By on May 25, 2017

2014 Honda Accord Coupe Pedals, Image: © 2017 Jack Baruth

It’s time to refill the hopper on the questions that keep you awake at night. Send them to askjack@calamarco.com. Help me help you. If you’ve sent me a question and you don’t yet have an answer, feel free to send it again or just remind me to look for your email. You would be amazed at the volume of correspondence I get every day, most of it from people who want to learn how to get press cars. Why would you ask me that? Ask a mommyblogger.

With that out of the way, let’s get to a question that, truthfully, should be asked a lot more often than it currently is being asked, both by customers and manufacturers.

John writes:

It would seem to me that with all the data available to an automaker (warranty claims, parts demand, etc.) any car company should be able to look at the failures, correct them, and go forward.

And yet, so many don’t. Do they just figure it’s cheaper to run junk, and fix what they have to, and not invest the time and money to fix problems?

Take Fiat for example. Really? Why? It’s a cute car. People will buy it. Why make them suffer?

What about VW? When they first came to the US, it was about value, including reliability. They want to be Toyota, and yet they miss the point of how important reliability is to a mass market car-as-appliance buyer. I’ll have another Camry, they all say. How can they not see this?

This eminently sensible question deserves an answer. In this case, I have several answers, listed below.

  • Virtually all mass-market cars are exceptionally reliable nowadays. You often hear people ask, “Why can’t cars be as reliable as a W123 Benz?” As fate would have it, my best friend went to work in the parts department of a Benz dealer in 1988 and I very well recall all the afternoons we sat around in the shop laughing about how crappy the W123 cars were. In fact, pretty much all of the famously reliable old Benzes would subject their owners to one or two unscheduled service visits a year, starting on Day One. To put it in perspective, my 2009 Lincoln Town Car made it through 113,000 miles with just two unplanned stops. One was for a door lock and another was for HVAC noise. My wife’s ’09 Chevrolet Tahoe is at 117,000 miles without a single unscheduled stop. Never in my life did I ever hear of a W126 Benz doing something like that. You might think a modern Fiat is junk because it goes to the dealer once or twice a year. In 1985, even a Honda Accord could barely pull off that trick.
  • Everybody builds to a price now, and they do it by grinding their suppliers into the dust. Many years ago, there was a sort of three-way romance between Volkswagen, GM, and a fellow named J. Ignacio Lopez. Senor Lopez was a wizard at shifting costs, and problems, to subcontractors. He made a lot of money for a lot of people — and then the bill came due in terms of low product quality and system failures. If you’ve driven a Mk4 Golf or Jetta, you’ve seen the Lopez philosophy at work. Unfortunately, that philosophy has now become standard practice across the industry, driven by customers who expect to get more car for less money. Go look at the standard-equipment lists on the Toyota Camry throughout the years, then look at the inflation-adjusted price. To keep up that Moore’s-Law-style march of progress, something has to give somewhere. Like cutting the cost of a supplier-provided accelerator pedal … just to, ah, make up an example.
  • And some automakers have secret costs they address by cutting corners further. Union labor, pension plans, unfunded liabilities. All of these cut into the bottom line and have to be balanced out. But it’s not just labor-related expenses. Look at Porsche; they made a ton of money and used it to engage in reckless fiscal adventurism that ended up in their utter subjugation to the state-supported Volkswagen juggernaut. They could have used all of that profit to address the problems of the M96 engine, but they decided it would be more glamorous to engage in jumped-up day trading.
  • The pace of change results in a lot of stuff going out the door half-finished It’s expensive to be at the so-called “bleeding edge,” both in terms of money and reliability problems. Look at Ford: they brought all sorts of exotic tech to the masses, then they had to suffer through terrible customer-relations issues with SYNC, the PowerShift transmission, and the EcoBoost truck engines. There’s a reason that some companies, like Honda, are inherently conservative. The problem happens when your competitor bets the farm and gets it right — like Ford did with the aluminum F-150, and like Jeep did with the unibody Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. Then you end up licensing a couple of crappy SUVs from Isuzu just to keep the dealers from kicking your representatives into the Sparta pit.
  • Never forget that automakers generally consider you, the consumer, to be an utter fool. Did you ever wonder why automakers have public-relations departments? It’s not because they truly enjoy paying for people with associates’ degrees to take $50,000 trips just because said degree-holders happen to work for Motor Trend. It’s because the average auto-manufacturer engineer thinks the customer is basically a brain-damaged bonobo in a human-flesh suit. The amount of contempt most engineers have for average people is utterly astonishing. I’m not saying they’re wrong to feel that way. Imagine you’ve spent three years of your life engineering a single facet of a new automobile to a precise balance between cost, durability, function, and appearance, only to have some trustafarian liberal-arts moron ding you on a J.D. Power survey because she is literally unable to understand any touchscreen menu with more than two levels. Now imagine you have to sort through thousands of complaints like that just to find the one legitimate gripe with your product. That’s the life of an automotive engineer.

Those are some of the reasons for quality problems at automakers, but you can simplify all the above to a single statement: A modern automobile is a miracle. It is a more complex system than any human creation before, say, the SR-71 Blackbird. It lasts 20 years or 200,000 miles with almost no maintenance, it will protect you if you drive head-first into wall at 45 mph and it will actively intervene to prevent that incident before it happens. It can drive itself to some degree and it can regulate the interior temperature to within two degrees in Fairbanks or Death Valley. And you can lease it for a sum of money that wouldn’t get you one hour of a corporate attorney’s time or two days’ worth of barista service in Seattle. If you seriously think about it for more than moment or two, your mind will start to twist with amazed gratitude.

Unfortunately for all of us, gratitude is the most fleeting of human emotions. So how about that piece of crap Accord I’m driving? Did I mention that the floormats wore out?

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132 Comments on “Ask Jack: Just Once, Can’t We Figure Out What We Keep Doing Wrong?...”


  • avatar
    noorct

    I would add to this that standards keep going up. So a car with two unscheduled stops in 2017 is unreliable, but that’s a degree of difficulty above what it used to be. And most cars don’t get Camry volume to work out the kinks.

    Also perception is hard to change. It took ford from the time the fusion came out in 2006 until 2010 plus to overcome decades of reliability neglect (barring the crown Vic and a few other exceptions). So not only do you have to get better – you have to get better consistently and for an extended duration while everyone waits for your next screw up.

    Flip side is you can coast on reputation like gm and ford in the 90s

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      Agreed. In the cars that I’ve owned since I started driving in 2000, I’ve only had one hit me with more than one unscheduled repair in my entire period of ownership, and that one was a B5 Audi A4. The rest have had the following, in the order I own(ed) them:

      14 Santa Fe (3 years) – High pressure freon line failed. Known issue, parts were back-ordered for 6 weeks. Fixed under warranty.
      92 Rodeo (2 years) – brake line failure. 22 YO car with rust will have that happen though, plus I bought it for a grand.
      04 S2000 (5 years and counting) – transmission failure, but that was my fault. Forgot to torque the drain plug down after a fluid swap
      10 Mazda 3 (7 years and counting) – random speaker failure (not blown due to cranking the volume)
      04 RSX-S (7 years) – Alternator failure, but that was a result of a modification causing a wire to rub the body and go bare.
      96 A4 (2.5 years) – AC evaporator failed 2x. Engine mounts failed. random CELs. Control Arm Recall. ABS module failed. Both front tie rod ends failed. Both front CV boots failed. bulbs burning out in the instrument panel before 100k. Valve cover gaskets leaking before 80k. Climate control buttons only worked sporadically. sunroof would open to vent because it felt like it.
      96 Altima (6 years) – no failures to note.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    In regards to technology in this day and age, companies can either be bleeding edge with buggy software and hardware or can strive toward rock solid platforms and usability, but be late to the game. There is a cost for both. Very few companies can pull off being first AND reliable, stable, and bug free.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    @Jack
    Thanks Jack, this is one of your better explanations of questions that you have been asked and I appreciate the detail that you did. We hear the saying “there are no such things as bad cars now” but I dont think folks really believe it.
    They believe that their CamAccTima will last way longer than that Fus6Legy.

    Honestly I know several people that own the Chrysler 200 and after about 60k they love it and havent had to go into a shop for anything. Now would I buy one? ummm Hell no its to compromised for me however if someone asked I am not going to dog out their choice.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Another reason for problems is the advancements made in engineering over the years. Previously, they may not have been able to isolate the necessary levels of strength in every piece of a part – now they know exactly where to make it thick, where to make it thin, and what materials to use to make it lighter etc. This works great in theory, but a previously robust part may have been used beyond its specifications – yanking on a door handle well beyond necessary etc., or perhaps a part now looks flimsy while still doing the job – but making the consumer feel it has been cheapened.

    • 0 avatar
      mechimike

      <— This. A door handle might last 100,000 cycles with a robot pulling on it, in precisely the same place, in a climactic chamber, but let a 9-year-old boy at it and I guarantee they'll have it destroyed before the new car smell wears off of the interior.

      • 0 avatar
        NoID

        We managed to pull both of the rear sliding door handles off of our 2003 Kia minivan. I saw at least one other on the road missing the handles.

      • 0 avatar

        When my kids were small, they’d always immediately yank the handles before the car was unlocked. I would yell “WAIT” but like as not, they’d manage to get them moved at the same time the interior system would move, causing either a jam or “no unlock”. I have great respect for the guys who design that non glamorous stuff. We can’t all be Vette Powertrain engineers.

  • avatar
    Syke

    Add to all the above The Internet Factor: Individuals who live in the comment sections of blogs, happily spreading their own personal prejudices against a certain brand or model of car. You know the type. The person who long ago decided that a certain marque (say, Cadillac) is a garbage brand incapable of doing anything right, hasn’t done anything right since 1968, and even if they do manage to do something right he’s going to be damned if he will either admit it or (horrors!) give the company credit for such a move.

    Basically, the blogs have become corrals of individuals who expect a car to sell for $10,000 new, resell for $2500 three years later, and go 200,000 miles with nothing more than replacing tires and brake pads. And they’ll bitch about the cost of brake pads.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    I generally agree with the conclusions reached here, and with Sync and Powershift transmissions, but EcoBoost truck engines – ? What was that big catastrophe that I missed?

    Depending upon the model and trim level, opting out of Sync and the Powershifts was pretty tough, no matter how bad the reputation was. Opting out of the EcoBoost in an F150 is easy as pie…just take the base V6 or the 5.0 V8…and yet Ford went from selling EcoBoosts in 0% of F150s to selling EcoBoosts in 60% of F150s in 24 months. Yeah – buyers stayed away in droves, huh?

    Can you direct me to the TSB, silent warranty, service campaign or recall to which you’re referring?

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      The early EcoBoost engines had a nasty habit of building up condensation inside the intercooler under certain driving and environmental conditions, and when boost was called for, a slug of liquid water would travel up the intake and hit the engine, causing multiple misfires, power loss, and in the worst case, engine hydrolock.

      Ford’s fix was a metal plate to block off the airflow to part of the intercooler (along with a software modification, IIRC). You can read all about it online.

  • avatar
    mechimike

    Points 1) and 2) seem to contradict each other. I understand what you’re driving at though- WHILE cars are exceptionally (generally) reliable nowadays, THEY ARE ALSO built to a price, and with that price comes…compromises.

    Considering some recent stories that have come to light about new car reliability actually progressing on a downward trend (having been doing nothing but skyrocketing upwards for a few decades now) it seems like the Lopez chickens are really coming home to roost.

    Not to mention, the cost, time, and complexity of diagnosing the problems that do crop up has gone up tremendously in recent times. Yeah, a W123 Mercedes (one of which I daily drive, still) might break a few times a year, but it’s often only a few hours and a few hundred dollars to put it right when it does. On the occasion something hiccups in a modern car freshly out of warranty, the owner could be tearing up over a 4-figure repair bill- and simultaneously frustrated when the problem reappears shortly after it’s supposed “repair”.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      Recently read an article recommending that, for white goods, you should buy the dumbest appliance you can find. No IOT, no touch screens, no umpteen operating modes you’ll never use.
      It’s good advice for many of us buy and hold car buyers, too. That nav/info screen will go tango uniform well out warranty and may not be carried in inventory anywhere, plus necessitate yanking the whole dash out just to swap in a salvage or rebuilt replacement.
      Nobody seems to design for long term maintainability – not in their interest to do so.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        Interesting point. I actually know a guy who recently bought a commercial washer and dryer for his home for just this reason. He didn’t need a machine with Shabbat mode, e.g.; he essentially wanted a brand-new 1970s washer and dryer.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          I’m still using my 15 year old Whirlpool conventional top loader. two speeds, three cycles, that’s it. And since I live surrounded by the Great Lakes I needn’t give a damn about high efficiency.

      • 0 avatar
        mechimike

        I just bought a Speed Queen washer to replace a Whirlpool that crapped out after only 4 years. The SQ has no fancy sensors or anything- just select temperature, wash mode, load size, and how dirty your clothes are, and 30 minutes later you have clean clothes. And it’s American-made.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Excellent piece. It’s hard to disagree with any of it. But it’s a puzzlement to me why manufacturers cheap out on obviously visible areas of the vehicle, such as with Jack’s floor mats, when there are so many places to cut a corner that will never be obvious to the owner. Jack has referred to those mats often enough by now that I’m sure it has become a minor sore point. And what would it have cost Honda to have made nice thick ones that would last years? Couldn’t have been much.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Honda started with the felt that’s supposed to be carpet back with the the 9th-Gen Civic, which debuted in 2012, and was admittedly designed to a price because of Honda’s feeling that a fancy car wasn’t in line with people’s expectations given the times (Great Recession, etc.).

      The only advantage is that it cleans with a whisk-broom, if there’s no stains. The standard floor mats are truly lipstick on a pig; WeatherTech/Husky liners are required, IMHO, but you can get away with the OEM all-weather mats if you don’t see snow, salt, and other gunk in your travels. Otherwise, you’ll wear a hole in the standard ones in 3,000 miles.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “your mind will start to twist with amazed gratitude”

    F that. Almost every industry is under the same pressures you wrote about. I’m not breaking out the hosannas to the automakers.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      nobody is asking for “hosannas,” merely that people stop whining about not being able to have their unrealistic demands met.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Is it really that big a deal for someone on their lunch break at GloboTech to complain on an internet car blog that there isn’t a manual transmission Genesis G80 or diesel Corolla AWD wagon?

        I don’t work in the auto industry, so maybe that’s the disconnect because the people getting the most upset about this situation seem to have a career with a supplier or OEM. But, I don’t understand why what generally amounts to time-wasting deserves ire.

        Are consistently​ realistic demands really a requisite for this medium?

  • avatar
    Sceptic

    This is the kind of article that makes TTAC worth reading. Thanks, Jack.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      A bit of trivia about the James Ingram’s song “Just Once”:
      It was originally written about a GM dealership mechanic, struggling to keep a new X-body Oldsmobile Omega working long enough to sell it.

      Just once, can’t we figure out what we keep doin’ wrong?
      Why it just won’t run for very long
      What’s GM been doin’ wrong?

      Just once…

      Can’t we find a way to finally make them right?
      To make the damn thing run for more than just one night…

  • avatar
    sirwired

    That last sentence really got my attention… I have a ’17 CR-V, and the floor mats feel like I picked them up from the hardware aisle at Dollar Tree.

    But with criminally-cheap floor mats, it took a windshield guy an extra fifteen minutes fiddling with plastic trim doo-dads under the hood that serve no function, and that no buyer will ever notice. Would have been nice if the money for that trim had been sent to the floor mats instead. And the door armrest is stupidly thin; another couple mm of padding would have been nice.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Well said Jack. “They sure don’t build em like they used to” I yearn for the days when you needed to change the plugs at 10,000 miles. A set of tires might give you 20,000. U joints at 25000. Voltage regulators, coils, plug wires etc etc. A failure of any one of those components left you on the side of the road.

    Sure enough, those were the days. I nice shiny new Galaxie 500. Eight years old, and the Galaxie was parked on the back line on the used car lot, with rust holes you could stick your fist in. A babied 283 would start blowing smoke out the oil filler tube at about a 100, 000.

    As someone that grew up in that wonderful era, I could go on, and on.

    Today we have replaceable floor mats , with a wear hole or two ?. Interior trim with a little “sun rot”…Baseball stitching that doesn’t quite line up correctly. Infotainment systems, with Blue Tooth tech, Sat. radios, 6 speakers. Yup, you just need to get the owners manual out and do a little studying . Lets add a complex system of air bags, and safety requirements . What a PITA they can be. Something to think about when you, and your family come out of a crash reactively unscathed. The same crash that would killed or maimed someone, in say an 80 Accord.

    I drove GM for years , and yes I’m very much aware of bits of trim falling off. A glove box door that wasn’t even close to lining up, with the dash…I believe the buzz word then was “perceived quality “. A lot of those issues are , albeit slowly being addressed.

    I believe we live in an era now, where even the crappiest , low priced vehicles are leagues ahead, of even the offerings from 10 years ago…Such advancements are bound to have some growing pains.

    I can live with it.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      10 years ago? I think you have to go further back. I’m driving a 10 year old car and I recognize some great new car safety advances (auto emergency braking and backup cameras) and convenience (wireless streaming audio and AA/Carplay). Having said that, my 10 yr old car has ESC, bluetooth calling, antilock brakes and assorted airbags.

      Build quality appears to be about the same. GM has improved, but many others are still churning out good/better/best build quality.

      We’ve had great quality cars for some time. We’ve had MUCH safer cars with the advent of antilock brakes, airbags, crumple zones, etc, and those have been with us for some time.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        Agreed, jkross22. Mikey’s underlying point is correct, but I disagree about the time frame. E.g., perhaps the two single biggest factors in improving reliability were electronic ignition and EFI, and those spread through the industry during the ’70s and ’80s.

  • avatar

    Great read, Jack!

    Last week we had a Flecktone mentioned and this week, the “trustafarian”…takes me back to
    Dead Lot in the nineties.

    Is that pedal tree shown in the image an Accord?

    Cheers!
    Michael

  • avatar
    MrH42

    Having worked in design and manufacturing in the industry for years, this article is awful. And wrong on so many levels. To all you readers, just remember, Jack is a writer, not an engineer.

    It’s simple. Hindsight is always 20/20. Most “reliability” issues are problems that aren’t foreseen during the design and testing phase. Once they scale up for full production, variability in part production, tolerance stack ups during assembly, and any issue humanly possible wiggle to the surface as the volume scales.

    OEMs could always go back and make changes to fix these unforeseen issues and they do a lot of times. That’s why people say “never buy the first year of a new model”, but there aren’t nearly as many changes as you’d think.

    But a lot of the times, it’s simply not worth it to constantly keep making these “fixes”. All warranty failures are being measured on a part per million basis. If the occurrence rate is really low, and the cost to implement a tool change is on the order of millions, it’s cheaper and easier to just replace some every year.

    What separates the Toyotas of the world from the FCAs of the world when it comes to reliability is the corporate processes, standards, and culture around everything they do. It’s how they work every day. It’s their internal specifications for materials, clearances, safety factors, design change vetting, their assembly process design, etc. It goes on and on.

    It’s not a grand conspiracy that all OEMs think their customers are stupid and they’re designing everything to fail. FCA is trying just as hard as Toyota to make reliable cars. Some are just better at the game than others.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      “Having worked in design and manufacturing in the industry for years, this article is awful.”

      You’d think that after all those years, the article would be better!

    • 0 avatar
      tresmonos

      MrH42, you’re demonstrating fan boy tendencies. Japanese OEMs sourced product from my tier 1 operation and they’re just like all other OEMs in terms of warranty and quality. The only thing that separates them is cost cutting up front in parts bin sharing, more mature product (less aggressive design) and more time spent in design quality due to their resource load not being utilized to be innovative.

      All OEMs have some sort of pre-production and production runs prior to deeming their product salable (with associated quality feed back loop that initiates change requests, gates PPAP levels and effectively governs all APQP activities). To my knowledge in 2014, Honda is the only producer that is actively trying to go from prototype directly to production (at the cost of the tier 1 supply chain). So in reality, your over simplified scenario above for best in class quality is being defiled by your extremely biased fantasy that you graced us with in your comment like a paper bag full of excrement. Thank you for that…

      I hope the supplier employed Asian chick that knew how to an excellent mouth hug isn’t being violated by Honda’s new product launch regimen. It’s been years since I heard what was going on in that insane cost cutting world. I suppose when you build over simplified pieces of garbage like a Honda, you don’t need pre-production runs because your product is turning into the Fisher Price Playskool product on the dealership lot.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        @tresmonos….Just like the folks that honestly believe that Honda and Toyota workers don’t come to work half in the bag. Oh yeah , and never slip out at break to burn a” fatty”.. while standing between two trailers at the docks….The hundreds of truckers that came and went from the my dock at GM, then on to the Ford, Toyota and Honda plants, delivering from the same suppliers, told a different story

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          This. People who work in a plant must be different just because the name on the sign is different. Yeah right.

          If anything, I was more checked out at the Tier 1 because I was beat into the ground by my management, every OEM I worked with and I was underpaid because of the points that Jack outlined above.

          There were days it was hard to care that some poor sap could burn alive due to identified defects that I knew were in the field. The Japanese were notoriously awful when it came to containment after we knew it was in the customers’ hands. The big 2.5 were more trigger happy on safety recalls. Perceived quality and all that.

      • 0 avatar
        MrH42

        Well, that was certainly a reasonable and well thought out response. Thank you for that.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        tresmonos, non-UAW auto manufacturers simply have more money and flexibility available for car manufacturing than UAW companies. The non-UAW companies can hold individual workers responsible for mistakes and readily fire them if assembly mistakes occur. Non-UAW companies don’t have the expense of retiree benefits and skim off the top by the union. Not paying the union makes more money available for a little higher quality parts.

        • 0 avatar
          tresmonos

          George B,
          The union has little to do with quality. Sure, you get one off assembly defects. But you’re overestimating the impact of labor.

          One thing that the union does impact is the amount of time I have to correct issues. Again, it’s negligible.

          The best way to describe the union is a network that protects the 5% of bad apples. My superintendents can hide those 5% of bad apples in jobs that don’t impact much at all.

        • 0 avatar
          mikey

          @ George B..Perhaps in the past, like 20 years ago, what you wrote, was to a certain degree ,true.

          However this is 2017. Workers, can, and do get fired for chronic poor workmanship. Depending on the quantity, and severity of the offence such violations are dealt with by progressive discipline.

          Retiree benefits , Health, Dental, Meds, vision have been gone for nearly 10 years. Pensions do not exist anymore for new hires, salary or hourly. Yes the big 2.5 do have “legacy” pensions . Such pensions have been frozen since 2009. As people die, or opt for commuted value packages, the total cost for “legacy” pension commitments, is shrinking daily… At no time ever, did the company pay the union anything. So I’m not sure what you meant by “skim off the top”

          Maybe , the non union manufacturing companies do have more money available for a little higher quality parts? But that doesn’t mean they spend it on such.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        MODERATOR- Please consider banning this poster for a little while. I can enjoy some of Jack’s soft-core now and then. but this is just icky and gross- and abusive in tone, not just in language.

        • 0 avatar
          mikey

          @ Wheatridger…Disagree….Tres tells it like it is. Tres doesn’t work in the fantasy world of Auto Manufactoring. Tres brings immense and invaluable insider knowledge to TTAC.

          Working on the plant floor can be” icky and gross”. That, and its most certainly crude.

          If you don’t want to read his comments, just scroll over them.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          @Wheatridger – you gotta be kidding?

          Ban a guy who knows what he is talking about?

  • avatar

    It’s probably worth mentioning that many consumers chose not to get routine maintenance done on their vehicles, and then wonder why they get problems down the road. A car that needs nothing more than tires and brake pads over 100,000 miles was most likely maintained well.

    The more reliable cars get the less motivation folks have to maintain their cars. If it hardly ever goes wrong why maintain it?

    • 0 avatar
      newenthusiast

      I can anecdotally be proof of this.

      I have an Audi Q7. People thought I was nuts for buying one. I did the research and, on paper, its Audi’s single most reliable vehicle they sell in the US.

      I also took the gas penalty and got the 4.2 V8 because everything I read said that other than the notorious timing chain replacement (which I did about 40k miles ago), as long as you kept up with fluid and plug changes on schedule, there would be no engine issues.

      I just went over 122k miles last week. The plan is now 200k. The only unscheduled nasty surprise I got was a control arm and ball joint replacement needed about 7 months after I acquired it. That was a warranty claim. But the uneven wear it caused on that tire was not covered, and I’m OCD enough to need 4 new tires in that case.

      But every 6000 – 8000 miles, I schedule an oil change and tires rotation, and I look at the owner’s manual to see what else is due and do it. And I have been rewarded with nothing unplanned in years.

      Doing the basic routine stuff (fluids, filters, consumables) goes a long way with ANY car, I think. Even Toyotas and Hondas.

      • 0 avatar
        Corey Lewis

        “the notorious timing chain replacement”

        Belt on the 4.2?

        • 0 avatar
          newenthusiast

          I was told it was a chain, and every thing I looked at online says its a chain.

          The issue is that its at the rear of the engine, so it’s stupidly expensive to do. I took it to an indie shop, and it was still painful, but about half of what Audi wanted.

          https://www.google.com/search?q=audi+Q7+4.2+v8+timing+chain&sa=X&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&ved=0ahUKEwi3urKlsYvUAhVmjlQKHSlyBhwQsAQIRg&biw=1366&bih=659

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            Well 1) it’s crap to have to replace a chain at that interval, when you should never have to change out a chain. 2) That engine used to have a belt with a 60K interval, and it was a $1600 service at an independent.

          • 0 avatar
            newenthusiast

            “Well 1) it’s crap to have to replace a chain at that interval, when you should never have to change out a chain. 2) That engine used to have a belt with a 60K interval, and it was a $1600 service at an independent.”

            In theory, you can wait until it makes the clicking noise. And mostly, as understand it, its the tensioner and gasket and the sprocket washer that goes

            But the idea of waiting till it sounds like it might be bad stresses me out. I had budgeted it anyway, and the year I did it had a larger than expected tax return and a nice bonus, so spending the money I put aside for it didn’t cause quite so much angst.

            The indie shop I work with where I live now is an Audi/VW only place, and the owner has this same engine in his vehicle. He claims that the Euro spec OEM parts are all metal, not plastic (guide rails, previously mentioned gaskets and washers)and that when I can be without it for a few days, he will check to see what’s back there for the standard $100 diagnostic fee. And if I still need to go with the metal stuff (assuming that the last place didn’t do it), it will be the last time I ever need to do it. $100 to potentially have peace of mind about it is a good deal to me.

            I looked online and the parts kit alone is 900-1000 dollars, + shipping. It may or may may or be worth it or even needed.

            My point still stands though about doing scheduled maintenance and not having other problems show up. And I drive a brand that still has the perception of “German reliability” (Although Consumer Reports has shown that over the last decade, they have risen tremendously in their reliability ratings….whatever that’s worth to anyone).

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            I agree with you – especially in the case of Audis. Preventative maintenance makes all the difference. I had an A8L with the 4.2 (belt version). An excellent engine.

          • 0 avatar
            newenthusiast

            “An excellent engine.”

            Oooo…the A8L is a bad ass lux-rocket.

            I not sure of the weight difference, but I’m guessing the A8 is somewhat lighter, and thus, the acceleration fun factor is higher in it than the Q7….which is pretty hilarious for its size in sport mode. I’m no trained track driver or anything, but I’m pretty sure that I’m coming off stop signs at on ramps to 60-65mph in 7-8ish seconds when I hammer it.

          • 0 avatar
            Corey Lewis

            That era A8L was something like 4200lbs. Not bad for the size at all. It always felt pretty nimble and quick. Always got better fuel economy than in my VQ35 I have now.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        So your car has been wonderfully reliable except for an engine-out repair at only 80k miles that probably cost $5k, is that what you are saying?

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          Welcome to the mind of an Internet Car Person. An Audi needing an engine out repair at 80k is “reliable,” a Dodge with a check engine light which came on once is a piece of junk.

        • 0 avatar
          newenthusiast

          I’m sensing a LOAD of snark here, but I’ll answer your question(s) anyway, because I don’t do snark.:

          1) It didn’t cost that much. And I bought the car knowing about it, so it wasn’t unexcpected.

          2) If a vehicle starts everyday, gets you where you want to go, never gives you a check engine light, and all service time is scheduled on your own time and budgeted for, and not a surprise, that’s a reliable vehicle. All vehicles need routine maintenance. Some are more tolerant than others of neglecting that maintenance, but that speaks more to durability than reliability.

          If you define ‘reliable’ differently, I would legitimately like to know.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Reliability is relative, and the general standard is quite high nowadays. Recently while I was researching a first car for my daughter, I studied the Consumer Reports Used Car issue from cover to cover (not that I always follow their advice, but I wanted her car to be less troublesome than mine). I didn’t realize, but now I do, that their coveted top mark (green circle with two arrows up) goes to cars that have less than 1% reported failures for that subsystem. Red marks for “worse” and “much worse” crop up with failure rates over 3% and 4%, respectively. To be recommended, CR demands a less than 1% failure rate for every system on the car!

    That’s too bad, because grading on such a strict curve obscures the truly rampant problems that some cars have. I could speak here about Subaru’s swiss cheese head gaskets, or the oil leaks and timing chain woes of early VW TSI engines. Both engines show up red on CR’s chart after three or four years’ service, but is the failure rate 4%, or 40%? You won’t find out here. Besides, research is dull and numbers are hard, so most folks just follow their risk-aversion tendencies and go for the green.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      With ten or so different subsystems listed on the scale, if every subsystem on a car had a 2% failure rate, that adds up to a 20% chance something’s gonna break. If you want that coveted top-mark you are gonna have to do better than that in an age where it’s utterly unremarkable for a car to hit 100k without a single unscheduled service visit.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “Everybody builds to a price now, and they do it by grinding their suppliers into the dust.”

    Ding ding ding. Every minor nagging little issue I have had with my Highlander has been related to squeezing suppliers till they bleed, not the way it was screwed together, or how things were engineered to begin with.

    This is the modern malady of the automotive world.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      How do you determine that a given failure is due to the supplier being squeezed vs (for example) the OEM under-speccing the component to begin with and then the supplier giving them exactly what they asked for?

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Droopy sun-visor that won’t stay up and receives an extend warranty (just on the sun-visor) – I guess I assume that the supplier was being squeezed to not be able to build a sun-visor that wound’t fail pre 100,000 miles pre 7 years of ownership.

        Door armrest that separates from the panel due to low quality plastics in the brackets that hold it in place. So common that there are threads upon threads about it in Toyota owner forums.

        Recall for improperly lubed power window switches that can potentially overheat and cause fire.

        Forgive if I see these as part of Toyotas cheap-@ss cost cutting in interiors in that time frame (mine is a 2010 model) a cost cutting that would largely fall on suppliers.

        • 0 avatar
          cgjeep

          Have you had the 4k repair to the rear hatch yet?

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Sun visor, supplier or else there wouldn’t be a super secret satisfaction program to replace them. If it was delivered as per Toyota’s contract they would have told you to pound sand since they couldn’t charge that 3rd party.

          The window switch could be due to cost cutting and a supplier that had high turn over due and/or didn’t properly train the employees, to save a buck of course.

          The door handle problem is all Toyota. They would have designed the parts and the supplier had to design the tooling to make the part to the given specs which includes the specific plastic being used. If the supplier changed specs without Toyota’s approval to meet a lower price point there would be a reason that Toyota could charge them and there would be a super secret satisfaction program for it.

          • 0 avatar
            PenguinBoy

            Toyota owns *ALL* the problems PrincipalDan has had with his Highlander – it’s their name on the car, not the suppliers, so they are responsible for the overall quality of the vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          Should have got the 4Runner! Interior may be harder plastics, but being made in Japan with 100% Japanese content they sure are able to better control the suppliers.

          But no, the biggest issue I have is the incredible thin sheet metal, when you driving on the highway you can see the metal on the hood shaking all around. The roof (w/o sunroof) is even worse, knocking on that sheet metal makes the same sound as knocking on tin foil.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        He just assumes that whatever he thinks is the case is correct.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I’ve been saying for years on here that the good old days are right now.

    I’m firmly of the opinion that there is not enough difference in reliability between cars of like complexity to make reliability factor into my buying decisions at all. I don’t expect an M235i to be as reliable as a Corolla. That said, my 328i has been MORE reliable than my Mother’s Prius. I know, sample size, yadda, yadda, but I think that the owner factors into it just as much as the car. Some people can tear up anything…

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @krhodes1…So true. I do a little car shunting work for a wholesaler..It never ceases to amaze me, just how bad someone can tear up a 3 year old car. Such vehicles end up getting wholesaled, because the new car facility didn’t want to deal with the inventible problems that will surely crop up.

  • avatar
    omer333

    Damn Jack, you’re killing it this week.

    I get the feeling most of the people that fill out these surveys never dealt with ownership of a very old used car that probably never got regular maintenance, that by the time they got it, they’re fixing something. Every. Other. Week.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      “I get the feeling most of the people that fill out these surveys never dealt with ownership of a very old used car that probably never got regular maintenance, that by the time they got it, they’re fixing something. Every. Other. Week.”

      But I’m not going to under-report issues just because I have fewer of them than someone in the past. In fact, I go out of my way to be OVERLY critical, because I’m not engaging in a “make the carmaker feel great” exercise, I’m engaging in a “give the carmaker feedback on where they can improve” exercise. If their nav system is confusing and sucks, and no one ever tells them, then they will continue to make crappy nav systems. Sure, it may not be a “flaw”, but that’s really my ONLY mechanism to provide feedback to the car maker. If everyone said “oh, well, I don’t like the system, but I guess it still works” we’d still be stuck with SYNC 1.0, CUE, etc. No, report it as the crap it is or we’ll never get anything better.

  • avatar
    RobbieAZ

    I don’t know if we’ve just been lucky or if we’ve managed to pick generally reliable cars. But the wife and I have rarely had cars that required much in the way of unscheduled maintenance.

    Funny though, the two we have had that did were both Chrysler products, an ’02 Dodge Stratus and a 2008 Jeep Liberty.

    On the other hand, the only time we ever bought a used car was a 2002 Wrangler that we picked up in ’05. I daily drove it for 8 years and the only time it ever had to go into the shop was when it failed emissions one time for a bad O2 sensor (IIRC). And I thrashed the crap out of that thing on weekends. So who knows, maybe it is just luck.

  • avatar
    Frylock350

    “Imagine you’ve spent three years of your life engineering a single facet of a new automobile to a precise balance between cost, durability, function, and appearance, only to have some trustafarian liberal-arts moron ding you on a J.D. Power survey because she is literally unable to understand any touchscreen menu with more than two levels. Now imagine you have to sort through thousands of complaints like that just to find the one legitimate gripe with your product. That’s the life of an automotive engineer.”

    This resonated with me. I have never encounted an in-dash infotainment system that I found difficult to use. How are people baffled by them? Are they that stupid? Or is it just an obstinate unwillingness to learn anything new?

    Also in regards to reliability I don’t know anybody who was stranded by a vehicle manufactured within the last 15 years outside of one Range Rover with a bad transmission. That’s impressive.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      “This resonated with me. I have never encounted an in-dash infotainment system that I found difficult to use. How are people baffled by them? Are they that stupid? Or is it just an obstinate unwillingness to learn anything new?”

      Difficult, maybe not, but maddeningly unintuitive? Yes. Heck, ever used the first gen of i-drive without the back button? It’s not that it’s “hard”, it’s just frustrating in its boneheadedness.

    • 0 avatar
      srh

      It sure doesn’t resonate with me. Firstly I’ve seldom seen an infotainment system that had even a passable attempt at balancing these factors. Secondly, despite being an engineer and quite comfortable with complexity, trying to cancel navigation on any of my cars is rage-inducing. And inevitably the voice recognition sucks, the touch-screens suck, and both fail at the basic task of responding quickly.

      This isn’t griping, this is fundamental human factors stuff. If you can’t get this right, you don’t belong in an industry where people have to interact with the stuff you design. If you are in that industry and you get it wrong, you suck at your job. Period. If you work for a company that sells millions of copies of the thing that you suck at designing, that company sucks at providing customers with a good experience. I mean seriously, WTF. Apple got this right years ago. The stuff that you interact with, whether it be the steering wheel or the pedals or the seat or the floormats or the infotainment system should be really, really good. Nobody will notice or care if an engine is 220HP instead of 240HP. But if the infotainment system sucks, that will piss people off every single day. Ford’s sync system was one of the main reasons I sold an otherwise very nice pickup truck, and avoided Ford products until Sync3, which is at least acceptable, was broadly available. The system on my Nissan Leaf is so bad that don’t use it for anything except FM radio.

      Imagine a computer where the mouse lagged a second behind your movements. When you click, it took an extra second for that to be recognized. Now try to use that while you’re driving three tons at 60MPH. And in those three levels of menus if you mis-click somewhere as you inevitably will, since you are driving, you must either figure out how to backup a screen (which probably involves hitting a tiny back button that is two feet away from you and probably not even facing you) or finding a ‘home’ button and starting the whole process over again.

      • 0 avatar
        Adam Tonge

        “Destination Home”

        “Calling Renae on cell”

        “F@ck you sync!”

        “Setting Destination to Work”

        *Crashes car into ditch and sets it on fire*

        • 0 avatar

          I’m glad it isn’t just me. It is not for nothing that the voice recognition system in my Caddy is called “Bitchin Betty” on the boards. “repeat” “no command found” ‘calling eight”

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “This resonated with me. I have never encounted an in-dash infotainment system that I found difficult to use. How are people baffled by them? Are they that stupid? Or is it just an obstinate unwillingness to learn anything new?”

      I think a big part of the problem stems from having the user interface designed by people who already know how it’s laid out and how to use it. I think the word “intuitive” gets over-used, but there’s something to be said for designing a UI for *discoverability.* this is what Apple did right on iOS. I’ve jumped into some which have given me fits; COMAND in any recent Mercedes is- shall we say- complex.

      and I’ve said this repeatedly, it’s not just the OEMs. the aftermarket user interfaces tend to be terrible as well. as an example, here’s the one I have in my truck:

      https://www.itbreakpoint.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/2012-Focus-with-Pioneer-4100NEX.jpg

      what are my issues with it?

      1) it’s as sluggish as any early MyFord Touch system, and crash-prone (especially with CarPlay running)

      2) why are the pre-sets on the left edge labeled with these enormous numbers? Why aren’t they labeled with what they are? Why is there a “pull out drawer” just to see what the stored channel/station is?

      3) Why the need for a settings icon at the top right of the media screen? Why not leave that to the home screen?

      4) why even bother wasting space on an icon to show (and select) which EQ is active. EQ should be something you do once and leave it; if you’re constantly adjusting it then I daresay your speaker system sucks.

      5) the “info” icon just below that. tap it, and it helpfully changes the RDS info display slightly. another waste of space.

      6) tap the down arrow/chevron next to the “1” pre-set for a list of connected sources, and you get this:

      https://i.ytimg.com/vi/VuQfPWkr9bM/maxresdefault.jpg

      Ok, couple of problems here-

      a) That’s not the complete list, but the thing gives you no indication that it can be scrolled. plus the s**tty resistive touch screen means it’s likely to interpret a scroll attempt as a tap

      b) Since when is “Rear OFF” a source? What does it do?

      c) if you plug in an iPhone, it automatically puts Pandora and aha into the source list even if they’re not installed on the phone. #1, that’s silly. #2 who the F uses aha?

      for the most part I just plug my phone in for CarPlay and ignore the Pioneer junk.

      a better one would be the Alpine ICS-X7HD it replaced.

      https://hdradio.com/sites/default/files/styles/radio_large/public/radio_images/x500icsx7hd-o_front.jpeg

      the media screens are much more thoughtfully laid out w/ little useless clutter, they give you all of the common info, label presets, and so on. Why did I replace it? It was ungodly sluggish and lacks CarPlay support.

      • 0 avatar
        newenthusiast

        I don’t have a car with a touchscreen, but all I anecdotally hear about them are frustrations like yours

        Why are automakers convinced that drivers want the same interface to use as they do when they are sitting using their phone? Is this really what their research shows? Are they asking a large enough sample to get a statistically valid research outcome?

        It seems that no matter how advanced your phone or infotainment is, having some actual buttons (that never move or change function) is more intuitive and helps keeps the driver’s eyes on the road, where they belong. This seems like a lot of time and money being put into systems that in the end, all seem to really suck.

        • 0 avatar
          hreardon

          Phyiscal buttons work much better for muscle memory and require far fewer distractions from driving. A volume knob, tuning knob, climate control fan knob all work more effectively than corresponding buttons that require your brain to look at the screen and place your finger on a precise location on said screen.

      • 0 avatar

        “I think a big part of the problem stems from having the user interface designed by people who already know how it’s laid out and how to use it”

        I’m working with a modeler who is an expert at using Unigraphics. His primary complaint is that he wishes the people who designed the software and interfaces actually used it.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        “What even is user experience?”

        – What I imagine the people who do car and stereo UIs would say if asked why theirs is so bad.

        In fairness to them, *probably* much of it is bad specs and requirements from On High and Marketing.

        (e.g. “Aha will give us $.005 per unit if we default to having it on, so it’s going on by default.”)

      • 0 avatar

        This is why I bought my Civic EX-L coupe without nav. My Garmin does a fine job of getting me where I’m going and if it screws up the most it will cost me is $200 for a new one. It’s also nice to have a nice big volume knob in the middle of the dash when I want to turn down the volume quickly. Between my info display, phone & bluetooth, I’ve got all I need.

        • 0 avatar

          At this point, all you really need is a bluetooth connection, with AD2P or better. I had one stupid run in with bad infographics in a recent XTS…it said “nav” on the screen. There is a globe. You press it. Nothing happens. I was trying to explain it to the 85 yo owner, and couldn’t. Turns out that they expect you to use OnStar and that is the only “nav’ in the car….(xts with screen and Bose and no nav ? what ?) It was embarrassing to have OnStar tell us this….but I read the manual, nothing worked. Maybe for cars with no nav, a different Icon ? Say, “OnStar Nav” ?

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Well, when I was test-driving a Crosstour, it took several minutes for me *and* the dealership guy to figure out how the hell you pair a bluetooth device…

      Every other car I test drove that day (Allroad, GLK, X1, V60R) did it more or less trivially and discoverably.

      Some of them are just way worse than others; Honda and Toyota come to mind compared to the Germans, who at least *tried*.

      (One of the reasons I ended up in a Volvo was that their infotainment system was one of the most *refined*, more or less tied with the Audi system, IIRC.)

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        IIRC, the pairing process in the 8th-Gen Accords (and Crosstours) was an unintuitive process entirely based upon voice commands (which in my experience with Hondas, are ALWAYS a crapshoot)!

        In the newer ones, just set the phone to pairing mode, then go through one simple menu. Done.

      • 0 avatar

        Fun Fact: If you get a BMW Loaner, go to the trunk. The Bluetooth password is on top of the electronics, located in the trunk.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    As a design engineer in an automotive related field, I will say that the amount of engineering work that needs to be done to protect the product and/or user from the stupidest possible customer is considerable. Contempt may not be the right word to describe the feeling, for me anyways it is much more like resignation.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      If you make something idiot proof, someone will build a better idiot.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      It’s always fun when we get to the “foreseeable misuse” portion of the DFMEA and get to think through all the most moronic ways that a person could interact with the product.

      It’s why we have labels advising the user that they shouldn’t try to roll a 1,000 lb piece of laboratory equipment with 2″ casters down a flight of stairs.

  • avatar
    Rick Astley

    Having just completed the 2,300 mile trip from Houston, TX to Seattle, WA and breaking down no less than 14 times on the side of the highway I feel comfortable saying that modern cars are massively more reliable than classic cars. You can be nearly certain that a 5 year old ANYTHING could have made the trip without so much as an unscheduled fuel stop.

    This trip was in a 56,xxx original miles, 1961 Ford Thunderbird which had seen fewer than 1,500 miles since it’s last oil change in 2004.

    Items which failed and were replaced along the side of the highway:
    Fuel pump, fuel filters, fuel lines, power steering lines, distributor, points (4 times), cap (3 times), rotor (4 times), thermostat, radiator hose.

    • 0 avatar
      PenguinBoy

      While it’s certainly true that modern cars are *much* more reliable than older cars, I think some of the failures you encountered were due to taking a very old car that had been sitting a long time on a long trip. To put it another way, I imagine if you had taken a well maintained 56,xxx original miles 1961 Ford Thunderbird on the same trip in 1964, you likely wouldn’t have encountered as many problems.

      The repeated ignition problems may be related to low quality replacement parts for classic cars. The last time I tried to change points on my own classic car, the points were defective and wouldn’t even work right out of the box. At that point I changed to a Petronix distributor…

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Yeah, “every piece of rubber” fails because of *age*.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          (Now, “everything to do with the distributor” failing like that suggests either a broken part breaking others, simply defective replacements, or user error [I cannot guess which].

          Distributors and points are wear items, but … they shouldn’t break or need adjustment every 600 miles, not even from the ’60s.)

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      That doesn’t’ really speak to the reliability of old vehicles as much as the un-reliablity of a neglected automobile. In the case of the points, cap and rotor failures it is either due to low quality parts, non unlikely, a root problem that wasn’t identified an corrected after the first failure or second failure that indicated they problem you were experiencing was a symptom of the real problem. I’m betting the fuel filters didn’t fail and in fact did such a good job of stopping all the gunk before it made it to the carb and just plugged up to the point where they would not flow enough fuel. So the need to replace them was a symptom of the years of gunk in the tank coming free with modern fuel and then making its way to the filter.

      For me before I’d take something like that back home to Seattle from Houston I’d replace those pumps, the rubber fuel line, temporarily retrofit a fuel filter from a 90’s fuel injected Ford, hoses, belts, thermostat, coolant and radiator cap. But I guess it was fun doing those things on the side of the freeway.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        With all due respect, just out of curiosity, what kind of retread drives *anything* 1961 that’s been mostly sitting around for the last decade plus, cross-country?

        So did you record the trip?

        Motor Trend has a youtube channel (Roadkill) where 2 (staff) knuckleheads pull similar stunts (with junkyard stock) for laughs and clicks.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    But… but… but… my dad’s uncle’s cousin’s sister-in-law had the check engine light come on in her Grand Cherokee once WHAT A PIECE OF FCA JUNK.

  • avatar
    markogts

    Maybe it’s because I live in Europe, surrounded by overloaded diesel running short ranges, with plenty of thermal excursions which leads to all sort of problems with turbo lubrication, particulate filter clogging, air mass sensors broken… but sorry, I disagree: cars today are not that incredibly reliable. Renault still has huge problems with wiring, as it was thirty years ago. VW? Once they left the “speedo/4 lights/air cooled engine” design, it’s been a downward slope. Somebody already mentioned the TSi distribution, but less we forget the frozen crankcase vents and the 1.4 170CV piston seizures. Honda’s I-DCD anybody?

    Every time the manufacturers add complexity, they swear that “now we have everything under control”, “it’s not like it was once”. Seen this mantra repeated so many times already in the late ’80. But the truth remains in the KISS principle, as it has always been in engineering.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      it’s because you live in Europe. My (albeit limited) experience with European cars is that the nicer, more expensive ones are less reliable than average, and the cheap EU econoboxes are just plain garbage.

  • avatar
    ajla

    If any new vehicle for sale today provides exceptional service and styling is subjective then are there any legitimate criticisms of new products or is it all just proclaiming personal preference and nit-picking over minutiae?

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    This is Spaaaartaaaaaa.

  • avatar

    “Now imagine you have to sort through thousands of complaints like that just to find the one legitimate gripe with your product. That’s the life of an automotive engineer.”

    For development purposes, I’ve spent the past three years showing prototypes of my electric harmonica to working harmonica players, who tend to be old-school and resistant to change. I kinda feel for Henry Ford. If you have a new idea you have to get used to people telling you no but you still need people to tell you what’s wrong with your idea, so you can either abandon it or make it better. Discerning between negativity and genuine constructive criticism has been a challenge.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    Jack B writes: “Look at Porsche; they made a ton of money and used it to engage in reckless fiscal adventurism that ended up in their utter subjugation to the state-supported Volkswagen juggernaut.”

    Yes they did engage in financial adventurism, but no, that was not the end result. Here’s the VW shareholder breakdown as of December 2016:

    30.8% Porsche Automobil Holding SE (but 50.7% of voting rights)
    22.5% Foreign institutional investors
    18% Private shareholders/others
    14.6% Qatar Holding LLC
    11.8% State of Lower Saxony
    2.3% German institutional investors

    While the Porsche car company did indeed become part of VW, in the process the largest single VW shareholder ended up being the Porsche/Piëch family holding company with majority control of the VW Group. If that’s losing the battle then I’d take all the utter subjugation I can get.

  • avatar
    anomaly149

    I’d agree with almost all of this, except the part about engineers thinking of the customer as a low-functioning moron as a rule.

    A side effect of the awesome lease and purchase programs we get for ourselves, our immediate family, and our friends is that “the customer” is frequently a sizeable fraction of the people we know. It’s not unheard of to hear some variant of “I wouldn’t want my driving that!” when making a point about how something isn’t good enough. (usually it’s just grandstanding, but still)

    Though I would say if in 2017 you can’t figure out how to pair your phone to a mainstream infotainment system and are under the age of 50, take a real hard look in the mirror…

    As a side note, I think the NHSTA “new normal” for safety recalls is somewhat influencing the idea that modern cars aren’t as good. We recall things that would have been design intent in the 90s and unheard-of safety feats in the 60s. This isn’t a bad thing, mind, but imagine if NHSTA worked like this in the era of chrome bumpers and non-collapsing steering columns.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    True about the floor mats but I would rather replace the floor mats than more critical mechanical parts. You can buy Weather Tech floor mats which are not cheap but will last as long as your vehicle or you can get a good set of floor mats at Cosco with carpet inserts front and back for about $18.99 or wait for one of their member sales and get them for $14.99 which will last as long as most people will keep a vehicle.

    My oldest vehicle is a 99 S-10 which I bought new and for the most part it has very reliable with few repairs and mostly regular maintenance. Some of the cheap imported body hardware has been replaced and is more of a nuisance but I would much rather replace that than have a serious mechanical issue. I honestly would say that I more than got my money’s worth of use out of that 99 S-10 and it has many many years of useful life let. My 2008 Isuzu I-370 with even cheaper body hardware also has been reliable over 9 years of ownership and my wife’s 2013 CRV has been outstanding. The things I like about most of today’s vehicles far outweigh the things I don’t like. I can buy my own floor mats.

    The only thing I do miss about the vehicles of the past is their uniqueness meaning they did not look the same and you could get a new vehicle in more exterior colors and with more interior colors than black, grey, and tan. I do miss those things and the thrill of driving a fast V-8 powered vehicle with an affordable price. I will still take today’s safer boring appliance like vehicles with solid reliability over the vehicles of the past. I can always go on Jay Leno’s Garage to satisfy my nostalgia for older cars.

  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    “The amount of contempt most engineers have for average people is utterly astonishing.”

    Police, Paramedics, ER nurses, and police have a tendency to feel that way too.

    It won’t go away unless one addresses burn out. Chronic burnout can be just as bad (if nor worse) than PTSD.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      It’s more than offset be the amount of contempt Internet Car People have for engineers. How many times have you seen someone p!iss and moan about the location of e.g. the oil filter or spark plugs with a sneering “why couldn’t those morons put them somewhere else?”

      BECAUSE WE DIDNT HAVE THE MONEY TO.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Nice post. The tone reminds me of Louis CK’s “Everything is amazing and no one is happy” interview with Conan.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      People just need something to complain about (and someone else to blame for it.). Thank the Boomers. Nothing is ever their fault. If I do something I shouldn’t have, it’s your fault because you should have stopped me.

  • avatar
    WallMeerkat

    That’s why, in Europe, Skoda is/was seen as a ‘reliable’ choice, as they weren’t bleeding edge, VW technology filtered to them when it had matured and issues had ironed out.

    Compared to Audi, which have bleeding edge new technologies.

    For IT folks – think of it like Audi being Fedora, with the latest cutting edge tech that may have some bugs needing ironed out. These then find their way to RedHat, the main premium product – that being VW – then filtering down to CentOS – the Linux equivalent of Skoda – not flashy but generally stable and reliable.

  • avatar

    A few factors, as someone who has to keep the family motor pool running…..

    The floor of expectation keeps rising. I was amazed to see that Missy’s Jetta S had every single thing you used to pay for…cruise control. Power windows and locks. Backup cam. controls on the steering wheel. The most base car they have, and you even get a/c now…base. You can now pay for more power, or better gadgets, but they all have gadgets now.

    There is a product schedule, and once your car goes out the door, they are working on something else, so, yes, the Frammis Joint tends to wear fast in this design, and the replacement part is reinforced, but no one is going back to redesign the assembly….in the next version of the car that Frammis Joint will be re-done-or they will pay the penny for the better plastic, but there isn’t much that can be done for you. Toss in a bad service experience at the Stealer and the car is now a “P O Krap”.-even if it isn’t.

    Parts bin parts will make you nuts. I went through three alternators-first one dies at 80k, second one dies 20k thereafter, wallet is cranked open for new, non rebuilt. I’m sure it is the same basic part as in Chevy all the way to Caddy…..this part is made by the millions, so if the voltage regulator goes because it has been drilled down to cheapest possible build, tough. Unfortunately this kind of part doesn’t have an aftermarket for “better”.

    Cheap -o will make you nuts. I recall a plastic arm in the SAAB’s HVAC, which would break. Over and over. If I called it model plastic I’d be giving it credit. SAAB finally uses a tiny bit of metal to fix it….likewise, when a company saves a dollar and does not put an access door in the fuel pump area, making you drop the whole tank….just an F-U to the owner out of warranty or the second owner.

    I had beaters as a kid…no $…and todays’ cars are way, way better than ‘it used to be”. OK, you could fix a car with a box of craftsman tools, but on the other hand, you HAD TO. Unless you buy a debacle like a VW TDi, where the exhaust is just paperclips, most of the cars out there are Anvils compared to the way it used to be….and to be fair, the rest of the TDi was perfect for my whole time with it.

    You want to come back to the days when my Firebird lived up to its name, spit gas back up the carbs, and started a fire under the hood ? Nope, didn’t think so…..

  • avatar
    rhduff

    Not only did the floor mats on my 2013 Accord wear out before 12K miles, the carpet underneath has a hole in it as well. I’m also on battery three at less than 36K miles and a second starter. To be fair, every single one of the five Hondas I’ve owned has had the original battery replaced within the first two years, so their batteries are crap. The starter being replaced ticked me off because the dealer didn’t have the part in stock and it took two days to get a new one shipped to said dealer.

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting. I always thought Honda spent money on good suspension then cheaped the shocks figuring you’d replace them anyway. BMW batteries from Germany last four-five years, but the replacements, sourced in the US, do the usual three.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    “Bonobo” hehehe. I learned new word.

    There are a lot of customers that do not deserve to be thought of that way, but there are also plenty who deserve far, far worse.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    For me, it’s the perception of quality that isn’t there! How much more per car would it REALLY cost Honda to have an interior with the same quality as, say, even the 4th-Gen Accord (1994-1997), much less the one before, 1990-1993?

    The carpet was reasonable, the mats showed signs of wear by warranty expiration and not after one week of ownership, the plastics had a nice feel, and the seats wore like iron. (Rattles??!! Bwahahahaha!)

    My 2013 is nice, but the felt where carpet should be, along with materials that scratch if you look at them the wrong way, is just dumb! (And Acura isn’t much better!)

    What is it to get a better interior? $40/car? ‘K, then: do it, and raise the cost of the car $100! That profit would go well towards helping to offset the cost of the bribe..VACATIONS given to the auto scribes and their families in order for them to sing the praises of your latest family truckster, given the volume!

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Gaah..that 1990 Accord was 4th-Gen, the 1994-1997 (which gained the V6 via a nose extension (from the Legend) was 5th!

      (Sadly, Honda will likely leave me if they drop that torque-monster (which got rubber in the first three gears today) for a squirrel-wheeled shitster this fall!)

  • avatar
    hgrunt

    “A modern automobile is a miracle.” – This is how I feel every time I drive a modern car. Being a bit of a geek, I’m often in awe of how any auto manufacturer is able to build the same reliable car, in a dozen locations around the world, to exacting qualities, needs and standards, with unwavering consistency.

    Regarding cost of parts, I think it’s certainly fallen over time. I saw some service receipts from 1988, and noticed how much the parts cost vs today. Numerically they were the same, $14 PS belt for example, but adjusted for inflation to 2017, it’s $30. That same belt can be purchased for $15 in 2017.


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