By on June 8, 2015

MyrtleBeach

That moment you realize the oldest car in the parking lot is yours.

Yeah, I just had that moment.

The car in question is a 2001 Honda Accord EX. Four-door. Five-speed. A dodo bird of a used car stuck in today’s finance driven market. I walked around the parking lot you see above trying to find one vehicle, any vehicle, that’s as old as mine.

The blue ’05-ish Caravan on the bottom left came a bit close, but it didn’t happen. Instead, everything else seemed to be on the younger side of the curve, the overwhelming majority of vehicles sold new at a later time in history.

When the hell did my car – the class of 2001 – become the old fart of the village? In this case, the village happened to be Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – a touristy place that regularly displays thousands of trinkets, tchotchkes, and recreational drunks often as old as a Michael Dukakis bumper sticker.

You think I kid? I do! But really, trust me on the trinkets. The same exact souvenirs around during the ’80s and ’90s on the main tourist strip have now relocated to the flea markets and thrift stores. That nice flowery ceramic cup mass produced in Hong Kong back when ‘China’ couldn’t be rubber stamped on cheap Chinese goods is still out there for $1.99 trying to find that one last customer whose name is Alfred or Milly before the flea market finally donates it to Goodwill along with the MC Hammer posters and VHS tapes.

Apparently, older used cars are rapidly approaching the same life cycle when it comes to consumer demand. Everyone is buying new these days – or, at least, new enough. Seven year loans? Nobody did them only a few years ago, but now they’re to our economy what buying stocks on margin were in the ’20s or real estate just a few short years ago. If you can make the note work on paper, you can quickly be given the keys to America’s most fashionable new assets.

It’s a bubble and not the first in our business by a long shot. From Chrysler trying to finance their creaky old K-cars to people they lovingly called PODS (Poor Old Dumb Shits) to Mitsubishi supplementing their ‘zero down, zero interest’ offers to anyone with a pulse and a paycheck, this industry has always been about securitizing and moving the cheap metal. Even if the amortized metal isn’t so old, the wheels of conspicuous consumption have to be greased just right in order to keep that assembly line of wealth flowing – at least until the next bust cycle.

accord3

It’s an interesting juxtaposition for a guy who still buys a lot more newer cars these days than older ones. Fourteen years old just isn’t old to me anymore.

Granted, there is no tinworm here in Georgia and the roads are exceptionally smooth, which probably ages the bodies and suspensions of most cars at a rate no more than half the overall northern average. However, the interesting part in most areas of our country is you can drive a 17-year-old Camry or Accord brand new from the late Clinton Era to the present day and not really feel like you missed all that much.

Safety? A bit, though most folks don’t really make it a continuing priority after they’ve bought new unless 1) they have a young family, or 2) they’re shopping for someone else. I find what makes most commuters kick their older cars to the curb is either an expensive repair, maintenance issue or a seemingly incurable emissions problem.

Power? The four-cylinder Accord comfortably did 80 mph for the entire trip and passing power was always there. It doesn’t have as much horsepower as an old Acura NSX, like a 13-year-old Nissan Altima offers at a similar selling price to that 14-year-old Accord. Yet, the lack of power never hurt when it came time to utilize the two- to three-tenths of the performance limits of this vehicle, which is what 90+% of the car driving public already does for the most part.

Fuel economy? Hell no! Over the next five years, for every new car dollar you spend if you’re paying cash, you’re looking at a dime and a nickel in return in lower fuel costs.

accord15

In my Accord scenario, I wouldn’t save a single cent in fuel costs if I bought the average new vehicle of today versus keeping that 14-year-old Accord for the next five years. The brakes and timing belt were also recently done, so chances are the next owner will have a good shot at driving it right up to year 20 so long as they take care of the little things before they become big.

And that’s where the problem lies for most folks: the little unpredictable things versus the big long-term expense. Unpredictability, for a common machine that has tens of thousands of parts in varying states of wear, is a greater psychological problem for most car owners than having a $500 payment for years on end.

Most folks simply don’t know much about their cars and manufacturers are increasingly finding ways to capitalize and expand on that lack of knowledge. From adding plastic covers to the top of car engines to removing dipsticks and ease of maintenance opportunities for the aspiring DIY owner, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors done by automakers under the guise of technology.

Additionally, government edicts improving a given vehicle’s performance in some ways add great cost to everyone involved in the design, manufacture, and upkeep of a new car. Long-term goals in improving fuel economy and emissions have always begat new problems for the auto industry and those producing the fuels and oils we use to power our machines.Dupont CAFE impact

Just as old CAFE and environmental regulations resulted in billions of repair related expenses back in the ’70s and ’80s, the new regulations of the modern motoring era are pushing technologies with a similar trajectory. Continuously variable transmissions with ‘lifetime fluids’ that increasingly don’t hold up and ever more expensive catalytic converters (and their associated sensors) will likely shorten the time of planned obsolescence.

Sometimes older models really are the better ones, at least when it comes to the real world of car ownership. Am I wrong? Perhaps. But every time I hear an average non-enthusiast bequeathing over $30,000 of their financial earnings to something as financially pointless as a commuter car, I realize that the new car marketplace is just becoming increasingly dependent on the idea of long-term financial dependency for the average car owner.

Will that be a good thing? For anyone? I doubt it if you want to be a car owner. Whatever breakthroughs we achieve through innovation will more than likely be negated by corporate sponsored legislation designed to make the consumer the ultimate bearer of those costs. Whether it’s the brave new world of car sharing helping to eliminate the cyclicality of the auto industry’s boom/bust cycles or the ever declining market segment of DIY owners and long-term keepers who won’t have the money needed to keep their cars on the road, we’re now in an era where long-term financing and perpetual payments have become the new short-term solutions.

And that’s a big problem.

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202 Comments on “Where Have All The Clinton Era Cars Gone?...”


  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    “Continuously variable transmissions with ‘lifetime fluids’…”

    No such damn thing as lifetime fluids.

    One gets the idea that such as statement by the manufacturer is really nothing more than a ploy to get SOMEBODY to have to buy new transmissions from them.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Sure there are. The transmission lasts the lifetime of the fluid (which was always the case, presuming the hard bits weren’t garbage).

      • 0 avatar
        OneAlpha

        I hadn’t considered it that way. Well put.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        Yup. Same deal with sealed bearings and suspension components. They last as long as the lubricant within them does.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          The ungreaseble suspension joints usually last at least as long as their greaseable counterparts. Serviceable wheel bearing might last longer, but you have to constantly clean and adjust them. Modern sealed ball bearings last well over 100K miles on average, an then replacing them once isn’t that big of a deal.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            My sealed bearings have lasted nearly 300K miles. No noise yet. Am sure they’ll go past 300K with no problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      My 5-speed Cavalier has “lifetime” transmission fluid according to the factory service schedule.

      I tend to believe it, since it’s now been over 3 decades since the first 5-speed Cavalier rolled off the assembly line, and I STILL have never seen one with a bad tranny.

      (Yea, I’ve seen bad “lifetime fluid” automatics, but that’s why you don’t buy automatics.)

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Your 5 speed transaxle in the Cavalier was a Getrag unit. I found out when I was researching the Olds Alero. Different ratios for different cars, but all supplied by Getrag. Far better than Ford’s Mazda-sourced manual transaxles, even if they were more common behind a blue oval than behind a bowtie (plenty of 5-speed Tempos, few Berettas and almost 0 Corsicas for example).

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      The best observation I’ve read about “lifetime” fluids is to take lifetime as the manufacturer’s warranty period for the vehicle. When the age or mileage limit is reached for the OE warranty consider the life of that fluid over.

    • 0 avatar
      MrFixit1599

      We have 3 05-06 Hybrid Escapes with CVT’s, and they are not serviceable. Not a single one of them has ever had a transmission or engine problem other than a water pump. One was totaled in a wreck with 320k on it, mine the front end needed rebuilt after it was rebuilt at 160k, and now has 350k on it, so I switched to a newer one, and the other has 290k on it and still going. I guess it also depends on the definition of “Lifetime”. Is that until it rusts away to nothing? The lifetime of a gnat? A tortoise?

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        An electric HSD-style CVT is a very different animal than a belt/chain-drive CVT or a hydraulic transmission. Evidence to date suggests that the HSD and its ilk have an effectively infinite service life.

  • avatar

    That is a good observation and I have noticed many cars disappearing off the road. Looking at the parking lot of my current location, my 05 Cadillac STS is the second oldest car. Only what appears to be a 94-95 Civic predates it but older cars are still very viable.

    We just picked up a 99 Camry at the auction for a new daily driver for my brother. It only has 55k miles on it and had a cracked rear bumper and a bad water pump. We put a few hundred dollars in to it for timing belt/water pump, new rear bumper and a set of tires and now he has a reliable daily to last him a long time for the cost of 5-6 monthly payments on a new car.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Come on down to the Eastside of Indianapolis Steve, where mid 90s-mid 00s GM and Chryslers come to eke out a few more years of neglected service and die. The used car lot on the corner is stocked full of 00-06 Impalas, LH Chryslers, mid 00s Tauri, and some Northstar and D-body Cadillacs. All for $2800-3400. W-body GMs take the cake though. Centuries on chrome hubcaps, the aforementioned Impalas on ‘floaters,’ Grand Prix with mandatory body damage. The one sort of refreshing thing about my new neighborhood is that I actually see people tinkering under the hoods of their cars. I didn’t see that before living in pseudo-luxury apartments.

    Of course I personally drive a 1996 4Runner Limited in a “so 90s it hurts” two tone dark green over dark grey.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick 2012

      I lived in Lawrence for ~7 years and this brings back many memories. W-Bodies are the FWD Panther for sure.

      I had a hand-me-down 2001 Impala that my father-in-law still drives. There is some rust perforation and the suspension needs work, but its still serviceable with 180k on the clock.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      I love those old 4Runners. If I could finance one vehicle for an interminable period, that would likely be it.

  • avatar
    Undefinition

    The data I keep seeing is that the average age of a car is 11.4 years old. So by that number, there are still plenty of older cars out there… perhaps not in your parking lot?

    http://press.ihs.com/press-release/automotive/average-age-vehicles-road-remains-steady-114-years-according-ihs-automotive

    • 0 avatar
      Windy

      In the fall of 2003 I ordered my current car a 2004 MiNI Cooper S 6 speedM with all the performance and comfort options like factory navigation…. When it was a year old I added the JCW engine mods… It is right now at your 11.4 years old mark… I have had only 2 mechanical repairs a leaking viscoelastic engine mount and a right front ball joint (excluding things like tires and batteries) for a long time I thought this would be my last car as I bought with part of my early retirement buyout and was the first car I have ever owned that I both bought new and ordered as I wanted it (I did buy a Saab 99 EMS new of the showroom floor in the mid 70s bot it was both a leftover and a demonstrator so I bought it right). I also payed full list on the MINI (well the dealer tossed in the floor mats and invisible bra as good will gift)…

      What has me considering a new car are the new drivers aid items that are now available. As I near 70 I can see the advantage of things like blind spot warnings and rear view cameras and adaptive cruse control and even lane departure warning… Arthritis in the knees and hips makes even an automatic transmission an item for consideration and the only cars with automatics I have ever driven have been mostly rentals…

      I will of course keep my JCW Mini with its firm suspension and 17″ performance tires for nice day joy rides but when loaded with all the goodies cars, with a comfortable ride, drop into the affordable used car realm I expect I will be a buyer. Though since I like Green cars I expect I may have to it repainted…. Why have green cars all but vanished?

      Things change as you age. And as we baby boomers age I think all these driver assistance goodies will become must have items for us

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      I’m barely stretching out that average with my DD, a 2002 Sable, though when I say DD I mean 3-4 days a week since I work from home 3 days a week. And I don’t put a lot of miles on when I do drive. The thing is, it still works really well, it has most of the features that I want in a car (multiple airbags including side, ABS, TC, leather), lacking only heated seats and a backup camera. I don’t have to put up with a finicky infotainment system. I could justify replacing it, and I’ve got the income, I just can’t see a good reason to do so.

  • avatar

    My 03 is old, but the latest I see are those mid 90’s hondas. Tinworms have found the 03…we get madly a(salted) every winter.

    I’m in an Emissions Test area, and the check engine light IS the test. Anything that can’t make it goes elsewhere. NYC Metro Area….

    I got two CE lights. One is for a bad emission air pump and one is for shaky cats. I’ve gotten the cat car thru inspection this year (light cycles on and off) but will have to eat an air injection pump on the other car. Both run perfectly, mileage is spot on.

    I always like the car fleet “down Souf”. Lots of interesting US cars you don’t see in the NYMA, in great shape…. You are right that a lack of moonscape roads makes your car life lots easier…..

  • avatar
    mmreeses

    supposedly the average car is 11-ish years old.

    the picture above looks like a well-manicured office car park. drive out for non-white collared class neighborhoods, industrial estates, army bases, rural areas, old people’s homes, etc.

    you’ll definitely see the ‘other half’.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      This. You have to get away from the “new suburban” areas where people focus their car-buying habits more on appearance than practicality.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Average or median?

      It’s not intuitive, but the most popular model year on the road is always the current or previous one, unless you are in a 2009-type sales collapse.

      I’m guessing the stat is “average” rather than “median.” If you have 10 cars that are a year old, and one that’s 30 years old, the average age is 4 years. The median age is 1 year.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      +1. I think what this article really highlights is the difference between owning an older car by choice rather than necessity. I choose to drive a 14 year old car that costs me next to nothing, but only because I know it’s been well maintained and if something major fails, I have the luxury of shrugging off an expensive repair or even outright replacement. Frankly, if I were living on a lot tighter budget and my income was much more dependent on transportation, I’d probably choose to have the higher, regular monthly expense of a new car payment and the piece of mind of a warrantee.

    • 0 avatar
      7402

      Definitely need to get into the neighborhoods where the other half lives. Follow the guy home who does the weeding for the landscaping in that parking lot. A brief walk around that neighborhood will reveal lots of 20-year-old Hondas and Toyotas.

      • 0 avatar
        sproc

        Even more telling: Go past the Auto Zone parking lot in a so-so part of town on a Sunday morning like I did yesterday and look at all the cars being worked on real-time.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          When I was swapping axles on a friend’s 92 Accord, the hub nuts proved quite stuck, after I broke my 1/2 inch breaker bar we went looking for a shop to zip the nuts off with an impact driver. All of the main line shops refused, citing liability. A shop in a seedier part of town literally called “Poor Man’s Towing and Repair” took no issue and for a fiver they got them off for us. Another time, that same car had the rear window smashed by vandals; going through the official channels would have cost an eye watering $1200 (I guess the coupe rear glass is ‘rare’). Similar outcome where my friend went down to the pick and pull yard and cut the right piece out using a piece of wire, then took it to a shop in the ghetto that did a very good job of gluing it in for a mere $75. Now that’s service with a smile!

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      [Deleted, posted to wrong thread]

  • avatar
    sirwired

    I keep reading about how both the median and average age of a registered vehicle in the US is ~11-ish years. Where ARE all these older cars? (I don’t see them around town either) But they clearly exist. I expect a lot of it comes from improved paint and rust-resistance. An older car used to stick out like a proverbial sore thumb, with rampant rust and peeling paint. I know my 11-yr-old car (a Passat Wagon) has not a speck of rust or paint issues (even with indifferent care). If you didn’t know it was a car they stopped making a decade ago, you could easily think it was much newer than it is, judging by the visual standards of the past.

    In any case, I’m not yet too worried about the long-term loans. I think they are a bad deal for consumers, but they are not particularly risky…

    On another note, automakers wouldn’t have such problems with the reliability of new technologies if they didn’t also suffer from the compulsion to increase power at the same time they are increasing mileage. We wouldn’t have any problem at all reliably meeting the government mandates of today if we used the standards for power 10-15 years ago. This compulsion supplemented by pressure from reviews; economy cars are frequently deemed to be “dangerous” in highway merging, despite the fact they might turn in numbers that would have made a BMW from days of yore be envious.

    • 0 avatar
      S1L1SC

      Check any Walmart parking lot, and you will find a good selection of the older model cars…

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      There’s a good chance they just aren’t were you live/drive. Demographics of geographics play a huge role in what you see out on the road.

      • 0 avatar

        What he said. When we do family cross country trips we can count the fancy cars on one hand per day.
        Back home youd think Tesla was a common car.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Exactly this. Here in Portland Maine you see mostly newer cars, with a HUGE percentage of Europeans. Get out into rural Maine and it is all much, much older. That is where you see the old patched up domestics running around. Even there though, 10-15 years is where the cheaper cars drop like flies. Rust, mechanical issues, CELs. They flunk the annual safety inspection at that age and they are on a one-way trip to the scrapper.

        Out west is where I really see all the old cars. No rust, and not as much sun damage as down south.

        Personally, I am perfectly happy with old or new. Currently I have from ’74 to (soon to be) ’16 in my little fleet. I happily drove older cars until I could comfortably afford new ones. New is more expensive, but less hassle. Up here in rust country a 15yo Honda is not quite the same proposition as one down in Georgia.

        • 0 avatar
          Luke42

          In the Midwestern college town where I live, our pair of 2004 Toyota vehicles blends right in. They’re also solid maintainable vehicles with good fundamentals and a lot of life left in them.

          In the part of Silicon Valley where my employer’s head office is, those vehicles would be “beaters” driven by “the help”. Their weathered appearance would really stend out, too, since California doesn’t really have weather, due to their lack of winter and tornados. I see old/interesting vehicles there too, but it’s because many people can drive whatever they want – and some people just want a Bronco, a Ranger, or an old Porsche.

          About the only thing I’m likely to upgrade those cars for is new technology. That means either plugin versions of the same class of car, or safety equipment that my wife deems mandatory.

          The older cars are out here in flyover country, where appearances are less important and local inflation doesn’t distort the universe to the point where people with six figure incomes are living in apartments (because they can’t afford a house) and driving midrange luxury cars (which they can afford). I’ll take my 10-hour commute so that my kids can see the sun and live near a park.

      • 0 avatar
        zbnutcase

        Yup I see poor people driving expensive cars while on welfare/food stamps and I see the Millionaire Next Door types driving a 20 year old Ford. Who is the sharper owner? The Ford I drive is a 1983 Ranger 4×4 pickup. Long bed, dual fuel tanks. I swapped a mildly built 302/5.0 and C4 trans in it in the VERY early 1990’s. Currie built 9″ rear axle with Explorer disc brakes. Great truck. Just replaced my front brake pads today. A whopping $44 for top shelf Wagner ceramic pads.

        • 0 avatar
          zbnutcase

          And I am talking little Ranger, complete with Borg-Warner 13-50 transfer case, and Dana 28 Twin Traction Beam front axle.And neither one has been issue with my built, early 351W headed (DO0E castings)302.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I dunno, ’90s cars are common enough around here that they’re completely unremarkable. ’80s and earlier are generally uncommon, but not unheard of.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      On Saturday I saw a early 70s Dart on one of the side streets in my ‘hood, in very rough daily driver shape. Last Friday it was a battered beige 81-ish Fairmont cruising down the freeway without a care in the world. Neighbor kitty corner from my house has an 80s Parisienne in the drive, although I can’t say I’ve ever seen it move. The most common form of old car around these parts are ‘donked’ late 60s to mid 70s GM sedans. As much as I cringe at the sight of those absurd lift kits and poor quality wheels (sold via a rent to own scheme by a joint called “Rimtyme”), it’s awesome to see old cars being driven out and about, and not just to shows.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        There’s still a Volvo 240 being driven around my neighborhood.

        It looks like an old couple is using it to commute back and forth to the doctor’s office. I imagine they’ve owned the car for some time. The 80+ year old seems comfortable driving it in a way that suggests she’s been driving THAT car for decades.

  • avatar
    Waftable Torque aka Daniel Ho

    My wife is driving our indestructible 98 Camry LE. It needs nothing outside of regular maintenance, and I still consider it a competent ride by today’s standards. When I’m reading those TTAC columns debating whether to trade in their 2010+ car before it self-destructs, I always want to log in and say they bought the wrong car to begin with.

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      I think you have learned what I learned late in life. Reliability and durability are both spelled “Toyota”, at least they were during the 90s. My 95 4Runner has over 200k and I had no odometer for almost a year.

      I always need a strong car and an economical car. The economical car is now a 2013 cube. I have a lot of confidence in it but that is perhaps undeserved. The CVT transmission might well mean it will be replaced by a Toyota before I would choose. I certainly have no intention of buying new again.

      Sometimes I wish I had just kept my 57 chev in service. It wouldn’t compete with a modern car but it was paid for 40 years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      Even without stellar reliability ratings, a little care goes a long way.

      I bought a used Cavalier in the mid 00’s, knowing full well that Consumer Reports had ranked it “Average” to “Below Average” reliability (but also being thrilled at being able to buy a 3-year-old, 60,000 mile car with ABS brakes for the $5000 cash I had on hand).

      I’ve had to repaint it (after a decade+ parked outdoors in full sun), replace a front hub/bearing assembly, swap a fuel pump, change the reverse light switch twice and the intake air temp sensor 4 times.

      Most of those repairs were done for less than the budget of a night on the town. The handful of expensive items (fuel pump, hub, paint) went on credit cards, paid off over a couple months with payments much lower than those for a new car.

      On the other hand…
      My father-in-law decided to trade in his Honda Element, barely over 100k miles, for a new VW Beetle with a 5-year loan. The Honda had a single dealership service visit that cost $2000; that was enough to convince him that the “old” car was “too expensive to keep.”

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Reliability doesn’t have to say Toyota on the grille. We have a ’99 CR-V we bought new way back when approaching 290K miles, original clutch, suspension, etc. Did some little things myself – radiator, AWD driveshaft U-joints, timing belt, V-belts, brakes. That’s about it.

      Our other car is a ’99 Chevy Malibu 3.1L. Bought it from a friend for ~$1500 and they owned it since new with few problems – about like my Honda but with 140K miles currently. My to-do list was about $250 long. Little stuff. Fluid changes, tie rod end, etc. Have been driving it daily for a couple of months. One problem – a/c went out. Turns out that it is known problem with the controls inside the car. Fixed it last night in 25 mins with a paper towel, rubbing alcohol, and eraser.

      I’m not sure I see the point of a car loan for a $35K commuter/kiddo hauler vehicle when a $1500 vehicle gets the job done and is comfortable and reliable.

      Am considering a ~$25K newer car in a few years but I’ll pay cash for it and it’ll last us another 15 years minimum. Most of my commuter miles will be done in one of our old cars saving the newer car for out of town trips. That newer car will be purchased for comfort, safety and a touch of lux. At my age (40s) I want something that is quiet and smooth for a trip ‘cross country on short notice.

  • avatar

    Anyone live in the Greater Tampa area? Cruise up to West Pasco where the 90s are alive and kicking – Luminas, Monte Carlos, Rodeos, box Dakotas, Aerostars, Windstars, aero Camries, XJ Cherokees, oh my!

    • 0 avatar
      e30gator

      I see lots down here in Sarasota too. Very often the blue hair set fork over their keys to the kids or pass away, leaving their old garage-kept condomobiles behind. Sad, but a true buffet of 80’s-90’s stuff indeed.

      A few years back a family member scored a near-mint ’91 Ford Tempo LX with 8500mi on the clock. That’s not a typo.

      Now, if I could procure a decent old Commanche 4×4, I’d be on cloud nine.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Steve, you’re a cranky old man. What pushed you to write this post? Are the kids cutting through your yard again?

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Forget a yard. I’m replacing my lawn with gravel and a smoke pit. Now get off my lawn!

      • 0 avatar
        RideHeight

        Yes! Clean, sparkly gravel! Rake it once in a while, like some Japanese monk. Wear them little jika tabi with the separate big toe. Cool.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          I’ve always wanted an Astroturf lawn. Just vacuum it once in a while.

          After a childhood of forced slave yard labor, I really, truly loath anything to do with gardening or lawncare. I just hire it done now.

          • 0 avatar
            S1L1SC

            @krhodes1 Check out Robomow – electronic lawn mower, similar to roomba – I really, really want one of these…

          • 0 avatar
            redav

            I saw one of those roomba mowers at a home show–I too want one because Astroturf (my first choice) is too expensive.

          • 0 avatar
            Luke42

            @krhodes:

            I actually see AstroTurf lawns in Palo Alto. The area is dry enough then you have to water your lawn, and they have a drought on. So AstroTurf is one way to preserve the fantasy that they live in a suburb in anywhere USA, while cutting their house’s water usage in half.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    Come on out to any Midwestern college parking lot. W-bodies, N-bodies, C/H-bodies and Taurus/Sables of any year, all the way back to their respective ’80s introductions. Toyota/Honda/Nissans? Sorry, most of them are still too pricey on the used market for someone who was just a high-schooler last year. Head on over to the tech schools and you’ll find no pickup truck with less than a 2″ lift.

  • avatar

    I see lots of your generation of Accord in the Boston area. Although it may be partly because I loved my ’99 Accord (5-speed stick). It did begin to have frequent repairs towards the end of its life, though.

    I think most people have trouble dealing with numbers–the payments vs the likely repair costs. A lot of people don’t have any spare cash, which means that even if they get a used car, they still have to get a loan. (I”ve bought three used cars and one new car, and I’ve never had a car loan.)

    No dipstick???

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Friend of mine has a lovely, jacked-up ’04 Ranger with a Glock sticker on the back window and “American By Birth, Southern By The Grace Of God” front plate. He’s lived up here for over 20 years but still looks and sounds like Shelby Foote.

    Nearly every working day I microscopically inspect that truck’s rockers, wheel wells and tailgate for the first signs of worm, but so far nothing. Maybe there *is* some divine protection going on o_O

    ‘Cause ’round these parts it’s salt exposure that determines how long you keep a ride.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Steve, love your writing and and delighted that you are back with TTAC.

    I know the long term loans get a lot of press, but I left the F&I office in 2001 after a four year stint with three different stores and we were papering deals then at 84 months with the occasional 96 thrown in for good measure. The 96 is just plain stupid, but everyone that I did the customer clearly knew what was going on and in all cases demanded it as it was the only way they would take delivery.

    I think the cars of today will have generally the same life cycle of the cars from the early 00’s. As much as the manufacturers would like to have a planned obsolescence similar to yesteryear the acquisition cost today is just too high.

    Oh, and Gtkenmny pointed out, feel free to some to CO and you can see all the late 90’s through early 00’s BOF SUVs and pickups you can handle; foreign domestic makes no difference. Pontiacs are a bit of rare breed though…

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      I still see quite a few when I’m in the country. However it seems like there’s almost a law against old daily drivers once you get into the heart of downtown Atlanta.

      • 0 avatar
        Patrickj

        In big cities and close-in suburbs, the economics of fix vs. replace are far more towards replace than in exurbs and rural areas.

        Capable mechanics don’t want to be in urban areas, overhead is far higher, and many urban types are proud of spending more rather than less. I’ve gotten two extra years out of a car I was about to dump since I found a mechanic in the semi-rural area I work in.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I feel your pain. I just sold my ’01 Z3, with 78000 miles, not because there was any problem with it (there wasn’t)but because I just didn’t have any more use for it. Sure, there are cars with exotic fuel-saving technologies that get 3-7 more highway mpg than my car (26-27) but the marginal return in dollars saved in going from 27 – 34 mpg is trivial. I felt that my car had all the “good stuff” in terms of electronics (EFI, DSC) and safety (air bags, ABS) and that additional whiz-bang added since then increased the risk and cost of failure without giving much additional benefit (do I really need a device that chimes when I run over the white line without signaling?).

    The cost of all this sophisticated stuff is not just in the initial purchase price, it’s repair costs too. I’m sure you’ve heard indy mechanics, even those who specialize in a single make (e.g BMW), complain about all the proprietary software and equipment required to properly service these cars. As a minimum, that drives up their costs; as a maximum, it becomes a barrier to entry to their even getting in the business to compete with the dealerships. These days, you can’t even just pop in a replacement car battery when the old one fails. In fact, on my new GMC truck, you can’t even rotate the tires without having a special tool to tell the TPMS that the tires/wheels are in new locations on the car!

    Of course the people who really pay for this are the folks down on the lower end of the automotive food chain who have to buy a 4-5 year old car because they can’t qualify for the 7-year credit deals on new vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      There are usually ways around the “new tech” by the time it becomes “old tech”. Cars like my Malibu are featured in You Tube videos showing how to disable the anti-theft system, fix the a/c for free, do all the maintenance right for cost of materials, etc.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    “there is a lot of smoke and mirrors done by automakers under the guise of technology.”

    Thank you, so many fall for this “new=better” it’s ridiculous, the automakers have done a great job convincing people that a vehicle is an accessory that must be replaced to be in style in the same fashion the phone industry has done for cell phones. Half the B&B truly believe that infotainment is needed for a new car to be sold, or that it must ride like a cloud to not be a WMD.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    ’02 Civic coupe in the NY metropolitan area. Stick, no ABS, wind up windows and key locks. I ‘win.’

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    There are still slews of 90’s GM and Fords and Chryslers where I live in Upstate, NY. See them each and every day. Especially common- 93-96 A-body Olds Ciera’s and Buick Century’s ( my friend owns 3 in one family) Loads of W-body cars such as the 1997-2003 Grand Prix’s, 1998-2002 Olds Intrigues, 1995-2000 Chevy Lumina/Monte Carlo and Buick Regal/Century sedans of 1997-2005 vintage. And lets not forget the full size LeSabres/Park Aves, Pontiac Bonnevilles, Cadillac Devilles and Olds Aurora’s. Also in great abundance are 98-2005 Panthers, 00-05 Impalas, early 2000’s Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Stratus sedans. 90’s Accords, Camry’s, Corollas and Civics are much fewer and far between and when you see a Tacoma or older Honda van or Mitsubishi product they are usually loaded with sever cancer and rust holes and basically barely fit for the road as they don’t fail an inspection due to rust holes as they do in Southern states like PA.

    Me and my long time best friend drive 1996 Caprice Classics as daily Summer drivers and his has over 180K miles! My dad had a 1999 Lumina LS up until a year ago with over 200K as there daily second car and sold it because rust was starting to get bad on the rear quarters but it otherwise still ran perfect and our next door neighbors still run a 1998 Mercury Grand Marquis as there daily driver with 84K miles.

    You can keep most any of these cars going for years and years if you keep them washed and fully serviced and it’s pretty common to see 200-300K W/K/c body cars and Panthers etc going through our used
    dealership.

  • avatar
    STS_Endeavour

    I keep a ’99 TC Cartier on semi-active duty on Maui. A fine performer to this day.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I stand up and applaud this article.

  • avatar
    DougD

    In our double professional income family the commuter hack is a 2001 Focus. Being an engineer helps but I do enough DIY to try and keep small problems from becoming big. I enjoy this, and it saves a ton of cash but if you can’t do it, or don’t enjoy it then you would just make yourself miserable AND have an unreliable car.

    At work we used to have an unofficial competition to have the worst car, these days there are few competitors, there are lots of newish German cars in the lot.

    All the younger folks I work with have nice new cars and complain about the payment. You can take it to the bank or to the mechanic, but if you take it to the bank at least you won’t miss a day of work.

  • avatar
    ezeolla

    Other than one guy who DD’s a YJ Wrangler, my cars are consistently the oldest in my work parking lot, and they aren’t even that old (’05 Wranger and ’06 Pontiac G6)

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    Mr. Lang, I see you didn’t look close enough, or that the parking lot changed. There is a white 1994-2001 Dodge Ram pickup in the center of the left row.

    • 0 avatar
      Balto

      Was going to say the same thing, that Ram looks older than ’01 to me.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        I took the pic after the long walk around the parking lot. Great catch. The vacation spot had one broken elevator so it ended up taking forever and a day for the working one to get to the bottom floor.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I can tell that Ram has the outline letters rather than the actual 1500 plastic badge, which tells me it’s a “Sport” model. Now what all that meant I’m not sure. But I have seen some Sports with the V10 as well.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    “However, the interesting part in most areas of our country is you can drive a 17-year-old Camry or Accord brand new from the late Clinton Era to the present day and not really feel like you missed all that much.”

    I thought I was the only older person who thought that. Replaced the AM/FM/Cassette with a radio that has a USB port so I can play music off of my iPhone, and added an inverter so I could run the computer off the cigarette lighter when I needed to, and I was set.

    Also still see lots of older cars in the DFW area — 90s Camerys, jellybean Taurii and F-150s, just to name a few. I think emissions testing is making everything from the early 90s harder to find, as they fail emissions testing; and owners elect to scrap them rather than repair them.

    My indy mechanic shares the block with one of the few inspection stations that can emissions test pre-OBDC-2 cars. The past couple of years, I have had to take it to him to do his “magic” first; he would then drive it around the block and they would pass it. His reciept indicates he always just tunes it and maybe replaces a couple of parts.

    Anyway my old car shock of the day came when I was driving to a friends house in a more rural part of the area I live in. I passed up their street, and pulled into a driveway to turn around. There in the yard under an awing was … a Ford Maverick; looking to be in perfect stock condition, hubcaps and all. I could NOT believe it.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “I think emissions testing is making everything from the early 90s harder to find, as they fail emissions testing; and owners elect to scrap them rather than repair them.”

      All by design. The amount of pollutants emitted by car in this condition is statistically insignificant, after a period of time such “testing” need no longer be done as age and attrition will eliminate the rest over time pass or fail. Oh but then certain fiefdoms wouldn’t be getting their back door tax revenue and other elitists would be upset for the lack of Earth worship. Oh and who are driving these old lumps? Frequently, poor people. Amazing how much poor people are truly hated and corralled in this nation. Don’t get me wrong I am not a fan myself, but what it really comes down too is do we pen the poor into ghettos or other low income areas or do we set things up so they are not constantly being challenged and could in theory break poverty in some cases? The welfare system along with everything else is designed to keep the poor in check with productive society’s tax and bond dollars. This example is no different, if said vehicle passes a safety check, it should be allowed on public roads.

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t forget mass immigration. The average has been close to 2 million/year from the early ’90s to the 2008 recession. Most are low/no-skilled, competing directly with our most deprived citizens. And for the most part, we don’t enforce immigration laws. Big business Republicans and the Koch Brothers like the cheap labor; the Democratic leadership thinks the immigrants will become Democrats as soon as they get citizenship (which is probably true, since American voters of Hispanic extraction vote Democratic by a comfortable majority). (Obama’s chief Domestic Policy advisor is a former VP of La Raza–google Cecilia Munoz.)

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Such things go much deeper than the false red/blue paradigm.

        • 0 avatar
          KixStart

          28: “Frequently, poor people. Amazing how much poor people are truly hated and corralled in this nation.”

          Then let’s give them better mass transit. Keeping an old car running can be a daunting task (see earlier remark on bank vs mechanic and what causes you to miss work). I have the luxury of being able to take off early to get the car serviced – or do anything else I need, within reason. The hourly don’t have it so good. Reliable bus service will get them where they want to go… if it’s offered.

          Holzman: “Most are low/no-skilled, competing directly with our most deprived citizens.”

          As I write this, I am surrounded by (and supervising some) immigrants from various Asian countries. They are not at all low-skilled (although they are not as high-skilled as I would like). Their advantage? They work cheap and they pipeline a considerable amount of the work off-shore, where it’s done cheaper still.

          Of course, it takes 3X to 4X the hours to get comparable work done and the soft costs are higher but it seems management only has the skill set necessary to evaluate hourly rates.

          Cheap labor is being encouraged to invade all levels of the workforce.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I can’t speak for your location but here there is a reliable authority administrated bus service all over the county and light rail which services south of the city (primarily used by downtown commuters). If this could be done profitably or at least near break even, I wouldn’t have as much as an issue with it. My issue is here and all over the country the public transit systems are a financial failure and are supported by taxpayers in a variety of ways. Another way one could look at public transit by-and-large is it is another method of corralling the poor through what is effectively another transfer payment in public welfare.

          • 0 avatar
            KixStart

            What? You think they’re better off stuck with cars they can’t afford to maintain?

            I’d rather support the working poor with mass transit that works than have them lose their jobs / be unavailable to work and go on some other transfer payment. And that’s the reality, there’s little slack in any of these jobs for people who can’t make it to work reliably.

            28: “I can’t speak for your location but here there is a reliable authority administrated bus service all over the county and light rail which services south of the city (primarily used by downtown commuters).”

            The best service – and the second most heavily subsidized, I expect – is for 9-5 downtown commuters. We have what amount to luxury busses to run to/from selected well-heeled suburbs to the downtowns. I admit, it does have the advantage of reducing rush-hour congestion but it’s still a gift to the gifted.

            Real-world trips outside that can be 2-day affairs. I know for a fact that some of the fast-food workers in this area are walking over 3 miles per day, each way, to work. Not much time left to improve your education – or even care for your children – if you’re walking 2 or 3 hours per day.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “I’d rather support the working poor with mass transit that works than have them lose their jobs / be unavailable to work and go on some other transfer payment”

            I think we went off in a tangent (which is a frequent occurrence for me). The pragmatist in me says which transfer payment is cheaper and of the two just go for it, but I really don’t have an answer to this question. Again I can’t speak for elsewhere but here frequently the “working poor” here are already receiving other forms of transfer payment (WIC, TANF, EBT, and Section 8 are popular) so really we the noble taxpayer support financially failing transit systems which benefit a smaller percentage of actual taxpayers no matter which would be cheaper (while continuing to pay pensions these authorities cannot afford and issue bonds they can not realistically pay back). From the automotive standpoint I have known many an ordinary person driving a 10yo+ car and end up either being swindled by a shop or having to trade/sell their car due to emissions issues not of the self inflicted variety (i.e. tampering). However the original point I stumbled into was how odd I find it we as a society corral the poor into certain areas and sets up artificial barriers to keep these people downtrodden while giving them just enough to survive at the expense of actual working people. Clearly society isn’t being managed very well if this is standard operating procedure.

            I’d have to see some data on train vs bus costs/passenger loads etc but one anecdotal method is how full are the methods of transit? I’ve ridden the local light rail into town on mornings and it is generally packed at least at that time. Buses probably are too I don’t really know for sure because I don’t ride them, but what I do know is outside of peak commuting hours the trains here go down to one ride an hour but the buses keep running at the same fifteen minute intervals. Frequently the buses I drive past (which are not in the downtown area) seem sparsely populated. The cost of the bus per hour obviously increases the fewer passengers serviced so after a certain point unless the commuter traffic fares offset the non peak hours, some (if not many) routes are unprofitable for the day. The logical solution would be to trim unprofitable routes or intervals which every once and awhile the Port Authority will do, and then they come under fire from the SJAs. In short I suppose on the transit issue there are no easy answers. You cut services but you impact people. You increase/keep services but you can’t afford too and thus it becomes a socialized costs on the back of already heavily taxed workers. My thought to these systems is simple: declare public transit authorities bankrupt, form non-profits which *cannot* issue muni bonds (but maybe issue their own), transfer productive assets to the non-profits, re-negotiate all current and pensions and put their responsibility on the non profit at a reasonable haircut OR a slight haircut plus a slice of ownership in the new firm. Essentially take the onus off of the taxpayer, but this is a whole other discussion.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          A certain percentage of these folks will never find traction in life and like here will turn to petty crime to line their pockets.

          Around here if it isn’t welded in place, it’ll disappear. They steal whole air conditioners and catalytic converters. Its pitiful but they don’t have what it takes – either smarts or motivation or ??? – to do anything but the most basic jobs.

          Would rather they be employed than stealing my lawnmower.

          All sorts of things eliminating the basic jobs that teens and forever minimum wage folks used to work. Automation for one. Factories used to employ hundreds and thousands here. Now the same type of operations employ dozens.

          What happens to the economy as we automate more and more and our “shadow economy” of undocumented immigrants continues to grow?

          The educated (college or trade schools) can roll with the punches pretty well. How about the rest?

  • avatar
    v8corvairpickup

    My 1991 Prelude is usually the oldest car in the lot, where ever I go.

  • avatar
    fallous

    Cash for Clunkers eliminated a lot of Clinton-era vehicles from the market, which I suspect is also driving up the used car pricing since there really isn’t a dependable supply of what would normally be the entry-level vehicles on the lot.

    • 0 avatar
      pdieten

      C4C took a lot of trucks. There weren’t that many cars that got such worse mileage than ’09-’10 model cars that were sold new as C4C replacements that they’d qualify. A ’97 Accord or Camry couldn’t be traded in on anything for C4C.

      If C4C hadn’t happened, then today you’d see even higher prices on late model used cars than what we have now, and ghettos full of mid-’90s Explorers with leather seats. I’m not seeing how that’s an improvement.

  • avatar
    Mattias

    My DD is slightly newer than some of the stuff mentioned in the threads (03 E46). However it is common in most parts of the Bay Area to have an older model. Trucks/SUVS/Vans far outnumber cars when it comes to what’s left. A lot of 90s European (Volvo,BMW,some Vdub). A lot of Japanese like Steves accord (lot of Accords, Civics, heck even Galants are still semi-common). Domestic cars not so much, but you can find quite a few in the Mexican quarters like my gardener drives an Aurora among other things. Though the Japanese do beat all other 90s probably 3:1 due to lack of rust in inland California as well as strict California emissions. My M3 is probably a little older than average because I know people with new Golfs/Wranglers yet I also know people with old Benz/Honda

  • avatar
    bryanska

    Just a few weeks ago I spotted a 2002 Caddy STS with 32k miles in Massachusetts. Only $8k for this time machine. Even a $1500 Northstar gasket job would put me at $10k for an otherwise extremely durable, comfortable, competent and fast machine.

    Then I bought a 2013 300 Luxury Series.

    I thought to myself: “I am OK with a ten year old car, but do I really want a ten year old stereo that doesn’t even have an AUX input?” Nobody made a double DIN pocket for that car, just like all the other compelling luxury machines from 10 years ago. You’re stuck with what they made… in 2002.

    At some point ya gotta spend. I sit 2 hours a day in that thing, and I’m gonna treat myself. I need somewhere that I feel comfortable.

    Compared to a house which is always breaking and under repair, I love a nice newer car in good repair. It’s the one thing I’m not constantly fixing. I’d live in a rented townhouse before I gave up my luxury car.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I’m glad your fear of a missing aux jack (which come on every aftermarket radio) kept you from the purchase. I walked away from a gorgeous ’99 Deville D’Elegance/50K for $5K in 2013. Why? Northstar.

    • 0 avatar
      an innocent man

      A friend of mine always says it’s more important to have a nice car than a nice house. Because in an emergency situation, you can always live in your car, but you can’t ever drive a house.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Assuming your friend was describing an economic crisis: just pay off that house so nobody can take it away. If I worried about living in my car I’d ensure I always had a van and a sleeping bag. We do have a ’78 VW Westfalia – and i have thought about having to evacuate the area for some odd reason and spending a month living it plus family and three furry pets.

        Not ideal living quarters long term but it would get the job done.

  • avatar

    I drive a 2003 Toyota Camry. It came with a lifetime warranty and still runs well. No plans to buy a new car anytime soon.
    I’ve seen many Toyota’s from 1997-2006 missing hubcaps – could it be a design defect?

    • 0 avatar
      JLGOLDEN

      Those flimsy plastic “snap on” wheel covers have a terrible retention system, regardless of brand. Toyota still uses the “snap on” design on base Camry, Corolla. I think Honda started the “can’t fall-off, bolt on” design with the 1984 Accord, Prelude, Civic. It’s amazing that safety regulations even allow wheel covers which can fly off over rough roads, becoming a projectile.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        I think the tire shops cringe every time they have to work on the Taurus; rather than just pop the hub cap off, you have to pry the center cap off then unscrew several screws to get the hubcaps off.

      • 0 avatar
        RideHeight

        “wheel covers which can fly off over rough roads, becoming a projectile.”

        Yeah, but pop one off and give it a heft. Frisbees are denser and heavier. Not losing sleep over this one.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      “I’ve seen many Toyota’s from 1997-2006 missing hubcaps – could it be a design defect?”

      I used to deliberately remove hubcaps from old J-cars for that just-off-the-boat Asian Invasion look. ‘Course, the steelies had to be perfect and clean.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Regarding the 7-8 year loan………………..

    There are 2 things that make them kind of make sense. 1, cars just don’t depreciate like they used to. I bought a 93 Accord in 2003 for $2200. That car in the condition it was in would be worth MORE now. A 2005 Accord today probably goes for $7-9K on the used market, despite only costing like $2-4K more new. So after 3-4 or so years on a 84-96 month loan you might legitimately not be upside down. The payments kind of work out almost to a lease payment.

    2, kind of related to the first one, cars have become a lot more robust over the last 25 years. Mechanically, I feel like any well maintained Japanese car can clear 300-400K no problem. This is of course reflected by the rising median car age on the road. Which of course feeds back into the 1st point again- a 10 year old car with 100K today has as much life left in it as a 20 year old car with 50K or something like that. So the utility of a used car is much higher these days.

    C4C didn’t help either. Median car age would prob be like 12-13 if not for that.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    It seems to me that newer cars are found on the coasts, while the poorer Rust Belt areas keep trudging along with GM schlock from the 90s. When I go home to Ohio, it seems 1 out of every 3 cars is a Cobalt or Cavalier in a decaying state of rust, dents, or mismatched body panels.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Clinton Era: Jan 20, 1993 – Jan 20, 2001

    95 Stratus – traded in 02 @ 70k miles (didn’t trust it)
    96 Grand Voyager – traded in 05 (wiring), but regretted doing so
    98 Grand Caravan – traded in 09 (wiring); it was time
    01 Elantra – traded in 14 (rust); it was time

    Since the Clinton era includes cars that are 14 to 22 years old, and the average age of cars on the road today is 11 years, it makes sense that most of these cars are gone – especially in the Rust Belt. And as you say, cheap financing is driving many buyers into newer cars.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    If you want to find cars that are older than the 11 yr average, you turn 90 degrees from the beach road and drive 7 miles inland. There is a 10 mile band where all those cars live (5 miles on each side of the N-S highway), transporting their owners to and fro the service jobs.

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    Mark me as one that recently went from the used car to new car lease and no worries. I wanted to order a car for the first time in my life and have a vehicle with no downtime and large repair bills. My 2005 Carrera S was actually quite reliable but when it did need something it certainly wasn’t inexpensive. Now I hop in my new M3 every morning without a worry, maintenance is done by BMW and if anything does come up it’s under warranty. Plus it’s a far better daily driver as I commute on city streets in LA as the Carrera would wear me down day to day. The most fiscal responsible choice would be to buy a Camry and drive it for 10 years but life is for living and being an avid car nut that would be torture.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    I’m guilty of this. I sold my Clinton-era 1996 Toyota five years ago not because it had any significant failure or was becoming financially untenable. I did it because I had driven it for nearly a decade, the safety advances in the interim were most definitely significant, and because I was flat out bored with the thing and could afford to move on.

    Had the finances been different, I would have exercised better self-discipline and allowed that Toyota to do what it did best: provide transportation miles at nominal cost. I’d rather hit myself in the forehead with a claw hammer than give up a running car for 7 years of payments on a new one.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Rust is a huge factor, especially in the Snowbelt. Lots of them handed down to JR now trolling college campuses too.

    Although, I still see 88-99 GM Trucks probably about as frequently as 2007-2014

  • avatar
    dal20402

    “And that’s where the problem lies for most folks: the little unpredictable things versus the big long-term expense. Unpredictability, for a common machine that has tens of thousands of parts in varying states of wear, is a greater psychological problem for most car owners than having a $500 payment for years on end.”

    This is right. But you don’t really get into the reasons why it makes sense. So many writers who take people to task for spending big on new cars take for granted that they have both 1) the ability and 2) the tools and space to work on cars. If you are missing either of those, an older car is a legitimate nightmare. Every time that two-bit part fails, you’re looking at screwing up a day of work to get to the mechanic and then spending a minimum of a few hundred dollars–that is, a car payment. And as the cars get older, even the best cars, the failures get more frequent.

    First, not everyone should be expected to have the wrenching gene. Car writers often act like any repair that doesn’t involve tearing down an engine or transmission is no big deal. That’s just not true for most people. My father is a brilliant guy who majored in (and then taught) physics and then changed careers into law, where he’s had an extremely successful 40-year career. But asking him to replace an alternator would be like asking him to build a moon rocket. Repair is just not something he’s ever spent brain power on, and in the time it would take for him to figure it out he could make enough in fees at his real job to make a few car payments. There’s just no sense for him in fighting through myriad minor failures rather than having a new, reliable car.

    And even if you’re a reasonably competent DIYer (and I would put myself in that category) you need tools and a place to work. I don’t have either. I live in a place with a small one-car garage with little room for tools and a prohibition against working in the driveway. How am I going to do anything more than the most superficial repairs? It’s not possible. But I want to live where I live for a lot of other reasons, and it’s worth the payment on a newer car, at least for the car that gets driven more than once a week.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      dal, I like your comment.

      I have a mechanic friend who drives a decade old Northstar Caddy because he can fix it for a fraction of the cost and inconvenience of someone like me. He acquired it dirt cheap from the prior owner terrified of the repair bills.

      I’d rather roll lease to lease on a base trim Focus than deal with the cost and hassle of repairing an aging car when I have no wrenching skills and 2 kids which consume all my free time the way an onboard fire sucks all oxygen out of a submarine.

      The real problem comes when you have no money + no time + no wrenching skills.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      You don’t need wrenching skills to drive a well used car. Seems like the latest meme around here is you have to be “privileged” with wrenching skills to own anything out of warranty.

      A AAA membership will tow the car to your mechanic who will fix it up and get it back into service in a reasonable amount of time. Or better yet, schedule maintenance ahead of time and avoid breakdowns. A rental, taxi or second car can serve in the interim. Even considering those expenses, the costs of operating the average 11 year old car won’t exceed the ongoing costs of operating a new one.

      Of course if it’s all used up and the repair bills are exceeding payments on a newer one in perpetuity, it makes sense to trade up.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Privilege!

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        “A AAA membership will tow the car to your mechanic who will fix it up and get it back into service in a reasonable amount of time.”

        And between the cost of the AAA membership and the mechanic you’ve just made a car payment. And even if you have AAA you still have to be there for the tow and then pick up the car from the mechanic during business hours.

        “Or better yet, schedule maintenance ahead of time and avoid breakdowns.”

        The whole problem with older cars is it doesn’t work that way. You can do every single scheduled service and it won’t really help that much, because usually what fails is something that doesn’t appear on the maintenance schedule. Say, an alternator, a power steering pump, or a starter (all three things I replaced on my last well-maintained older car).

        “A rental, taxi or second car can serve in the interim.”

        I did the second car thing for a while. It’s not cheap, between registration, insurance, parking, and repairs on the second car.

        “Even considering those expenses, the costs of operating the average 11 year old car won’t exceed the ongoing costs of operating a new one.”

        This is the exact trap I’m talking about. You’re adding up the amount on receipts and not thinking about inconvenience, unexpected time off work, and anxiety.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          “The whole problem with older cars is it doesn’t work that way. You can do every single scheduled service and it won’t really help that much, because usually what fails is something that doesn’t appear on the maintenance schedule. Say, an alternator, a power steering pump, or a starter (all three things I replaced on my last well-maintained older car).”

          Not to counter your point entirely, in your examples those are hard components to ‘catch’ before failure. But a lot of the breakdowns I see on the road every day are due to abject neglect and never having a competent mechanic look over the car, ever. Blame it on not having any sort of vehicle safety inspections I suppose. But tire blowouts, broken balljoints, worn brake pads grinding on rotors, timing belts about 50k past due, etc etc. could be prevented. Not to mention the sorts of issues where a check engine light is triggered but it is ignored as the car still seems to drive okay, until the condition worsens to the point of total vehicle failure (ie an occasional misfire that hints at a failing injector or plug wire/coil).

          On the other hand, most people driving these worn out cars aren’t really going to prioritize hundreds on preventative maintenance when they’ve got to keep the lights on and kids fed. As such, deferred maintenance catches up sooner or later and turns into a very pricey bill. All of a sudden that new Mitsubishi Galant financed for 96 months is looking pretty good.

          • 0 avatar
            Mandalorian

            Tools, time and expertise keep people from working on their own cars.

            I don’t work on mine for those reasons. I have no automotive tools, I would be spending thousands of dollars to acquire a good set and that buys quite a bit of service at the dealer. Likewise even if I did have the right tools, I really don’t have the time and I suspect that most people who work full time don’t.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            No one needs a full set of Snap-On stuff to be able to work on their car decently. My current set that travels in my 4Runner is a hodge podge, but centers around a $40 socket set from Lowes, and is complemented by a set of open ended wrenches from the same source. A good combination mini Allen-rachet+screwdriver set, a set of impact sockets, vise grips, a breaker bar, big adjustable wrench and a hammer. Oh and a grease gun and brake bleeding kit and multimeter. All in, I’m in it maybe $300. I also bought jack stands and a good hydraulic low profile jack from good old harbor Freight, another $150 or so there for 4 stands and the jack.

            I’d say the knowledge and willingness (and time) are much bigger factors than any sort of financial impediment to get into DIY car repairs.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            You can do a few things with the tools you listed, but there are also a lot of things you can’t do. Good luck with suspension or A/C work, and you’re a braver man than me if you’ll touch the fuel system.

            There’s also a matter of space. My garage is narrow enough that jacking a car in it would be essentially impossible.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            What about the fuel system? Are you talking about diagnostics? Nothing that fancy or special about injectors and rail, a fuel pump, fuel pressure regulator, etc. Air conditioning, well if it’s more than a topping off then yeah, you need a special machine for that which only a shop will pony up for. Suspension wise, the only thing I’m lacking is a spring compressor (autozone and advance rents them), but to just take out preloaded struts I don’t need that. In my rented single car garage, I’ve completely redone the brakes on my 4Runner (Tundra calipers, rotors, pads up front, rear shoes and drums), replaced the rear tailpipe and the rear driveshaft. I admit, I farmed out the suspension work to my brother in interests of my own sanity. I’ve also replaced the axles on my friend’s old Accord, have done a touch of easy body work on one of our interns’ RSX (heated and pulled a bumper cover). Not to mention a load of oil changes, and even some undercoating.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            It’s not that the fuel system is complicated. It’s that whole “get it wrong and you blow up your condo complex” part.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            “It’s that whole “get it wrong and you blow up your condo complex” part.”

            Have you worked much on cars? I worry a lot more about dropping something heavy or getting something in my eyes (namely pressurized gas or brake fluid) than I do about a combustion event from some spilled gas. I’ve owned enough old motorcycles whose carbs have spilled raw gas onto hot motors to realize that it isn’t quite like the movies.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            I’ve never worked on a fuel component, because it scares me. I’ve seen enough gasoline-fueled conflagrations to know that, while it won’t explode like in the movies, it will burn quite nicely and very quickly with only a minor spark as provocation.

            At least if I drop something heavy (or slice my thumb in two lengthwise, as I did in my foolish youth while trying to modify some trim) I only hurt myself.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            “Tools, time and expertise keep people from working on their own cars. I don’t work on mine for those reasons. I have no automotive tools, I would be spending thousands of dollars to acquire a good set and that buys quite a bit of service at the dealer. Likewise even if I did have the right tools, I really don’t have the time and I suspect that most people who work full time don’t.”

            You buy a basic set of quality tools some place like Sears. ~$250 for a set. Then you add to it as necessary. I spend less than $100 per year for new tools and I have a whole garage set up for ground up full restorations.

            The expertise you acquire a little a time as well. With YouTube and the Internet somebody has already fixed a car just like your’s and documented the process.

            If you work on fuel systems you move the car away from the building in case of a fire, have a fire extinguisher ready. Disconnect the battery. Car fires are not that big of a danger.

            If you want to learn how to work on cars then start watching You Tube, do some reading, and you could make friends with some DIY gearheads. Watch and learn. Hand them wrenches and screwdrivers.

        • 0 avatar
          S1L1SC

          You can suspend insurance on the second car while you are not using it – I can afford the extra $50-100 in registration+taxes each year.
          That way I only pay insurance on one vehicle most of the time.

        • 0 avatar
          joeaverage

          There you said it – parking, registration, etc.

          Those of us with a driveway and a garage in a flyover state can afford to put that second car away until we need it. I can even take all the insurance off if I want to put it away for an extended period.

          There is no way in the world that I would live in the city (street parking) or work a job where I had to pay daily for parking. I think the perks of living in those places would be nice but not nice enough to put up with the hassle factor.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Well said Danio.

        There is no reason for a 15yo car to be unreliable. Fix the crap that breaks BEFORE it breaks. That was how I got darned near perfect service out of a whole bunch of cars that people around here would dismiss as “unreliable” and never drive. Spend the money up front, and it pays back in lack of surprises over time. And still WAY cheaper than buying a new car, even if you have to pay someone else to do the work.

        @DAL20402

        You replace that stuff before it fails. If you have a car with 150K on the alternator, fuel pump, and ps pump etc, they are all on borrowed time. 15 minutes on the various make-specific forums will give you an idea of what fails when. Replace them on YOUR schedule. Then you will have very long periods with no expenses at all. Even brand new cars break down and have to be towed. If you can’t deal with this, then you are going to just have to suck it up and buy/lease a new car and make the payment a budget item. It WILL cost more that way, but if you need predictable so be it.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          krhodes, that assumes you can even find OEM-quality replacement parts. My first car was stuck in a cycle of alternator replacements because all that was available was crappy remans. And I’m really not convinced that preemptive replacement of all that stuff by a professional shop is cheaper than a good deal on a new car. I mean, you’re looking at replacements of every engine accessory, a big chunk of the suspension system, and if you really want to do everything that fails a bunch of electric and interior components as well.

          • 0 avatar
            danio3834

            For most people in this category it comes down to dollars and cents. If an 11 year old average mainstream car is costing someone more than 3500-4k a year in repair costs, they should probably replace it because they can get a more reliable car for a $300 monthly note. However, most cars in that bracket easily get away with less than half that investment, even factoring in those less-quantifiable costs like emotional distress.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            Wow! The cloistered world of car enthusiasts! Do you really think the average off-warranty car owner in this country is remotely capable of the sort of knowledge-guided, predictive maintenance that’s recommended here?

            I know people with masters degrees and PhDs, comfortably successful in their chosen fields, who are unaware of whether they have an I-4, V-6 or honey badgers under the hood of the cars they just bought. Ditto for FWD/RWD/AWD.

            These are real examples. It’s a favorite party pastime of mine.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            @Rideheight

            Those people are in the same situation I am in now. They can very comfortably afford to just buy new cars. 20 years ago I had champagne tastes on a tapwater budget, I could not afford beer! So since I wanted to drive nice cars (being a silly car nut), the only way to afford them was to buy well-used and DIY as much as possible. I guarantee you that you can run a 10yo Saab (or 15yo BMW or Mercedes) cheaper than a new leased Corolla, if you put some effort into it. And have a much nicer car in the process. A reliable hair shirt is still a hair shirt.

            Even those stupid cheap VW leases come out to over $1200/year just for the lease, and you still have to pay sales tax, excise tax, and full insurance on a brand new car to drive one. The savings in those three items above in my state will pay for a decent second beater car. Really, the ultimate secret to driving old cheap cars is having a spare. Heck, I’d want a spare even with new cars if you are buying below the level where you get a shiny new loaner when your car is in for service.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            @krhodes1
            Yes, you’re the boot-strapping, self-motivated exception to the rule. And there are still smart & unstoppable kids out there. I know a few.

            But their number dwindles by the moment because of the perfect storm that combines growing technical illiteracy with fatherless households, general American loss of can-do inquisitiveness and the relentless barrage of increased complexity in modern cars as well as every other technical necessity.

            Clarke’s advanced-tech-equals-magic phenomenon is in play with a vengeance here. Those who can afford blissful ignorance are fine and the service industries love them. But those who can’t have even less of a fighting chance to eke-out a little autonomy.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Meh, whatever. There are plenty of bright young kids in all the car forums I frequent. It certainly is MUCH easier to learn today if you have any interest. All I had where Haynes manuals and a mailing list if I was lucky, now you can find YouTube videos to do everything under the sun. So much information out there, and the young’uns are WAY better than us older folk at finding it.

            Ultimately, if you are not interested in cars other than as a means of getting from point A to point B as cheaply as possible without having to think about it there are plenty of reasonably priced dull as dishwater options out there.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            OK, but I still think your professional and social milieu make car guys over estimate and expect too much of the buyers who think gassing-up = maintenance.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            @Rideheight

            Why not take a step off the ivory tower and visit the pick and pull this weekend? Plenty of young kids scrounging around for parts and wrenching on their old beaters. Or heck take a drive through any working class neighborhood on the weekend, plenty of hoods up and diy going on.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            How ’bout I just concede the point without having to visit Tatt Town?

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            “krhodes, that assumes you can even find OEM-quality replacement parts. My first car was stuck in a cycle of alternator replacements because all that was available was crappy remans.”

            Sinc you live in a big city -look in the phone book and find a shop that does rebuilds for walk in customers. They’ll get it right. FWIW I worked for a franchise auto parts store that sold lousy remans cheap. Some were dead out of the box, most came abck within a year. We did sell name brand new alternators and rebuilds that lasted but it was $125 vs $25.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            @danio3834 – “For most people in this category it comes down to dollars and cents. If an 11 year old average mainstream car is costing someone more than 3500-4k a year in repair costs, they should probably replace it because they can get a more reliable car for a $300 monthly note. However, most cars in that bracket easily get away with less than half that investment, even factoring in those less-quantifiable costs like emotional distress.”

            $4K in repair costs annually??? I haven’t spent that much in repairs driving my CR-V from 0-290K miles since 1999!!!! Learn to swap out some parts yourself. My Chevy hasn’t cost that much to keep in repair since new either (since 1999). I know the previous owner. I know what they did with this car.

            @RideHeight – “Do you really think the average off-warranty car owner in this country is remotely capable of the sort of knowledge-guided, predictive maintenance that’s recommended here?

            I know people with masters degrees and PhDs, comfortably successful in their chosen fields, who are unaware of whether they have an I-4, V-6 or honey badgers under the hood of the cars they just bought. Ditto for FWD/RWD/AWD.”

            So they don’t know anything. If they are successful people then they can study and learn just like I did as a teenager. I’m a well paid engineer. Nothing in school ever taught me much about working on machines. I did that reading car books back before the internet as well know it existed. I asked my elders questions, read a few magazines, and sat back/drank a beer and pondered the riddle that my car was presenting. I almost always pieced together the problem with a minimum of fuss and confusion or cost.

  • avatar
    George B

    Steve, I still see lots of cars from the 2nd term of the Clinton era here in the Dallas area, but noticeably fewer from the 1st term. 1998-2002 Honda Accords are very common though few look as nice as yours. Pickup trucks from the 90s are also very common. What has disappeared are the extremely rounded cars like the 1996-1999 Ford Taurus and all those teal colored cars.

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      Back when I got the Taurus running again after Mom and Dad passed away in 2011; I used to really keep track of the Taurii I saw on the road. About 2/3 were the 2000-2007 models, with the remaining third split between the 96-99 and more recent models. I would see an occasional 91-94 Taurus, and I can count on one hand, maybe two the number of first generation Taurus I have seen.

      Recently (again in the DFW area); I don’t see quite as many of the 96-99s as I used to; I think in part due to them failing emissions testing and the owner deciding to sell off or junk them rather than fix them.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Looking at it another way, as pointed out, the Clinton era ended 14 years ago. Even if you had taken out an 84 month loan on a car in January 2001, it’d have spent more than half its life paid off at this point. Also, at an averageish 12,500 miles per year, it’d be at 175k. More life can be eeked out of it, but I don’t think we’re exactly talking massive , irresponsible waste if someone decided a 14-year old car approaching 200k was getting close to the end of its dependable life.

    But I also live in the rust belt, so anything with a clean body at the 10 year mark is doing pretty good.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      I’d be careful about what you buy and the price you pay for it, though. I can’t help but think that over an 84 month loan some cars would be depreciating faster than they are being paid down, especially during the first few years (although I haven’t built my spreadsheet to see if this is true). That could be a problem for some if they have to get rid of the car and find it’s worth less than they owe.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I’m absolutely certain that an 84-month loan for typical amounts. would leave most buyers underwater.

        On my last two cars, I’ve taken out 72- and 60-month loans. In both cases, even though the rate was 0%, I made a substantial down payment. I hate the idea of being underwater even if the money is free, and I paid as a down payment what I calculated would be enough to make it almost impossible for me to ever be underwater. That was between 15% and 20% in both cases. It would be more for an 84-month loan.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Same here. I put 15% down (and had a 10% discount on the price of the car) on my last car that I have kept, 60mo loan at .9%, and I still paid it off in less than 4 years. I was never anywhere NEAR upside down on the loan. Even my Fiat Abarth, that I only kept for two years was nowhere near upside down, and a got a decent size check back from CarMax when I sold it to them. Expensive two years for sure, but a ton of fun and worth every penny.

          I will probably do a 72mo (interest is the same as for a 60) loan for my ordered car, but it will still be paid off in less than 4 years. Also 15% down and 12% discount. I will not make payments on a car with no warranty.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        I’m not advocating it as an absolute, just a reminder that it’s a tool that can be used sensibly, if we accept the thesis that even 15 years old, a car should have plenty of life left in it.

        I admittedly am on a 84mo/0% loan – at the time I bought, my job had me driving upwards of 30k kms a year (thankfully, things have changed since then, even if i’d have maybe bought something else knowing my current circumstances). What I could pay cash just wouldn’t get me anything good enough, and the used car I had at the time had just left me stranded one too many times. At the same time, I got one of the smallest, cheapest cars I could find that I wouldn’t want to set on fire after one year, and accept I need to take care of it so it makes it to 10 years old, at a minimum.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          “I got one of the smallest, cheapest cars I could find that I wouldn’t want to set on fire after one year, and accept I need to take care of it so it makes it to 10 years old, at a minimum.”

          Wise. I did the same thing in 2010 and will keep mine until at least 2020 if not later.

  • avatar
    geigs

    My daily driver is a 94 Sedan DeVille with a 4.9 non-Northstar engine. Car is still in great shape and while the suspension needs a little work now, it runs fine. My newest vehicle is a 2005 Odyssey and I also have a 2003 Mountaineer that I replaced the transmission in after it hit 110,000 miles. I would drive any of them across country without hesitation. I believe that if you treat your cars well, they will return the favor. Plus it’s great not having any car payments for the past six years. I even own my Studebaker outright.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      High five on the 4.9 K-body.

      “I believe that if you treat your cars well, they will return the favor;”

      I promise you’d be singing another tune with a similar period Northstar Deville vs your 4.9. Baby it and it will still blow up.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Sometime I’ll own a Sixty-Special with the 4.9. To me, those will always trump K-body Deville, because of the pointy front.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          You and your GM C-body FWD.

          The C sedans were certainly handsome but if I’m going sedan I like the 90s look of the K.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I’m okay with K, as long as it’s revised K, or the K-Ultimate!

            http://www.ebay.com/itm/Cadillac-Fleetwood-4dr-Sdn-/191594944874?forcerrptr=true&hash=item2c9bf2d96a&item=191594944874

            Minus the obvious suspension issue.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            … also minus the obvious Northstar issue that might be worth buying. There must be a way to mount a 3800 in there somehow…

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I figured with those miles it had probably gone bad already and been fixed. Especially if it was old people who’d just throw money at it.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            You do realize though the motor design is flawed and by “fixing it” you merely reset the clock, right?

            I mean for no money wth, but for “money” not a wise move. They’re gonna want *at least* ten grand for this thing because its a one off LWB. Remember the 4100 Allante with the TMU digi dash? There are some sick people out there who collect oddball Cadillacs.

  • avatar
    ajla

    If your lifestyle is best set up to make car payments forever why go with 7+ year financing over a 24-36 month lease?

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    That white 2-door Explorer Sport was only available until 2003. So it’s older than the van.

    And there’s a white RAM truck no newer than 2001 there. So it wins.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Ah the Explorer Sport.

      I knew a bunch of college basketball players that drove the Explorer Sport back in the day. It had acres of legroom. I have no idea why, because the regular Explorer wasn’t the best for space. I definitely cruised around many Big 10 universities, looking for parties during recruiting trips, in Explorer Sports.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I wanted to check the Sport out as the oft-forgot option when buying a 2nd car couple years ago. Even the later 03 ones are all rusted. Also “needs new cats but runs anyway” seemed popular.

        Yeah good idea, run it on ruined cats.

        Family friend has (still) a circa 04 Sport Trak, (something like 165k mi) and that thing is such utter crap. The seat heaters have been stuck on since 2008. Always thought they were ugly as well, save for the very last ones when they got the 2010 face.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Yeah, they gone.

          My best friend had a black one, but his dad always bought the cheapest used cars he could get with the least amount of miles. So many K-cars, LH cars, Explorer Sports, Malibus, and Chrysler minivans. When you have 4 kids that are all within 5 years of each other, you gotta do what you gotta do.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            “you gotta do what you gotta do.”

            “You want a car? Get a job and pay for it.”
            -My Parents

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            4 out of 4 of his kids at least 75% of college paid for by scholarships. My best friend couldn’t have worked because he was playing basketball 6 days a week for almost all of high school. High School ball, AAU, camps, etc. He got to play in the Final Four and all over the world professionally. I’m glad his dad gave him the hooptie LeBaron (with the silver/grey landau roof) and later the Explorer Sport.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        It seemed like Explorer Sports were every 3rd vehicle in the under 30 crowd about 10 years go. They were everywhere. Then in the C4C era, they began to disappear quickly. I didn’t like them as vehicles, but I never had one I couldn’t sell within a week.

        People didn’t care about the bad fuel mileage, lackluster power, little interior space or towing capacity. They wanted them and paid a premium for them over much better vehicles.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    I’ve noticed that used cars seem to have gotten really cheap recently. We just picked up a 2001 Cadillac Deville for $1200. Granted, it has 175k on the clock, but everything works AND it still looks good. What if it blows a headgasket? Throw it away and buy another! And my ’92 Volvo 240 for $600 that I bought for a summer project? Runs like a champ.

    However, as a fellow cash buyer of older used cars, I do fear for my future. I consider myself to be pretty adept at shade tree wrenching, but fear the pickings will be mighty slim in 10 or so years when I’m still looking for stuff that’s DIY-friendly.

    My wife and young family will still get the new(er) stuff, but I’ll always love my beaters-if I can find’em.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      That’s a nice buy on the Volvo, and you’re right if you get 10K out of the Deville, WTH not a bad buy for 12 bucks.

      In the future btw, you’ll have G-body and W-body 3800s, as well as G-body Devilles with the supposedly fixed [again] Northstar for MY06+.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Don’t fear – DIY is alive and well, just some of the tools have changed. You need a laptop, software, and the right cable. I’d rather mess with software than turn a greasy wrench any day, but I am in IT so may be a tad biased.

      There is the issue of some makers locking things down more than others. For example, Volvo (and Saab) has security access requirements that are fairly onerous. But BMW has everything pretty open, as does VW/Audi and MB. I have no idea what the domestics and Asians are doing in this area, not owning any of their cars.

  • avatar
    sat7

    There is considerable pressure to move the automotive consumer out of long term ownership and into freshly financed, high cost automobile loans, High cost of insurance, high yearly DMV fees, for latest model automobiles based on a spiel of clean air standards, enhanced fuel economy and savings that… never materialize. Looking at the data, well maintained 20 year old vehicles are just as efficient and far far more cost effective to the responsible end user. Junking any automobile is a very pollution intensive practice compared to proper, timely, regular maintenance. Read between the lines… .

  • avatar
    threeer

    My son just got promoted to 1LT and STILL drives the 1997 Toyota Tercel he got from me just before his senior year in high school. With 210k+ on the odometer, he has zero desire to rid himself of the thing. While it chews through exterior door handles at an alarming frequency, those are under $10 fixes once a year or so. Meanwhile, it exhibits no leaks, is on the original clutch and has an interior that is holding up better than many, many newer cars on the road. But then, my boy defines the word “cheap” and plans on holding onto his little runabout until he makes Captain. I guess there is something to be said for 97hp, manual transmissions and virtually no electronic add-ons that can fail!

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Nice post.

    • 0 avatar
      anomaly149

      Take a close look at the doors and handle chassis if it’s chewing through outside handles. You don’t want a door flying open in a side impact. And make sure you’re buying real handles, not aftermarket crap. Outside handles are carefully balanced against the counterweight inside the handle chassis to make sure the thing doesn’t fly open in side accelerations.

    • 0 avatar
      VolandoBajo

      Intent to “sabotage” DIY in favor of forcing people to the dealer for, as an example, a battery change, does not require careful and expensive engineering. All it requires is a lack of careful and expensive engineering.

      Cram things into the engine compartment, place routinely replaced items in out of the way places, or so that they require Herculean efforts for an otherwise simple task, accomplish this without much forethought or engineering. The double digit flatrate hours to change an A/C belt in the old Type 4 VW’s being one of the most egregious examples, but it’s far from being an isolated incident.

      The Subaru Turbo-XT, a fun and sporty car to drive, had a piece of rubber hose under the intake manifold, which carried coolant and which should have been metal, hence not an item needing replacement.

      I could do any repair on any of my old school, pre 1970 VW Beetles, up to and including an engine swap. (All you needed was a 17mm box wrench, a floor jack and some jackstands, IIRC.) And yes, I realize most auto engines are too heavy to do this by yourself without a lot more equipment. But most cars today have one or more routine replacement items over the life of the car that require a combination of an expensive factory-supplied shop tool and just the right yoga hand gesture to replace.

      Case in point, the 3V 4.6 cammer motor’s split sparkplugs, that had the unfortunate habit of splitting threads, not what was originally intended. I’ll concede that most newer cars require less work and last longer, but there are far too many exceptions to that still.

      I agree that designing in anti-DIY features takes talent, but the big guys can afford to do that, making it on the back end in trips to the dealer’s service department. And other anti-DIY features only require a calculated disregard for ease of access and/or some cockamamie new way of doing something that has been done for close to a century without a problem, like the afore-mentioned split sparkplugs.

      And if I ever end up with my name on the title of a vehicle that requires that its battery come from the dealer, and that costs over a grand, shoot me and put me out of my misery. Maybe that is popular because it is a form of “look at how rich I am, I can afford a car battery like that”, while not qualifying as conspicuous consumption, since it is under the hood. But to me, it is just sheep bending over and touching their toes, while signing the sales contract and saying “Please, sir, may I have another?”.

      A good QOTD, IMNERHO, would be which new cars are the easiest to do maintenance on over a ten year window, plus or minus. And a related one would be which used cars over ten years old, are the easiest and least expensive to maintain DIY.

      My vote for the latter would be a mid-90’s Jeep XJ.

    • 0 avatar
      VolandoBajo

      @threeer Sounds like your son was raised right.

      And with a mindset like that, I hope he ends up in military procurement in a few more years.

      Reality, what a concept.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    The lack of road salt in the PNW keeps lots of cars on the road that would otherwise be sidelined by rust. Even Mazda3s keep going strong as do unkillable early 90s CamCords.
    Personally I’m still driving a 1997 Saturn when I don’t take the train because I got the car for free and repairs are cheaper than car payments.

  • avatar
    anomaly149

    A lot of the “anti-DIY” things happening to cars are related to costs and attributes. Non-enthusiasts wanna see plastic, not oil, and electronic oil level and life sensors are cheaper than dipsticks these days, and a lot lighter.

    There’s no intent behind service becoming harder for the shadetree mechanic; intent would cost money, weight, and fuel mileage.

  • avatar
    Cabriolet

    I live in NYC the land of salt and a life span of 10 years for the average car. Now that i am retired and gave my business to my son-in-law i can enjoy life. My wife and i travel keep ourselves healthy and enjoy life. We both have our own cars both under five years old and are very happy with them. For my self i have a 25 year old VW Cabriolet with approx 60,000 miles that is in excellent condition. The body is still like the day it left the factory and to this day no sign of any rust. We use the car mostly on weekends but have made a few long trips with the car. I do all my own work on the car and parts are very easy to get. VW even has a special dept that supplies most of the original parts. What they can’t supply i can find aftermarket. Inspection every year is only for safety and insurance with full coverage including payment of $8,000.00 for a total loss costs me $214.00 per year. Of course i am limited to 7000 miles a year and must keep the car in my garage and not on the street. The last Cabriolet i had i sold after 5 years and made $2500.00. Hope to do the same with this one when i tire of it. When i get bored i spend a few hours in the garage and i feel better again.

  • avatar
    LectroByte

    An ’01 is the oldest car? You must be a city slicker. Here in the Boonies, or Boone, or thereabouts of NC, that’s like a new car. My daily driver is an ’00 Tundra, 110K on the clock, and I suspect it will outlast me. My father putts along in a ’95 Camry with 230k on it, and he’s sure it will outlast him. Sadly, he’s probably right. Me, I don’t know.

  • avatar
    billchrests

    Here is an example of why 15 year old cars are hard to keep on Road. My Explorer has an electrical problem and shuts done without notice. Had truck in 10 times and fault is still there. No heat in winter and they tell me it is 15 hours of labor to fix. Cant trust to get to work and no heat, time to move on.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      No Explorer requires 15 hours to fix the heat. The first generation versions the heater core slips out in about 30-45 minutes and about the same going back in. The later model ones do need the dash removed but dash removal is a 45 minute job, it comes out as an assembly just like it was installed.

      You need to find a better shop to take your vehicles to.

      • 0 avatar
        NoGoYo

        I’ve somehow lucked out of 90s Ford heater core failure. The fuel pump and crank position sensor replacements were bad enough, and of course the ol’ four-six is burning oil as many of them like to do…sure do wish I had a 302 right about now.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I think all the heater cores that were supposed to go to your car went into my two late-’80s Tauruses. And that was a nasty job.

          • 0 avatar
            joeaverage

            The heater core seems like the very first part to slide by on the assembly line when some cars are built. ;)

      • 0 avatar

        the 95-01 Explorer is not a 45 minute job… it’s a 3-6 hour job… done mine about 5 times.

        his issue is the blend door actuator is dead. which is the same time as doing a heater core, might as well put a core in it since its one more screw to remove the core.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Fuel, air and spark. So is the fuel stopping or the spark? A fuel pressure gauge could tell you alot. So would a DIY grade ODBII scanner watched by a passenger while you are driving along.

      I’ll bet there is a number of webpages where you can read up on the problem.

      I went to Google and searched for “2000 ford explorer randomly stalls”. There were videos and multiple webpages to help explain the problem.

      When I am researching I hold the Control key on the keyboard down and open about ten tabs (in Opera or Firefox or Chrome) and read through them. Then I go back to the Google tab and open the next ten results and read.

      I’d trade up on mechanics if they can’t solve a stalling problem and a bad heater.

      good luck!

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    I’ve currently got two Clinton era rides in my stable, a ’95 Sable and a ’96 Grand Marquis. Just finished cleaning up the Grand Marquis today and slapped the FOR SALE signs on her. Powertrain is great…runs like a beast, shifts perfectly smooth and has icy cold air, but I fear I’ll still have trouble getting $1,500-$1,700 out of it (I put $1,900 on the signs). Many delusional people think they can get a “fuel efficient” Honda or Toyota for that price, or would rather go down to the buy-here-pay here and sign up for a car payment than drop the cash in my hand and get 2-3 years out of it (which I believe the car is more than capable of doing).

    The Sable on the other hand, will never leave me. Garage queen since the day my grandma bought it, and proud of it. It runs and drives great too, but that’s more a testament to light use, being garage kept and having all maintenance performed than anything else. It’s nice to have one more car than there are people in your household, if you can afford it.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    Quite a lot of them ended up in the local junkyard, especially minivans, Ford Tauruses, Chrysler cloud cars/Neons, and FWD GM products.

    My ’95 T-Bird is firmly Clinton-era, but it’s not like I see very many MN12 cars on a daily basis.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Yep. If you work an hourly job or three where you can get fired for missing a shift…and you can be fined or even referred to CPS for picking your kids up late from after school care…and you live in apartment building where you’re not allowed to work on cars even if you have the time and money and knowledge and tools which of course you don’t…and you can budget for a predictable monthly car payment (low interest) but not huge unexpected repairs (credit card, high interest)…then it’s worth whatever it costs to drive the newest car you can afford, ideally one with a warranty. Totally rational decision. Earlier in life I spent way too much time and money, and yes sometimes lost work, trying to do the old-car thing that the B&B here believe in with religious fervor. Smartest thing I ever did was yoke myself to payments on a newer car.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      If you have this life where everything is balanced on knife edges then it is time to made changes so you have more control over your life. No more kids for example, get out of the apartment into a house with a driveway and hopefully a garage, build up a network of friends that can help pickup your kids in a pinch, and start buying a few used (but quality tools) at estate sales (avoid flea market junk).

      We had to make adjustments to our life when it appeared my wife’s vision was going to fail her. We changed jobs so I would not be traveling for work very often (with the option not to travel in a pinch) and where we could carpool 100% of the time. Also jobs that had enough flexibility to allow us to deal with those family curveballs.

      It took years to get everything setup and adjusted to our needs. The Great Recession really delayed our progress and so was a sudden contraction in my wife’s career field.

      Babysteps in the right direction each year. Retraining and additional schooling. Today we’re good.

  • avatar
    VolandoBajo

    Aero generation Panther platform CV’s and Grand Marquis (92-97, for those who are unenlightened about these great last of breed vehicles).

    See them all over the place, from the hood to the homes down the block from the country club in the Philly suburbs around Cherry Hill, along with their newer Whale siblings, and an occasional, usually pristine, older “box” Panther.

    The Crown Vic’s dominate about 60-40 in the hood, while in the upscale and solidly middle class, such as it is, the GM’s tend to outdo the CV’s by about 60-40, +/-.

    And yes, I realize the Mike Ehrmantraut character on Breaking Bad drove an old school Chrysler (New Yorker?), that was fiction. In real life, Mike Ehrmantraut would have driven either a Grand Marq or a CV Police Interceptor, former detective car with the street appearance package.

  • avatar
    matador

    Where are the Clinton-era cars? Right outside! I actually own two vehicles from the Reagan era, but I own four from the Clinton era.

    To most people, my 1995 LeSabre with 225k miles is worthless junk. I’m keeping her, though. I had a transmission installed last year. Why? Two reasons: First, I absolutely love the car. Second: A new, mid sized car will cost $25-30k, assuming there isn’t cash on the hood (Read: Mitsubishi). For $25,000, how many Buick parts can I purchase? I own my home, am self-employed, and we live in a climate that doesn’t destroy vehicles. My oldest vehicle is a 1986 Ram- there isn’t a spec of rust to be found. And, it wasn’t ever a garage queen- it was a county truck. Cars don’t fall apart out here, so why kill them? I prefer my older cars, and I’ll keep it that way!

    Now, get the heck off of my lawn!

  • avatar
    nickeled&dimed

    I dunno… it seems that where I am a majority of the cars are from the 2000’s. There are lots of cars made within the last five years, yes, but alongside those there are a number of late 90’s, and a smattering of really old cars, either clunkers or well preserved examples.

    In my parking lot yesterday my 2000 Subaru was definitely not the oldest vehicle, and although it was close, there were a lot of only slightly newer vehicles. On my drive yesterday I saw an ’89 Camry, an ’80 BMW 635, and all sorts of late 80s / early 90s pickups and vans. C4C certainly wasn’t enough to take those off the streets since they are cheap ways to transport scrap metal found on the curb to the recycler’s.

  • avatar
    Liger

    The white dodge ram quad cab is not newer than 2001, it could even be as old as a 1998. The dodge RAM had a new bodystyle in 2002. C’mon Steve!

  • avatar

    I had the oldest car, a 95 Explorer, that I finally let go at 340,000 miles. Then I was driving my Carter era 77 Chevelle daily for a while, and now I have a Clinton era 04 Buick Rendezvous with 90,000 miles on it.

    I guess I still have the oldest car in the lot at work.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    “Cash For Clunkers” FTW !

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I am still driving a 99 S-10 extended cab 2,2 I-4 5 speed manual with 104k miles (Clinton era) which is the oldest vehicle on my parking lot. Couldn’t get enough trade-in when I bought a new truck several years ago so I kept it. Looks and runs like new and will keep for a few more years. Great truck for hauling things. I have had this truck since new and it continues to pay for itself.

  • avatar

    I still drive my ’95 Ford Escort GT. I hit 200k a month ago.
    I’ve noticed that location has a lot to do with it here. Where I live in Phoenix, there are plenty of older cars, many from the early 90’s. However, when I travel to different areas, that are either newer ares or a bit more affluent, then the age of the cars change too.

  • avatar
    seanx37

    One, most of the 15-20 yr old cars are dead. Except here in the Detroit area, where cars seem survive forever.
    Two, Honda’s of that era last forever. I have an 82 Prelude in the garage that still runs. The odometer died around 400000 miles. It is my spare car, an has been loaned to friends, and family when needed. I have an ex whose family Accord has been through half a dozen family members and nearly 500000 miles last I heard.
    Three, all those cheap lease deals, and easy financing are back, so most anyone can afford a newer car. That cash for clunkers thing about 7 years ago got rid of a lot of them too.

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