By on August 25, 2015

4 a.m.

The alarms clocks ring. Both of them. Just in case I get any funny ideas.

I go through the semi-conscious motions. Clothes… suitcase… glasses… coffee… breakfast. By 4:15 a.m, I’m out the door and driving to the airport in a 21-year-old Geo Prizm. I figured that a 5-speed and a stark lack of noise insulation will keep me alert. Thanks to Atlanta’s penchant for using steel plates to cover up every possible pothole on the road, I am not disappointed.

Everything seemed fine at first. I was going to take an early trip to San Antonio, Texas — home of the San Antonio Spurs, Shawn Michaels, and Ozzy Osbourne’s urine intensive markings. The plan was to arrive early and ‘see the city’.


In middle-aged life, seeing the city really means eating fancy foods and walking aimlessly under the pathetic guise that burning 40 calories by walking can make up for your recent 1400 calorie meal. I had a French bakery, a barbecue place, and a nice little park all scoped out for what I thought would be a day of short-term bliss before the big morning event.


The next morning I would be speaking in front of a few dozen of my peers at the Texas Independent Automobile Dealers Association. How many times have I done this public speaking deal in front of dealers? Ummm… never… except when I worked the Atlanta auction circuit back in the Y2K era. Back then I could just slur my speech and no one would give a damn so long as I got the numbers right.

This time would be different.

3They were interested in having me speak about the Long-Term Quality Index. The organizer went through about 17 different ideas before I was finally able to convince him that the LTQI could offer some highly surprising findings. Mainly that not all Suzukis and Range Rovers suck.

It was a match made in…. Texas… while I was drinking coffee at a Waffle House.

So I signed off on the papers earlier that week and arrived at the airport about 5:30 a.m. for a 6:40 a.m. flight. I slid my wore out Discover card in the circa 2008 Southwest kiosk, and one painful word instantly greeted me in neon red.


Was my card cancelled? The tickets? Did I already piss these people off?

Nope. It was just my flight. So I waited in line with about 150 other hopeless Sunday morning zombies and eventually I heard a voice.


“Next in line please!”

The lady who called me already had another person there along with their kid. That apparently didn’t matter because she was going to destroy their day too.

Within 45 seconds I had what can only be described as an “Oh fuck!” moment. I figured out that the only thing she could achieve without the help of the other employees that morning was her three layers of makeup. Her face reminded me of rainbow cake.


Twenty-five minutes later, I get a new itinerary – Atlanta to Philadelphia, and then what I thought would be a siesta before a direct flight to San Antonio.

Instead I got some eyeball popping sweet chin music.


My flight would be from Atlanta, to Philly, then to Phoenix, and then, when I’m ready to go face first into the thinly carpeted floor after sitting like a human sardine all that time, I would get the very last flight from Phoenix to San Antonio.


Now, Atlanta to San Antonio is a good 800 miles or so. A quick thought popped into my dreamy little head that maybe I could drive the Geo at 100 miles per hour, since no one ever pays attention to these old Corollas in drag. After throwing a few piss bottles out the window, I could find myself in front of the JW Marriott hotel in San Antonio bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Instead I got an aisle seat and shared my misery on Facebook.

About a few minutes before everyone got settled, something truly unusual took place — something nice. A lady with a two month old was with her husband. They were among the last folks on the plane. So the stewardess asked everyone, “Can anyone switch seats so this young couple could sit together?”


“I’ll do it.” The three words that pretty much embodied my easy going gullible nature when I was a kid.

Cleaning up the dining room table? I’ll do it! Mommy always gives me the first five scoops of ice cream, so why not?

Holding a sparkler during the 4th of July that scared my four-year-old soul to death? Ummm… I’ll do it too! Is this thing going to make me go boom like Wile E Coyote?

Splashing a big cup of Kool-Aid down my brother’s boom box so my Mom could finally have some peace and quiet? I’ll do it… but, hey, mom? Can I have that steak knife just in case? You better bring one too!

So when these folks in Texas called me up and said, “We want you to figure out something unique to say.” My only response was, “I’ll do it… for the right price.”


Apparently that price is roughly equal to what I just paid for a 23-year-old Volvo 740 turbo wagon. That car works. As for my life decisions, that’s a subject for another day.

Steve’s Note: Mark always asks me to write about used cars and damn it, I really tried this time! So with that in mind go ahead and kick through some of the findings you can find here at the Long-Term Quality Index and leave a comment or two below. I’ll answer every question about cars and travel with the exception of the migration rates of African or European swallows.

Also, good news! The study just passed the 800,000 vehicle mark after nearly three years of compiling all the data (it also took close to a year to set it up), and I’m DESPERATELY trying to find someone who can help turn the data into a worakble app. So if you can help guide me to a solid soul, you’ll have my gratitude. Email me at [email protected]

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20 Comments on “Hammer Time: Flying Is The Devil’s Work...”

  • avatar

    LTQI seems like a simple, cool approach. Obviously, larger sample populations are needed on some models, but I’m sure that’s coming.

    The bar has been set so low for flying, that I now just assume the worst. A recent summer trip with packed planes left me amazed when every flight was on time.

  • avatar

    I stopped flying a few years ago. The experience always sucked, and it kept getting more expensive to experience the suck. Now, I just schedule a little more time and enjoy the drive.

    How do you feel all these newfangled dual clutch autos are going to hold up as they start to feel their age? I have a 2014 Focus that I leased, and sometimes I’m glad that I won’t be in charge of fixing that thing out of warranty.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      They won’t. It’s almost tempting on some of the early Focus models to let the tranny fluid be and then start complaining about the inevitable when it happens.

  • avatar

    The joy of flying , yeah it sucks, anything under 8 hours I will drive thank you very much, but after that your at their mercy. Hope it went well and you got a direct flight home. What made you buy the volvo???

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      It’s become an endangered species. I also made my first small fortune by buying and fixing a lot of old bricks over the years. This one has the side impact protection system and had a former owner who invested in it. It’s hard for me to say no to that type of opportunity. Especially when the price is cheaper than a modern car with a bad engine.

      • 0 avatar

        Somehow it seems that Volvos, even 700/900 models, as rare as they are, are much more common than a true youngtimer T-rex – SAAB 9000. Even in EU it has become terribly thin on the ground, all of currently lists 55 or so, most of them clocked and trashed beyond repairable.

        SAAB 9-5 Aero with a manual – something I would love to buy almost as much as a pre-facelift 9000 CD – quickly approaches this status too.

      • 0 avatar

        I guess rarity depends on location, where I live I’ve seen 3-4 700 turbo wagons go for sale, usually in decent mechanical shape, far too many spare parts, and interiors that would feel at home in base-level Buick right down to the sagging headliners.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Are you planning to, or are you able to, parse the data further to differentiate power trains?

    I see the 2007 and 2009 Subaru Legacy, though mechanically identical, have much different ratings. I can only assume 2009 is a smaller sample with fewer miles in general causing that and they will even out in a few years.
    But I’d be interested to see the actual results for the different years of the Legacy GT long-term.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      We’re right now going into the deeper dive for powertrains. Unfortunately it’s going to take a while unless I can get access to a solid VIN decoder. Right now those seem to be unicorns. I haven’t found a good one yet.

  • avatar

    But then the African swallow’s not migratory…

  • avatar

    Lol, wat? Have more coffee, Mr. Steve. This was damn near incoherent.

  • avatar

    Weird. Your data suggests the 2006 9-3 is less reliable than an 04, 05 or 07. Seems odd as the general consensus amongst owners is that the 03-05 cars were buggy and Gm got on top of it by 2006.

    2007 is broadly more reliable but the valve issues rears it’s head (a $2K fix).

  • avatar

    Interesting data, but too generalized to be of real value. E.g. XC90 with a 2.9T had terrible transmission failure rate, while others were not. Or SAAB 9-5 with a 3.0V6 being more problematic than the I-4s. Not to mention GM’s 3800 vs 3100/3400 or Chrysler’s 2.7 vs 3.5.

  • avatar

    Steve, if you need fog light lenses for that Volvo and can wait a few weeks until I am back stateside I will cheerfully send you a pair gratis. Been cluttering up my garage for eons. Those things are pretty rare.

    Flying without top tier status has to suck. Sometimes it sucks WITH being an Exec Platinum, but at least they make a feeble effort to be nicer to you.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I fly at least twice a year – a necessary evil living 1800 miles away from my family. Being at an airline’s mercy gets old, whether it’s canceled flights, slow counter service, or a myriad of other things. The topper one year was flying home on New Year’s Day – our connecting flight was canceled because they could find a pilot.

  • avatar

    @Dave M. I hope you meant that they canceled the flight because they couldn’t find a pilot, and not that they could find a pilot, but the one that they could find was still so hung over that he would never have gotten clearance from the tower to take off.

    Typos happen, but sometimes they are funny, especially if you have a warped sense of humor.

  • avatar

    Take my word for it- flying is for the birds.

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