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Are Old Cars Better Than New Cars?

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Dealer incentives
GTOlover   10/22/2014 9:00:35 AM
Let me start by saying that new cars are designed to be serviced by dealers, not the shade tree mechanic. I know it is sad that I cannot work on a new car without advanced knowledge of control systems, diagnostic computers, an a slew of special tools. I know one can simply drive to the local Autozone (or similar store) and they can plug in their code scanner. But that does not make the repair any easier. One advice I was given about new cars is to find a good dealer and stick with them!

On the other hand, I own many older vehicles. My newest vehicle is a 1993 Suburban. I have a laptop and cable that I can plug into the OBD port to monitor engine and transmission data. I have taught myself (online research and a few books) how to read and interpret this data. Unfortunately, it is obsolete for applying to newer vehicles, but the concept remains.

Now for the older cars. I have owned several Pontiac GTOs and Lemans. I can attest it is no picnic to change the spark plugs on the passenger side of the vehicle (those equiped with A/C). The oil filter on these Pontiac engine resides over the passenger exhaust pipe. You have to make sure the car is cool and then you have to "dance" the filter out to get it past the pipes. I currently own a 1972 mustang with a V8. It is even more of a challange to change these spark plugs as the shock tower are very close to the heads. I have even owned a 1955 Firedom Desoto. All though the spark plugs were easy to access, the spark plug socket did not fit that well into the valve cover opening (hemi head with plug in the middle). I ended up machining a socket to fit. And the oil filter was a canister facing upward on the backside of the engine. Opening it up drained oil all over the bellhousing, transmission, and back of the motor!

So in my opinion, yes new cars are nearly impossible to work on. But this is not a new problem. The problem has only grown in complexity.

User Rank
I'll Take New
tekochip   10/22/2014 10:48:15 AM
Well, somebody has to take a different view, and I guess that will be me.  When I think about how poor the materials and designs were back in the day I really feel that huge improvements have been made.  Suspension was terrible on older cars and I can't imagine getting up to 70 MPH with bias ply tires and the terrible suspensions of the Sixties or Seventies.  Weak valve springs, turbulent flow through heads, flimsy head gaskets, points, crummy plugs, carburetors, marginal lubricants. 

Yes, you need to read the codes to see why the closed loop system is acting oddly, but half the time it's nothing more than a traditional vacuum leak.

My plane still uses magnetos and a carburetor, so I get a constant reminder of what it used to be like, and when I feel the shudder of carburetor icing on climbout at only 1000' AGL I yearn for fuel injection.

User Rank
naperlou   10/22/2014 12:20:34 PM
Frankly, old cars are much easier to work on.  On the flip side, they needed more work.  I had small British sports cars as my first car.  I had all the tools to pull an engine, or anything else, and had to several times.  It was interesting and fun, but it was not cheaper than buying a new car and having it serviced.

Now, mechanics can, and do, rip people off.  I experienced it with my first new car.  It turned out to be something simple and inexpensive whereas the mechanic said I would have to rebuild the engine. 

I do agree that you need to deal with the dealer.  I have had a number of Chrylsers over the last couple of decades.  We had a dealer with a great service shop.  Chrylser dropped them (they handled many other brands as well).  The current one is not as good. 

So, take your pick.

User Rank
Re: depends
Circuitbreaker   10/22/2014 4:23:21 PM
My first car was a five year old 68 MGB with something like 50k miles on the odometer. Yes, it was easy to work on which was something I had to do just about every weekend. It was rusty and beat up and made all sorts of creaks and groans. My current car is an 09 Subaru going strong at almost 100k on the original exhaust and clutch. Changed the brakes, plugs and tires once. It is a little cramped under the hood but still within the means of a backyard mechanic. I will soon be doing the timing belt myself as part of the regular P.M. The body is solid with no holes and it doesn't make spooky noises when I push it. It doesn't backfire when you take your foot off the gas and it starts reliably in the cold. Best thing about it, the fuel economy is better than anything comparable from the sixties and it is way more fun to drive than the MG. My feelings about it, I'll take the newer cars for my daily drive and save the classics for car shows on the weekends.

User Rank
New cars are junk.
Rigby5   10/22/2014 8:20:20 PM
There are lots of improvements in new cars, but all it takes is a few bad ones and the cars are all junk now.

For example, I don't like automatic transmission, but did not mind them in the past that much.  But now they cost you over $2500 for a rebuild and they don't last more than 150,000 miles.  So that is a deal breaker.

And what about timing belts?  The first timing belt I ever had was on a 1967 Fiat, and it never broke.  I never changed it, and I got over 300,000 miles out of it.  It was not even in the maintenance schedule.

These days, you are lucky to get 75,000 miles out of a timing belt, and I have had several break on me, with catastrophic engine failure as a result.  All they have to do is increase the sprocket diameter and they would not break.  They could also use a lifetime material like kevlar, but they don't.  They could also make depressions in the pistons for the valves, but they don't do that any more either.  It is almost like they want engine to self destruct these days.

There many more problems with modern cars, but the fact they don't have a built in OBDII display is the most disgusting.  The makers know the warning light is going to go on several times a year, and yet they make you take it in to find out is is nothing most of the time.  That makes the light useless, as then people are forced to ignore it.  But it would only have cost then $30 or so to build a reader into the dash.  It really would not have been that hard.  Seens almost like a scam to me, just to raise dealer revenue.

User Rank
airbags suck
Rigby5   10/22/2014 8:36:31 PM
And I forgot to mention how absurd airbags are these days.  Any engineer can easily tell you that seat belts are all you need in an accident, and that air bags can easily be dangerous if you are leaning forward when they go off.  They also cost about $400 each to get replaces, and many cars now have half a dozen of them.

That would cost more to replace the airbags than the car was likely worth, after just a tiny accident.  And what happens if you tapped your bumper and the airbag goes off, while you are still doing high speed?  You can't see or keep your hands on the wheel once the airbag explodes.

Airbags are a terrible design that do nothing permanent padding and restraints could not do better.

User Rank
Re: I'll Take New
patb2009   10/22/2014 8:50:50 PM
As I tell my Brother.  "Older cars are easy to work on, because they need it"


Cars through the early 80's needed carb overhauls, new plugs, wires, points, Fan Belts,

hoses every year.  


Sometime the late 80's the accuracy, precision and the quality of these materials improved.

I remember in the 70's you didn't drive without a box of tools, a spare fan belt, spare hoses,

in the trunk.  Sometime around 1991, I noted I hadn't had to do a fan belt for years,

and things just got better.


Used to be points and plugs were good for 7500,  now 75000 miles are covered on plugs and the car doesn't even have points.


Shade Tree Mechanics are dead, i'm okay with that.

User Rank
Re: airbags suck
AnandY   10/22/2014 11:01:37 PM
That really is true. A friend of mine broke her arm due to the airbag suddenly expanding to her face. Her arm was in a difficult position and when she hit a pavement, the airbags activated and did the damage. If there can be alternative safety measures to airbags then that would be a welcome change.

User Rank
Re: I'll Take New
AnandY   10/22/2014 11:04:19 PM
If you focus on the 50s to 80s you would find the designs of older cars are more appealing. ALthough right now a car from the 70s would be a head turner, however, they aren't a good economic investment because they need more timely checkups than normal cars.

User Rank
Re: I'll Take New
Rigby5   10/23/2014 12:05:46 AM
@Patb2009, I disagree.  It was better when you scheduled plugs and points to be done anually, because then they could notice problems before they came up.  Now cars are much more unreliable, as just a leaking gas tank cap will prevent the vehicle from running and will throw up a ecu warnign light.  Now people can't even check their ATF levels anymore, and need for transmission rebuilds are more common, and cost more than the value of the car.

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