Bark's Bites: Stop Saying There Aren't Any Bad Cars

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

Right up there with I wish they’d make a manual diesel wagon in brown, it’s among the most played-out tropes on the Internet.

There just aren’t any bad cars anymore.

This is generally followed by some recollection of a Saturn of the early ’90s that had a faulty engine, or perhaps some Brezhnev-era Soviet masterpiece. Blah blah blah nostalgia blah blah A Christmas Story blah blah. Enough.

There are plenty of bad cars out there, but the majority of people haven’t driven enough of them to know it. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I have. And I’m here to break the bad news to you: some cars suck. Maybe even the one in your very driveway.

Regrettably, with the advent of the Internet came Usenet, which eventually evolved into what we now know as the “forum” (many of which are owned/operated by TTAC’s parent company, VerticalScope). Would you believe there’s a whole online community of Dodge Dart owners? How about the Journey? My God, there’s even a forum for Mitsubishi i-MiEV owners — both of them.

Now, you’d think these forums would exist for people who were foolish enough to purchase any of these cars to commiserate with each other over their poor decision-making abilities. But no! Most of the discussion on these and other forums like them revolves around how great and misunderstood their cars really are. This creates a disturbing amount of groupthink at best, and a disturbing amount of confirmation bias at worst. Nobody wants to think that they made a bad decision, especially about something as important as a car purchase, so owners seek information that confirms they made not only a good decision, but a great one.

Thanks to the gravy-train riding, ethics-free autowriters of the world, he’ll get it. The vast majority of auto reviews that can be found online are nothing more than desperate pleas to be invited to the next event, and even the “bad” reviews give the offending vehicles a 7/10 ranking and a favorable comparison to the outgoing model. No matter what car you’re considering buying or have already bought, you can find a review online from an “expert” that tells you that you made a good decision.

Then there’s the car buying process, itself. Since the average car purchaser only visits 1.6-1.8 dealerships before buying a car, the odds of a buyer testing something other what they bought are about 1 in 3. To all of you car buying experts here at TTAC, I know that sounds bizarre, but it’s the truth. Most people don’t care to shop for cars, so they do as little of it as they possibly can. And with the average age of cars on American roads creeping past 11 years and growing, of course any new car feels better than the decade-old claptrap the consumer has been driving to date.

Why, this Mirage is so much smoother than my 2003 Pontiac Sunfire!

Finally, there’s the matter of perspective. Just because all cars made in 2016 are better than most cars made in 1996, that doesn’t mean that they’re all “good.” Good should be a relative term that’s in comparison to the other cars that are available in the marketplace today. That’s like saying all computers are good, or all cell phones are good. Well, in comparison to the Motorola TeleTac I had in 1998, yes, all cell phones are good — the batteries last more than two hours, the calls are less than $1.50 a minute, and I don’t need an additional backpack to carry one. (Cue a commenter talking about how he’d rather have an analog phone than any of these newfangled touchscreen digital devils).

All cars today might be more reliable, faster, and more spacious than the first car you bought. That doesn’t make them good. It makes them modern. And those are two very, very different words. Good should be determined by current value, not historical comparison.

In other words? Sorry, bro, your Dart sucks.

[Image: Mitsubishi]

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • AKADriver AKADriver on Sep 23, 2016

    This actually makes me think of the article from earlier about Nassim Taleb's book. The "no bad cars" perception is driven by the fact that for the average buyer, new cars have gotten far better than their expectations. The minority of car buyers who research their purchases are the ones that push progress. I drive one of those "bad" cars. I have a Mazda 2, which I bought precisely because it's a '90s relic - lightweight and spartan. I love it, but it has limited appeal.

  • Stuki Stuki on Sep 23, 2016

    There really are no bad cars out there today. Trust me! I wish there were, since I, like AKADriver above, kind of like them that way. Like women and bad boys, so goes car guys and bad cars.... Beyond a certain point of refinement, a product class really does become commodified. Watches being the most common example. There is still differentiation, but bad is no longer an accurate description of almost any model on offer. As for bad cars, the "baddest" (as in freakishly charming) one I can come up with as of current, now that AKAs 2 is gone, is the Ram 2500 with the Cummins and manual. I'm sure it's really, really good for those that need a 3/4 ton, but as a daily driver, it really is a throwback to some Soviet'ish era, where men were strong from operating heavy machinery that growled heavily, via heavy controls. Absolutely, bar none, the most charming vehicle (at sane road speeds and for those too big to fit in a Miata) on offer today. Up there with air cooled Porsches and Golden Era Vtech Hondas on tall skinny tires.

    • Gtem Gtem on Sep 23, 2016

      "where men were strong from operating heavy machinery that growled heavily, via heavy controls" You mean like this? :)

  • Kosmo Love it. Can I get one with something other than Subaru's flat four?
  • M B When the NorthStar happened, it was a part of GM's "rebuilding" of the Cadillac brand. Money to finance it was shuffled from Oldsmobile, which resulted in Olds having to only facelift its products, which BEGAN its slide down the mountain. Olds stagnated in product and appearances.First time I looked at the GM Parts illustration of a NorthStar V-8, I was impressed AND immediately saw the many things that were expensive, costly to produce, and could have been done less expensively. I saw it as an expensive disaster getting ready to happen. Way too much over-kill for the typical Cadillac owner of the time.Even so, there were a few areas where cost-cutting seemed to exist. The production gasket/seal between the main bearing plate and the block was not substantial enough to prevent seeps. At the time, about $1500.00 to fix.In many ways, the NS engine was designed to make far more power than it did. I ran across an article on a man who was building kits to put the NS in Chevy S-10 pickups. With his home-built 4bbl intake and a 600cfm Holley 4bbl, suddenly . . . 400 horsepower resulted. Seems the low hood line resulted in manifolding compromises which decreased the production power levels.GM was seeking to out-do its foreign competitors with the NS design and execution. In many ways they did, just that FEW people noticed.
  • Redapple2 Do Hybrids and be done with it.
  • Redapple2 Panamera = road porn.
  • Akear What an absurd strategy. They are basically giving up after all these years. When a company drinks the EV hemlock failure is just around the corner.