By on February 25, 2009

What is quality? Consumers believe they find it in a car that never breaks. Engineers look all the way to the parts level and see how long a given component actually lasts. Advertisers bullshit their way through it, and dealers don’t care so long as the car gets out of the lot before the wheels fall off. As a car guy, I look at how long someone owns a car and WHY they get rid of it. Case in point. I now have access to a database that will eventually cover over 200,000 trade-ins over the course of the year. As someone who has a keen interest in metrics, I’ve found that the current vehicle’s mileage and condition at trade-in time can tell me an awful lot about quality. The findings?

No surprise. ‘Quality’ brands will have a high number of trade-in’s with over 150,000 miles and bulletproof powertrains. To that level of achievement I find that the Toyonda combo and the Ford/Chevy truck platforms are the best of the breed. Subaru, Volvo (mostly defunct models), and old school Benzes are right up there as well. Best case in point? This week 37 Lexii were traded in. 17 out of those 37 were traded in with over 150,000 miles. Out of the 37 traded in, only one had a noticeable problem with it’s powertrain (transmission needed service). Over the year I will usually see Lexus hovering around the 30 percent to 40 percent level for over 150k and less than five percent of their trade-ins will have noticeable powertrain issues.

On the nadir of the scale are the usual suspects. You have Kia, Saab, Jaguar, Land Rover, Suzuki . . . and VW. Kia had absolutely none (as usual) out of 27 with over 150k, and six with severe powertrain issues. The next 4 brands only had one trade-in with over 150k (a pre-GM Saab). Then there’s VW. VW never fails to shock. Only five trade-ins out of 89 this week had over 150k. Fourteen of these VW’s had severe powertrain issues. This brings me to how most of the European brands perform against models that cost a fraction of the price.

Terrible. God awful. In fact, I’ve seen weeks where a single Japanese model can have more 150k+ trade-ins than the entire European continent, despite a fifth of the trade-in volume. This week it was the Toyota Camry with 32 (out of 84), Honda’s Accord had 24 (out of 74), BMW did extraordinarily well this week with 20 (out of 76). Mercedes was far behind with 11 out of 51 (the 1980s models saved them). Audi squeezed out 2 (out of 27). Land Rover, Jaguar, and Saab had 1 (out of 33). And Volvo was surprisingly low with 7 out of 50. All pre-Ford. That total would have likely doubled if their damned odometers didn’t always break.

The Americans? Mostly between 10 and 20 percent. Standouts usually include the Chevy Suburban (12 out of 22), Ford Explorer (22 out of 66), and absolutely nothing from Chrysler. Lincoln and Cadillac are usually on the lower side of the scale while the Mustangs (3 out of 39), and Dakotas (0 for 16) seem to never fail in bringing out the literal rear.  Overall, I believe Barack and Co. could do worse by divining these stats in order to determine what needs saving, and what needs killin’.

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75 Comments on “Hammer Time: Kiametrics...”


  • avatar

    Among the long-lived Lexii, how does the percentage of Camry-based models to LS/SC/GS compare to their sales percentages when new, you think?

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    I’m not sure what is being proved here.

    Without taking into consideration:
    – whether these were 1st owners,
    – socio-economic demographics, or price points (assuming that the people with more money will trade in sooner),
    – the individual vehicle repair history, or aggregate repair cost per vehicle,

    I fail to see how a statistical relationship can be made. (Much as I would be interested to see it. And even if a correspondence is found, remember the old maxim “correlation is not (necessarily) proof”.

    An interesting way to get at some of this would be, for instance, to compare the miles at trade in for the Fusion/Milan/MKZ (or any two or three vehicles off the same platform.)

    I’m looking forward to seeing more development of this approach … thanks for your efforts.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    Thanks for this! Holds up the “import perception” bias. More like Japanese perception bias.

    We have 3 cars, two over 180k.

    1996 Camry V6 (190k)
    1998 Sienna (186k)

    The Sienna lurches forward after changing to 2nd gear and is impossible for me to sit inside. Probably those 100 mph trips for 3-4 hours (90ish for an addition 2-3 hours) to Las Vegas every year for a decade or so. No repairs done, really. We neglect the van like crazy. My dad left the parking brake half-engaged and I didn’t know so the car overheated, power died, and began blowing white smoke everywhere so I couldn’t see on the freeway.

    The fact that it still runs is good enough for me.:)

    • 0 avatar
      Acubra

      Don’t you realize that your infantile approach to maintaining your vehicle can be a very real danger for other road users?
      Twice in my life I nearly avoided head-on collision at highway speeds – because somebody (RIP in both cases) never cared about his tires, brakes and steering joints.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Great piece.

    Although I’m partial to Nissans, I know they’ve got some long term gremlins (compared to Toyota and Honda’s best). (Although you fail to mention Acura – an oversight or something ominous lurks there?!?)

    I think Lexus benefits from their Super Maintenance Duo of well-to-do anal customers and decent dealer service.

  • avatar
    TEW

    Steven-This is the first editorial that I disagree with you on. The miles on a trade in prove very little in quality besides the cars made it. Kia has a 10 year 100,000 mile warranty so it is in a different class then other brands. If there is a problem in mile 105,000 then the cost to repair it might be more then what the car is worth. The value of the car is also a big factor. The American trucks will always have a buyer. I know many people who take the old SUV’s/pickup trucks and beat the sh*t out of them off road.

  • avatar
    crackers

    Nothing like a European vehicle to teach people the value of public transit.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    Also, and this is probably related, a KIA is worth $3000 by 70000 miles… Even if you get it to 150000 it’s straight to the scrapyard.

  • avatar
    NickR

    I believe it’s ‘correlation is not (the same as) causation’. Anyway, I think that this will be statistically significant once there are enough vehicles. My stats skills are a bit rusty, but it can take a comparatively small sample size to reach useful conclusions. Whether or not the sample here is adequate, I can’t really say.

    The ‘maintenance record’ of the vehicles should cluster around a mean with the usual standard deviations (unless someone can demonstrate the owners of this brand or that model are particularly fastidious).

    Frankly, I think this may still lean toward the anecdotal in it’s present state, I’d say it’s still pretty damning. More so because in my experience with vehicles and my observations about my friends vehicles the ‘reliability rankings’ implied by these results are pretty well spot on.

  • avatar
    thetopdog

    Every time I hear about the legendary Lexus reliability I remember my ’99 GS that had a whole bunch of expensive problems in the 6 months I owned it. Everything from the door lock actuators to the rough-idle to the ball joints to the motor mounts. They were all well-documented, common problems according to the clublexus forums. I’m glad I got rid of it when I did.

  • avatar

    I think Lexus benefits from their Super Maintenance Duo of well-to-do anal customers and decent dealer service.

    Sounds like Mercedes-Benz of the W123/R107 era.

    You wonder how Benz dropped the ball.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    autoemployeefornow

    I wonder how many used car buyers want/need a Lexus with 150,000 miles?

  • avatar
    markpitts

    Anecdotal evidence:

    I just turned in a 2001 Volvo S60 at 97K for a Honda Fit. I was start starting to fear the transmission going due to revving behavior. I asked the Volvo guy to check it out, but he couldn’t find a problem. Rather than drop $3200 for a new transmission, I traded it in for $3200 towards the Fit. I have no love for the Honda brand, but the Odyssey I bought in 2003 is at 87K with no problems, except for a wonky weather stripping. I guess picking the practical appliance rather than the sexy car is a sign of age.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Irvine

    I was taught at school that “Quality” was about meeting expectations. Nobody expects a Kia to achieve 150K miles. Therefore a Kia at 80K miles might have met its quality expectations just as well as a BMW at 150K miles. A high quality bicycle might die before 10K miles!!

  • avatar
    frizzlefry

    Love for the car plays a factor too. I would rather have my high maintenance audi than a boring lexii. Yes, I will have to fork out 6 grand at some point to replace the turbos from what I hear. But I don’t care because I love the A6.

    Case in point, I watched a gumball video once where these guys in a Koenigsegg were bragging about how easy it was going to be to beat Alex Roy in his E39 M5. Alex Roy easily won because the Koenigsegg broke down a bunch of times in 5 days.

    But many car buffs would give a limb to drive a Koenigsegg. Me, I would rather an S8 but the Koenigsegg is still pretty awesome.

  • avatar
    CommanderFish

    Curious. Can you name this database? The sample size? Anything that would give this credibility?

    I know where I can find over-150k mile Mopars that are still on the road.

    Even if you were to assume that any other late model Chrysler wouldn’t make it on to this list (not true, minivans, Stratuses, Neons, LH’s are all capable of it), the fact that there are no Cherokees or Wranglers on this list is… Quite surprising.

    Moving off of Mopars, 150,000 miles can be quite subjective. 150k mostly highway miles? 150k mostly city miles? 150k miles in the Rust Belt? 200k miles in the Sun Belt? There’s a lot of variables. I have a ’98 Breeze that currently has 121k-some miles on it, I live in Wisconsin, and the large majority of miles on the car are city miles. The car is nearing the end of its practical life just from wear and tear, even though an identical car that has driven 150k miles across the deserts of Arizona could still be in excellent condition.

  • avatar
    ConejoZing

    I have a VW Rabbit. So far, the only problems have been a light bulb and a seatbelt sensor. Other than that, it is the best car I have ever had in my entire life. Faster, stronger and more comfortable than my beater Honda. Go figure!

    Of course… it probably helps that I actually take care of it. Oh yes and change the oil. Oh yeah and that I drive a beater in the Winter. I wonder how a study of VW drivers would shake out… like, if they take care of their car or not.

    If you get a VW… here’s a little secret… you will, yes, have to take care of it. Just like, well, just like any other car really. Oil changes. You know, all that.

    And dang, poor Kia! lol..

  • avatar
    John Horner

    “I was taught at school that “Quality” was about meeting expectations.”

    I went to those classes too, and it is mostly bunk. Consultants made up that equivalence so they could sell training classes. “Expectations” is then quickly translated into “specifications”, as in quality = meeting specifications. Next up, doctoring the specs to improve quality scores.

    It is like stock experts who long said that the riskiness of a stock was measured as “beta”, the short term volatility of the stocks price. But the real risk in a stock is that something will come to light which suddenly destroys the value you thought you had. I got killed in my long term holdings of AIG stock last year, and right up until everything fell apart it was a relatively low beta, and therefore supposedly low risk, stock. Stupid me, I didn’t realize that the venerable insurance company had mutated into a gambling house without most of us stockholders ever realizing it.

    “If you get a VW… here’s a little secret… you will, yes, have to take care of it. Just like, well, just like any other car really. Oil changes. You know, all that.”

    VW’s quality problems in recent decades were not by and large caused by owner neglect. Fanboys of every make often like to blame bad owners when a brand develops a reputation for being problematic. The VW coil fiasco alone probably did more to hurt the company’s reputation than anything else in recent years … and owners had nothing to do with that one. VW also has been nutso about oil recommendations. For years their US owner’s manual said to use any current API approved oil while their European versions required the use of specially VW certified oils. This combined with a shrunken oil capacity in certain models also led to all sorts of problens, even with VWs maintained by-the-book.

  • avatar
    kaleun

    I think this “statistic” holds quite some value. Sure, we ignore maintenance behavior.. but for the rest it is fine and goes with my gut feeling. I see many well driving 20 year old Honda, so I assume (and probably am right) that Honda builds good cars. I don’t see any old Kia, so I assume Kia builds bad cars. this is part of what a brand name is made off, years of experience.

    The same when I drive along the road and see cars that broke down. 99% of them are domestic. Since they are bad in the first place and since they have higher depreciation (because they are worse) their owners usually are poor and don’t afford much maintenance. Not exact science, but if an automotive engineer examines the design of the cars, he would come to similar conclusions.

    Before there were crash test results people just “knew” from rumors that Volvos are safe because we heard of guys walking away from crashes with no scratch.

    I know VW has a bad reputation here, but in Europe they have a good reputation like Honda. Not sure if the non-Mexican VW are just better. no one in Europe buys Jettas and Beetles.

    Interesting that Saab is so bad in these statistics. 20 years of GM (partial) ownership, I guess.

    My personal gut feeling: My 2005 Mazda 3 with 32,000 miles still shifts and drives exactly like on the first day. Except for the dirt and some scratches it could be a brand new car. I expect it to live very long and still be nice. I had a company VW Golf Wagon Tdi with 120,000 miles and it would shift exactly like a brand new car. I used to have a Hyundai Getz and at 15,000 miles it already would shift hard etc.

    At work (I work for a city) all the Ford Taurus, Crown Vic fall apart after 20,000 miles. Actually the new ones drive as good (or bad) as the old ones. The Buick and Impala are a bit better but still bad. Everyone signs out the Honda Fit and Civic because those are the only cars with decent brakes and that don’t fall out of the corner. We have an (impounded!) Kia Rio, no one wants that.

    This statistics probably is a little bit off when it comes to brands that are new to the US, or improved over the past years. Or cars that typically are used by long distance drivers. A Kia driver is someone who goes around to his 3 jobs in town, a Lexus driver might be sales man who goes interstate.

  • avatar
    ConejoZing

    Another secret for the VW:

    Where they are built has a huge influence on the quality. Check the VIN when shopping and the origin is clear to the VW insider.

    Actual Wolfsburg German built VW is better. This is pretty much well known among the Rabbit and GTI enthusiasts. The Golf is actually built in Germany and that is why it gets all the awards.

  • avatar
    derm81

    Geographic location has a HUGE impact on this. The road quality and shitty weather in the northern states (Michigan etc) would take thousands of miles off a vehicle’s life. Salt, potholes, snow, homeless people…yeah, takes a toll.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Actual Wolfsburg German built VW is better. This is pretty much well known among the Rabbit and GTI enthusiasts. The Golf is actually built in Germany and that is why it gets all the awards.

    Bull. The Passat was built exclusively in Germany and was utter crap in it’s last generation. So were most Audis, and they’re all German-made.

    The “German-made VWs are better” is, at best, a way for VW fans to deny the truth; at worst it’s casual racism.

    I know VW has a bad reputation here, but in Europe they have a good reputation like Honda. Not sure if the non-Mexican VW are just better. no one in Europe buys Jettas and Beetles.

    Europeans will put up with all sorts of crap when it comes to vehicle reliability, things that North Americans are unwilling to deal with. That’s one reason.

    The other is the VW and Daimler (and to a lesser degree, BMW) don’t treat their European dealers and distributors as badly as their North American equivalents. I hear European VW dealers don’t have to scream blue murder to get paid for warranty work, which must be nice.

    The last reason is that the European auto community is far more likely to, shall we say, grant favourable reviews to their native sons. I’d seriously question the independence of any European quality award.

  • avatar
    karmatramp

    Even after 200,000 trade-ins, this will still be flawed.
    The more educated the buyer, the less likely they’ll trade their old car in, since they know that trading is almost never the best move financially. The more educated are also usually blessed with more money and more time, and so if they have to sit on their old car for a month or two or three in order to sell it, they’ll be willing to do it.

    Instead of replacing their old car, they might also just be adding a vehicle, since keeping old trusty around as an extra set of wheels might be worth more to them than some wholesale bid at some dealership.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Scientific or not, I like this stat.

    It’s simple, like the gas tax. It might not be perfect, but what’s really better?

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    At work (I work for a city) all the Ford Taurus, Crown Vic fall apart after 20,000 miles. Actually the new ones drive as good (or bad) as the old ones. The Buick and Impala are a bit better but still bad.…

    Sorry, I just don’t buy that. New York City uses (mainly) Crown Vic for taxicabs. These cars routinely go well over 200,000 miles in what has to be one of the most car-hostile places on earth. Before the TLC put age/mileage limits on cabs, half a million miles were not unheard of. This on the Ford CV and, an number of years ago, RWD Impalas. Even a Kia doesn’t “fall apart” in 20,000 miles.

  • avatar
    quickczech

    I hold on to my cars until it costs more to fix it than the car’s worth.

    Over the years, here’s the score:

    83 Chrysler Cordoba – junked at 170,000 miles – transmission/electrical
    88 Chrysler New Yorker – junked at 160,000 – 2nd transmission/electrical
    92 Hundai Scoupe – junked at 38,000 miles – engine/transmission
    97 Toyota Corolla – still going at 170,000 miles
    03 Toyota Sienna – still going at 98,000 miles

    I keep up with oil changes and other maintenance fairly consistently.

  • avatar

    An interesting rough metric, Steven. But it’d be much better if you could take a few variables into account. Those that come to mind as I type this:

    1. Distribution of sales by model year; how many cars was Kia selling 10+ years ago (i.e. long enough ago to accumulate 150k) compared to recently? IIRC Kia wasn’t selling many cars before 1999. Neither was VW.

    2. Resale value at 120k (or somewhere in there); the more valuable a high miles car, the more likely an expensive powertrain repair will be performed. Of course, the perceived likelihood of a major failure affects resale value, so including this variable gets complicated.

    It sounds like what we really want to know is how long cars last. Maybe visit a salvage yard and read the odometers of vehicles without major collision damage?

    The problem with looking at such old cars in general: these were cars produced 10+ years ago. If quality has improved in recent years, it will still be quite a few years before we know it using this measure.

    Sure, some drivers put 150k on a car rapidly. But usually with a lot of highway miles, which put less wear on a car.

  • avatar
    Prado

    As a car guy, I look at how long someone owns a car and WHY they get rid of it.

    I would be very interested in seeing where the 4Runner ranks in this type of analysis. I suspect very high. Even with my high standards, my ownership experience over the past 6 years has far exceeded my expectations. No issues and more importantly no design flaws or characteristics that cause you to eventually get sick of what you drive and get something else.

  • avatar

    The way I see it, I believe my car’s quality depends on how many visits to the rapair shop are needed.

    A good car should last about 10 -20 years as long as regular maintenance is done on it to keep it running well.

    I’ve owned a Ford Expedition, a Chrysler 300, and an S550 Benz. My Expedition has been oddly the most reliable, but, the highest maintenance due to it being a big SUV. Never had an electrical problem, never had major parts problems except those due to the fact I put 95,000 miles on it.

    the problem with most cars now is electrical/hard drive issues.

    I never intend on keeping a car past 6 years so most car problems in the long term I won’t ever see.

    I plan on buying the 2012 S-class and possibly the CTS-V coupe if that ever is produced.

  • avatar
    jimmy2x

    Prado :
    I would be very interested in seeing where the 4Runner ranks in this type of analysis. I suspect very high. Even with my high standards, my ownership experience over the past 6 years has far exceeded my expectations. No issues and more importantly no design flaws or characteristics that cause you to eventually get sick of what you drive and get something else.

    The legendary reliability of the 4Runner is one of the big reasons that I bought a new one last spring. No problems, glitches, rattles, or trips to the dealer. Oil change only – love it!

  • avatar
    Stein X Leikanger

    There’s risk for skewing in this kind of analysis, but it gives a good overall picture. Within brands, you can get a few badly designed models to pull down the entire brand.

    It took years before VAG would openly admit that its 2.5 TDI V6 stank to high heaven, with camshafts made of icecream in the earlier versions. Affected Audis and VW Passat, in particular. You won’t find an ad for an Audi Allroad Tiptronic 2.5TDI from it was launched until about 2002 which doesn’t state “camshafts and gearbox replaced” – and if it doesn’t state that, then stay away. I’m with psarhjinian – where it’s made is not necessarily a good guide.
    Competition among car makers, and a need to contribute to the bottom line through volume (got to keep shareholders happy), meant that they began chipping away at quality.

    Toyota kept its range simple, and kept the cars basic (yes, as many say: boring). But it does show up in analyses such as this one. And while VAG long tried to pretend nothing was wrong with the engine above, Toyota would call in owners for full engine replacements while apologizing for the inconvenience, when they came across a problem. That also clears the aftermarket statistics – though what they’ll do now that we’re in Carmageddon is up in the air …

  • avatar
    redrum

    The fact that these are trade-ins has to skew the data in some ways. For one, domestic trade-in value is notoriously poor, whereas a high mileage Honda or Toyota can still fetch a reasonable amount of money. For example, my parents tried to trade-in an 11 year old Ford Escort a few years back and were offered a whopping $300. They ended up just giving it away for free to a relative. Five years later it’s still running, but the book value is basically nil.

    And, as previously mentioned, this retaining of value also encourages the owner to continue making repairs on the car, whereas with a lower value vehicle they’re more likely to junk it. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Steven,

    Thanks for some real life metrics. Sure, it’s possible to pick this appart from a statistician’s point of view, but in real life, often all you get is a small sample and incomplete data. You still have to make a decission.

  • avatar
    vento97

    Then there’s VW. VW never fails to shock. Only five trade-in’s out of 89 this week had over 150k. Fourteen of these VW’s had severe powertrain issues. This brings me to how most of the European brands perform against models that cost a fraction of the price.

    I guess my 624,000 mile 1987 Golf has severe powertrain issues. Or my current 280,000 mile 1997 VW Jetta (daily driver). Or my 150,000 mile 2003 Jetta 1.8T.

    A VW in the hands of a competant owner/driver will last at least 200,000 miles. Most drivers lack the basic mechanical skills to check their oil, much less change their oil. These are the types of drivers who defer their maintenance until things break.

    “Fancy computers and databases are no match for mechanical skill, kid…”

  • avatar
    vento97

    VW’s quality problems in recent decades were not by and large caused by owner neglect.

    Plastic water pump – VW bean counter decision to use the cheaper plastic water pump instead of the metal water pump.

    Windows falling – VW bean counter decision to use plastic retaining clips instead of the metal ones they’ve been using for years.

    Coils – Due to a certain VW cost-cutting bean counting executive who pressured their supplier to cut costs further – this is the result.

    Excessive oil consumption (2.0L 8-valve engine between 1999 and 2001) – Whomever in the VW management chain made the decision to redesign what was once a bullet-proof 2.0L 8-valve engine to that which consumed mass quantities of oil – should be shot… (I have the 1997 2.0L 8-valve engine which doesn’t burn a drop of oil at 280,000 miles).

    But then again, I never buy a new car in its first couple of model years – to do so is to spend thousands of dollars to become a beta tester for the automotive industry….

    Sludge (1.8T) – Human error – a combination of a lack of communication between the VWAG, VWoA, and the dealerships concerning the use of synthetic oil in turbocharged engines, and owner’s neglect (i.e. either not changing their oil at all or changing their oil BEYOND the 5000 mile interval).

    Case in point (owner’s neglect), I was at a VW dealership where the service advisor strongly recommended to an owner that she uses synthetic oil in her Jetta 1.8T. She insisted that they put the cheaper dino-based 5w-30. I shook my head and said to myself “that engine won’t last very long – and she will be the first to go back to the dealer to complain – despite being warned”

    But I digress…

    What does your fancy database say about the reliability of recent models?

  • avatar
    Kurt.

    I agree with many here, this is not a good representation of quality simply because these are “trade ins”. Cars with high milage are less likey to be traded and more likely to be scrapped or sold on the open market due to the low trade in value.

    In addition, some cars like the Mercedes 500 SEL will have a better maintenance record on average than say a Dodge Neon so it’s impossible to compare them to each other.

  • avatar
    gogogodzilla

    I’d have to say that this article confuses reliability with quality. Quality is *NOT* reliability and never has been.

    Reliability is when something, in this case – a car, does not break or need repairs.

    Quality is found in the type of materials used, the handling, the driving dynamics, etc, etc, etc.

    Using teak wood or brush aluminum to line the interior of a car… instead of Play-Skool type plastics doesn’t have anything to do with making a car more reliable, but it definitely make the car a higher *quality*.

    That’s why Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Lambo, etc, etc, etc, are *quality* vehicles… but no owner would ever tell you that they were as *reliable” as Toyota or Honda.

  • avatar
    AndrewDederer

    The argument is a little circular, but still valid. Cars with a higher trade-in are more likely to get traded. They have a higher trade-in because people will still pay real money for them (this could be all perception, but it’s still stastically valid).

    So to get those magical 150K trade-ins two things have to happen.

    1. The vehicle must travel that far. (objective)
    2. Someone must still be willing to pay money for it (subjective). Actually two somebodies, the dealer AND the next customer.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Steven Lang’s sucsess in the used car world comes having no preconcieved notions.So
    Mr Lang has developed a system,that assists him
    in vehicle purchases.I’m sure that if it didn’t
    work,he would of scrapped it by now.

    I also find myself agreeing with vento97,the VW
    dude.Human error is responsible for numerous high
    cost repairs.

  • avatar
    highrpm

    Here’s some advice that I give to my friends that want to make a few bucks on buying and selling cars, whether through craigslist or the auctions:

    Don’t look at the Hondas or Toyotas because everybody and their brother is looking at them so they are going for top dollar. The domestics have piss poor resale values so it may not be worth the hassle.

    Your best bet is to find an Audi/VW car with 80k miles or more. These cars tend to consistently have electrical and powertrain issues and will therefore sell for peanuts since a repair estimate for that car is undoubtedly high. You can buy scrap parts for these cars relatively cheaply, even an engine or transmission. As long as you are willing to work on the car yourself, you can make a nice profit when you fix and sell it.

  • avatar
    gman37

    I owned a 2000 Kia Sephia. I was a senior in college when I bought it new for 9K (it did have ac). I drove it for 5 years and 100K. In the 5 years I owned it and maintained it, I had a single warranty issue (fuel injectors).

    I sold this same car to a buddy of mine in 05, and he just got rid of it with 150K to a local mechanic. No problems for him other than general maintainence.

    Sounds like we were not the only ones.

  • avatar
    menno

    Kia’s quality AND reliability are still behind Hyundai’s (which has vastly improved to the point that both are now in Honda / Toyota territory – which just goes to prove that Detroit Inc could have done it had they wanted to). Kia, 50% owned by Hyundai and now sharing much technical expertise with Hyundai, are slowing improving, but not keeping up in both reliability and quality. Check out Michael Kareshe’s charts and also Consumer Reports.

    This does not mean Kia’s are terrible cars. In fact, for reliability, I’d take a new Kia ahead of

    -virtually any Chrysler including Jeep products
    -almost any GM product
    -some Nissans
    -ANY Mercedes Benz (remember, we’re talking reliability here)
    -any Volkswagen or Audi
    -any Land Rover

  • avatar
    DeanMTL

    You have a lot to learn about statistical methodology, Mr. Lang. Your findings are interesting, but if you presented this on day one of a Stats 101 course you would have been ripped a new one.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Very interesting article. Thank you for taking the time to compile this information, Mr. Lang. Every little bit helps us make a more informed choice.

    I do have questions about this quote:

    “Lincoln and Cadillac are usually on the lower side of the scale while the Mustangs (3 out of 39), and Dakotas (0 for 16) seem to never fail in bringing out the literal rear.

    Regarding Lincoln and Cadillac, how many of these are traded because the owner died and the family didn’t want the vehicle? Plus, many elderly owners don’t drive all that much, so the mileage will be lower. From what I’ve heard, however, the Cadillac Northstar V-8 does become problematic as the odometer approaches 100,000 miles, while the Lincoln V-8s are pretty trouble-free.

    I would imagine that Mustangs are often traded because of lifestyle changes (marriage, birth of a child, etc.).

  • avatar
    GiddyHitch

    “That’s why Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Lambo, etc, etc, etc, are *quality* vehicles… but no owner would ever tell you that they were as *reliable* as Toyota or Honda.”

    gogogodzilla,

    I would never call any of the vehicles you cite a “high quality” ride. That phrase not only implies a high standard for the styling or interior materials, but also in the mechanical/electrical design and build (quality). Ask a cross-section of people which marque they associate with the word “quality”, and I would wager that a disproportionate number of them would say Lexus. They are the gold standard of the automotive world, the Cadillac of the roads … er …

    I would agree with you that the word “reliable” is most often associated with Toyota and Honda.

  • avatar
    Orian

    Hyundai obtained Kia from bankruptcy proceedings in the 98/99 time frame. It’s taken them some time to convert all the Kia models over to the Hyundai engines and power trains, but I believe they achieved it with the last redesign of the Spectra and Rio (which are now cousins to the Elantra and Accent).

    That said, anything pre-Hyundai drive train based in the Kia is a crap shoot. For a while one of Kia’s models sold in the US was a rebadged Mazda 323.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Of course Lexus cars are going to show good. Mainly people who make incomes of over 100K per year buy them and service them accordingly. Folks that buy Kias are generally lower income people that went in to there local firesale and bought a Spectra or Optima for 12-14K out the door. These cars typically are driven into the ground with little care. And I see bucket loads of used Honda automatic transmission failures so chances are that many of these cars with 150K miles have already had the tranny swapped out by the dealer under new car or extended warranty. I also know 3 folks with 2007 Camrys who have all needed transmission replacement. Both 5 and 6 speed automatics have had numerous issues with losing gears and terrible shift quality and hesitation. The dealer usually cannot fix the issues and ends up replacing the troublesome tranny. So this raises the question how many trannys or engines have many of these vehicles on the used auction block had replaced in that 150K miles. Some of he reason these vehicles are making a good showing is either because of superior service and maintenance or that the powertrain issues were sorted out under warranty. The lower cost stuff like the Kias and Hyundais have been more neglected becuase many of there owners pay less attention to service and care so are thus more likely to show problems with higher mileage. On a personal note, I have owned Fords and GM’s and have logged as many as 200K miles on many of them. To date, I have never lost an engine or tranny. The most expensive thing that I have ever replaced were 2 rear wheel bearings on my 2002 Intrigue with 160K miles to the tune of $350.00 a HVAC unit in my 1999 Taurus that costs me $200.00 and an intake gasket on my 1996 Lumina with the 3100 engine and 120K miles. After the intake gasket job was done for less than $400.00, that engine went well over 200K in my possession and was still running around town for several years from the college student who purchased the car from me. Note that these cars never needed things like timing belt replacement, head gaskets or expensive tuneups or new $3500 trannys. Many folks with the same year Toyotas and Hondas can’t always say that!

  • avatar
    golf4me

    TTAC logo problem solved…

  • avatar
    wsn

    karmatramp said:

    Even after 200,000 trade-ins, this will still be flawed.
    The more educated the buyer, the less likely they’ll trade their old car in, since they know that trading is almost never the best move financially.

    Your point may be valid for a Lexus vs. Kia comparison.

    But how about Lexus vs. MB? It’s totally reasonable to expect their customers to be similar if not identical in most aspects. The poster’s logic is not flawless, but certainly makes common sense.

  • avatar
    segfault

    If Chrysler and Ford do so poorly under this metric, why do you consider a used Taurus or Caravan a “sweet spot” in the used vehicle market, and claim that they still have a lot of life left in them?

    I bet the average 100,000 mile Kia that is traded in is in also in worse physical condition (dents, scratches) than the average 100,000 mile Lexus, and this is something that has to do more with buyer demographics than with vehicle quality.

  • avatar
    osbornk

    The best way is to go to e-bay and sort the cars by mileage from highest to lowest. I found the highest mileage car for sale are Lincoln Town Cars with many having several hundred thousand miles on them because they are used as limos. There are frequently Town Cars with over half a million miles on them.

  • avatar
    wsn

    mikey said:

    I also find myself agreeing with vento97,the VW
    dude.Human error is responsible for numerous high
    cost repairs.

    Human error?

    Are you implying that VW owners are stupid (and thus forgot to change oil)? I fail to see why are VW owners any more stupid than, say, a Toyota owner.

    Or, are you implying that VW service people are stupid (and thus used the wrong type of oil)? Then again, it confirms that VW quality is low. Service is part of the product, and you paid for it. So, VW service is bad = VW car quality is low.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    A VW in the hands of a competant owner/driver will last at least 200,000 miles.

    A lot of European car fans say this, and they have no idea why it’s not a good thing. Here’s why:

    Any car will go huge miles if it’s well-maintained by a competent, proactive mechanic.

    Where, say, Toyota does well is that their cars have historically done well in the hands of people who treat the car fairly well at best and like utter crap. Case in point: when my parents divorced, my mother got custody of the ’86 Corolla they had and, since she never was responsible for it, didn’t change the oil until it started complaining. That was at 220K (kilometers) and the car went well past 500K under deplorable conditions. Trying that with, say a Saab, Mercedes or Volkswagen would result in either repair bills, or a very large paperweight.

    A car is not reliable if you have to proviso every statement of it’s longevity with “in the hands of a good owner/mechanic” or “if you keep up with the maintenance”.

  • avatar
    don1967

    This sort of study does not measure durability, rather it measures the economic argument for keeping a particular car on the road, bearing in mind the car’s typical demographic.

    Inexpensive cars (Kia) are more likely to be written off, crushed, abandoned, or donated to somebody’s nephew than to be sold for real money at 150k.

    Expensive cars (Mercedes) are more likely to be kept running for as long as possible, regardless of cost.

    Cars which sell to pragmatic, educated buyers (Toyota) are more likely to be babied for as long as possible and then sold while everything is still working for maximum resale value.

    Lastly, cars with “cult” value (VW, Rover) may be driven until the wheels fall off, as opposed to being traded with high mileage.

    As they say, statistics can be used to prove anything… but they usually don’t!

  • avatar
    wsn

    gogogodzilla said:

    That’s why Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Lambo, etc, etc, etc, are *quality* vehicles… but no owner would ever tell you that they were as *reliable” as Toyota or Honda.

    RR, Bentley, and Lambo are all expensive but low quality cars. People simply didn’t want them at the price they demanded. That’s why they all got bankrupted. They exist now only as rebadged BMW or VW, etc, as toys for the parent companies executives.

  • avatar
    hatuman

    My stats:
    1991 Dodge Colt: sold at 120k mi.- no problems
    1991 Dodge Colt: sold at 120k mi.- needed new 2nd gear
    1993 Nissan Sentra: sold at 170k mi.-needed transmission (barely still worked)
    1997 Dodge Caravan: traded in at 160k mi.- leaking transmission, but still worked
    current:
    2001 Dodge Caravan: 130k mi.; has tranny leak, oil leak- could be the end soon (also many electrical problems and front end problems)
    1997 Mits Montero: 175k mi.; burns oil (lots- why change if since it burns it so quickly?), runs fine otherwise, no other problems

    Result: will never buy a Dodge/Chrysler again. Am considering Ford Expedition as replacement for Caravan (need the space and 4wd).

    Metrics experience: most cars will get to 120k before dying; after that, no promises.

  • avatar
    Axel

    It’s nice to see our intuitions backed by hard numbers. Thanks, Steven.

    One reason Saturn’s demise make me cry: I had a ’99 SL that I put 186k problem-free miles on, then sold for real money. As far as I know, the car is still going strong.

    What did we buy to replace it? A Civic, of course :).

  • avatar
    kgurnsey

    From The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition:

    Quality:

    a. Superiority of kind: an intellect of unquestioned quality.
    b. Degree or grade of excellence: yard goods of low quality.
    c. High social position.

    Reliability:

    a. Capable of being relied on; dependable: a reliable assistant; a reliable car.
    b. Yielding the same or compatible results in different clinical experiments or statistical trials.

    It would be correct to say that Toyota’s relibility is of high quality, but an entire automotive experience is not made of reliability alone. For some, indeed many, reliability is a high priority in an automobile, but do not confuse this with quality in the general sense. Many cars offer high quality in other areas, like fit and finish, driving dynamics, and the feel of interior materials to name a few. For some people, these aspects are more important that reliability.

    Personally I would rather fix my VW than drive a Toyota. While I respect their reliability, I don’t like the interior materials, the flimsy feel, the driving position, or the dynamics. A Corolla is uncomfortable to sit in, uncomfortable to drive, and reeks of cheap, thin metal and cheap, hard plastics. That to me is a very long lasting source of aggrivation and a very reliable black hole for driving enjoyment. That’s not an experience I want to deal with for over a hundred and fifty thousand miles. A VW is a higher quality car in the ways that matter most to me.

    Kris

  • avatar
    folkdancer

    Thank you for your data mining. I enjoy the subject of data mining. Also excellent reinforcement of why I have been buying Toyotas instead of VWs.

    The March issue of Wired (page 181) has an article about how to make data mining easier in the financial world, let’s hope that happens.

  • avatar

    The more I think about this piece, the more I’m intrigued by the question of when various models tend to die, and what tends to kill them.

    We’re just starting to get enough older cars in TrueDelta’s panel to track this information–model years around 2000 each have 1,000 to 1,700 cars signed up. I think I’ll start tracking car mortality in the next month or so by modifying the existing surveys.

    http://www.truedelta.com

  • avatar
    kgurnsey

    As a side note, I thought the article was interesting, though not statistically informative. Stats are very useful, if you know the data is good, the appropriate barrage of stats are applied properly, and interpreted by someone who understands both the data and the manipulations.

    Personally, I would not rely upon trade in data to tell how reliable a car is over the long term. This data is full of biases and laking a lot of information. How signifigant is the effect of demographics? Income bracket? Is there a bias for some makes to be owned longer than others? Do some makes get traded in less? Leased vs. bought? How large is the effect of repair cost on trade in decision? Does it vary by make? How large is the effect of climate on this data? Do harsher climates affect the results? Is it regionally biased based on other factors? The list goes on…

    No offence meant, but given that the author admits to having “rusty” statistics skills, I would be leery about trusting any conclusions made from this analysis. Taking noisy data from an uncontrolled situation and getting any worthwhile conclusions and requires much more sophisticated anaysis than simple descriptive stats. Trying to prove causation over correlation is even more difficult. This analysis would be beyond someone who doesn’t have a firm background and lots of experience with statistical analysis. I have a pretty decent background in stats, and I wouldn’t touch this data with a ten footer.

    Throwing a few means, medians, and standard deviations together and implying a cause effect relationship is easy. Doing a thorough and detailed anaysis, using an appropriate array of descriptive and inferential statistics, to achieve a robust and defendable conclusion, of high descriptive quality and reliability, is not.

  • avatar
    Rev Junkie

    Judging from my sister’s ’06 Spectra, which is solid, well built, and trouble-free, Kia may have its next generation of trade-ins with more miles than ever. And, used Toyotas and Hondas can be cheap if you specify one thing, the thing in a car nearly all Americans dread to or cannot use: a clutch pedal. People don’t want manual-equipped cars, and are thus cheaper than their slushboxed counterparts. But, they are harder to find.

  • avatar

    ConejoZing has a point. I do all my own maintenance on my VW and it has been very reliable.

    I’ve never had a satisfactory experience with a VW dealer service dept since about 1994, so I ceased doing business with them. Now I either do it myself, or if I don’t have the tools or expertise bring it to a trusted independent shop.

    I love cars too much to just ignore/abuse them.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    Pch101

    A VW in the hands of a competant owner/driver will last at least 200,000 miles.

    A lot of European car fans say this, and they have no idea why it’s not a good thing. Here’s why:

    Any car will go huge miles if it’s well-maintained by a competent, proactive mechanic.

    Where, say, Toyota does well is that their cars have historically done well in the hands of people who treat the car fairly well at best and like utter crap. Case in point: when my parents divorced, my mother got custody of the ‘86 Corolla they had and, since she never was responsible for it, didn’t change the oil until it started complaining. That was at 220K (kilometers) and the car went well past 500K under deplorable conditions. Trying that with, say a Saab, Mercedes or Volkswagen would result in either repair bills, or a very large paperweight.

    The point of the argument is that the European car is more fun to drive, so the intangibles make it worth the extra effort needed to keep it running.

    I concur with the concept of the argument, but I doubt that it’s accurate. You can’t baby a bad electrical system or poor design, it’s just a matter of time before it does what it’s going to do, and if it doesn’t happen, then you probably got lucky. Good maintenance and treatment can slow the effects, but they can’t eliminate them.

    The implication of surveys such as Consumer Reports and JD Power is that a lot of the problems experienced during car ownership are the fault of the company that built the car. That is undoubtedly true. Owners can try to minimize some of the problems, and they can definitely trash the vehicle and make them worse, but they can’t just use better maintenance to make the problems go away if they are inherent to the design, as such problems often are.

  • avatar
    86er

    What years of Dakotas are you referring to, Steven?

  • avatar
    cjdumm

    Interesting ‘study’, although I know just enough about statistics (bloody little) to know that sampling and bias correction are very important.

    Applying my own ‘bias correction’, I would add that VW’s have seemed like garbage for a long time. There are still Civics and (especially) Accords from the late 80s, but who has seen a VW Fox lately?

    And just to supply the exception that proves the rule, my dad’s early 80s Saab 900 turbo went over 500,000 miles before finally dying of advanced POS-itude.

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    1985 Golf – 227,000 miles – Was rear ended at an intersection
    1986 T-Bird – 170k miles with no major issues until the A/C and I was ready for a new car
    1996 VW GTI – 170k miles with only a couple of minor issues… Handed it down to my little brother uses it as a winter car.
    2004 S4 – 55k miles and no issues to date (knock wood)

    Old room mates early 2000s Celica with 57,000 miles… engine destroyed from a snapped timing belt.

    These kinds of surveys are crap and have more to do with the owners than the cars. Most cars are so close to one another in quality, that the slightest unit of measure doesn’t show much variation from one to another

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    @vento97

    You forgot to mention the MK4 “lifetime transmission fluid”.

    So far, every MK4 that I know of (3 Jettas and 2 golfs) that have the sealed transmission with the lifetime fluid had slipping transmissions by 85,000 miles.

    Typically these cars need new transmissions by 110,000 miles or so.

    A friend works for a German company and he says that in Germany VW actually does service these transmissions at regular intervals. They are only “maintenance free” in the North American market.

    I guess VW feels that North American drivers do not want to maintain their cars.

    -ted

  • avatar
    Countryboy

    1) As the saying goes, “Data is like a prisoner, it will say anything you want if you torture it long enough”

    2) Totally anecdotal, but consider this:
    Kia’s are priced right from the get go
    After the 5/60 or 10/100 warranty, they’re depreciated to something approaching zero.
    Bad, I don’t know, but $/mile, you probably got you money’s worth. I’m not sure many of these get “traded”, but just sold on the low end of CL.

    3) If Kias are bad, but almost universally, their OWNERS rate them extremely well. Value, pricing, reliability, etc. Check out any set of owner reviews and you’ll struggle to find consistant bitch sessions about Kia.

    4) I still can’t understand this obsession and preoccupation with maintaining “resale” or trade in value on a 10 year old car with over 150,000 miles. By any “metric”, that car, I don’t care the nameplate, has been fully depreciated and mostly used up. They’re not Boeing airliners.

    5) Some of the stats are propped up by original frenetic demand accompanied by full MSRP pricing. Honda Odyssey case in point. People paying MSRP plus and wanting or expecting a much higher “trade-in” value when they have run the thing 150, 160, 180 K miles.
    Kia Sedona w/ 75,000 miles = $5,000
    Honda Odyseey w/ 120K miles = $9,000
    I choose the $5,000 – 75,000 mile Sedona every time.

  • avatar
    pgracia65

    I have to comment on the general sentiment that the demise of the average Kia is usually due to being owned by mostly low income ne’er-do-wells that don’t care or can’t afford to maintain a car. Unfortunately, my experience with Kia’s is just the opposite. I am a college educated computer engineer making over 113K per year. I recently bought (1/08) a 2003 Kia Sedona with 57,000 miles for $6500. It was clean and had been well maintained by the previous owner. I continue to keep the car garaged and well maintained. Yet now by 75,000 miles I have had multiple problems including a windshield that cracked sitting in my garage (a know Kia problem), cooling pipes to the rear heater core that rotted, a failed alternator, and, now this week, power steering that is starting to fail.

    Unlike most of the other cars that I have traded in that have had over 120K miles, I am now thinking about getting rid of the Kia that my wife is afraid to drive.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    My 1998 neon sport coupe has 180,000 on it and it’ll be a cold day in hell before anyone, ANYONE, pries it’s keys from my hands for $300.00.

    It’s worth more as a souvenir from high-school(It’s my first car– owned from ages 17-29 now) than it is as a running, a/c-equipped, well-driving, stopping, comfortable velour-lined cabin for 5 sort of automobile.

    That is why no one trades cars like this.

    Ever tried to find a replacement for the same $300.00? It doesn’t happen. People are wise to this.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    If it is in reasonable shape inside and out, current with license and maintenance, and passes emissions, it’s worth $1500 no matter what it is.

  • avatar
    Bridge2far

    The Neon would wholesale for $200 to $400. An 11 year old cheap car with a buck 80? CarPerson, you ready to write a check for $1,500 for that beauty? Just wondering.

  • avatar
    2tonekia

    and that is my car there… it dont look like that anymore, with almost 200,000 thousand miles on it still strong, i have always do the oil change my self and do all the maintenance, timing belt, spark plugs, belts, everything, this car is a actually 2 times national winner at NOPI nationals car show in atlanta, with of course 30 something other trophys at the local car show, i love this car and have never gime a problem at all…


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