By on April 27, 2018

Image: Magna

TTAC Commentator gimmeamanual writes:

Hi Sajeev,

The recent article about the carbon fiber subframe by Magna and the comments predicting vehicle life-ending failures got me to thinking — in the last 10 years or so, has any automaker introduced an innovation or major shift from the norm that resulted in repair costs so expensive that the vehicle would be better off scrapped inside what one would consider its prime service life (say, 10yrs/100k)?

It seems we’re often too ready to predict gloom (turbos exploding, unrepairable aluminum trucks) and not give the engineering teams the credit they deserve. Yeah, some technologies do suck in execution, like the Focus DCT, but they don’t result in scrapyards filling up with otherwise pristine examples.

Sajeev answers:

I doubt such an innovation exists, the “drive vs. scrap” decision is often a death by a thousand cuts, not a single item. And it’s not necessarily about the engineering; more about modern automotive recycling operations.

But it depends on the vehicle’s design, parts availability and unique living conditions after driving off the showroom floor. A fully-depreciated Audi A8 with a trashed interior and electrical faults will likely donate itself to your next cooler fulla beer/soda cans. But damn near any 7.3-liter Power Stroke Ford with a blown motor?  Someone will fix (and flip!) quickly with recycled parts.

To wit, carbon fiber subframes on a mass-market vehicle will also utilize the automotive recycling industry to ensure a good stock of perfect parts from flooded/rear ended/otherwise trashed examples. Sure, it’ll be more to replace than pulling out the kinks in a Camry’s metal subframe, but the threshold for being a complete write off might be higher than the naysayers suggest.

Most subframes are bolt-in, and I certainly don’t see Ford trying to weld carbon fiber to a metal unibody. So if Ford pulls the trigger on their upcoming 2020-ish sedan, don’t wreck one in the first two-ish years without comprehensive insurance.  But in the year 2025? Expect junkyards well-stocked with used CF subframes, ready for shipment to your nearest body shop for bolt-in perfection.

I don’t see the doom and gloom equation. I see our automotive recycling ecosystem ready to take on this technological wonder on a large scale implementation. Off to you, Best and Brightest!

[Image: Magna]

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23 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Final Carbon Fiber Nail?...”

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    The piece of the puzzle that needs to be factored in to the automotive recycling equation is the, wait for it, internet. It is so much easier to keep a rig running well past its sell by/use by date these days than it was when I was a kid and had to start calling scrapyards to see if they what I needed in stock. You can find parts online, junkyard even and have them shipped to your home. Further you can get instructions how to install them easily as well.

    Their are so many of these turbo cars on the road now that statistics being what they are, cars are showing up in yards wrecks with low and high mileage engines and turbos alike.

    While I don’t disagree with your assertion regarding the 7.3 Powerstroke being recycled, at some point we will start to run out of them. The motors don’t last long in the wrecking yards.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      Aside from junkyard parts (and btw, even in the bad old days junkyards had some sort of squawk box system where they could talk to each other to look for parts) the other new twist is the availability of cheap (if not necessarily good) Chinese parts. Chinese drive axles for Subarus are $50 retail (vs. $300 for the Made in Japan dealer part) – how do they even do that?

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know how they do that, but the Chinese don’t have a good rep, and your Subaru reference pinged my memory. A couple of years back when I started looking for axles for our ’08 Sienna (the boots were intact, but the joint wore out). I was determined not to buy Chinese axles. I first started down the path of trying to find rebuilt axles, and doing Google searches found a company in Florida, Raxles. They take used ones, rebuild the inboard joints, and replace the outboard ones with new ones sourced from Japan. I found them raved about on Subaru and VW forums, so I called them to ask about Toyota axles.

        The guy there (the owner, IIRC) told me that they didn’t rebuild axles for Toyotas because there was no demand (people generally buy cheap ones), but Subaru and VW owners buy lots of rebuilt ones.

        Me, I ended up buying new Toyota axles, about $1,000 for the pair. I just didn’t want to have to deal with replacing some Chinese axles over and over.

      • 0 avatar

        How do they do $50 axles? Simple – they don’t give a crap about their parts.

        I had a “speed shop” with a great rep in this area install non-Subaru front axles (EMPI), since mine were clicking. 2 months later, one popped out of the front diff(!) and took the front diff with it. Shop wouldn’t cover it.

        $2k later at another shop (transmissions only), they told me they NEVER do aftermarket Subaru axles, because most of them are too short by a few mm.. No wonder mine popped out..

    • 0 avatar

      Yup, this. The Internet is an absolute game changer. When I first got into DIY on cars all there were for resources were crappy Chilton manuals, slightly less crappy Haynes manuals, and if you won the lottery, a Bentley manual for your car. And then mailing lists debuted. Today, you can find out how to fix anything better than new, with all the hard one tricks and tips, but just googling for it. Complete with VIDEO instructions in many cases. Whole different world, as long as you are willing to get your hands dirty. And even though cars are more complex, they are also FAR better at actually telling you what is wrong with them than when you practically needed voodoo and tea leaves to figure out what your emissions strangled carb’d heap was up to.

      And then you get into how much easier it is to find parts for anything remotely rare. Sooooo much easier today. I ordered most of the parts for my Alfas from England, because even with shipping they were cheaper than buying from the two big Italian parts houses in the US, and usually better quality to boot!

  • avatar

    Can’t speak for carbon fiber because I don’t know enough.

    I’m 25 into a 60 lease. I’m sitting on a turbo 4, CVT and transfer case. 3 strikes in my opinion. Hence 60 month comprehensive warranty add-on. I won’t be keepers once its up.

  • avatar

    Audi perfected the concept of a car so expensive to repair it was just scrapped way back in the 80’s.

    How many do you ever see vs Mercedes of the same era?

  • avatar

    Good luck finding a 7.3 that blew up under 400,000 miles!

  • avatar

    A subframe is by definition bolted in. If welded in it’s no longer ‘sub’, but part of the frame. I’ve never seen a subframe that isn’t relatively easily replaceable in case of damage. That’s pretty much the point. This new CF version is simply one more design option — and one which may or may not work out, as the original article made clear.

    As another illustration, VAG’s MQB platform is used for both VW and Audi products. One version of the MQB front subframe is steel for VW and aluminum for Audi. The steel version is cheaper but heavier, aluminum the converse. The two versions are physically interchangeable between sibling models.

    Subframes can be quite subject to corrosion problems. CF would be a nice fix for that.

  • avatar

    Batteries in EVs would fit the bill – replacing the battery on a used Leaf is ~5k out of warranty, which is more than they go for on the used market.

    • 0 avatar

      IF you buy a new one from Nissan, but if you go Reman that price drops significantly. and if you go used it should be even cheaper if you shop around.

      So really not much different when compared to say than an older car that blew the engine or trans. You are not going to put a brand new engine or trans in that 10 year old car you’ll put in a reman at ~1/2 the price or a used at ~1/4 of the price. The difference is that replacing the battery can be replaced in under an hour vs the 3-8 hours it would take for a trans or engine.

    • 0 avatar

      What the cost of the aftermarket battery – about the same as a couple of iPhones or a nice family vacation?

      Good to go for another seven-ten years of commuting…

  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby aka Troy D.

    Nissan and other manufacturers CVT’s.

    Our now 186k mile ‘11 Quest had a failed CVT last year at 164k and it wasn’t cheap as a new dealer-installed unit set us back $3500. But, the workhorse of a minivan with that smooth 3.5 VQ engine has zero issues and the body and interior we have worked hard as a family of six (only I really take care of it) to keep nice and tidy.

    Take a look at a similar age Cube or slightly older Altima. Their resale values are so low it just wouldn’t be worth it. Sure, our Quest at 186k is only book value around $8000 on a good day, but to replace it would be $35k and with a factory warranty on the CVT I sleep better at night.

    And believe it or not, 0-60 in 8.5 sec ain’t too shabby especially when the occasional WRX or Mustang driver don’t expect a minivan to leave a traffic light so quickly.

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting post, Troy D. That makes you high man amongst the 3.5/CVT owners of whom I’m aware. A friend traded in a Murano–working fine–at 119,000 miles. There are a ton of Altimas out there; I’m really curious as to how many there are up over 175,000.

      – – –

      I’m still inclined to avoid CVTs, DCTs, and DI-only engines, but I’m reasonably confident in turbos at this point. A friend is at 16 years and north of 150,000 miles on a Volvo I5 turbo, and the engine’s still running fine. Metallurgy, cooling systems, and lubricants have moved forward since the ’80s, apparently.

      Re: DI, I think we’re going to see a continued move toward dual injection. They’re too much of a win-win in terms of emissions and maintenance (although frankly I’m guessing BMW et al. are not so secretly glad to be able to sell walnut blasting services).

  • avatar

    I totally get gimmeamanual point. Any innovation, especially by an American manufacturer, is immediately criticised and doomed for failure long before the facts are known and actual evidence is available.

    The fact is, once a car is hit hard enough to damage the subframe, chances are the airbags popped and its a total loss from that point anyway. The same if actual structural damage occurs to an aluminum pick up.

    Expensive mechanical failures, like the CVT on a Nissan as a common and already mentioned example, depend more on the value of the car at that point. I often see fairly new Altimas with dents and scrapes most often found on older cars. Its like their owners just don’t care. You can bet that once the CVT goes, its not going to be replaced. For $3500, they’d probably just go buy another one and hope lightning doesn’t strike twice. Which it will, of course, when you have a lightning rod as tall as a sky scraper and nothing else around for miles, to take the analogy further.

    • 0 avatar

      “The same if actual structural damage occurs to an aluminum pick up.”

      The F-150 uses a steel frame.

    • 0 avatar
      SD 328I

      The only thing aluminum on the F150 is the body, which isn’t a stressed, the frame is some of the strongest steel available on any production vehicle, especially since they are designed to handle towing over 13,000 lbs in a 1500 sized truck.

  • avatar

    Corroding subframes have been the death of many a car so I welcome the (proper) use of composites. I would assume that the fiber reinforced one above (if properly engineered) would be extremely long lasting, and not much more cost wise than a steel one. For mass-market purposes, it’s not going to be hand laid-up carbon fiber sheets (& then baked in an autoclave), but will instead be some sort of fiber reinforced composite that is easily moulded.

  • avatar

    The clamshell on a Lotus Elise is so expensive to replace the car is scraped by the insurance company. Some good deals on salvage title Elises for what is mostly a cosmetic issue.

  • avatar

    The problem using a salvage carbon fiber subframe is that it can be damaged yet look fine to an observer.

  • avatar

    What are repairs on 8-9-10-speed transmissions like?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      Automatic transmissions were always complex devices. Adding a couple of more planetary gear sets makes them slightly more complex (and expensive) but not by a lot. What is more important is that the transmission is a solid design and sized properly for the application. You can have a 4 speed auto that is totally unreliable or an 8 speed that is rock solid.

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