By on February 24, 2012

It was a sunny day in 1994 when I fired up my 1990 Volkswagen Fox and took my newly acquired “Swedish Mauser” 6.5×55 rifle to the local range. At that point in time, the rifle was around eighty-two years old, having been manufactured at some point in 1912. It worked fine and was accurate to slightly under one inch at one hundred yards — the so-called “minute of angle” which is a basic standard of accuracy for long guns. Having satisfied myself that this time-worn gun was up to snuff, I went home and played some guitar. In this case, the guitar was my 1982 Electra Phoenix X130, already twelve years old but showing very little wear despite a harrowing four years following me around a college campus.

My mail had been delivered that day by a mailman driving a Grumman LLV, very similar to the one pictured at the top of this column. And although I didn’t know it, Porsche was less than three months away from building a certain white 1995 993 Carrera with factory-matched white wheels.

Approximately eighteen years later, my Mauser is doing fine service for another shooter, who reports that it has required no repair or maintenance beyond the basics. It will celebrate its hundredth birthday some time this year. My Electra rarely comes out of its case any more, but when I do play it there’s no evidence that it’s now a thirty-one-year-old guitar. My mail was delivered today by a mail lady in a Grumman LLV which could not have been manufactured any fewer than fourteen years ago. And my 1995 Porsche 993 Carrera slumbers in the cold garage dreaming of spring, shiny and corrosion-free.

The 1990 Fox I drove to the range that long-ago day? Gone, junked, rusted out, driven into the ground. In a story full of what they call “durable goods”, the Fox wasn’t truly durable at all. It was used and discarded, probably utterly worthless by the time the odometer reached the 150,000 mark. Surely VW understood how to make a consumer product as durable as a wooden Japanese guitar or a ninety-year-old rifle. The industry as a whole understood how to make durable items. My little white 993 still runs. The local mail truck still runs, although we’ll discuss later why Grumman’s understanding of “durable” differs from Porsche’s. The Fox’s lack of durability was almost certainly due to a particular decision or series of decisions made somewhere at Volkswagen. Why? What is the advantage of deliberately creating less-than-durable products? Put another way — why aren’t all vehicles “long life vehicles”?

The air-cooled Porsche 911 was a durable good in one sense of the term: a fundamentally sound, expensively engineered vehicle using high-quality components that required specialized maintenance to last nearly forever.

I’ve been fascinated lately by the story of the US Postal Service and its efforts to obtain and use “long life vehicles”. You can read a fair amount of the LLV’s history at LLV.com. The original Sixties Jeep stepvans were rather intelligent attempts to marry a World War II-proven mechanical platform with a much more spacious interior.

The resulting packaging is very efficient and well-adapted to any relatively low-speed motoring application where aerodynamic drag isn’t an issue. Since postal delivery tends to be one of those low-speed applications, the Postal Service was quite interested in the little vans. There was just one problem: they weren’t quite big enough. Enter the LLV.

The Grumman LLV takes the stepvan concept, adds aerospace-style riveted construction, and plops the whole thing on the simplest platform General Motors could muster — that of the S-10 pickup. The intent was to create a vehicle with a long life. Duh. It’s called the “Long Life Vehicle.” But what does that mean?

I’ve identified three basic approaches to creating durable vehicles. The first one we’ll call the aircooled-Porsche approach. Aircooled Porsches were built to exacting tolerances from expensive materials. Starting in the mid-Seventies, they were galvanized to prevent corrosion. The basic guts of a 911 should last a million miles. You may have to replace some relays, redye the leather, or rebuild the engine, but the basics of the car are high-quality and durable. If you want to drive your 911 until the odometer turns over, you can do it — but it will cost you.

Some of the iconic Japanese cars of the Eighties, such as the Civic and Corolla, were built using a different approach. They were what Toyota now calls “fat product” cars — vehicles built to be just a little better than they really needed to be. The engineering of these cars was very thorough, money was spent where it needed to be spent to ensure mechanical reliability, and as a result you can drive a 1989 Honda Civic a very long time. Eventually, you will fall prey to the relatively low cost of the materials used in said Honda Civic. The body will rust or corrode. The engine will wear out and will not accept another rebuild. A Civic won’t last as long as a 911, but it won’t cost you nearly as much time or effort to keep it running during its lifetime.

Grumman chose a third way. The Chevrolet S-10 and its 2.5L “Iron Duke” engine were known, even then, to be pretty low-quality items. The advantage in using those low-quality items came in ease and cost of service and parts replacement. It takes less mechanical aptitude to service an LLV than it does to service a Corolla or Porsche. In fact, it’s my understanding that the Postal Service sometimes trains its own mechanics, just like the Army does. To be geeky about it, the set of all techniques and knowledge required to maintain an LLV is a subset of the set of all techniques and knowledge required to maintain modern passenger vehicles, and a small subset at that.

The LLV body itself appears to be almost maintenance-free. It’s aluminum, riveted like an aircraft body and just as weather-resistant. Most of the LLVs I see continue to look pretty decent. The bumpers are large, strong, utterly repulsive-looking black rubber affairs. The homeowners in my neighborhood rush home early every Thursday to get their trash cans out of the street before the postal workers clock ‘em out of the way with their big LLV bumpers. I’ve personally seen a large steel trash can fly nearly twenty feet after being struck by a speeding LLV, with no visible damage whatsoever to the aforementioned stepvan. Don’t try this with your Lamborghini Valentino Balboni LP550-2.

Come to think of it, I’ve seen all sorts of abuse heaped on LLVs by postal workers, and rarely do the LLVs complain. They catch fire sometimes (apparently some shortcuts were taken in Grumman’s wiring, so to speak) and I wouldn’t want to crash one into anything more substantial than a steel trash can, but in general these are hard-working, reliable, abuse-resistant vehicles. The Postal Service seems to agree. Nominally speaking, the LLV will eventually be replaced by the larger, more sophisticated Ford CRV in both gasoline and electric variants. In practice, the LLVs are being refurbished and extended at least to the end of this young decade. It’s not unlikely that the existing LLV chassis will survive, perhaps with replacement electric or hybrid powertrains, well into the 2030s.

What we have with the Grumman LLV, then, is a vehicle which can last twenty-five years or longer with relatively unskilled maintenance. It uses inexpensive parts. It has plenty of space. With something besides an Iron Duke ahead of the firewall, it would probably even get decent gas mileage. I would ask “Why isn’t there a civilian version?” but the quickie answers to that — crash safety, uggo bumpers, hurricane-force highway wind noise — are too easy to produce.

Instead, let’s ask this question: We have cars on the market that are sold on safety. We have cars on the market which are sold on performance. We have cars on the market which are sold on price, perceived reliability, environmental impact, cupholder count, faux-coupe silhouette, you name it. There’s a car out there catering to nearly every possible desire, from the ridiculous to the sublime… except long-term durability. Isn’t there anybody out there who wants a long-life vehicle of their own?

It wouldn’t have to be a riveted-aluminum box. It could be a sedan, wagon, or sports car. Nor would it have to miserable to operate. There is plenty of well-understood and time-tested convenience equipment out there. Many existing suppliers understand very well what’s required to significantly increase the life of their products; somebody would just have to be willing to pay the extra cost.

What would that cost be? I can’t believe that it would be double the cost of existing vehicles. If a Honda Civic can be profitably sold at $17,000, a long-life version almost certainly wouldn’t cost $34,000. Perhaps there would be a 50% markup. I’m not convinced it would cost any more than the addition of a hybrid powertrain. Let’s dream up a long-life Civic real quick: a plain 1.6 SOHC sixteen-valve engine, with high-strength steel and hardened components. Five-speed manual transmission. Simplified electronics, with upgraded connectors and sensors. Steel wheels. Galvanized body. High-strength fabric interior. A simplified dashboard with access panels to reach the components within. Thicker body panels that are bolted, rather than plastic-riveted, to the frame rails. The list goes on. The million-mile Civic could probably be engineered and built without too much difficulty. It’s certainly a simpler item than an Acura ZDX.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure it would be any more popular than that rather beaky-looking awkward-mobile. The Element hasn’t set any sales records, and that’s probably the closest thing on the market to a deliberately simplified, utilitarian production vehicle. It would be hard to explain to new-car buyers why they should pay more for a vehicle that they probably won’t keep more than a few years. While the resale value of long-life Civics would be high, Honda might not appreciate having to compete with its own products for thirty years. Why buy a new “LLC” when used ones are, literally, just as good? It’s the same problem that haunts companies like Glock and Gibson: when your old stuff doesn’t wear out, the new stuff doesn’t always fly off the shelves.

It’s difficult to imagine that Honda would embrace a Long Life Civic, particularly not when every new Honda bears conspicuous evidence of cost-cutting. Toyota is currently facing a tsunami of trouble based on its decision to save money on gas pedals and electronics (Written before the real tsunami — JB), but I wouldn’t look for their pendulum to swing back to the 1990 Corolla any time soon. Porsche and Mercedes-Benz have learned the hard way that snazzy features and hard-sell marketing move more iron than evergreen aircooled Carreras or million-mile W123 sedans. There doesn’t seem to be any room in the market for a product sold on the basis of reliability.

Except. There’s a company that has a bit of a financial advantage at the moment, some momentum, and engineering prowess to spare. They really need the PR boost and public image buffing that could come from deliberately making long-life vehicles, and they know how it was done before. Ladies and gentlemen, I propose… The Grumman/General Motors Long Life Cruze. Enjoy a million miles behind the wheel of your stylish little sedan! Embrace simplicity and try the locally produced Long Life Cruze! Forget the vagaries of fashion by driving a car that already looks like it was styled a decade ago! Surround yourself with a Korean-designed interior that will outlive the next dictator of North Korea!

It’s a dumb idea, but it’s not as stupid as the Chevy Volt Dance.

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158 Comments on “Avoidable Contact: Who wants to last forever?...”


  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Excellent post! I’m with you 100%. There is no reason why we couldn’t build “appliance” vehicles and keep them running for 20-30 years, with help from local repair shops (upholstery, body, and so on), renewing and rebuilding instead of crushing and shredding. It would be much better for the environment than what we are doing today.

    But alas, it will never happen – the (tinfoil hat on) Global Powers That Be make too much money by selling us stuff that we have to buy again in a few years. With the electronics in today’s cars, I really doubt that they will age as well and be supported as long as cars built in the 1990s.

    My grandmother had the same telephone for 40 years, hard-wired into the wall. The exact same phone. And it worked perfectly the entire time.

    Today, a 4-year-old phone is already an antique!

    Progress?

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      Premium cars are rapidly discarded toys. First owners don’t even use up the short life version.

      Passenger cars are appliances. A much more expensive, heavier, lower mileage appliance is going to lose the practical test every time.

      If you want a durable tool then you need to shop in the tools section of the store. That’s called a work truck. Urban cowboys have ruined the half tons and federal regulations have ruined the diesels but the gas 2500s are still the real deal.

    • 0 avatar

      My best friend has one of those AT&T phones, probably 35 years old, and he says everthing about its functioning is much better than a current phone.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Those old Western Electric phones were built amazingly well. Even the wiring inside was some kind of nylon rope with copper wrapped around it. They represent the apogee of American quality. And with good reason. Failure meant that the phone company had to come out and repair failures at their own cost. Today that cost is the customers. I would love a cordless built to the same standard instead of having keypad failures every three years like I experience with my present Panasonic phones.

        Have to say I own a 20 year old car that spent its entire life outside and only now it has a small rust hole…and it is a lowly Mercury Sable…

      • 0 avatar
        obbop

        Kinfolk worked at an ATT factory whose name changed often over the years.

        Towards the end, for various reasons, corporate related, the plant was named Lucent, Avaya and a couple other names.

        Built in the 1950s or so many product-types built there, from electric fans to phones to outside big metal boxes to hold the electric and electronic innards located near cell phone towers.

        I was there for 14 months then the mass lay-offs commenced.

        Where over 7,000 common-folks once worked, attaining the ill-defined “middle-class” status those within attained high productivity, built high-quality products with pride (good engineers and others with technical skills were part of the quality equation)and now with ALL the jobs sent overseas those who retired are living comfortable lives due to the excellent benefits available.

        And the local economy took a horrible hit as good incomes for “common folks” disappeared.

        It IS a different era in many ways.

        Product quality is better AND worse… depending.

        Component parts are different.

        When I wanted a high-quality hydraulic bottle jack for the 5,280 pound truck I wanted quality for safety reasons for me and the truck.

        A jack failure with the truck aloft and tire-less on a wheel could result in costly damage and immobility.

        NAPA-ordered USA-built jack was $40 more than a China-sourced piece of junk with the difference OBVIOUS; my USA jack will likely last three or more human generations and is designed to be rebuilt with rubber o-rings and other small components available (many are standardized for easy availability in the future).

        The general machining quality of the USA jack is easy to see. Built with pride and well-worth the extra 40 bucks.

        I saw the same pride in the cell phone equipment cabinets and its internal components. Quality oozed out of them.

        The job-types I witnessed in the sent-overseas plant?

        Replaced by service industry jobs.

        USA; love it or leave it.

        I do much research in many areas, for decades, in many interest areas.

        My GENERAL advice to youth…

        Leave the USA. You likely have no future here. For many reasons.

        And, as a confirmed Disgruntled Old Coot… I saunter off.

        Have a wonderful day, y’all.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        Cleaning the keypad section of the circuit board using a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol often fixes keypad problems. You can clean the pad itself with dish soap and water. They can get greasy after awhile. It must leach out of the pad material.

        The same applies to remotes.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I don’t see the gov’t as being the whole problem – sure safety regs would need to be adapted to make allowances for old designs. The emissions are easy to update over time. An 80s style Rabbit is easy to manufacture with a 2012 emissions system for example but it isn’t as easy to update with airbags and make it crash worthy.

      Frankly I’d be happy to make my own choices and get the gov’t out of my way. I recognize that 2012 Rabbit remake of a 1984 design isn’t going to be as safe as a 2012 Cruze but who’s business is that but mine. I’m the one driving it. Oh, I suppose the insurance company doesn’t want to pay for my hospital bill or my vehicle repair bill after an accident. Right there folks is why this won’t ever happen in the USA. Or not – would a 40 year old design be any more dangerous than a 2012 motorcycle in a crash?

      The biggest problem in my mind is the average consumer. I have 232K on one vehicle, 176K on another, 198K on a third undergoing a restoration, and 120K on a 60s car.

      I know folks who mistaken my frugality for poverty and have made comments alluding to “when you are able to afford something newer” when actually I can go out and buy a new car today and pay for it in cash while the person making the comment is up to their eyeballs in debt.

      I also know folks who get new car fever just about the same time they pay off the current car – everytime. They’ll justify the purchase outloud at social events even though it is clear to the rest of the folks there that their finances are not ready for another car payment due to earlier comments about needing cash to fix something at their house… They’ll feel the need to justify their new car fever with comments about saving money on gas and repairs when the difference in this car’s MPG and that is about 2mpg.

      Whatever floats your boat I suppose. Americans seem to wrap up so much in brands and age of the family car. I guess Americans like to act rich and we have credit to help that along.

      In other countries people don’t have the cash flow, credit r the initiative to buy cars willy-nilly. Go to Brazil and you can buy a 70s style VW Transporter (van/bus) brand new. Mexico had the aircooled Beetle until the early part of this decade. With an smoggy aircooled engine! Go to South Africa and you can buy an 80s style Rabbit and until recently – the 80s style Vanagon – both new. All these products have been updated mechanically but the rest of the car was very much like the original. VW gave them the same treatment they gave the early aircooled VW cars and vans here – small, incremental improvements. The Brazil van has an updated watercooled engine with pollution controls for example. If we lived in the UK we could buy these vans too! Not here in the “land of the free” aka “land of the lawyer” of course.

      Would I buy an aircooled beetle or 70s VW Transporter new? Sure! If the price reflected the age of the design. Like a $9,000 Beetle or an $11,000 Bus. We Americans would likely laugh them off the road just like we laughed the Yugo off of the road. What’s wrong with a cheap car? Oh yeah – not pretentious enough… That Yugo needed TLC more frequently than a Corolla but what did we expect for $5,000 new? I’ve driven them. Honest transportation I say. I’d rather put the savings on my mortgage, pay it off and buy something nicer (house or car) for cash later.

      Would the American consumer go for this? Probably not in sufficient quantity to make it worthwhile. Look at sales of any vehicle here and once the “new” wears off of a model refresh sales begin to droop. What used to be a design that would remain the same for a decade with incremental updates has become a two year cycle. Seems to parallel a drop in the average American’s attention span. LOL!

      Want to sell me a long term vehicle? Sell me something that lasts 250,000 miles with no significant troubles and then sell me parts at a reasonable cost. Honda has repeatedly managed to sell me a vehicle that will last this long – just buy it with a manual transmission. What are uneconomical are the dealer parts. I used to be able to buy them with prices that approached aftermarket prices. Here lately everything seems to be gold plated.

      If I want to replace the carpet at dealer prices then I’m looking at $500+ dollars. If I need to replace a seat (rather than reupholster it) then you’re looking at spending well past that. A steering wheel is over $250. These are all things that eventually start to look shabby and who wants to be seen in a shabby vehicle? I’m not trying to impress anyone – I like a clean, neat car – just like my haircut or my clothes or my yard. It’s cheaper not to mow the grass or ever shower but who lives like that?

      For a vehicle that is worth $3000 at 250,000 miles, it’s easy to justify just replacing the entire vehicle using used car book prices rather than fix it. On the other hand if I consider that each year I can keep the old car running economically I’m saving a year’s worth of car payments – perhaps $4000 – then the the value the used car book places on my old car isn’t as relevant.

      I’ll argue that there is value in owning a vehicle long term, not just buying a used car cheap and dumping it after a year or so – I carefully put all those miles on it and I know what has been done to the vehicle over the years and thus I know better what to expect it needs. Better than buying a car that someone else may have neglected for 100K miles and used up leading to alot of repairs (hassle vs replacement parts costs vs my time to do the labor).

  • avatar
    Marko

    Great read.

    Although to be fair, the Fox was designed to be a low-cost car for the Brazilian market. In fact, it was originally powered by the air-cooled Beetle engine. It was never meant to be exported to the US, and was only imported because VW USA wanted to move the Golf/Jetta upmarket.

    Did the 1985 “Motor Trend Car of the Year” for the GTI go to their heads?

    The early 1990s were the low point of VW USA history – recovering from the Westmoreland fiasco, low sales, Audi still recovering from the 60 Minutes fiasco, Mk3 delayed due to a strike in Puebla, and who can forget the goshawful door-mounted seatbelts of the later Mk2 and early Mk3?

  • avatar
    Zackman

    What you asked for is a new, redesigned VW Thing!

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    I’m at the 17 year mark on my 90’s Civic. For owners like me, it’s not that we deliberately want to drive our cars forever, it’s that they don’t give us a chance to put them down. There’s no one compelling reason not to stop. Properly tuned, the Honda 1.5l D-series motor runs just as smooth as it did the first year. However, for people like me who will try to make a car last 15 years or more, we’ll really only be driving a limited number of cars in our lifetimes, so when we do change, the chances are that we’ll be willing to pay higher in the price range because we’ll live with it longer.

    I’ve always hoped that Porsche would follow the route that Leica did with their M-series range finders. You have the modern M8/M9 digital cameras, and then you have the MP all-mechanical custom line, which is basically the last Leica film rangefinder frozen in time. Rather than going with forever increasing levels of speed, luxury and mark up, think of a classic aircooled 911 “mechanical perfection” that is built for the ages and exists in constant low volume production to keep the heritage going forward.

  • avatar
    Skink

    Loved reading that. Nice info on the Grumman mail truck. Naval aviators were fond of saying a Grumman would always get you home.

    The Fox was driven into the ground while giving 150,000 miles. The Porsche and the Mauser were apparently used rarely, the Porsche apparently not during the winter. I’m wondering why of the three the Fox is the one deemed to be less than durable. Sure, there are makes and models that have better reputations for longevity.

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    So while you drive your Porsche (or porch as my very Italian uncle Benny used to say) you want us to drive this?

    http://www.llv.com/GreenLongLifeVehicle/vehicles.php

    For this much:
    Buy New LLV Vehicle For $40,000 – $59,000 USD

    http://www.llv.com/BuyNewLLV.php

    I’de rather drive the VW Fox, thank you very much!

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Once upon a time, that was what “premium” meant. That was why people paid a 50% markup for a Mercedes-Benz, to get a car that was “engineered like no other car in the world”. The difference today is the difference between real and perceived quality. People are being had, plain and simple.

    • 0 avatar

      One of my daughter’s classmates comes from a family that has 3 Benzes. Her father is an interpreter for high-level UN bureaucrats. She keeps talking how unreliable they are and “never again”. People learn, it just takes a while for the knowledge to percolate.

      • 0 avatar
        70Cougar

        My parents’ neighbor who is from Germany and has always owned MBs (she’s in her 60s) just traded in her late model E Class for a Sonata because she was sick of taking it to the shop.

    • 0 avatar
      PintoFan

      +1. More and more people are realizing that supposed “high-end” cars are made out of the exact same materials that you get in machines at much lower price points. The erosion of pricing power for Mercedes is a great example of how destructive this trend can be in the long term.

  • avatar

    Hmm, durable… soaks up punishment… cheap maintenance… dead simple repairs… easy-swap powertrains…

    Uh, they’ve manufactured the Panther Platform Vehicles for 30-odd years, man.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    Is Jack describing a modern Checker Marathon?

  • avatar
    DinosaurWine

    If you want to build a car that will last forever, just start with the Ford 300 I6. They won’t set the world on fire with power but they have more than enough to get the job done. There are more than a few examples out there with 300k miles and no rebuild.

    Unfortunately, a cast iron, pushrod I6 will not be nearly fuel efficient enough to satisfy the powers that be, so we are now stuck with all aluminum, turbocharged, DOHC engines. Powerful and fuel efficient for sure, just not the recipe for a long lasting engine.

    I just picked up an 95 F150 with 224k and it still runs just fine. It’s hard on gas, but I plan on keeping this thing for at least another 75k miles. When the engine finally gives up the ghost, I’ll just swap in a $750 salvage yard long block and keep on trucking.

    I hate to sound old, especially because I’m only 26, but they sure don’t make them like they used to.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      >just start with the Ford 300 I6

      Chrysler slant-6, always preceded by the word “indestructible”

      • 0 avatar
        Diesel Fuel Only

        I’d add the Mercedes I-4 and I-5 Diesels to the lineup, being as the M615 and M616 were in production from 1968-1983. The I-5 617 & 602’s were produced from 1975 to 1993 – 1,000,000 miles was not unheard of.

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      Where do you live, dinosaur? Around here a 300-6 goes for $200.00-250.00 at salvage yards. A local rebuilder sells long blocks for 950.00

    • 0 avatar
      nickoo

      All decent straight 6 motors from GM, Ford Australia, Chrysler, Cummins, BMW, etc…were/are virtually lifetime motors because the engine vibrational harmonics of a straight 6/boxer 6 lead to natural damping of the first and second vibrational harmonics. If you want a completely damped motor, a boxer 8 is the way to go.

      Having said that, if I were in charge of engine design at a major car company, I would push for a small displacement straight 6, VVT DOHC 24V head, short stroke, tuned intakes and exhaust manifolds into a twin scroll turbo for the performance version and use the same engine design with a longer stroke, VVT SOHC, for the economy version.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        Toyota F/2F/3FE. Take a tough GM truck motor and let Toyota build it. Incidentally, I look at my Land Cruiser like this. Its an industrial type machine that when properly maintained will last forever. Too bad the previous owner neglected that last bit though.

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    Question: what is this Ford CRV you speak of? I believe CRV means Carrier Route Vehicle, right? But your wording kinda sorta makes it sound like the USPS has decided on some Ford model to be its new CRV? Is this true? I think they had been testing some Escapes, but I had not heard that a decision was made to go with them. For one thing, USPS tests a LOT of things, and for another, they have so little money left I thought they were going to just extend the Grummans indefinitely. Any light on this Ford mention? Thanks, great article, always good to remember those “other” vehicle companies in the USA…

  • avatar
    missinginvlissingen

    Very few people want to drive the same car for decades.

    The car I wanted at 22 was different than the one I needed at 32, and will be different when I’m 42/52/62…

    So if I’m going to sell the car after 10 years (the average is 7 years, according to a recent TTAC post), why do I care whether it still has 5 years of useful life or 20? To get an extra thousand bucks of resale value? Why bother? I’d rather just buy what I want, instead of a utilitarian-chic LLV Cruze.

    • 0 avatar
      Austinpowerless

      Why do you care? Maybe because if it had 20 useful years of life rather than five, it would be a heck of a lot more than a thousand dollars difference in resale value.
      The desirability of increased durability doesn’t have a thing to do with how frequently people want to change their cars.

    • 0 avatar
      67dodgeman

      You’d care because the first car you’d buy, at 22, would be a very inexpensive 30 yr old vehicle that’s still dependable and durable. The next car you’d buy, at 32, might only be 20 yrs old but better suited for family like – and family budget. And be just as reliable, safe, and economical as a new car. Lather, rinse, repeat at 42/52/62.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    I read the first sentence, and thought to myself, “Cool. A story with cars AND guns, by Baruth. This should be a good read.” Finished the first paragraph, and JB brought one of his axes into it. Three-bagger, I thought. All we need now is some V. McB. skinny and we’ve got the Grand Slam.

    Then ya went and turned all thought-provoking and serious on me, Jackie-boy. OK, I’ll play along.

    The irony in your piece, Jack, is that, according to recently released statistics, the US auto fleet is OLDER than it is ever been.

    I believe that the OEM’s have all been Hon-yota-fied…that is to say, MOST of the Big Six auto firms are building and designing cars that, with proper maintenance, prudent driving and karma, CAN concievably crest the 200k mile threshold. That’s 15 years, more or less, of driving for most folks. So, while NO maker is specifically marketing a long-liver, ALL makers have improved the POTENTIAL longevity of their vehicles…

    I think that most people don’t like their lives. (I like mine, just fine…), so the idea of LIVING IN THE SAME HOUSE for the next 30 years, being married to the SAME SPOUSE for the rest of their lives, WORKING AT THE SAME JOB for 40 years or DRIVING the same whip for that long, is frankly a bit depressing. If cars are marketed as youth-preserving, life-fulfilling, activity-enhancing, virility-representing wonder machines (and they are) they appeal to people who may be doing the first three of the things I mentioned but in reality want to CHANGE their lives and shake things up every once in a while.

    Life is a series of trade-offs. I want pizazz and performance, gotta sacrifice some efficiency. I want luxury and comfort and techno gizmoes, gotta sacrifice cost-effective. I want tire screeching performance, for the most part, I gotta sacrifice space. If I want self-esteem, I gotta give up driving the same damned car for 30 years….

    They’ve tried the lifetime car thing in a place called Cuba. Other than the rum, and perhaps the beaches, who wants to live in Cuba?

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      “youth-preserving, life-fulfilling, activity-enhancing, virility-representing” What car does THAT?

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      The difference is in Cuba they until recently had no choice. Personally I’m content to pick something and keep driving it at low maintenance cost so I can pay off my mortgage and send my kids to summer camp and later college.

      I don’t like to change cars b/c some value book, the car business in this country, and the gov’t says I need to b/c it is so blooming expensive to keep the old car. Actually I’m doing okay, it’s my family and friends who need the help but then – if they really wanted the economics to work out better they’d learn to wrench on their own cars…

      Well let’s just say I’d like to be able to buy quality parts at a more reasonable cost and for some reason I think this would be possible if people were trying to keep their ’94 Acme Motors Special running a third hundred thousand miles. Like Cuba there might be more parts sources and more people competing to work on them.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    The long life premium vehicle already exists…the Lexus LS, RX, LX, and ES. You can throw in a Toyota Land Cruiser into that list. Even a 20 year old example still looks relatively modern compared to its competition from that era.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      Exactly. I think the long life cars were built by Toyota in the 1990s.

      Meet the Fat Toyota, your consumer LLV.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      With respect to the Land Cruiser I think the 80 series is the pinnacle.

      • 0 avatar
        FJ60LandCruiser

        The 80 series had a lot going for it: it didn’t rust, it had full time 4WD, fuel injection, and some rare examples had factory front and rear lockers. The suspension was a mode modern coil setup, but it retained the front and rear live axles. What didn’t age well was the electric crap in the seats and windows (if you were lucky to have your seat freeze in the position you wanted it to be in, great, but otherwise repairs can be a PITA because Toyota charges 300% for its used parts).

        The 60/62 series had more of the all-manual, less stuff to break feel to them, especially the EFI 62s (but most have rusty quarter panels and tailgates), and still had enough power stuff to break over their carbureted 60 series brethren. The leaf spring suspension isn’t really something I like, mostly because lift kits for leafs are expensive as hell, especially if you run an Old Man Emu setup like I do.

  • avatar

    somebody tell me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you just do a piece on how
    Porsches are shit?

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    I think that the mechanical durability of cars these days is pretty adequate. In the rust belt, at least, it’s the bodies that fall way short. Engines last 150k miles easily, but good luck finding a body that endures more than 10 winters before reaching beater status.

    I have no problem overhauling engine, suspension, worn seats, or anything else that requires some time and money and will allow the car to keep running and feeling new, but the fact that in salty climates the body has a very finite life renders being meticulous about maintenance moot; who’s going to put money and work into something with a terminal case of cancer? Not me, especially when considering the nightmare of seized and broken bolts that will be encountered.

    I’ll admit that some makes have improved a great deal in terms of rust prevention in the last decades – the Americans, for one – others have lagged – Mazda – and others, as has been mentioned, turned their back on the durability concept. I see more rusty late-90s Mercedes than I do ones from the 80s era. As has been mentioned above, the “German engineering” schtick has become a marketing ploy and nothing more.

    I wonder how much extra it would cost to improve materials and/or plating in a car. Considering that it could double the service life of a car and allow it to meet its current mechanical limits, I’d think it would be a worthwhile investment for many people. One would think that there’d be great marketing potential, too. “A car that’ll never rust” would really make some headlines for the first manufacturer who does it, and I don’t mean in the way DeLorean purported to.

    I’m resisting owning a car that will be driven in the winter, for as long as possible, and if circumstances force me to buy one, it’ll likely be something I don’t mind giving beater status to almost immediately. In the meantime, my ’99 Miata will continue to be stored rust-free over the winter.

    By the way, I have massive respect for the pre-996 Porsches. There’s just something about them: character, quality. I hope I own one someday.

  • avatar

    Modern cars mechanicals may last a long time, but with the pace of technology all the “tech”, computers, user interfaces and navigation will be hopelessly outdated in a few short years. It will be like walking around with a cell phone from 2002.

    Look at the 1987 Buick Riviera interior, with it’s “graphic control center” Anyone think there’s one out there that still works?

    http://carphotos.cardomain.com/ride_images/1/1042/4161/2604580027_large.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      supersleuth

      This is why I like simple, basic cars without much stuff to break or to drive me nuts in a few years. I have a long but generally free-flowing highway commute; thus minimal mechanical wear and tear per mile. My almost 3 year old Fit has 72,000 miles on it now and I consider it barely broken in. 250 K should be a piece of cake. And I enjoy driving it, so it’s all good. I look forward to several years of pleasant, payment-free commuting.

    • 0 avatar

      Having standard interfaces for “cabin node” is essential in this regard, and I thing it’s a topic that TTAC may help illuminating. Murlee is doing a good job with the mechanics of truly ancient cars, but there’s more happening on the electronic battlefront right now that will roll into the lap of his successor.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      >>…with the pace of technology all the “tech”, computers, user interfaces and navigation will be hopelessly outdated in a few short years…<<

      The real headache will be diagnosing electronic gremlins in older vehicles. Then you have to hope the part is still available. I've worked with old lab equipment and have seen $20K+ spent on new test equipment because of the inability to find a $20, fifteen year old electronic part to fix the old equipment.

      The market for LLV is small. It's probably satisfied by people becoming DIY maintenance types who seek out long term, easy to fix vehicles.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Nice article. IMHO, the difference between the Grumman postal truck and other cars is that, in its particular application, the Grumman truck is a mature technology. That is, it has been fully optimized for the task for which it is designed and cannot be improved upon. (Yes, one could improve certain aspects, but at the cost of worsening others.) It now appears that the design parameters may be re-jiggered to weight fuel economy more heavily. This could be accomplished by a more sophisticated liquid fuel engine, or something exotic, like a hybrid. Either way, such a change will have costs associated with added complexity and replacing the hybrid battery (a considerable expense) several times during the vehicle’s operating life.

    It may be that automobiles are also approaching that point. In operating characteristics, it is hard to say that a ten-year old car is worse than a current model. Yes, the current model may accelerate a little more rapidly (but we are well past the point of diminishing returns in that area) and it may use a little less fuel for equivalent performance. And the new car may have a spiffier electronics system, which may or may not be easier to use than the old system.

    So, it may be that now, unlike in the past, there may be a broader market for a very durable car . . . and, as others have noted, the typical car of today is more durable than its predecessors, which is one reason why more of them are kept longer.

    By contrast, let’s look at the old W123 Mercedes. I almost bought a 240D new in 1980; and my son-in-law in Los Angeles still drives one. So, I’m reasonable familiar with the car. Durability, it certainly has.

    However, even in an absolute sense, the 240D is grossly underpowered; and its top speed is below the typical speed of traffic on an uncongested freeway. And, while the car seems like –and in many respects is — a tank, it falls far behind any number of contemporary cars in occupant protection. It also lacks dynamic stability control, ABS and traction control. Admittedly, replacing the 2.4 liter diesel with the 3-liter turbodiesel or one of the gasoline engines would cure the top speed limitation; but the rest of the car’s defects remain.

    So, you could see why one might not want to drive this car forever, even if it were possible to do so.

    • 0 avatar
      mzr

      75MPH is below the typical speed on the freeway? I’ve had mine above 80MPH, and no that wasn’t downhill with a tailwind. This was the three-speed automatic.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I had a 240D with a 4 speed automatic. It would indicate 95 mph on the highway, and it didn’t have a tachometer. I have no idea if this was all speedometer error or not, but the owner’s manual indicated that maximum engine speed in top gear was reached at 81 mph. A place I worked in college had a new UD 1300 truck with a 4 cylinder turbo diesel. It would exceed maximum engine speed on the highway too, for a while anyway.

  • avatar
    dswilly

    The Element missed the durability mark by a stretch. Yes, its handy and fits the profile but in practice it fails. Ours is at 110k and the “durable” interior is falling apart, upholstery cracks, random plastic pieces showing up out of nowhere, LCD’s dying on the radio, driver window/lock switch broken. I picked up my coffee the other day and the entire console came up with it. Now let’s get on to the mechanical, engine/tranny are fine so far but the suspension is crap. Eats struts (supposedly to a heavy wheel/tire combo) and costly to replace. Ball joints are worse, you need genuine replacement steering knuckles from Honda first at about $300 ea. THEN you can replace just the ball joints next go around, like I’m going to wait for that day. I can’t get rid of this thing fast enough. Only savior here is they have ridiculously high resale value. Suckers.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      You make me sad. At 60K mine is doing pretty well, although there are a couple random plastic bits whose origin I can’t figure out. And the lights in the HVAC controls are failing, I hear they’re a bear to replace, no handy dash panels per Jack’s fantasy. Front suspension seems to be the big longevity killer for FWD, but usually closer to 200K than 100. Ouch.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        We’re driving a ’99 CR-V with 232K miles, why is the Element that much worse or different? That said our friends’ Element has doors that don’t sound durable when they are slammed but maybe that is b/c they slam them so hard all the time.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    I do not associate the word “appliance” with durability anymore. Once I did, but Whirlpool cured me of that. My first clothes washer was a 1980 Whrilpool that I bought from my inlaws when it was two years old. It lasted with minimal repairs until 2001. I repaced it with a new Whirlpool in 2001 that died in 2011 after three non warranty reparis. Guess what I didn’t buy to replace the 2001 model?
    Car mechanicals seem to be getting more durable with the possible exception of automatic trannys. As an example of this, compare the durability of the 2.5 L Iron Duke in the 1982 Pontiac 6000 I had with the 2.2 L Ecotec in my 2004 Saturn. The Iron Duke needed a major overhaul at 90K and 11 years while the 2004 Ecotec runs like new at 194K. It still delivers the same mileage as new, and it still uses only 1 quart of oil per 4K miles without any oil leaks.
    Also, the paint and body work on the 2004 is much better.

    • 0 avatar
      fozone

      transmissions are getting less reliable b/c they are being asked to cope with ridiculous amounts of power and weight.

      I’d rather take a car with lower HP and an unstressed tranny any day.

    • 0 avatar
      dtremit

      Add to Whirlpool’s list of sins the elimination of Maytag’s washing machine design — the appliance equivalent of the Slant Six. The gearing in Maytag washers for 40+ years used a ridiculously simple planetary arrangement that had half the parts of competing washers and could be serviced from the front of the washer. When Whirlpool bought Maytag, they killed that design off overnight. (Come to think of it, the same’s true of the classic KitchenAid dishwasher — acquired and discarded.)

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    It’s a nice idea – buying a car which will last forever, but unfortunately we now live in an age where technology and fashion now march hand in hand at an ever quickening pace. Apple release ‘new’ versions of their products seemingly every 5 minutes, and the masses rapidly ditch their ‘old’ version and buy the ‘new’ one. Why? Is the technological leap from one version to the next really worth throwing all those dollars at? No. It’s just perceived that anyone with the ‘old’ version is behind the times, which makes them uncool. It’s not just Apple and electronics either, you see it in fashion, food, design – and cars. Blink and you’ll miss it.
    As much as I would like to own a simple vehicle that is built to last, it is proved time and time again that they don’t sell well, so manufacturers are stopping making them (Crown Vic, Ranger anyone?).
    In today’s Red-Bull fueled, attention deficit, hyperactive world, the customer is fed advertising BS which tells them that they want blue-tooth connectivity, Sync, blind spot warning, reversing camera’s, parking assist,… etc. It doesn’t cost the manufacturer much, will likely break in 5 years, they’ll be able to charge a premium for it, and the customer will come back just before the warranty is up and buy the latest ‘up to date’ model. So to a manufacturer, what is the point (ie., where is the profit) in making vehicles that last?

  • avatar
    rustyra24

    I drove a Celica with 300+ miles on it for a few years. I replaced normal items like alternator, starter, and a fuel pump. It never stopped going and it was rusty. I imagine it would have run for another 250K. The only reason I trashed it is because I found another one with 110k on it with a much nicer body.

    I like the idea of something I like and can drive forever. I keep it around because my summer car is a 3000GT. It was not built to last. It has more electronics than a NASA space craft and has as any problems to boot.

  • avatar

    It’s a matter of engineering tradeoffs and economics. A Civic is engineered for 200,000 miles with routine maintenance, and with a price target of under $20k. You could trade off on cost and increase durability, or your could trade off on durability for a decrease in price. The majority of new Civic buyers won’t get close to 200k miles, so there’s a big margin engineering-wise. But consumers are much more sensitive to price changes and the value they get based on that price. My friend is one of the vocal minorities who actually prioritizes reliability and durability. (http://rockyroadblog.com/2011/08/the-importance-of-reliability/) I think his expectations are just unrealistic.

    If the requirements are changed and suddenly durability is prioritized above price, safety, and styling, then we’d have a shift in designs. Different industry, but similar in concept, Facebook is creating an open hardware design to minimize complexity, cost, and energy consumption. (http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/02/facebook-builds-storage-gear/) In that case, engineering resources are spent where it matters to the business.

    Unlike electronics hardware design though, I don’t see a crowdsourced niche automobile that emphasizes durability in the near future. Interesting thought exercise, but regulations, sourcing parts, and sales volume make a clean sheet design a pipe dream. On the other hand, I see a clear market need for remanufactured and/or retrofitted Panthers… If I had some FU money lying around, that’d be an interesting market to get into.

    Great story Jack. Love the story telling.

  • avatar
    mac

    “While the resale value of long-life Civics would be high, Honda might not appreciate having to compete with its own products for thirty years… It’s the same problem that haunts companies like Glock and Gibson: when your old stuff doesn’t wear out, the new stuff doesn’t always fly off the shelves.”

    Add Crown Coach to that list – They built school buses and fire trucks as “Long Life Vehicles”. Turns out that if your products last forever, your customers don’t need to replace them as often…

  • avatar
    PintoFan

    I think that in some ways, this article is longing for something that already exists. Let me put it to you this way: 75% of the cars that wind up in Pick-N-Pulls and the like could be put back on the road with fairly minimal repairs. They wind up in the yards because of title issues, insurance payouts, parking tickets, or because nobody plain wants them. There is no shortage of generic cheap old cars in this country that could get someone from point A to B reliably enough- your Grand Ams, Tauruses, Sentras, etc. When that 92 Bonneville with 250k miles finally requires a $400 radiator replacement, chances are it’s going to wind up in the yard even though it might have a lot of life left in it. All I’m saying is, don’t blame the manufacturers for the fact that people are wasteful with cars. We could put a 5-year freeze on new vehicle sales, and it wouldn’t be the end of the world, because we are literally drowning in useable cars in this country (something not necessarily obvious because of the used car price bubble, but true nonetheless).

    • 0 avatar
      supersleuth

      I agree. There’s not a mainstream car on the market now that shouldn’t easily go 250K with proper maintenance and replacement of normal wear items. And the bodies may develop a bit of rust in 10 years or so in the North, but even there, the cars that are genuine rust buckets at that age usually have body damage that was neglected until the rust cancer took hold.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        Part of the problem, though, is replacing those normal wear items. Heater cores whose replacement requires that the entire dash be removed, the bewildering plethora of proprietary electrical connectors, proprietary fasteners that break because they aren’t designed to be removed, I could go on. I’ve fantasized about a car designed to be easily maintained and updated, doubt we’ll ever see one.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I only blame German car companies for their cars going out early, they seem to be built to do just that.

      Not to mention their insistence on the owners not being able to do their own repairs.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        There is no reason you can’t work on a modern German car yourself. In fact, BMW and VW at least doesn’t even require contact with the Mothership to work on the electronics like the Swedes do. For a couple hundred bucks for a cable and software, you can do nearly anything the dealer can do on the car electrically. The rest is just wrenching. The information needed is readily available on the Internet. So you need a laptop to work on the car? Big deal, not nearly as mysterious as fuel injection was 25 years ago.

        You can already buy a car that will live forever with fairly indifferent care – ’92-’95 Volvo 940 8V. They don’t rust, the mechanicals are forever, and you can fix them with a hammer and a file. They are even decent to drive, if you are not in a hurry. The interior plastics aren’t the greatest, but the seats sure are. The only thing that kills them are accidents and boredom.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        At krhodes1: Look up the BMW Z4 on TTAC, where taking of the plastic engine insulation of it snapped a hose to the engine.

        You can fix modern German cars, but by the time that you’re done your kids will be calling you “Grandpa”.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I would say that has nothing to do with the car being German, and everything to do with the person taking the engine cover off not knowing what they are doing. I am sure a few minutes of research online before yanking on various parts would have sufficed. Or a little more care.

        We shall see – I am perfectly happy to report the long term ownership experiences of my ’11 328i Touring if the powers-that-be here are interested. In 11K miles I have had a faulty seat control relay box fixed under warranty. But I have also added the OEM BMW Performance Intake and Exhaust systems myself, and a pile of other BMW accessories. I find it quite easy to work on.

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      I’ve never known of anyone around here to pay more than 30 bucks for a radiator at the local “pick a part.” I have a 77 D100 4X4 that I’ve owned since 89. I mainly use it to plow my driveway, during the summer it mostly sits around. I had to replace the original radiator in it last year, I got one from NAPA for $160.00.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      The thing about the old Bonneville with 250K on the clock is that the guy driving it can’t come up with the $400 for a radiator. He can swing another car payment, because he’ll have his paycheck every month, but coming up with $400 is tough.

      You’re right, there are a lot of serviceable cars that only need a few hundred bucks worth of repairs, but it’s entirely logical why they aren’t repaired.

      I’m not trying to put down people who don’t have much money – I’m just pointing out that for many people a $200/mo payment on yet another used car is more manageable than coming up with repair costs. Try asking your local banker for a radiator loan.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        Where do you guys come up with 400 bucks for a radiator? I just looked on the Autozone website and they list a radiator for a 99 Bonneville for $156.99 with a lifetime warranty. You could get one at pull a part for 30 bucks. A person would have to be pretty dumb to pay 400 dollars for a radiator.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “Where do you guys come up with 400 bucks for a radiator?”

        Maybe they are thinking $400 with parts, coolant, and mechanic install?

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        ajla, a couple of gallons of antifreeze is chump change. And if a person can’t do something as simple as installing a radiator then they should be taking the bus.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I’m just telling you where they probably got the $400 figure.

        If you are bored this weekend, call up a few shops, say you need a new radiator for a ’92 Bonneville and see what they estimate for you.

        The last radiator I did was on an ’04 Explorer and the owner told me the Ford dealer quoted her $510.

      • 0 avatar
        redrum

        “if a person can’t do something as simple as installing a radiator then they should be taking the bus.”

        If someone can’t afford a $400 repair, they probably don’t have the tools or a garage to work on it anyway (and most likely don’t have the know how either, but it’s a moot point).

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        Moparman, most people are not capable of changing their own radiator. Saying they should be able to do so is like saying that you should not own a house if you can’t re-roof it yourself, or you should not own a computer if you cannot write software. Telling a single mother or retiree they should not own a car if they cannot change a radiator is unrealistic, and/or a little arrogant.

        For the vast majority of people, changing out a radiator would cost at least $400. You and I may be able to do it, but that is one reason we are reading TTAC.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      Actually most cars end up in the junkyard not because of one mechanical failure. Even the most careless and impatient car owner knows it’s better to fix the one problem than to throw the car away. Most cars end up in the junkyard because of several mechanical problems or mechanical annoyances. Once a car gets to a stage where there are multiple problems- most owners will just throw up their hands and give up.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        The car is cheap b/c the resale book says it is cheap and then it attracts a cheap owner and everything goes downhill from there. No cleaning, no fixing, $1500 worth of wheels despite overdue maintenance, and the slide towards the junkyard accelerates.

        I keep running into junkyard owners lately who think their parts are gold plated. Am searching for two torsion bar leaves for a 1978 VW van with 200K miles. One place that I’ve used in the past initially quoted $60 for both the upper and lower torsion bar packs. Then when I call it’s $60 per leaf. WTF? I can buy the whole dang suspension for less than $100 if I search long enough and don’t mind a little drive… And that’s what I’ll do – keep searching. Keep in mind that these front suspensions normally get crushed with the rest of the vehicle b/c the dunebuggy guys don’t use them either. Too heavy.

  • avatar
    mopar4wd

    The marine industry faces a similar issue with fiberglass boats. I have actually been to industry confrences when they talk about what to do about old glass boats as they don’t wear out. They think this actually slows the new boat sales as people look at the cost of refitting an old hull vs buying new and well it comes out better depending on what your looking at. In the old days a wood boat had a typical 20 or so year life span (quality built ones with good care much like your porshe example can last forever) A fiberglass hull has no real life span with minimal repairs it goes almost forever. As an example my father bought a 1969 Ericson 30 this summer for less then 5% of what a similar size quality new sailoat would sell for. For this he got a running engine good sails and a hull with only minor flaws. As a manf that would be a little scary in fact some companies have spun off restoration shops that actually do more work then there new manf division. Boats fall into the gruman van theory simple outer case work with easily replaced guts (The mercruiser blew no prob go grab another chevy small block and were back running again the next day for less then $5000. )

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      I have a 73 20ft. Gold Medallion ski boat with a 340 chrysler. I’ve owned it since 88. I rebuilt the engine once, it was a simple rebuild, hone job, new rings,bearings, oil pump and valve job.

  • avatar
    pdieten

    Cars usually die between 15 and 20 years of age, and that’s because at that point something expensive has broken and the cost-benefit of fixing it doesn’t add up anymore. Rust doesn’t tend to be so much of a problem anymore in an era of galvanized bodies and stainless steel exhausts. Even in salt country cars don’t rust away like they used to anymore.

    The problem is that old cars are (still relatively) cheap, compared to the cost of labor to fix them. Making them “more durable” isn’t going to change that. What would you change? Heavier duty parts? Greater ease of service? Those are still available to consumers who are willing to buy a basic full size truck. So do you see many people toting their families around in a Chevy Express LS van, or a crew-cab Silverado 2500WT? Why not?

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I don’t buy the “trucks are durable” arguement. Here in Maine, they just rust to pieces. A friend has a 2006 F250 with only 70K on it, the undercarriage of the thing looks like it was sitting on the bottom of the bay. The DIPSTICK tube rotted through and was swinging in the breeze. All of the bolts are unidentifieable blobs of rust. The cab corners are rotting. The thing is just made of crappy materials. Never mind a ton of leaks and other mechanical issues. Yet my ’93 Volvo 965 with 230K on it, all in New England, is RUST FREE. And the bolts are still shiny on most of the suspension.

      It’s like older Japanese cars, sure, in a mild climate like California they lasted forever, but in the salt, not so much.

      • 0 avatar
        nickoo

        That’s because they use some sort of snow melting salt that’s the equivalent of battery acid on the roads here….There is a lot of things I hate about this state and that is one of them. Unless things have changed recently, in Colorado they don’t coat the roads with snow melting acid and as a result, old cars are a much more common sight. Also the cost of used trucks here are insane, I ran the numbers several times and found that total cost of ownership for a new truck is cheaper than a used truck.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        I call bull

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        They rust here in TN too. Salt. Salt. Salt. Despite our much more mild winters. Now the county pours a salt water mix on the roads anytime there is a fair chance of the roads freezing from snow or sleet. The trucks around here are rotting away. Same cab corners and rear bumpers and around the bed fenders as they always have. Gm rots the cab corners out first, the Dodge trucks seem to have rotted rear bumpers and the Fords fare the best – so far – of the domestics. The Asian trucks don’t seem to have the same rot problems.

  • avatar

    There might well be a niche market for very durable cars. Durability was Volvo’s selling point back in the ’60s and ’70s, and probably beyond. Valiants and Darts also gained a reputation for durability probably in the mid to late ’60s, and they sold quite well. They were also attractive, pleasant, inexpensive cars to own. (My parents got the Valiant in 1970 for $14.7k in today’s dollars, and even without the end of the year deal probably could have had it for $16k.

    • 0 avatar
      MusicMachine

      That’s funny…er scary. The Volvo and the Valiant/Dart came to mind for me too. The ‘K’ car came to mind too. Sustainable.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      If people want older, well kept used cars that will last then there will be businesses that spring up to supply this want. I know there are companies re-manufacturing Crown Vics for smaller police departments who want them but can’t afford new patrol cars.

      At one time there were companies doing the same with aircooled VW Beetles. Bring us your Beetle and for a flat fee we’ll restore it bumper to bumper. There were even companies at one time rebodying Beetles with new Mexican “everything” except the titles. (legal loophole).

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Those cars are already in existence-the aforementioned W123, the Volvo bricks, etc. but the sad fact is most drivers don’t want to keep their car as long as a couple of decades. I ran a W123 for 9 years. Purchased at 213K, It was utterly dependable, comfortable and for the most part exceeded my basic transportation needs. The turbodiesel gave me adequate power, the tranny shifted like a dream and at 415K last year, it still ran just as well as the day I bought it. Its undoing was the clearcoat paint which was going away, and for the second time the seat frame collapsed. It needed a new AC compressor and water was making its way into the interior. At that point I realized putting a good paint job and interior on it would run at least 3-5K.

    For a little more money I picked up a well-kept Gen2 2001 Avalon which, for my 120 mile daily commute, has been stellar. It’s now got 153K on it and uses ½ quart of oil in 8000 miles. (I did change the oil, BTW and I will use 6-7K intervals). This car should make 200K without any serious problems. Will I keep it 10 years? After hearing all the complaints about chintzy interiors on some of the newer cars, I’m content to keep the car as long as mechanicals and cosmetics hold up. Build quality in this car is very good and I don’t need Bluetooth, nav or internet connectivity in my console, so that won’t be a reason to get anything newer.

    I never knew what happened to the Benz. I signed it over to my local PNP and it’s never been seen there. I’d like to believe someone snagged it and has it back on the road again. Look for 2SCU375, California plates, champagne gold.

    It’s all about what people need. For now I need reliability, comfort and low cost per mile. The Toy is paid for, so yes, I’ll hang onto it.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Exactly. This is the reason even the most durable cars are let go – it just costs too much to keep them up eventually – and often it is the cosmetics, not the mechanicals. 20 years is plenty long enough.
      In the case of my Volvo, as soon as something expensive breaks,

      I’ll pick up another one. This one will get parted out for spares, keep what works with the “new” one, sell off the rest. Taking cars apart is quite relaxing when they don’t have to go back together again….

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I had sell an OmniHorizon because the tranny was going out, after that I grabbed a Tercel that needed bearings all around and exhaust work (it had been sold because it was using up the original owners cash).

      Luckily I ended up with better a car after all that, but let it be a warning that buying old “Long Live Vehicles” isn’t always the cheapest decision, a $400 car can end up costing that much in repairs.

      Or in my case, an $800 car can end up costing $1200 in repairs.

  • avatar
    cackalacka

    RE: appliances and Apple-batteries. Folks will have a phase-shift.

    Cars cannot become *that* much safer, and ICE enhancements won’t derive *that* much more utility.

    Tastes and needed functions will change over a person’s life, but the core design/function of most autmobiles, moving ~4 people and a little stuff at highway speeds for any number of distance is pretty set.

    Folks are getting hip to local produce and more people are looking at credit card debt vs savings.

    The first player in the auto industry that can establish an affordable easily maintained, decently/functionally appointed, 4-seater with robust safety and decent driving dynamics will loose market share against itself, but won’t need a halo car, either.

  • avatar
    Diesel Fuel Only

    Fact is these things were dinosaurs the minute they rolled off the assembly line. They’re everything that was/is wrong with the US automotive mindset.

    The US Postal trucks have gas guzzling Chevrolet S-10 Engines – the contract was procured by the Michigan Congressional Delegation for political reasons. A big chunk of the cost of your postage is the gasoline for these things.

    At the same time the Austin FX4 (a London Taxi built between 1958 and 1997) was famous for its very tight turning circle and had a fuel-efficient 2.1 L Diesel. A very efficient and durable package, lots of them still in service.

    The UK now use Transit postal trucks (which is the same platform the new Taxis use, just with a Cab body on top) with the Nissan/Ford 2.0 or 2.2 Liter diesels. Far superior fuel mileage to the LLV, night and day difference.

    Why can’t we do the same? We were out of date then and we’re out of date now.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Because there are political axes to grind. The Navy is trying to to biofuels and politicians from one of the two main political parties are say no-no-no. I’ll let you guess which party.

      BOTH parties have their axes to grind. Both have their protected “topics”. It’s a shame that we are protecting 20th century cash-cows when it’s clear that with the rise of the Chinese and Indians – there is going to be alot of competition for resources and prices can do nothing but go up. We ought to be making smarter choices now, not just choosing the easiest things.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Hasn’t regulation precluded making a successful LLV? Maybe a PEV might qualify. Wouldn’t it need to be BoF?

    If there were really a market, it could be done, but is there a market? Do most people understand the savings from depreciation, simple repairs, and reduced trade ins?

  • avatar
    George B

    The durable vehicle I want is a short bed regular cab personal use pickup truck just big enough to haul plywood from Home Depot. I want the proportions of a 60s Ford F-100, but with a more car-like suspension and good crash test performance. The styling should be boxy and conservative. The engine should be a high-volume model like the Toyota 3.5L V6. Plastic and rubber parts that decay and crack with age should be avoided. The body should be well protected against corrosion and covered with paint that can survive decades of sun exposure.

    • 0 avatar
      artfd

      My 1983 F250 with a diesel engine & a long bed is close to what you describe. It cost me $11,000 new. I paid $150 for rustproofing when I bought it new to have something like Waxoyl sprayed on the underside — remarkably little rust has appeared after all these years, even though much of the rustproofing has disappeared. It gets 25 mpg with just me and 2 full tanks of diesel, and weighs 5000 lb. Carrying a 2600 lb slide on camper, 10-1/2 feet high, it got 13 mpg – which I don’t do anymore. I do use it to deliver a ton of gravel, etc. to my back yard to cure a drainage problem. Engine has no computer bits whatsoever, much of it can be maintained by hand. Fuel injection pump needs to be replaced about every 125,000 miles, and there are many shops that do that — this is most definitely NOT a DIY job, since injection pump tolerances are in the millionths of an inch range. I once hit a deer head on at 70 mph, did $1400 of damage to front sheet metal, but the front mounted spare really cushioned the blow. Years after the accident the left front turn signal assembly simply fell off (hidden damage from the collision), then I drove over it and destroyed it. Got a replacement at a Pick-a-part for about $15, including the cost of fuel to drive out & get it. Plastic and rubber parts cannot be totally avoided, and they will decay and crack with age. As I mentioned, the key parts can be replaced by me. Durable paint is expensive, Rustoleum, however is cheap. Because these models were so popular, junk yards and aftermarket suppliers can supply almost any part you need. The front of my hood rotted out completely, I bought a new hood for $125, shipping & tax included. Just waiting for warmer weather to apply rustproofing on the underside & paint on top. There is a lot of useful information & assistance available on the internet from other truck enthusiasts. It rides like a truck, but is the most comfortable vehicle I have owned for long interstate trips. I intend to keep it indefinitely, although it is no longer my daily driver.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The Duramobile will have all of the market appeal of the manual transmission diesel station wagon, i.e. far more interest on automotive blogs than it would ever find in the real world.

    Now that cars and computers have gotten married, things may be heading in the opposite direction. Owning a 20 year old car as a daily driver will have all of the charm of trying to engineer an Apple IIe to handle your websurfing; even the Luddites and techphobes won’t want much to do with it. That iDrive/Sync/screen-wheel gizmo thing is going to be a dinosaur that will cause embarrassment, not a desirable option, and all but a few of us will be eager to replace it.

    • 0 avatar
      niteman

      I know I’m in the minority here, but I would buy and happily drive a manual trans diesel station wagon. Even more-so if it had limited computer gizmos and simple electrics. Oh, and I’m only 32 by the way.

  • avatar
    KitaIkki

    Excellent post.

    Porsche did design a long-life prototype in the 1970’s. I think the target lifespan was 20 years.

    I nominate the Toyota Camry Hybrid as the closest thing to an LLV on the market today. (Same can be said for the Prius. But with the Camry, it’s easy to see the price premium: $3400)

    The Camry Hybrid has a belt-less engine. The electric water pump doesn’t run all the time and so is likely to last longer. No belts (neither fan nor timing belts) No power steering fluid. No clutch. No torque converter. No synchros or friction belts. The brake pads will last a long time since most of the braking is done by the motor-generator. The engine is always started with fully pressurized lubrication (having been pre-spun to 1000 rpm) and doesn’t go faster than 4500rpm. Everything about the drive-train is designed for longevity.

    The only iffy thing is the battery pack. But we know some first gen Prius are still running the original battery, that’s 15 years ago.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    If you look up desk lamps you will find one of the most studiest, dependable, and useful appliances every built. Be it 100 years old or 1 week old they all flick on like they’re brand new, provided that they have bulbs.

    Why’re they so long-lasting? Simplicity, and thats the secret to a long-lasting car.

    In todays age that would be possible, but people are more interested in twitting “I’m texting and driving lol” instead of cars they can pass down to their grand-kids.

    And while building long-lasting cars isn’t the best for sales, companies could still try to find ways to make the new models better. Maybe in ways outside of adding 1 extra hp.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I dont agree 100% with this entry.

    There are plenty of “recent gen” Hondas hitting 200K+

    Companies like Porsche, Mercedes realized there is more money in convincing people to lease their cars every 3 years than to buy 1 car and drive it for 30 years. There are literally still folks driving their W124s and 1st gen 911s. Those cars stopped generating revenue decades ago

  • avatar
    pdog

    This article makes me miss the used Fox wagon I bought in high school in the mid-90s for $1800. Compared to the other econoboxes of the day, it was zippy with pleasant ergonomics and road manners. And while some of the bits and pieces weren’t as solid as those on the mid-80s 911 and R107 SL my dad kept in the garage, the car did put up with abuse from me and my siblings until well past 200K miles. In fact, I think it finally was donated/went to the crusher not because it stopped running, but because I and my siblings were no longer living at home and the cost of keeping it registered and insured was more than its street value. Certainly some maintenance (suspension overhaul, tune-ups) was deferred for the same reason. I suspect a lot of cars in this price range, regardless of actual durability, meet this fate. It’s hard to justify spending $500 for repairs or insurance/registration, at a time when the car was worth $600 on a good day.

    Also, I’m not sure if the comparison with a Mercedes or Porsche is justified, where a Mercedes or Porsche owner seems more likely to (a) be an older, more responsible driver, (b) park the car in the garage and drive it only occasionally and (c) be willing to spend more money to keep up on routine maintenance/repairs due to the higher book value of the vehicle. Notably, on a per mile as well as an absolute basis, both the 911 and the SL were far more costly to maintain.

    In some ways the Fox may have even been closer to the LLV in the Grumman sense, since it’s technology (VW’s OHC 8-valve with CIS-injection, 4 speed stick shift, and manual everything) was all fairly proven technology by that point. If you did your own wrenching, or lived somewhere where like Brazil where the car was more prevalent, I imagine that the cost of maintenance might be much lower.

    Damn, now I’m going to have to start monitoring eBay to see if any Fox wagons turn up.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I think we give too much importance to the book value. What is often overlooked is the cost of replacement that keeping the old car defers. The old car might be worth $600 but if keeping it on the road defers the purchase of something newer and more expensive then there is a value there too. The car might be worth $600 resale plus another $250 each month since the owner doesn’t need to buy another vehicle. Pocket the $250 each month and when it’s time for a new car, buy it for cash.

      You probably know all that but I wanted to put it out there. I figure my ’99 grocery getter has saved me about $60,000 so far and it hasn’t needed hardly anything over it’s 232K miles. That’s sort of screwball math but my point is that every month without a car payment is a good month.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    Loved my Checker. Left the factory in ’66, engine replaced in ’77. When I got it in ’87 a couple of body panels had been replaced, but I couldn’t tell which. Lousy gas mileage (12-15). Back seat as wide as a queen sized bed. But it could drive through a wall and barely mess up the paint. It took the trunk off a Nissan and I had to point out the paint smuggled on the bumper to the Trooper who took the accident report.
    With airbags, slightly upgraded interior, ABS, and modern electronics I’d buy one today if they were available.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    In ’96, I bought my first ’88 528e with 150 k miles on it. I retired the car in ’08 after driving it for 200k mile. In that time, I maintained it to a level where it never broke down on the road. It impressed me so much, that I replaced the Borman6 with a near twin. Both cars are Lach silber. I also bought another for Marina. They are very reliable, easy to maintain and make great commuters. BMW screwed up, they made a car that will easily go 300K on its original drive train.

  • avatar
    niteman

    Great article. I really enjoyed reading that.

    I think long life vehicles do exist, you just have to be willing to buy older used cars to get the solid builds. I am certainly of the opinion that materials used on many new cars are quite sub-par until you get into the luxury class cars. Even then I don’t know if I’d trust the computers and electrics to be easy to work on even if they did last very long.

    My last car was a 2005 civic coupe with a 5spd manual. Bought it with 50K on the clock and only sold it with 130K still in excellent condition and only due to a growing family. During the time I had it, it required literally no expensive repairs, only basic maintenance which was quite affordable. I have no doubt in my mind that that particular civic will do at least another 100K for the guy that bought it.

    I replaced that car not with a shiny new minivan or sedan, but with what I consider to be another long life vehicle; a 94 Toyota 4runner. I picked it up for a great price from a retired state trooper in near-mint condition with 100K miles. I’ve put 50K miles on that now 18 yr old truck. The only “expensive” repair was a $200 power steering pump. Add to that normal maintenance items, most of which I can do myself due to the beautiful simplicity of the design, and I’ve spent less than $1K to keep her on he road. I’ll bet the thing’s still running at 250K miles.

    Now my wife’s 2004 Mercedes C240 wagon, that’s another story. Will it keep running for a long time? Sure. If I want to spend a not small fortune to keep it on the road. Tried to talk her in to a Mercury Grand Marquis (another long life vehicle IMO) but she about shot me. They sure don’t build the Mercedes like the old 300D; of which I know at least two guys with over 400K miles on theirs.

    • 0 avatar
      Moparman426W

      If you do your own work then how could you have spent nearly 1k on your truck in 50k miles? Did you have to replace the tranny or something?

      • 0 avatar
        niteman

        Well, I picked up a 16+ year old vehicle with low miles for it’s age, it still had 100K miles. That doesn’t equate to being completely maintenance free right off the get go. Age effects gaskets and whatnot. Preventative maintenance was performed (i.e. normal maintenance items) to ensure that it would last longer and I chose to do the work up front right after getting the truck. I stated that “I’ve spent less than $1K” and also that I do “most” of my own maintenance, not all. We did a full tune-up, replaced some old gaskets on the rocker covers and intake, did a timing chain kit which includes the water pump, a complete brake job all around, changed all fluids to synthetic, and got tires…all normal maintenance items on all cars. Oh, and the recent power steering pump was included in that $1K. The majority of the 50K miles came after that work. All vehicles new or old require preventative maintenance and so far I’m ahead of the game considering age and how dependable the truck is and most of those items will be god for some time to come now. And no, the tranny is fine.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        So your tires probably make up roughly half that figure. Makes sense.

  • avatar
    MusicMachine

    “…uggo bumpers”

    Did you mean ‘Yugo’?

  • avatar

    The entire auto industry is about cash extraction. Parts are engineered for the first owner. Honda Trannies die just outside warranty for a reason. The prices of parts for used cars are set to make you go back to the dealer because “it’s not much cheaper”

    I’ve run a car 270k. I’m on the third alternator, second ps pump, second fuel pump. Even if the engine and transfer live, all the ancillary stuff goes. Ok I have a manual and change all oils and fluids with synthetics etc. Still you end up fixing motors and all the power acessories

    It’s all about the monthly payment. The closest I ever saw to a permanent car was a Volvo 240 wagon. The only problem was the drivers seat wore out and they couldn’t find a new or used replacement because they all did that.

    A permacar could be made. The old benzes were close. My manual e46 was purchased new because it was the closest I could get to that ideal. A new 335i automatic wouldn’t be a permacar.

    They choose not to make one. The current system is wasteful but lots of folks eat based on planned obsolescence and crap secondary parts.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I’ve never heard of Honda trannies dying, but I do find it suspicious how a number of 90’s to early 200’s American cars have big issues at 90k.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        A lady that works with my wife has a 2004 honda pilot that she bought new. The trans went out last year at 117k. The thing is that this tranny had the easiest life that a trans could have. Her daily work commute is all highway. She jumps on the expressway from her house and doesn’t exit until she gets to work, which is about a 24-25 mile distance. A trans should easily exceed 200k under those condidtions, I just wonder how long it would have lasted if it had lots of city miles or even hauled some weight.

      • 0 avatar
        Patrickj

        @Ryoku
        For any 4000+ pound FWD box-like vehicle with a V6, every mile the transmission lasts over 100K is a bonus.

        GM and Toyota come closest to breaking this rule.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        Welcome to the forum..You have obviously never read any stories here.

  • avatar
    baggins

    I dont want a life long car. Despite what the Luddites on this site think, Cars are getting safer, smoother, more efficient and better built every year. Lots of rose colored classes about cars of yesteryear. People dont remember the starter fluid in the carb, fooling with spark plugs every year, smelling un burned gas, massive smog in the LA basin, banging their head off the steering wheel in a mild head on collision, regular tire blowouts, etc.

    I buy new, drive for 7-10 years, then dump the old and get a new one. My new one is always better than the one I had before.

    Its emotions that make people think otherwise. Which is fine, but recognize the truth about cars.

    • 0 avatar
      niteman

      I would agree with the fact that cars, on average, are getting “safer, smoother, more efficient and better built every year”. However they most certainly are not getting easier or remaining easy to work on and they are getting more expensive to get repaired if you can’t do your own work.

      I would certainly not call myself a Luddite and I’m sure many of us remember all the maladies of cars of yesteryear. You know what those cars had that a lot of modern ones lack? The ability to repair it yourself, diagnose all those issues that you listed fairly easily, and with minimal investment in both time and finances. I would certainly agree that a new Ford Fusion is leaps and bounds more advanced and comfortable than the 69 Ford Maverick I drove for a while but when that Fusion inevitably breaks down good luck fixing it for cheap yourself.

      I and likely many others here have embraced technology in other parts of life where it fits and makes sense. Security systems are a dream now, cell phones can do amazing things, computers are very powerful tools, and so on. What I don’t need in my life is my vehicle that I depend on to be made to be a disposable, tech-filled appliance that is nigh impossible to wrench on and that has to be replaced every 7-10 years. In this economic climate many of us don’t have the means to buy new cars that often anyway.

      It’s not just emotions that drive our opinions, for those of us that don’t have disposable income and need to rely on ourselves to fix most issues, it’s economics, personal finances and logic.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      “Cars are getting safer, smoother, more efficient and better built every year. Lots of rose colored classes about cars of yesteryear. People dont remember the starter fluid in the carb, fooling with spark plugs every year, smelling un burned gas, massive smog in the LA basin, banging their head off the steering wheel in a mild head on collision, regular tire blowouts, etc.”

      I remember those cars b/c I’d driven most of them. I own a couple vintage cars now and have owned many others. Am restoring one myself peice by piece.

      Still I’d argue that cars of today aren’t that much better than a good fuel injected and well appointed Camry/Accord/equivalent of 1989. We have ABS and airbags. You can buy EVs and cars with a bunch of gears. Still my ’87 Accord lasted 325K miles, it had five manually selected gears, all the basic creature comforts and it got good mileage. It stayed fixed too. Compare it to a current Civic and the experience is similar.

      I’d gladly buy that ’87 Accord hatchback again if I could buy it new. I’d gladly buy my ’99 CR-V again if I could buy it new. I don’t think cars have improved that much. Since the late 80s if you chose carefully back then.

      Lower emissions? Yes. That is a good thing.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    You guys are missing the most important aspect of driving a car over a long period of time with minimal cash outlay. The only people that can do this are people that do their own work. Luckily my dad was one of those people and taught it to me at a young age.
    He kept his vehicles for 10 years on average and never took a car to the repair shop during his whole life, except for front end alignments.
    I’m 49 years old and have never taken a vehicle to the repair shop, and never will. So if you really want to drive a car for 15-20 years and do it on the cheap then learn to do your own work and buy something that parts are not expensive for.
    All of those people that you see that seem to drive the same clunker forever are people that do their own work. When something gives out on the car they either go to the parts store or boneyard, get the part and install it themselves. They are not going to take the car to a garage where the price for getting it fixed may be more than the car is worth. Doityourselfers can drive a car 100k and have less money tied up in it than someone that takes their vehicle to a repair shop once or twice.

    • 0 avatar
      jeffzekas

      I would agree, with the caveat: not everyone is mechanically inclined. I did all my own work on my 1958 VW bug, but, even with the John Muir book, it was a struggle. In contrast, my little brother was doing a valve job on my parents’ BMW when he was 14 years old… but, since MOST folks are NOT mechanically inclined, the result is taking your car to a mechanic– at a cost of $85 to $125 an hour– which means a minimum of $500 every time a simple repair needs to be performed… and part of the blame for the high cost of repairs goes to the “book rate” (which most mechanics can easily beat) and the high cost of parts, with the mechanic getting a discount, but pocketing said discount as extra profit… I mean, I don’t begrudge mechanics a living… but, in our small town, my mechanic makes more than the local school teachers! As for a durable car: you can pay for reliability up-front, or pay later with break-downs and repairs… for some people, the long-lasting vehicle might be preferable to frequent visits to the shop.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        You can do it, Jeff. What people don’t realize is that pretty much most of the stuff involved in working on a vehicle is pretty much common sense. Especailly back in the old days. While today’s cars are more complex that rule still applies,they can be fixed at home, it’s just that things are much harder to get at than on the older stuff. But that doesn’t apply in all cases though, some stuff on newer cars is easy to get at. It depends on the vehicle and the part you happen to be working on.
        And you can normally buy a decent scanner for less than they charge you to plug your car into one at a garage. In fact Auto Zone will hook one up to your car for free.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        jeffzekas – I agree. You can do it. It takes practice and patience just like a muscial instrument or a craft (woodworking, painting, carpentry). I have a ’65 Beetle and a ’78 Westfalia. I still run into scenarios where I have to drag our Muir and Bentley to scratch my head about something for a while. I’m restoring the Westfalia and have spent the past week of evenings tearing the front suspension apart. I have never done that on an aircooled van or Beetle. Very different from the RWD or FWD suspensions on a more modern car. A little head scratching, some reading, some questions on the Type2.com enthusiast website and nothing was too difficult including pulling the control arms off and pressing the balljoints out.

        Like putting a new convertible top on our Cabrio – the first time was rough. Took me two weeks. The next one will take hours, maybe a day. My first Beetle tuneup/full service job took me two weeks way back when b/c I was so new to the do it without asking Dad for guidance – adjusted the carb, brakes, valves, cables, etc. Just me and Muir. These days I could do the same maintenance in 45 mins or so.

        That’s part of why folks who shy away from learning to work on their car and their house is so mind boggling to me. Its SO EXPENSIVE to rely on someone else who may or may not be honest. Why not turn off the TV or video games or get off the couch – or whatever other people do with their spare time – and do an oil change or paint the house? I’m a guy in his mid-40s who grew up around men who did ALL of this stuff ALL of the time but like a typical kid – I didn’t see the value of learning the skills until I was an adult and on my own.

        This weekend’s lessons: building a brick and block wall. My first.

    • 0 avatar
      icemilkcoffee

      The chief drawback to DIY car repair is the learning curve. That’s why most of the folks who repair their own cars- tend to stick with one particular make. Once you get used to fixing a certain brand, inertia sets in and you don’t want to have to go through the learning curve again to relearn another brand. With German cars it’s even worse- you have a cabinet full of special tools for that one make.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Redrum, you don’t need a garage to install a radiator, and it takes just a few tools. On most cars one or two wrenches and a screwdriver. And why would a person not have the “knowhow” just because they may not have 400 dollars? I think most people you see working on their own cars are lower income people, they don’t have the cash to get ripped off by a repair shop like alot of other people. Besides it doesn’t take a genius to install a radiator, not much “know how” is required.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    I’m a disel tech for a trucking firm. I understand the concept completly.

    I also own my own LLV, although I have other cars too. It’s a 78 Malibu sedan. 3.3 V6, TH350 transmission. No rust, solid as can be. Really reliable, and if something does break it takes all of $25 and a few minutes to fix.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Where would automotive technology be today if all cars were as durable as those lovely old Porsches? Would the Porsches themselves have been invented yet, or would we still be driving Model Ts?

    Better yet, imagine if cars were as durable as Amish furniture. We’d be driving Amish cars.

    I’m not advocating wasteful consumerism. But creative destruction – the willingness to discard our own inventions and start over – is what separates us from the coconut trees. We should not repress this in the name of nostalgia or self-loathing environmentalism.

    • 0 avatar
      fozone

      The problem is we’re hitting the point of diminishing returns.

      You can’t tell me that the 2013 Subaru Legacy is that much better than my 2003. It gets marginally better mileage, it is marginally safer (both cars have airbags/abs/etc…), and it has a little more horsepower.

      Is it worth spending $27k on a new one when the old one is running perfectly? I have a hard time with this concept. There may be some brands that have had a quantum leap over the past 10 years (Hyundai/Kia), but I’m not finding that many compelling changes over the last decade in general. Unusable horsepower isn’t progress.

      • 0 avatar
        Patrickj

        If you are taller than 5’9″, there is one very big difference. The post 2010 Legacy/Outback has realistic driver’s legroom for an adult male.

        I can’t drive my wife’s 2004 for much more than an hour without a 1/4 mile walk to loosen my folded legs.

      • 0 avatar

        Yup. Drove new BMW’s and the e46 still feels good. 50k for a better nav system is a hard sell. When the time comes, I’ll go cpo….but it will still be because the old one is EOL.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Toad, I was not referring to people like the elderly or single mothers. However my 18 yo 5’1 95lb. daughter replaced the radiator in her 99 neon by herself. She has also done other simple things like brake pads, rhe driver’s side caliper and a tuneup, among other things. I doubt that you can change a radiator judging from your letter.

    • 0 avatar
      GD3FTW

      for most people, time is money. who has half a day (realistically) to get down and dirty in their driveway and change their own rad?
      not me. have a good relationship with your service shop and they’re not going to rip you off.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        I won’t bother wasting my time on this anymore, but as I’ve said before it does not take very long to change a radiator on the majority of vehicles. take it to s shop and you will be waiting much longer for it to get done. And all repair shops are a ripoff. They have overhead to cover and they have to make a profit to stay in business.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Geez – I did my last radiator job on a AWD grocery getter in about two hours and that included putting away my tools and cleaning up.

        Time is money. The average person making $50K per year makes about $25 per hour at work. The average shop around here are about $65 to $75 per hour at shop rates. I can’t see any reason not to do some or all of your own work.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      I’ve changed radiators, charge air coolers, and swapped a couple of engines before I graduated from high school. I turn wrenches when I want to but am fortunate enough to be able to choose what I repair myself and what I outsource to others. I also own a transportation business that does 7 figures a year, so I know a little something about vehicle maintenance.

      In other words, your doubts are not well founded.

      I also know that not everybody has the time, talent, or inclination to work on their own vehicle. Life is short; there is no reason to work on your own car if you have two left hands.

      • 0 avatar
        Moparman426W

        I changed some engines while in school also, it was no big deal on the older cars. What kind did you change? Since when does it take much time or any amount of talent or commnon sense to swap a radiator?

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    http://www.allpar.com/cotm/2009/neon.html

  • avatar
    TOTitan

    Jack, you are, in my opinion, the best, and most fun to read automotive journalist out there. Keep it up, and whatever you do, don’t change.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    http://www.allpar.com/cotm/2009/neon,html

  • avatar
    Luke42

    I’d love the million-mile civic described in this article, especially if I could swap in several different kinds of engines.

    I briefly considered the Honda Element when I bought my Escape. The problem with the Honda Element is that it’s not a very good family vehicle. The rear seats and rear doors are unconventional, which makes it hard to fit a carseat — and the whole reason I was looking in the “box on wheels” category was because I needed something to haul kids and stuff at the same time. The Element is really intended for outdoorsy single people — which is great, but outdoorsy single people have a LOT of choices that will work for that lifestyle — every CUV, every SUV, everything made by Subaru, and just about every minivan will work well for outdoorsy single people. Also, the used Elements aren’t cheap.

    So, I bought a 10-year-old Escape on the hope that I can maintain it as well as I maintained my old Ranger. I succeeded with my own mostly-success LLVish project with the Ranger (I only got rid of it because my needs changed), and I’m hoping for a follow-on with the Escape. (I’d rather support my local automotive maintenance professionals than spend new-car money on a car that isn’t what I’m looking for.) But, put a light-duty trailer hitch and wagon-back on your million-mile-civic, and you’ve really got my kind of car — and the manufacturer gets a lifetime of selling me overpriced parts and upgrades.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Your Escape and a few of the other CUVs are as close or a LLV as we can get today in the consumer market. Light towing, hauling stuff with the back seats folded flat, hauling the family and a “heavy duty” suspension doing commuter duty.

  • avatar
    Joss

    I know of an A D M I R A L fridge made in the USA. Purchased 74 – still runs but requires bi-annual defrost. How many defrosts is that with life threatening chips to the icebox from a screwdriver?

    Since 83 my morning wake-up never failed from assault. A cheap & chunky, plastic wood clock radio. Made by Panasonic in Singapore.

    From this I have deduced lasting for ever requires an ability to invoke torture yet survive assault. From this develops a begrudging respect. Then a strange kind of keepsakes develops…

  • avatar
    28-cars-later

    Excellent article. I think this is a classic example of engineering vs. marketing/sales. I think if you ask someone on the design team of the Ford I-6, the Buick 3800, or the venerable Chrysler slant 6 how they feel when they see cars still running with these platforms, they would respond with pride. The engineer strives for perfection in his design, he focuses on quality and delivering a product which will stand the test of time. Trouble is marketing/sales doesn’t care about quality or proper design, marketing is focused on generating revenue by any means necessary. Marketing theory is what brought you such quality products as Windows 95, New Coke, Prozac, and Edsel. As an engineer now developing software, its difficult for me to imagine designing an inferior product, but the sad truth is when developing any new product its: good, fast, cheap, pick two. Seldom do modern products seem to encompass all three in the long haul.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Certainly the early eighties 300Ds come to mind . My 1983 300D, inherited from my wife, has 275k miles . As far as I know only weak points might be the transmission . Wish it was the wagon version though.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    Among modern cars, I would say the first generation Mazda Miata comes close to being the simplest, longest lasting, and most easily repairable car.

  • avatar
    mawz

    Ford recently killed two platforms that would qualify.

    The first is the Panther, the second the Ranger.

    The Rangers in particular lasted just about forever with maintenance. The basic vehicle was built from 1982 to 2011 with only one notable mechanical change (the front suspension in 1998) and otherwise only mild changes to the design. They’re simple and inexpensive to repair, get reasonable mileage on the I4 engine, are extremely versatile and will last nearly forever if you’re willing to replace wear items (and at some point that does include the body, transmission and engine, but those are relatively simple, especially bed replacements).

    The Chevy S10 would also qualify, sadly for GM the S10 replacements do not and the S10’s been dead for 8 years(the current Chevy midsize trucks are inferior to the S10 or the Ranger in pretty much every regard except interior ergonomics and options).

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    actually many of the LLV’s are on S10 chassis. Morgan Olson was looking into sourcing the frame rails for service parts bit the deal fell through. Take awhile for a S10 rail to rust through.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    My old BMWs require several “special” tools. For most, however, a 2 lb hammer is a good substitute. A major benefit from DIYing is that you can fit it into your schedule easier than the having to deal with a mechanic’s schedule. BTW, I installed my first radiator at 9 yrs old. I am by no means a gifted mechanic. Every bit of expertise was gained at the cost of skinned knuckles and one mistake at a time. My 528e was the first EFI engine. I hung back with with carbed engines due to mistrusting the new technology. The Bosch fuel injection is so much better than a carb. A Bentley manual and a volt/ohm meter is all you need to trouble shoot it. So far, all I have needed to replace were a set of injectors.


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