Life Science & Technology

Why older vehicles were made more reliable than newer ones

Vehicles have been changing for over 139 years and manufactures have managed to make reliable machines that can bring you almost anywhere, but recently reliability is getting sacrificed for better emissions, are we getting closer or farther from our goal?

The very first motorized vehicle started up its engine on New Year’s Eve in 1879, and the machines have been getting better and better ever since. In recent years, cars have become more fuel efficient but the changes are causing buyers to spend more in repairs than they ever have before. This is due to the fact that newer cars have a lot more parts packed tightly together making them harder to work on. According to Liberty Mutual Insurance, the average household spends about $817 USD a year for two cars or about $400 a year for one car on repairs. And if you are one of the unlucky ones, you might end up spending thousands on problems that could have been prevented if auto manufacturers focused as much on reliability as they do on efficiency.

Laws for fuel efficiency have also been made extremely strict, which forces manufacturers to come up with better ways of saving gas. There’s nothing wrong with this as according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, new cars emit up to 99% less of most tailpipe pollutants  than cars from the 1960’s, but when reliability gets sacrificed then it might actually have a negative effect on the overall carbon footprint. 

Most people don’t take the amount of carbon created during manufacturing into account. According to The Guardian, the average car purchased creates about 17 tons of carbon dioxide during manufacture. A similar-sized car creates about 404 grams of carbon dioxide per mile driven. This means that a car should last to about 42,000 miles or 67592 kilometers if it were to surpass the amount of waste output created during the manufacturing process. So even if cars have been made more efficient, if they don’t last long, it’s pointless. Leading to the criticism that if you care about the environment, you are better off buying a used vehicle than a new one.

Most vehicles made can pass this amount of mileage easily but there are some instances where vehicles have some of the most important and most expensive parts break on them while the mileage is still below the benchmark of 42,000. For example, according to automotive youtuber, Scotty Kilmer, the 2019 Ram 3500 pickup trucks have had examples of transmission failure with less than 40,000 miles on them. On average, you will be charged about $3000 to rebuild one of the beefy transmissions used in the 3500 trucks, as sometimes the dealership will leave you on your own. This is among other things like fuel system leaks as well as engine cooling problems, when they are brand new. The average driver drives about 14,000 miles per year which means in under three years of ownership you might have to pay $3000 to rebuild a transmission, along with any other problems that might occur. This is after paying about $45,000 for the truck. Some will pay this, but others will actually scrap the whole car or try to make an insurance claim to try to get some reimbursement. This is just one of the many examples of cars that may get damaged with an expensive fix with that low of mileage on it.

There are other ways that manufacturers have tried to make their vehicles better but have done the opposite. One of these ways is something called direct fuel injection, which was introduced to improve fuel efficiency. Cars have been using the EFI, or electronic fuel injection system since the late 1980’s, in which fuel was added to the engine earlier, allowing the fuel to clean a major part of the engine before it entered the combustion chamber and remove carbon build up around the intake valve. The newer system which is more fuel efficient, but does not include that cleaning function, leads to more expensive fixes, costing approximately $1000 depending on the engine. Once again, the consumer is paying large prices for something that could have been prevented. There are some cars that combine both technologies, old and new, giving you the best of both worlds: better engine efficiency, while still getting the important parts cleaned up to maintain reliability.

Another troublesome feature on modern cars is car automatic start-stop systems, which shut off the motor when the car is stopped. This improves fuel economy as the engine isn’t running at red lights. However, is also wears out your starter motor, which is the electronic motor that is used to start the engine. This typically costs $80 to rebuild or $100 to replace. This is just for parts and labour can get more expensive. Mercedes-Benz of Scottsdale states that a modern starter will last about 80,000 starts. The start stop system can make you use your starter about twenty times more than usual for a commute in traffic, causing your starter motor to die out 95% faster. This has been counteracted somewhat as starter motors have been improved and the technology that controls them makes them more efficient, but they still are not as reliable as they used to be. One thing that they haven’t accounted for with this new system is oil circulation. When you are running an engine, a pump sends oil throughout the engine to lubricate everything, but when you start an engine, all the oil is sitting at the bottom of the engine which can cause premature wear during starting as the top half of the engine isn’t getting the necessary lubrication. If your engine is constantly shutting off and starting up again, it means this premature wear is occuring much more than normal, which means the engine won’t last as long. It’s not much wear that occurs, as the oil is still warm and it takes time for the oil to completely drain to the bottom of the engine, but it is still lacking enough lubrication to cause premature wear.

Vehicles from the late 90’s or early 2000’s may be the best ones to hit the sweet spot between the use of modern technology while maintaining overall reliability. If you purchase a vehicle that was made by a famously reliable manufacturer, such as Honda or Toyota, it’s an added bonus, and these brands shined in the late 90’s for making the some of the most reliable cars ever made. One example of these great cars is the Honda Acura Integra. It is a sports car available in a two-door or four-door configuration. It still looks relatively modern today and came with very helpful amenities like air conditioning, powered windows and powered locks as well as being known to make it to 400,000 km without needing to replace or rebuild major parts like the transmission or engine as long as you change the oil and treat it well. This is one example of many different cars that are great options for reliability and technology.

This isn’t to say new vehicles are terribly made all around, in fact, in other ways they have come up with methods that allow you to drive further before regular maintenance is required. Engine oil, for example used to need to be changed every 5000km, but with new vehicles, the manufacturers have managed to set the interval to upwards of 8000 km or maybe even higher for some models. The 2016 Honda Civic has oil change intervals of about 7500 miles or about 12000 kilometers. 

But if manufacturers keep sacrificing reliability in other ways, the automotive industry might be taking a step back, instead of forward. 

Image Credit: Flickr

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