By on December 11, 2010

The car industry is looking with envy and trepidation at the biggest bottom fisher in their market: AutoZone. Last week, AutoZone posted a 20 percent jump in quarterly earnings. And don’t look at their chart. You’d wish you would have bought AutoZone instead of the auto. But it’s not the financial results that has the industry worried. Everybody who knows the industry knows that the money is in fixing cars. The average expense per car for repair and maintenance is $1,200 per year, and if you multiply that with the 250 million cars and trucks on the street in the U.S., you’ve got yourself a nice $300 billion business. No, the industry is worried about why AutoZone suddenly is doing so well: America is in love with more mature models.

Everybody expected the repair business to go up in 2009 as people kept their cars longer, and to go back down as people buy more new cars. Not so, says AutoZone CEO Bill Rhodes.

Reuters reports Rhodes saying that “customers have been more focused on maintaining cars than they were three or four years ago.” Rhodes suspects there will be long-term benefit for the auto parts sector as drivers hold on to their cars longer.

The most worrisome Rhodes quote: “I think people have changed their mindset on how they deal with their most valuable assets.”

Translation: No more 2 year leases. Drive you car longer. Not that there is a shortage of cars in American garages anyway. Since 1972, there have been more cars than drivers. In recent years, that trend exaggerated.  Despite cash for clunkers, the average age of cars and trucks is now 10.2 years. Now why do you think Paul Niedermeyer’s and Murilee Martin’s pieces are so popular? Nostalgia can’t be the only reason.

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57 Comments on “The Cubafication Of America’s Roads...”

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    When folks are worried about the value of their home going under water and whether they will have a job in six months it makes sense to hold off buying a new car.  But beyond mere penny pinching, we have an aging baby boomer generation that may not always be happy with the direction of new car design and feels a certain longing for the good old days.  It all makes sense that this may not be a short-term phenomenon.
    Case in point:  I’ve been a long-time Honda fan.  Am not at all interested in any of its current offerings.  At least one of my twentysomething Hondas has at least another five years in it.
    My mechanic does well.

    • 0 avatar

      I concur with your assessment of Honda. I would extend that to Toyota as well. Many of these cars are as compelling as corn flakes; not that there’s anything wrong with corn flakes – they serve a purpose, but I can make do with what I have for now when the alternative is no better. In fact, with auto interiors becoming the target of cost cutting measures, there is a good chance your ’97 Honda has a nicer interior that the current Hondas.

    • 0 avatar

      Likewise for Subaru. We are repelled by the new ones and are glad to have an ’03 Legacy wagon and a recently acquired ’06 Forester (both 5-speeds) that we hope to keep going for a very long time.

    • 0 avatar

      My 22 and 24 year old toyotas agree and take it a step further; between the modern methadone steering, the unstopable nannys and the sheer weight of nearly all new cars i fear i maybe stuck in the 80’s forever.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, this is one baby boomer who’s driving old stuff because he likes it better than the current offerings.  My car is an ’87 Porsche 924S, purchased because: 1. I loved what it did on that windy road, with the owner suggesting I push it harder; 2. I consider the front engine Porsche’s some of the prettiest cars ever made, and; 3. A complete lack of government nannys.  It’ll let me start the car without pushing down the clutch pedal (yes, I’m intelligent enough to make sure I’m in neutral before I turn the key), and the only ‘safety’ feature is a five second bleat to remind me to fasten my seatbelt.  After which, the car could care less about whether I’ve done so, or not.
      Oh yeah, the size.  I like the concept that my Porsche is smaller than a Kia Soul.  Or just about anything else on the road.

    • 0 avatar

      I concur with the assessment of Subaru–we have an ’03 wagon that is about to hit 100K miles, and although it has begun to develop some issues (an axle bearing is about to go and is scheduled for replacement), with the help of a good independent Subaru mechanic, it has stayed reliable and reasonably cheap to own. As I’ve heard my dad (a cheapskate who drove an ’89 Chevy pickup more or less into the ground, even after a tree fell on it (!)) say many times, the cheapest car is the one you already own. None of Subaru’s current offerings have tempted me to give up the ’03, and I still see more of this generation Legacy platform around than its successors.

      If you haven’t seen the documentary “Yank Tanks”, about the phenomenon of ’50s American cars in Cuba, it’s worth a look. DIY is one thing, but making your own brake pads in the backyard is quite another.

  • avatar

    Count me in on this trend. I have four cars in the driveway, a ’95, ’97, ’03 and ’09. Only the ’09 is on time payments. All four cars are in good repair. However, in the last 18 months, the company I worked for (and held a good position) was sold off to a competitor, hello pay and benefit cut. My wife’s company went bankrupt and reorganized, hello pay and benefit cut, part two. We are still OK, but just have less money to spend, obviously. I would desperately love to have a small wagon of some sort (PT, HHR, Caliber, etc.), but we do not feel that the economy of Western Michigan has stabilized enough yet for us to look at spending down savings replacing a car that still runs well.
    I have to imagine there are many other families in our position. Dr. Lemming has a point, this may not be a short term phenomenon…

    • 0 avatar

      I live in western Michigan too.  There are at LOT of old cars running around here, compared to other parts of the country I’ve visited.

    • 0 avatar

      @roadracer: Yes, to me that’s kind of odd. I’ve lived in other parts of the country where it would be much more reasonable to operate old cars, and it doesn’t seem to happen much. I don’t know why folks do it here so much. I really believe people are stingier or more pragmatic here.

  • avatar

    And the quality dividend is finally showing in the sales charts. Cars are just built better. Even in the Land of Salt the likelyhood of encountering a 20 year old daily driver is far more likely than it’s ever been. 250k km on an average car is not that unusual. It was an exceptional vehicle that did that before.

  • avatar

    This story is dead on as far as it goes; but there is more going on. I was actually in AutoZone yesterday afternoon and observed this conversation between two women standing in line:
    W1: Can you believe the dealer wanted to charge me $250 for a new battery another $60 labor to install it?
    W2: Good thing you called Todd before you agreed to that (don’t know who Todd is).
    W1 (to guy behind counter): I need a new battery for my Range Rover
    Clerk (looking at computer): We have the Gold Whatchamacallit at $160.000 with a 3-year warranty, I can install that for you now free of charge.
    W1: How long will that take?
    Clerk: Maybe 20 minutes, just show me where you’re parked.
    W1: OK.
    W2: See?
    W1: Let’s go, I’ll treat you to Starbucks while we wait. Wait til I tell Todd.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree that high dealer costs for maintenance are pushing people to do their own maintenance.  Those bogus $300-$600 periodic (e.g., every 5K miles) maintenance services pushed by dealers & chain repair shops are likely contributing to consumers shying away from repair shops and doing their own work, too.  

      A significant factor that definitely has caused me to buy maintenance items for my late model Lexus at Pep Boys and on the ‘Net: the sloppy workmanship at the dealership.  It’s one thing to pay $100/hr for labor and 100% markup on parts; it’s another to get your car back and find oil stains on your upholstery, scratches on the dashboard, loose fasteners under the car, parts put back wrong and/or malfunctioning, etc.  This has been my experience consistently for two Lexus dealers in my area for basic maintenance, warranty work, and major repairs, requiring numerous re-visits to the shop.  I now do even warranty work (diagnosing & fixing rattles, securing loose trim, etc) as well as basic maintenance on my car.  

      People will only pay for a service if they can afford it and if they feel they are getting their money’s worth; neither is often the case nowadays.

    • 0 avatar
      Matthew Sullivan

      >YotaCarFan:  You’re spot on.

      Last year my Mitsubishi dealer wanted to charge me $1100 parts and labor to repair a broken knob on the control unit for my HVAC system.  Even though I am The Suck with tools,  I bought a new control unit for $390 and did the work myself,  saving $800 in the process.

      Furthemore,  after doing the work I dissected my old control unit and figured out how the broken knob could be repaired without replacing the whole control unit.  I posted the information on an online forum,  and based on the thanks I received I no doubt saved several people some serious money.

    • 0 avatar

      “I posted the information on an online forum,  and based on the thanks I received I no doubt saved several people some serious money.”

      Although unskilled, I like to work on my own two cars. Recently I had to replace the brake pads in my wife’s Acura MDX. Then I had to replace the speedometer head in my own Honda Accord.

      For the brake pads of the Acura MDX, I found on the Internet a step-by-step description of what to do, with pictures. I had my laptop right by me as I worked on the car. Went well. No problems at all.

      For the speedometer head of the Honda Accord, I found on the Internet a written description of the complicated process of taking out the control panel. It was not easy to do. But without what I found on the Internet, I could not have done it.

      In both cases, someone had taken the time to put up very helpful information, just to help others. It was a great benefit to me. Thanks to you, Matthew Sullivan, and others who contribute in this way to help us all.

      (I have not found a way to add anything on the car repair side of things. My skills are too weak. But I do help on some computer bulletin boards, where I can add some value.)

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    Add to that Major rental companies. 6 years ago Hertz, Avis and Enterprise did not have the fleet exceed 25,000 miles. Now we are running alot in the 30-40K with some vehicles hitting the 55K mark. The current well maintained 40K car holds up. If we tried 10 years ago to pull off the 40K Rental car itn would not go without increasing breakdowns. We also dump less used cars back into the market as the buy back program vehicles increased prices and reduced avalibility.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    A local Burger King recently closed down and is being replaced with a brand new AutoZone, right across the street from the O’Reilly’s and down the road a mile from a Carquest. Something is going on when the US starts replacing fast food joints with auto parts stores.
    However, I don’t think this is about nostalgia or old car love. It is about economics. Repair shops are charging $100 or so per book hour. A lot of money can be saved doing it yourself, or by hiring any one of the legion of off-the-books freelancers out there.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t remember where I saw it, but several years ago I read that the economic health of cities was inversely realated to the number of auto parts stores in it. I don’t see annual sales going over 12-13 million for several years.

    • 0 avatar

      AutoZone is on a terror in the Pacific Northwest. Everywhere an O’Reilly’s is, AutoZone buys property nearby and sets up a store, same as the Walgreens-Rite Aid tit-for-tat build-up. Some new installations I’d really question.
      I’d have to question how much one can rely on their balance sheet and Profit and Loss statement with this going on.

  • avatar

    Another Cubano with 69, 71, and an 03 in a driveway built for 2.  All three run, but the 71 needs a transmission, which will happen in March.
    A couple of things:  Most cars with three pedals are good for 150,000 miles, plus. Also, with code readers and the internet, it is easy to figure out a trouble code by checking a car specific forum.  Some internet specials, especially from Rock Auto make for some phenomenal savings versus taking the beast into a shop.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re on to it. If the Autozone bump correlates with a similar bump in OBD-II sales to individuals, you can write off a significant portion of that $300B figure. Since Nobody actually repairs components any more, it’s all just R and R.  My kid can do an R and R same as anyone (with a little bit of supervision and decent tools).

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Last time I went to Autozone they read my OBDII check engine code for free.  Also loan out tools.  Autozone is actively supporting DIY repair vs. just selling parts.
      I wonder if high unemployment is correlated with car repair, not just for cost savings, but because not working allows time for DIY projects.

  • avatar

    Ahh to live in a rust free climate and enjoy a well maintained older car.
    I live in the  eastern Canadian rust belt and 10 years old is a rust bucket. I have replaced oil pans, gas tanks, gas filler pipes, exhaust, brake rotors all early from rusting.
    When I was in getting my oil pan, there was a guy next to me getting his corroded brake lines replaced on an 8 year old Honda Accord.
    You guys outside of the rust belt have it so easy in comparison.

    • 0 avatar

      @Bytor…..Oil spray once a year. Yes it can be sloppy. I’m a clean freak, and it drives me crazy wiping the extra excess spray from the paint and glass. But its worth it in the long term.

    • 0 avatar

      Amen brother!  Having said that, my brake line didn’t rust through until the car was 12 years old.  $15 for 5 meters of brake line at the dealer, plus a couple new fittings for $2 each.  Couple hours and a bottle of brake fluid and fixed.  But the floor on the passenger’s side is gone!
      I know this guy who has an old Honda Accord wagon, 290,000 miles on it.  He takes it in to be worked on.  Every time he does the mechanic says something about how much goo oozes off the body.  Maybe there was something to that rustproofing they used to do.

  • avatar

    This is partially the result of the government regulations and equipment mandates that the Big 3 said all along would dramatically increase the price of cars and ultimately harm the auto industry.  Still want to call BS on them?  They went bankrupt and Americans can’t afford to replace their cars as often as they used to.  Are there other factors at work?  Sure.  But you can’t deny that regulations and mandates played a big role in killing U.S. manufacturers.  Don’t get me wrong, Big 3 management and unions have a major role in this too but what’s true for me is true for millions:  if cars were cheaper to purchase and maintain I would have bought many more new cars over the years.

    • 0 avatar

      Non-US car manufacturers are subject to the exact same regulations and mandates. Most have suffered with the slow economy, but many are doing well in the long-term and taking market share from US brands.

      Detroit has been whining about regulations since they were first required ot install seat belts, and probably long before. Maybe if they’d spent less money on lawyers and lobbyists fighting safety regulations, and more on engineering to fix their product deficiencies instead of marketing hype to paper them over, they’d be in better shape today.

  • avatar

    You’re on to it. If the Autozone bump correlates with a similar bump in OBD-II sales to individuals, you can write off a significant portion of that $300B figure. Since Nobody actually repairs components any more, it’s all just R&R.  My kid can do an R&R same as anyone (with a little bit of supervision and decent tools).

  • avatar

    Older non-rust-belt cars, ’93-’95, have their merits. They are cheap to buy, but one has to a good share of weeding out the crap. Their main advantage to me is that they don’t have OBD-II computers, hence no check engine lights which could have a myriad of causes . Annual inspections in emissions counties consist of mainly a tailpipe sniffer. And as long as the Pre-OBD-II car is ’93 or newer, the AC refrigerant is the easily sourced R134a.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m that guy. I truly believe I can keep my ’94 Miata running longer than any new car I could buy today. I’m in the market. I just can’t seem to pull the trigger. Today’s cars ain’t got the same soul. I don’t want to feel like a chick because my car has a hiccup and I can’t fix it.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve got a 95 model domestic SUV that’s got 280,000 miles on it. when the slusbox transmission went out at 225,000 I elected to fix it, instead of replacing the car with another $2,000 car.
      The transmission failed due to metal fatigue, not because it burned up, but flat flexed the bands enough to break it. I was still driving it, just with no 2nd gear, and the six that is in it, isn’t known for speed, and lugging it in 3rd and driving like a granny to keep it from downshifting got old.
      I still iike it, and the fact it has few electronic nannies, other than ABS and air bags. It’s almost as simple as my 77 Chevy, but gets better gas mileage and is quieter

  • avatar

    You have to be rich and/or dumb to pay dealer prices for service these days. My local Saab dealer wanted $1200 a few years back to do a 60K service on a 9-5, NOT including changing the coolant or transmission fluid. I did it myself for $200 in online-purchased OEM parts and a couple hours of my time, including those fluid changes. My 9-3 just had it’s last free service at 29K miles, that is the last time it will see a dealer service bay except for warranty work.

    Count me in on the old car fan list, garage currently contains:

    ’74 Triumph Spitfire
    ’79 Mercedes-Benz 300TD
    ’86 Alfa Romeo Spider
    ’86 Alfa Romeo GTV-6
    ’08 Saab 9-3 SC

    These days, the Internet makes owning and working on oddball old cars pretty painless. Even for the Alfa GTV-6, of which only ~21K were ever sold worldwide, I have no problem finding parts and advice on how to fix it, and it is a fairly exotic beast!

    Guess I am helping out that more than one car per person thing too.

  • avatar

    We have no debts and the cars are paid for.  Wanted a 4×4 as a 3rd car, could have bought a brand new Touareg, but instead paid $15,500 cash for a used one.
    Works fine!

  • avatar

    Again I remind the B&B that the cost for any manufacturer of launching any new model, or any different engine/transmission combo is so high because of the US government’s unique regulatory scheme that we get not only a lesser selection than everyone else in the world but costs that are higher than they should be.
    An interesting sidelight…in the photo you see the Chevrolet Fleetline (fastback) and Styleline (notchback) 4-door sedans; in the 1949-52 era you could have your new Chevy 2-door or 4-door sedan in two different styles.

  • avatar

    Maybe I’m just getting old, but the march of technology and new government “safety” mandates is turning me off to newer models.  I have a ’94 Ranger pickup and whenever I think of replacing it I think about the brake/shift interlock on newer models which I really dislike.  Plus I don’t like front wheel drive so I’ve hung on to older cars over the years or bought SUV’s or pickups to avoid it.  Keep it simple, leave me some room under the hood so I can maintain it myself, change the headlights without pulling the front clip off (like the GM Lambda models) and I’ll buy something new otherwise I’ll keep trolling for older models.  Also once I learn various repairs on a particular car I like to stick with it rather than learn all the quirks of something new.

  • avatar

    My wife and I made the decision that our kids would graduate college debt free. Think of the cars you could buy but for the money going to 8 years of college expenses. One private, one state U. The average age if the family fleet is therefore 8+ years. The one still in college doesn’t have the same level of appreciation as the one out making his own way.
    I know the oldest car’s quirks well enough that its like a comfortable old shoe. Half the time I don’t even use the clutch, just match speeds. Can’t do that with the newer ones yet.

  • avatar

    I think there’s a few things going on here.
    1. The economy–why buy a new car when you have a perfectly fine used (and paid off) one in the driveway.
    2. As many people mentioned–cars are built better now so its easier to find quality higher mileage vehicles.
    3. More people doing their own repairs– The combination of the internet and a Bentley/shop manual can save you a lot of money. I’ve recently replaced the lower control arms on my Jetta GLX and will be doing the struts sometime soon. I’ve also noticed more women becoming less intimated about car repair and realizing there are many repairs they can perfrom themselves and that the dealer doesn’t necessarily have their best interest at heart.
    4. #3 not only applies to cars but appliances. I’ve fixed a washing machine and irrigation pump with internet help.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I’m one of those drive it till it dies folks. Whatever I can’t do myself gets done by my local technician. This year I had a computer module issue that I could not figure out. The local techie took his time and diagnosed it and changed the module and it runs like new. Everything else oil change, suspension etc I do myself.  

  • avatar

    Kind of goes right along with the Cubafication of America as a whole, doesn’t it?
    Our own economically illiterate alpha males looking cool and “leading” us. Our own version of “the world’s best health care” (as per the above illiterates). Universal “education” extolling the virtues of (again, tad-dah….. the above illiterates). And soon to come; sufficiently calorically restricted diets for our newfound “world’s best health care” to “statistically” show the longevity improvements our alpha illiterates have been dazzling us with all along.
    And heck, as Cubafication really gets under way, all those pesky calories the big, bad multinational corporations are forcing us to eat are restricted sufficiently; our cars get too old to be used on any more than special occasions; and incomes converge with Cuban ones; our women may even regain enough shapeliness to follow in the footsteps of their Cuban sisters and contribute the lion’s share of foreign exchange in the good, old fashioned way.
    Come to think of it, the xenophobes will surely note our spoken language is Cubafying as well.
    “America Libre!”, I guess we’ll be shouting from our clunkers a few years from now. Or at least we better be, lest we get shot for being “reactionary”, and not progressive enough.

  • avatar

    The new machinery is so isolating and so lousy to drive that not even the seriously hot engines they have make it worth it to drive them at all.
    Any OBD-II car has enough diagnostic capability to give you a good shot at finding even the craziest problems, and the rustproofing on most cars is sufficient to let them last twenty years.
    We’d have a reason to trade up if cars were like motorcycles – lighter, smaller, more involving, tighter, faster every year. But they’re like inexpensive furniture now: more, worse wood.

  • avatar

    Well if this [good] trend continues look to the government getting industry pressured to do a Netherlands thing and it’ll become a five or ten year lifespan then recylce that ride. This will be based on the emissions/safety pretensions. Add the insurance industry joining the latter.

    • 0 avatar

      I can totally see this happening

    • 0 avatar

      Our ’90 Spirit recently went through emissions testing.  Your phrase “emissions/safety pretensions” is very apt.  There has been so much promotion of the idea that pre-‘xx’cars* are ‘yy’* more polluting than new cars, that everyone thinks operating even well-maintained older cars is an environmental crime.  *(Substitute ’92 to ’04 for ‘xx’ and 16-20 for ‘yy’.)
      Our V6 Spirit gets scores very close to the ratings for new Chrysler minivans, a Taurus or Camry.  This means that it simply makes no sense to legislate well-maintained older cars off the road, or use financial incentives to encourage junking them.  At minimum, equivalent funds should be available to upgrade powertrains.  At worst, given the exaggerated numbers I keep seeing about how dirty older cars are, there is a blatant fraud being perpetrated.  We are being told lies about how dirty older cars are.

    • 0 avatar

      Joss, don’t know where you live but here in the USA, the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA) is well organized and has a lobbying group, SEMASAN. They watch both Federal and State legislatures for bills that threaten to do “A Netherlands thing”…or any other bill that might restrict our freedom to drive what we want. No advocacy group is 100% effective but SEMASAN’s been pretty good, especially considering the forces on the other side of the issue who equate driving an old car with wasting energy or destroying the planet.

    • 0 avatar
      Marcel B

      What is ” a Netherlands thing” ?
      I’m dutch and I don’t understand what you mean.
      Old cars (25 years and older, although a 1987 or later car will never become taxfree) are exempt from road tax and there are a lot of them about.

  • avatar

    The aging of the fleet is another problem with relying on CAFE rules to meet emissions and fuel economy targets.  This is especially true considering some states don’t even have emissions tests.  Drivers who drive a lot have a big monetary incentive in driving something efficient, and hopefully well-maintained.  On the other hand, a gas tax has minimal impact on hobby cars that don’t get out much.

  • avatar

    The car industry has hurt itself by relentless unnecessary styling and gizmo updates.  What is the need for endless revisions, many of them functionally inferior, of almost every component?  What is the need for endless variations on rims, hubcaps, knobs, dashboards and on and on?  Per car, it probably doesn’t cost all that much prior to the car being sold.  The buyer ends up paying later.  People seem to pay far less attention to upkeep costs than purchase price.  It must be fabulously costly just to inventory all these proprietary parts.
    People are finding excitement elsewhere and putting their money to more urgent and superior matters.  Such as food, mortgage, education, retirement etc.
    As has been said, the Internet is an incredible resource when it comes to maintaining cars.  You’d think the manufacturers could think of a way to get a piece of this action and help owners of their cars at the same time.
    I find using, maintaining and updating our ’90 Spirit to be far more satisfying than dealing with our 2006 suv.  Part of it is the satisfaction of knowing we’re reducing impact on the planet by maintaining a car rather than being responsible for it going to the crusher and having a new car built.
    I recently replaced the Spirit’s headlights, via the Internet.  Knockoffs are available, and I got both for $110 delivered, with new bulbs.  Far more than sealed beams, but cheap compared to a new car’s headlights.

  • avatar

    If it was up to me (which of course it isn’t not even by a far long shot), all the manufacturers could have stopped making new cars, preferably in the early 90’s, before the only even remotely interesting designs were ‘retro’ cars. And they could have used their factories and people and engineers and designers to make upgrades and spare parts. Most late 80’s/early 90’s mid size cars with 4 valves pr cylinder and Efi or PGMI can easily average around 35-30mpg if driven and maintained right, and they are not awfully unsafe, some even had airbags in the steering wheel and abs, compacts are cruder and less safe, but a lot of them can do more than 35 mpg. One thing I believe is the main reason cars are getting older (well,almost as old in the US as the average car in Norway has been for some time) is that cars built in the 90’s were about as reliable as I think would be economically reasonable for manufacturers to make, considering they need to sell new cars later on too. I have a 1989 Ford Scorpio with over 200k on the meter (346.000 kilometers) and even if it’s about to go to the scrapyard now because of rust and general wear and tear it would still not be impossible for an enthusiast to keep it running even longer without coming close to the cost of a loan and the service costs of a brand new car of the same size. And late 80’s Fords are not considered to be reliable for a European car, and we all know Japanese cars can go a lot longer.

  • avatar

    I have a ’94 LeSabre with under 40,000 miles on it. It looks great inside and out and it’s in excellent mechanical shape after some debugging from it sitting in a garage barely driven for a decade (the car was left to me, so it cost nothing). I expect it to be my daily driver for a long time unless some windfall happens.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    DIY maintenance and repairs are the way to go if you have an out of warranty BMW instead of being gouged at the dealer. Fortunately, enthusiast forums are a great resource for the shade tree mechanic with stuff like the E46 Wiki.

  • avatar
    fred schumacher

    I’m 61 years old and have never owned a new car and never will. When I was averaging 60,000 miles per year, buying a new car made no sense. Anything I bought would be “old” within two years anyway.
    My rule of thumb is find a good mechanic in a shop you trust and drive the cars he repairs. For me, that has meant Mopars. For others, it will be a different brand.
    I’ve found the most reliable, lowest cost vehicles to own and operate are older minivans. I would buy a high miles Caravan with the bullet proof 3.3 liter engine for $1,000 to $2,000 and drive it to 270,000 to 300,000 miles, the usual point at which the A-arm bushings get soft and you get camber change under hard cornering. Then I’d park it in the woods for parts and get another one. By doing this, I could keep my total ownership and maintenance cost under 5 cents per mile.

  • avatar

    They’re still not inventing engine swaps to keep the cars on the road, or adapting parts or stuff like what we do in 3rd world.
    And I have heard some tales about Cuban repairs.

  • avatar

    Many of us,blue, and, white collar have found ourselves pushed down a couple of rungs on the socio economic ladder. This old baby boomer has bought his last new car. I figure I  should be able to sqweeze18 to 20 years out of my 2009 Impala.


  • avatar

    I’ve thought about moving from Pittsburgh to, say, Spokane…a VERY car-friendly climate where it doesn’t get too hot or too snowy. Gimme that ’55 hardtop, especially if I can put a modern LS3 in it with a 6-speed. Disc brakes, killer stereo and maybe a Hotrods To Hell NASCAR-style swing-arm rear suspension…I’m ready to drive it every day.
    It helps that Chevrolet was at a high water mark from ’49-’57. These cars were known for quality when they were new. The ’58 may have sold more than the ’57 but it was an engineering and quality debacle. ’59 and ’60 led to another good run of full-size Chevies that ended with the 1970 models.

  • avatar

    I often wonder: if I buy with the expectation of keeping a car 10 years, will gas be affordable at that point?

    • 0 avatar

      As long as your planning is based on the highest price you’ve ever seen on a gas station sign in your community and some allowance for inflation from there, you should be OK.
      The big issue is life/job changes that drastically increase annual mileage, something that I have costly firsthand experience with.

  • avatar
    Mike C.

    I’d really like to believe the brighter outlook for Autozone, etc., is the result of more Americans deciding to become more educated about car repair. You have to wonder how long people will put up with the typical dealer fleecing… Maybe this is true for certain demographics, however, I have to wonder about today’s teen drivers. Not that I’ve done any surveys but it seems very few teens I know show any interest in repairing their own cars. I’m 50 and will probably never buy a new car by choice. (barring a lottery win perhaps) I’ve saved bags of money doing my own repairs on my Subaru fleet (and 85 Porsche 944).

  • avatar

    The simple fact is there is not much new from say, 1990 to present.  Some cars have even gone backwards in terms of quality.  Older hondas last longer than new ones-and they are not alone.
    Recently drove a new 335d and M3-my daily driver is an 03 330i.  I couldn’t feel much difference in feel and ride between the 2010 and 2003 cars.  The M3 put the 330i on the trailer in terms of performance envelope, but for daily usefulness, even that wasn’t all too different.  They are all excellent and the newer cars had better shocks, but that is planned for the spring…
    I just installed an ipod and bluetooth module in the e46 so I’m not missing anything electronically.  The newer cars have a prettier satnav, but that is not worth 50k.

    In terms of going, stopping, and cornering, there is nowhere left to go. a 0-60 of 7 seconds used to be nosebleed fast…now it’s minivan. Everyone has ABS and most have DSC. 60-0 is in 150-180 feet. You can get nuts like a Vette, Viper or AMG Benz, but it won’t make any difference in normal driving. This year’s model is NOT any better than last years….

    I’m currently supporting an independent shop and a few websites for parts.  Once my Acura is out of warranty it too will never darken the dealer’s door.  They are quite good at selling $280 oil changes (er, “services”) but not so good at troubleshooting an actual problem. The pretty girl always calls to “follow up”, though.

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