” technology that many people simply do not want – either to pay for or to have to deal with. Steering wheels that try to jerk you back into the lane you’re in when you attempt to exit the lane without having signaled first. Even if there’s no one around to see your signal.
Brakes that slam on when the car thinks you’re too close to something. Engines that shut themselves off at every red light. Etc.
It is the same reason for all the rest of it. The corporations that build cars are increasingly controlled by people who not only prefer to sell virtue – as they define it – but want to force everyone to buy into it. Have a gander – if you can stand it – at the commercials purveyed by major car companies nowadays. They do not tout the sex appeal or tire-frying fun of cars anymore. Or even reliability.
They tout saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety. How “green” the thing supposedly is.
And yet, I know no one who wants all this stuff. And I’m a car journalist, with a pretty good feel for what people want – as opposed to what they are getting. Of every 100 emails/letters I get regarding new cars, 99 tell me how much the writer dislikes new cars.
The pushy “technology.” The homogenous, government-template styling, including the terrible blind spots (corrected for by back-up cameras and a bevy of buzzers). Wariness about the long-term durability prospects of 2.0 liter (and less) heavily turbocharged fours connected to eight and nine speed transmissions in 4,000-plus pound crossovers and SUVs. About not wanting a massive – or even any – touchscreen.
About wanting a vehicle they can service – as opposed to the dealer only.
Hence the 12-year-old car. Hence almost 20 year-old trucks, like my ’02 Nissan Frontier. Vehicles that are modern – they are fuel injected and don’t have to be babied on cold days, adjusted every 30 days and – most of all – easily run like new at 12 years old (or 20) if not purposely abused.
It makes you want to hold onto them.
I intend to. Because it’s feasible.
Vehicles made until – roughly – the early-mid 2000s can be kept running almost indefinitely, with rust being your primary worry. And even that is fixable, if you know how to weld. Even if you don’t, there are many people who do. Welding is a fairly common skill and the tools required are possessed by many, as well. Unlike the highly specialized tools and training as well as access to proprietary data one needs to fix the electronicized everything in today’s new cars.
Just the fuel delivery system. The engine, itself, is not much different from the engines made 30 or 40 years ago. It has overhead cams, but that isn’t anything new. Overhead cam engines have been around since the 1920s and have been common since the ’70s. They are as rebuildable as pushrod engines from that era; any machine shop can tackle the necessaries – because there aren’t unnecessaries, such as variable cam/valve timing or cylinder deactivation “technology” – all of which came online relatively recently, to “achieve compliance” with various government ukases.
The EFI system, itself, can be easily – and affordably – replaced, should it ever become necessary. Engines made before the early-mid 2000s can also be retrofitted with “stand alone” aftermarket EFI systems, with their own computers to control the fuel injection. In some cases, it is possible to retrofit a mechanical fuel-delivery system (i.e., a carburetor) on these engines, which requires no computer, at all.
Direct gas injection – which almost all new car engines have now – isn’t simple or easily (much less affordably) replaced. It is integrated with the engine in a way that can’t be end-run or easily replaced with something simpler.
There are holes in the cylinders.
Most of the vehicles from that era have physical throttle cables that control the throttle mechanically (as opposed to electronically, via “drive by wire”). If the vehicle has a manual transmission – like my truck – the transmission is an entirely mechanical component that can be rebuilt using physical parts, as opposed to “software” that may become vaporware.
Even if it has an automatic, it is likely to be a straightforward automatic, with one overdrive gear rather than three and a simple planetary gearset, hydraulic valve body and lock-up torque converter. Very rebuildable. As opposed to throw-it-away-replaceable.
Most of the controls – and – instruments – are likewise mechanical or analog rather than “wired” and digital. There aren’t any Body Control Modules, for instance, that control the up and down action of the side windows or the locking/unlocking of the doors. There are cranks for the windows – and catches for the locks. These may one day fail. But they can be field-expedient fixed.
So also power windows not controlled by Body Control Modules. It’s just a switch, electric motor and some wiring. No computers.
The truck, like most of the vehicles its age – has a keyed ignition. There is no “chip” in the key. An unchipped physical key can easily last 50 years or more (I still have – still use – the original ignition key that came with my 1976 Pontiac) and is easily replaced, if lost. The ignition switch the key goes into is also easily replaced – or gotten around – in the event it fails.
Good luck getting around a fobbed and chipped push-button ignition.
Point being: If you own a car made before the early-mid 2000s, you should be able to keep owning it – because you can rebuild it.
For as long as you like.
Just like the Cubans do.
Or at least, for as long as it takes for new cars to return to being better than the old one you’ve got.
. . .
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