Orphan Cars And The 10 Year Parts Myth

Bozi Tatarevic
by Bozi Tatarevic
orphan cars and the 10 year parts myth

Every automotive enthusiast has an opinion when it comes to car buying and many are quick to point to an orphan car for a good deal. While some orphan cars are a bargain for their genre, maintaining some of them can be an exercise in futility. Internet commenters and forum aficionados are quick to defend their recommendations and point to some parts law that supposedly forces manufacturers to provide parts for 10 or 20 years after they kill a model, but no such law exists. While there are laws like the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act that provide some protection in certain situations, it’s nowhere near the 10-year mark.

According to the FTC, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act provides rules on warranties for all consumer products, and in the automotive world it forces automakers that provide warranties to produce parts for the term of the vehicle warranty. In some cases this can be as short as 3 years after the sale of the last model. Once that term is up, they do not have any further obligations to the consumer. The entity providing the warranty can also choose to stop manufacturing parts before the warranty expires, but in that case they may be liable to replace the product or provide a refund.

The other piece of the warranty puzzle is emissions coverage that is mandated by the EPA that provides for 2 years of coverage for any emissions performance issues and 8 years of coverage for any defect related to the emissions system. While this coverage is notably longer than the usual powertrain warranty, it does not necessitate that the manufacturer must provide parts or service. It only states that they must cover the cost of any required repair.

I tend to buy cars out of the ordinary and currently own an orphan car in the form of a Saturn Vue Hybrid. I approached the purchase by researching parts availability and volume of sales. I found that there was a great deal of parts available as many of the steering and suspension components were shared with its GM Theta platform siblings, while the engine and hybrid system was shared with the Chevy Malibu Eco. I also checked Good Car Bad Car and found that there were about 113,000 units sold in the second-generation body style so I knew that body parts would be plentiful at junkyards if I could not locate new ones. I was able to negotiate a great price on the CUV since many buyers were afraid of the orphaned car and have successfully acquired parts for the few times it needed repairs and maintenance since.

Saab is another orphan brand that went through the hands of GM and I am happy to recommend some of their last models such as the 9-3, which has decent parts availability and shares many of its components with other GM models like the Buick LaCrosse. There is one Saab model that you should run far away from mostly because of its low volume but also because there is not an entity that is currently responsible for it. The Saab 9-4X rides on the premium version of the Theta platform that underpins my Saturn and shares the most parts with the Cadillac SRX that was built alongside the 9-4X in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico. The 9-4X is something of an oxymoron as it has become somewhat of an enthusiast CUV due to it limited production which amounted to just 457 units. While the 9-4X is more rare than a LaFerrari it will be hard pressed to gain any value in the future.

Saab models prior to 2010 were built under GM ownership and are covered for any remaining warranty and recalls through them, the 9-4X was built under Spyker ownership and no longer has representation in the US. According to a statement from the NHTSA, if a company has no assets or funds to pay for work then recalls would not be completed. The same stays true for warranties. If there is not a company to pay for the charges, then the warranty is void. This can be seen quite clearly when comparing recalls of the SRX and 9-4X. The SRX has received five recalls, and from what I can tell, four of those recalls cover the same parts that are used in the 9-4X, but only one shows the 9-4X as part of the recall. I am not sure how even that one came to include the 9-4X, but it may be due to the safety factor of the recall and some sort of clause in one of the bankruptcy agreement.

While some potential owners might take the risk and maintain the cars themselves, problems have already popped up and part shortages abound. One of the most common issues is the windshield. The 9-4X uses a different windshield than the SRX, and to make matters even more complicated, it was offered with an optional rain-sensing feature. Once owners started to break windshields, they found that there were few available to purchase. Standard windshields were the only ones initially available so owners took those by default and the ones that downgraded from the rain-sensing windshield lost their intermittent wiper feature. Some rain-sensing windshield have become available from Saab Automobile Parts North America which is now known as Orio North America but those were quickly snapped up. I checked a few well known Saab parts dealers and see none in stock at this time.

Orio has been working hard to stock up on many parts and even sent Sajeev a nice description of what’s available, but the low production numbers of the 9-4X still cause issues. They also offer a warranty for the 9-4X and other models through their Saab Secure program which starts at around $1,900 for a 3-year plan, but owners still commonly wait 6-8 weeks for certain parts and live with not having some parts at all. The 9-4X has shown lots of problems that go along with a first-year model including a common problem of water leaks in the passenger foot well. Many owners have experienced the issue and luckily parts are available for repair, but others in the future may not be as lucky.

Orphan cars can be a bargain if the research is done properly, but many times they can be a nightmare when part shortages arise. While many of these cars can be reliable and last for a long time, some are already showing quality issues and the faded Saab badge is becoming common like in the the 9-7X that Jack spotted a few years ago. The badge can be easily replaced but what lurks beneath may be a costlier endeavor.

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia.org and qJake/Flickr/CC BY 2.0]

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3 of 97 comments
  • MrIcky Out of the possible Jeep recalls to bring up on this site, I'm surprised it's this one and not round 2 of the clutch recall.
  • Dukeisduke I saw a well-preserved Mark VII LSC on the road not too long ago, and I had to do a double-take. They still have a presence. Back when these were new, a cousin of mine owned an LSC with the BMW turbo diesel.
  • Dukeisduke I imagine that stud was added during the design process for something, and someone further along the process forgot to delete it after it became unnecessary.
  • Analoggrotto Knew about it all along but only now did the risk analysis tilt against leaving it there.
  • Mike Beranek Funny story about the '80 T-bird. My old man's Dart Sport had given up the ghost so he was car-shopping. He & I dropped my mom at a store and then went to the Ford dealer, where we test-drove the new T-Bird (with digital dash!)So we pull up to the store to pick mom up. She walks out and dad says "We just bought it.". Mom stares at the Mulroney- almost 13 grand- and just about fell over.Dad had not in fact bought the T-Bird, instead he got a Cordoba for only 9 grand.