Hammer Time: 15 to 20 is Plenty

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time 15 to 20 is plenty

I remember when a 15 year old car was as wore out as an old mop. Rust. Electric gremlins. Dark oils and brownish fluids spewing out of nearly every seal and gasket. When the auctions had a car that was nearly old enough to drive itself, it was usually already smoking (out of the tailpipe)… and drinking (it’s own oil and coolant). The jalopies that came from the bad old days of the 1980’s almost always left a puddle of ‘remembrance’ which you had to be careful not to step on when looking at the next elderly statesman. A run of old cars would result in a nice white cloud above everyone’s head and a post-auction headache for yours truly. It was a nasty smelly world not too long ago.. but now…

Old cars are becoming so good that nobody wants the new stuff. The overwhelming number of cars made in the 2000’s can now easily last at least 15 years with ‘average’ care. Think about some of the worst cars made over the past decade. The Chevy Aveo? Sure it’s got enough plastic and low pedigree to make John Edwards and the late Tammy Faye Baker proud. But the thing can easily run past the 200k mark if you simply keep the maintenance up. The late Metro, Cavalier, Neon, and early 2000’s Focus were often synonymous with the acronym POS. But you know what? An awful lot of them are still on the road and enabling their owners to enjoy dirt cheap tranpsort. As basic transportation they hit a quality/cost equilibrum that no new car can equal.

Now I’m sure I ticked off a few of the folks who use these as commuter scooters. So let’s go look at some of the more rare and defunct vehicles still sadly haunting our landscape. The Daewoos of the early 2000’s were so terrible (anyone remember the Daewood Lanos?) that they probably represent the last of the disposable breed. Hyundais? The Elantras and Accents from 10+ years ago are doing surprisingly well. The Kias from that time? Not so much. Certain Saabs, Land Rovers, and anything with the Chrysler 2.7L, Northstar Engine, or a Boxster engine will likely have trouble hitting the 200k mark.

But that composes maybe 3% of the entire auto market at most. Most minivans may require a tranny replacement at some point. Those can hurt but their not fatal. Then you have the differential whines on Jeeps (which most people ignore). The Honda V6’s with auto trannies that perform an expensive hari-kari along with their hybrid CVT transmissions. Certain Toyota engines had engine sludge issues. I can pretty much find a fault or two with every manufacturer. But that still doesn’t change the big picture of car ownership.

It’s getting cheaper. Way cheaper. So much cheaper that I can see a day when the average $3000 car bought by a non-enthusiast will be expected to last another seven years. When we get to that point… you may very well see a lot of public transit systems close up shop. I’m not saying this as a matter of politics or ideology. It’s just the economics of it all. Yes there are a ton of wild cards and black swans to be considered. But ten years of overproduction and cheap credit have yielded an extreme oversupply of cars that can simply endure through the years.

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  • CompWizrd CompWizrd on Jul 03, 2010

    My wife's 2001 Malibu is just over 240k miles right now, and still going up about 35k a year. It needed a head gasket twice in one year thanks to the first garage screwing up the repair, and the A/C might be finally dying(which is likely a simple fix), but it's been a good car.. put new brakes on it every year and new tires every couple, and it keeps going. Wish the gas milage was better though.

  • Dynamic88 Dynamic88 on Jul 04, 2010

    In response to golden2husky; It's not just that some diagnostics are difficult, though that's a good point. Some of us just reach a stage in life where we don't feel like spending all day Saturday stooped over in the engine bay of a car. I still do repairs on my Ranger, but I've decided not to do anything on my wife's CR-V. We just take it to the dealer for it's appointed maintenance. It's costly, that's for sure. It's also done right (something I can't always guarantee if I do it myself) and done in less than a day - so the car isn't sitting idle because I didn't have a tool and the parts store is closed. My garage is free of 1 gallon plastic milk jugs filled with dirty oil/atf/coolant, etc. And I don't have to spend my Saturday under a car. Instead I can spend it on a ladder, putting on a new roof, or replacing soffit and fascia, or putting in a new door, or residing the garage ..... (will there ever be a free Saturday?)

    • Geozinger Geozinger on Jul 04, 2010

      @Dynamic: Yes, me too. At one time I loved playing driveway mechanic, but nowadays, it's just a pain in the a$$. Well, in my case, a pain in the back. Frankly, I just want to turn the freakin' key and go. I have a good indy mechanic and I'm usually pretty good at diagnosing my own symptoms, so I don't get too many surprises when I do have to take it in to him. Of course, for the last 12 years, I've been dealing with two children and all the attendant stuff that goes along with it, recitals, sports events, field trips, Scouts, soccer, sleepovers, visits to Grandma, all that stuff... Now that the younger is entering her senior year, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. However it IS the oncoming train, as my wife has suddenly decided *WE* (notice it's *WE*, not her) should repaint the downstairs, re-do the landscaping, etc... Maybe I'll just put one of the cockroaches of the road up on some jackstands and slide underneath it for a little shut-eye. Just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water... Happy 4th of July to everyone.

  • FifaCup Loving both Interior and exterior designs.
  • FifaCup This is not good for the auto industry
  • Jeff S This would be a good commuter vehicle especially for those working in a large metropolitan area. The only thing is that by the time you put airbags, backup cameras, and a few of the other required safety features this car would no longer be simple and the price would be not much cheaper than a subcompact. I like the idea but I doubt a car like this would get marketed in anyplace besides Europe and the 3rd World.
  • ScarecrowRepair That's what I came to say!
  • Inside Looking Out " the plastic reinforced with cotton waste used on select garbage vehicles assembled by the Soviet Union. "Wrong. The car you are talking about was the product German engineering, East German. It's name was Trabant.