There are some things that I am too damn old and open-minded to understand.
Like hating a car brand. Especially in those common cases where folks haven’t been exposed to any level of vehicle derived hardships.
Toyotas are boring. BMW’s are Yuppie-mobiles. Mercedes-Benzes are for snobs. On an on, through the lexicon of cliche and generalizations comes the silliest of stereotypes. As much as I hate to see it, hear it, and read it, I’m resigned to the fact that there is always going to be some version of this nuttiness in our world.
But what if there was an easier means to defeat it? In fact, as many of you know, there already is. A force of human good that can outdo any scam artist or snake oil salesman.
The enthusiast forum.
Every time I buy a vehicle that I haven’t bought before at the auctions, I try to find out if there is an online enthusiast group that specializes in that particular model.
Some of the sites have surprised the heck out of me for their model based loyalty and goodwill. Chevettes, Tauruses, Fieros, Old Supras. As for ye olde Volvos and Benzes, there seem to be at least six or so sites that have offered their good word to thousands of devout followers. Even if I have little love for the car, there are hundreds of enthusiasts out there that can make me fall in love with the literary works that come from owning one.
One of the reasons why I love visiting these enthusiast forums is that the main contributors are almost always genuinely interesting people. From concrete layers who are into eastern philosophies, to tried and true professional race car drivers with New Jerseyite vocabularies. There always seems to be a beautiful egalitarian streak of wanting to help other fellow car owners regardless of who they are, what they believe, and even how they behave.
In a business bent on the glorification and financing of everyday transportation, I find that desire to extend the ownership period, and keep people debt free, truly valuable. It functions as a vital counterweight to our society’s commercialized push towards all things new.
Enthusiast forums also contain a unique balance between the driving enthusiast and the car keeping frugalist. The active members of the community want fun, high quality and reasonable costs. More importantly, nearly all these sites espouse a hardcore philosophy that every vehicle should have the opportunity to be used to the fullest of it’s capabilities. Even the lousy lower end versions with trashy engines and interiors that make you feel like you’re stuck in some remote corner of a Tupperware party. That jalopy of a car may indeed drink, smoke and hang out with the bad boys. It may even be worth more dead than alive. But it still has a fighting chance for rehabilitation when it finds the right crowd of auto enthusiasts.
Within all these enthusiast forums though comes a unique problem.
Access to the information. Referencing these places, easily so that consumers can easily jump from reading about the car from an old review, which is where most car searches begin for the non-enthusiast, to truly knowing about that car in one fell swoop. There are thousands of enthusiast sites and yet, it’s hard for them to get the word out about specific issues and recommendations that can better help the mainstream used car buyer before he makes a fatal mistake.
Many of us have the common sense needed to do a thorough due diligence of the car we plan on buying and keeping because, we love cars. But for those who don’t love cars, it’s an inconvenience. Information begats more information and sadly enough, a lot of these used car buyers will be overexposed to the sausage makers of our business who have absolutely no handle on the long-term issues of these vehicles, and no incentive to report them. In fact, a lot of the reviews out there are just rehashed versions of new car reviews that were only written to move the metal.
So I’m debating about whether to expand the long-term reliability study so that it can incorporate links that will allow used car buyers to go directly from the objective data, to the subjective opinions and insights of long time owners and enthusiasts.
Two articles I have recently written at Yahoo!, here and here, have received a lot of emails from used car shoppers who are happy with the data, but want more help with their search. It’s one thing to say that a car is generally reliable, or unreliable, and quite another to show a car’s specific weaknesses so that small problems don’t become terminal in the long run.
The good news is that we should have enough information to break all this out by a model year and even a powertrain basis in the near future. A long lasting Beetle with a TDI engine and a 5-speed should be treated differently than a Beetle with a defect prone automatic transmission and a 1.8 Liter. So in time, as the number of data samples crosses the half-million to million mark, that specific data will be broken out as well.
In a perfect world, I would like to display specific threads at the enthusiast forums that will provide the personal experiences behind these distinctions. Partially to support the findings as they evolve, and more importantly, to offer an easy way to introduce casual car owners to the value of certain well-run enthusiast forums.
Is it a good idea? Are there certain enthusiast forums that should be the holy books of knowledge for specific models? Any that should be avoided at all costs?
Feel free to mention them below. Oh, and this information in the long-term reliability study will be provided for free, forever. I am not going to pretend that this study will have all the answers or all the resources that can be harnessed on a wholesale level of this business. In fact, I plan on highlighting a lot of the limitations later this week at TTAC so that somebody, somewhere, may have the opportunity to make it better.
No system or study is perfect, which is one of the reasons why I asked for volunteers early on. We, even those who are experts, do not have all the answers. However there should always be free and public resources within the greater community that serve the common good, and this may serve as another good opportunity to pay it forward.
So as this study expands and more refined, I’m going to ask for help from those who have a genuine interest in building this. Statisticians, car nuts, concrete layers, all are welcome. With enough help from the enthusiast community, I think we can fill in the gap between those first owners that are featured by Consumer Reports, who typically keep a car for only about six years, and those later owners who will experience their own unique issues and levels of reliability as the vehicles age. Who knows? Maybe the study may save your progeny from an under-engineered CVT or an electric car that mysteriously loses it’s juice at the 100k mark.
All the best! And thanks for all you do. Feel free to leave your enthusiast forum recommendations below along with your thoughts and ideas.