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Have Bad Cars Gone Extinct?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the quality-in-quantity dept.

Transportation 672

Hugh Pickens writes "AP reports that global competition is squeezing lemons out of the market and forcing automakers to improve the quality and reliability of their vehicles. With few exceptions, cars are so close on reliability that it's getting harder for companies to charge a premium. 'We don't have total clunkers like we used to,' says Dave Sargent, automotive vice president with J.D. Power. In 1998, J.D. Power and Associates found an industry average of 278 problems per 100 vehicles, but this year, the number fell to 132. In 1998, the most reliable car had 92 problems per 100 vehicles, while the least reliable had 517, a gap of 425. This year the gap closed to 284 problems. It wasn't always like this. In the 1990s, Honda and Toyota dominated in quality, especially in the key American market for small and midsize cars. Around 2006, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler were heading into financial trouble and shifted research dollars from trucks to cars after years of neglect and spent more on engineering and parts to close the gap. Meanwhile Toyota's reputation was tarnished by a series of safety recalls, and Honda played conservative with new models that looked similar to the old ones. Now it's 'very hard to find products that aren't good anymore,' says Jeremy Anwyl, CEO of the Edmunds.com automotive website. 'In safety, performance and quality, the differences just don't have material impact.'"

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ask a mechanic (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123527)

if bad cars have gone extinct. take a seat, it will be a while before he's done laughing.

Re:ask a mechanic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123551)

Possible, but ask that same mechanic which brand of cars are 'bad'. 10 mechanics will give you 10 different answers.

Re:ask a mechanic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123693)

Really? I asked 10 mechanics, and I got 14 different answers.

I think there's a reliability problem there!

Re:ask a mechanic (2)

alen (225700) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123663)

why would i go to this mechanic person? the last 8 years i bought a new toyota or honda an average of once every 2 years and the only thing i've done was change the oil and rotate the tires at the dealership. a monkey could do these things.

going forward it's going to be once every 3.5 years for a new car, but still why should i go to this mechanic person? in my experience my cars work like they should every day

Re:ask a mechanic (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123713)

because water leaks into electronic modules, wires wear out, animals crawl into weird places, blower resistors melt, plastic bits break, murphy's law takes full effect. now your experience sounds wonderful, but from the cars i have seen it is not representative unfortunately.

Re:ask a mechanic (4, Insightful)

shadowrat (1069614) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123959)

No car needs more than that if you are only driving them for 2 years. I don't know how far you are driving, but if you don't care about the longevity of a car, you could probably drive most new cars to 40 or 50k miles without ever getting an oil change.

Re:ask a mechanic (5, Insightful)

swalve (1980968) | more than 2 years ago | (#39124003)

What you are missing is the idea that a car can go 2 years or 3.5 years without ANYTHING breaking is downright miraculous, compared to other machines and other times in history. Especially when the numbers start to play out that it is no longer an exception to get a good one (remembering that whole cars built on monday or friday thing), but the rule, and from many different manufacturers. For the longest time, Honda gained the reputation for quality because they were dead simple. Now, it seems, even the complicated cars go forever.

News to me (4, Insightful)

danbert8 (1024253) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123529)

The author has obviously not driven a GM vehicle lately. Let me count the problems with my two year old Pontiac...

Re:News to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123581)

(1) Pontiac became defunct at the end of 2010, i.e. no new cars are being produced and (2) your car is two years old and, therefore, not a new car.

Re:News to me (4, Insightful)

danbert8 (1024253) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123641)

You are correct, it is two years old and not a new car. However, if you are only basing reliability on one year or whatever you define as a new car period then you sir (and the author) are fools.

Also, reading the article it becomes apparent that what he is actually referring to is that new models are more reliable. I don't see any mention of a brand new Chevy Malibu (the same car as my G6) being reliable. Maybe now the new designs are coming out that are built worth a damn.

Re:News to me (2)

bkaul01 (619795) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123897)

However, if you are only basing reliability on one year or whatever you define as a new car period then you sir (and the author) are fools.

J.D. Power conducts multiple surveys: an Initial Quality survey, measuring problems people have with new cars (i.e. initial defects that manifest within the first few months), and a Dependability survey, which looks at problems with 3-year-old cars. There might be a longer-term reliability survey too, I can't recall. There's really no way to measure the long-term reliability of cars until they've actually been around for a while, though. They haven't yet developed a time machine to use for the Future Reliability survey to get answers today from people in 2015. Maybe the fellows making faster-than-light neutrinos at CERN can help them with that.

Re:News to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123613)

The last of the Pontiacs... a piece of history! Would've been a shame to blow it up.

And that's why (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123631)

That's why I bought a Saturn.

Re:And that's why (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39124013)

I bought Uranus.

Re:News to me (4, Funny)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123711)

Like they say, "If life gives you lemons, stop buying GM".

Re:News to me (5, Funny)

SpinningCone (1278698) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123769)

wouldn't "If life gives you lemons, open a GM dealership". make more sense?

Re:News to me (3)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123741)

Maybe that's part of the reason Pontiac is out of business, for all intent and purposes now. None of the GM divisions have been tops for initial quality, with Cadillac and Pontiac being particularly bad. I'm an old fart, and everyone knows that old farts don't change brands. I've drove GM products for 30 years, including my "05 2500HD work truck, but now I drive a Hyundai Sontata Limited 2.0T back and forth for work. More power, better fuel economy, better quality construction, better everything. The Malibu and Impala (it is sized between the two) don't compare and cost more. This is my 2nd Hyundai, 6 months old with 15k miles, and have no regrets.

I put 30k-40k miles per year and the GMs from 2005 and back start falling apart under that stress when they hit 100k. The engines hold up great, the electronics and cosmetic parts start falling off like dead skin.

Re:News to me (5, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123919)

None of the GM divisions have been tops for initial quality

With the exception of the now defunct Saturn. I'm convinced they gave Saturn the axe because it made all the other divisions look bad. Love my indestructible Saturn commuter car...

Re:News to me (1)

Cro Magnon (467622) | more than 2 years ago | (#39124001)

None of the GM divisions have been tops for initial quality

With the exception of the now defunct Saturn. I'm convinced they gave Saturn the axe because it made all the other divisions look bad. Love my indestructible Saturn commuter car...

^This! My Saturn has lasted twice as long and nearly twice the miles than any other car I've had. And still going strong.

Re:News to me (2)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123811)

Yup GM cars are still crap.

It's why this UAW kid whos daddy worked and died at GM and used to be a die hard GM/Pontiac fan will never ever buy another GM vehicle again in my life.

I have a relative with the ugly as hell Chevy minivan called the Traverse that has had the same problems as the 1998-2004 years did. Wheel bearings that do not last, electrical problems, and flat out lousy gas mileage.

Yeah, if you want reliable it's still a wise choice to avoid GM.

Re:News to me (1)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123895)

Exhaust manifold cracking was a known flaw for my 1998 Chevy Blazer...yet GM refused to acknowledge the problem. I had to replace it at least twice. GM - not a single dime ever again.

Hyperbole (5, Interesting)

tanveer1979 (530624) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123535)

Of course lemons exist.
Lots of them. Its just that, now reliable cars number quite a bit.
but there still exist a set of people who think money can be saved by skimping on QC practices.

Its more of a mindset issue.
Other than that, if you have ever been part of a JD power survey, you would know what it actually is.
Here is an interesting link
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/indian-car-scene/41820-my-experience-jd-power-quality-survey.html [team-bhp.com]

So another question is.. are the right questions being answered?

Re:Hyperbole (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123929)

there still exist a set of people who think money can be saved by skimping on QC practices.

I believe that's called "China". See a recent "Top Gear" episode for some truly outstanding examples of automotive engineering, soon to be exported to a Western country near you.

I blame (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123539)

Intelligent Design for this one...

But seriously, shouldn't this be the likely outcome of Free-Market economy (well mixed in with some sensible safety regulations)?

Only Problem My Car Has... (3, Funny)

Zamphatta (1760346) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123541)

...is the price of gas.

Re:Only Problem My Car Has... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123563)

Mine doesn't. Electricity, yes. Gas? Only if the TVA has to buy some outside power.

Re:Only Problem My Car Has... (1)

Gaygirlie (1657131) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123599)

Mine has a completely different problem: it doesn't have a 300HP engine.

Re:Only Problem My Car Has... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123805)

Mine has 562 HP. I'm going to Italy tomorrow to take delivery.
Opulence, I has it.

Re:Only Problem My Car Has... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123965)

That is a feature I look for. HP UNDER 160hp. What idiot needs 300hp to drive to work? I have my 650hp car for the drag strip and to make slowstang owners cry, and to humiliate the Chargers and Camaros, plus corvettes. but i'm not stupid enough to drive that every day. What moron does that?

And yes, I also utterly eat Z06 vettes. nothing like a little honda low weight and high horsepower to spank hard the people who only buy cars and not build them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sn6Gy61VGXA [youtube.com] - Rice! It spanked your heavy cow car.

That's why I bought (1)

wiredog (43288) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123807)

A Chevy Cruze Eco. 40+MPG highway, 35 around town. Seats 4, and the rear seat isn't just decorative.

If I'd had another 5 grand I'd've gotten a VW Golf TDI.

Re:That's why I bought (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123969)

People careful with the VW TDIs. Mine has 30,000 miles on it and has been plagued with issues. Frozen intercooler, bad glowplug, diesel particulate filter wouldn't regen, and the latest was a stuck-open throttle body... A few other local owners I know have had similar problems with the frozen intercoolers but no other issues.

Re:That's why I bought (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39124005)

And if you were lucky enough to get one built in Wolfsberg it would have been the smartest thing you've ever done. Of course, you could also get one built in Mexico, in which case it would have been a festering bowl of shit.

Wait, what? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123549)

An absolute minimum of 92 problems per 100 cars is considered reliable?

Re:Wait, what? (1)

rwise2112 (648849) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123625)

I'm sure they are counting every little thing, but still!
I seem to recall a similar stat a few years back where Honda and Toyota had ~22 problems per 100 cars to top the list, and the worst by far was Cadilac with something in the high 80s. They were probably tracking differsnt types of problems with that list.

Re:Wait, what? (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123659)

TFA appears to emphasize the shrinking delta between the best and the worst(as well as the gradual decline of the average number of problems per 100 vehicles). 92 issues per 100 cars certainly isn't something you'd want out of your satellites; but for fairly modest definitions of 'problem' isn't too terribly surprising for complex mechanical devices, relatively cheap, in the hands of unskilled users.

The big news is not that the absolute reliability of the best-in-class has changed that much, though it has improved a touch; but that the average quality of the junk has increased quite sharply, narrowing the reliability gap considerably.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

ProfBooty (172603) | more than 2 years ago | (#39124015)

JD power's problems aren't really problems anymore. They will count difficulty of a user interface as a problem the same as if you have an electrical failure, or brake dust the same as brake failure.

This changed at least 5 years back.

Toyota is slipping... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123575)

Driven toyotas for decades. My latest Sienna is so full of problems that I'm switching brands.

Is this a rule? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123583)

There are rumours that certain >20 yo Mercedes cars have engines that are supposedly able to reach 500,000 km without major problems, as opposed to the newer "turbo" engines. I do not know if that is true, but I have personally seen such cars, and they had no noticeable rust anywhere on their body.

Re:Is this a rule? (5, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123637)

Go to any taxi rank in Germany (where almost all taxis are Mercedes). You won't have any trouble at all finding one with over 500,000 km on the clock.

Re:Is this a rule? (1)

Sique (173459) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123767)

And some of them are actually turbos.

Re:Is this a rule? (2)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123817)

Or Iraq.

Those Mercedes taxis and dumptrucks were from the 60s and are still running just fine. Obviously with some ingenuity and crafty upkeep but still.

Re:Is this a rule? (4, Interesting)

Pentium100 (1240090) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123829)

My 1982 Mercedes W123 has almost 500000km* and not only that, for the last 12 or so years, it has been modified to run on LPG (because it is cheaper) and I stil use LPG when I want to go somewhere more than a few km away (I can only switch the fuel source to "LPG" if the engine has warmed up**).

* probably already reached it, but the odometer has been replaced and the mechanic did not bother setting it to the same number as the old one.
** The process is like this (completely manual system):
1. If the engine is cold, switch on gasoline, start the engine.
2. When it has almost reached ~40C, turn off gasoline, drive (or wait) until the gasoline that is still in the carburetor is used up - I can usually go up to 1km on that.
3. Switch on LPG.

The body had some rust, but i had the car patched up. Also, it seems that I will need to replace all the door seals and the back window seal (I already replaced the front window seal) as 30 year old rubber is not known for its ability to keep water out.

What changed (-1)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123597)

I think I know what prompted this change. In the 90's, American automakers were using Windows 95 and later ME to design cars. They got so used to crashes, bugs and things just breaking they thought it was what consumers expected of all products.

Just wait until we hit the Year of Linux on the Auto Designer's Desktop.

Re:What changed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123627)

The Year Of Steering Via The Command Line...

Re:What changed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123723)

Actually, in the 90's it was all done on UNIX workstations.
Today it is done on Windows.

Reliability ratings aren't reliable anyway... (5, Interesting)

Troyusrex (2446430) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123603)

Back in the 90's Chrysler produced the Eagle which was the a re-branded Mitsubishi Mirage. It was literally off the same assembly line with some branded one and some the other. Consumer reports ranked the Eagle as unreliable with many defects and the Mirage as highly reliable with few defects.

Back then the general feeling was that Asian cars were better quality but based on this I always wondered how much was reality and how much unconscious bias.

Re:Reliability ratings aren't reliable anyway... (4, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123737)

Aside from bias there's also expectations.

I really didn't care much about my commuter car, as long as it passes smog check and gets me to work cheaply in stop and go traffic, I just don't care. The plastic dash parts rattle together when its below 10 degrees (F) out. Also the clearcoat is failing on the non-functional spoiler after only 14 years of exposure. Somehow I got a bit of scotch tape on the instrument cluster and I can see everything OK it just looks a little dirty. Maybe I should, but I Just Don't Care.

The caddy and vette buyers believe they're getting the cream of the crop, so they scream in agony if there is a speck of dust in the car. Thats a different type of bias. I know for a fact that caddy and vette complaint rates are thru the roof. They are almost certainly "about as good" as my car, those brands just attract whiners, therefore you hear more whining.

I suspect you're seeing something of the sort in this story. If you corrected for the demographics of the buyers the difference would probably disappear.

The third reason why you see the "problem" is I'm sure mitsu spent more money on advertising than eagle, obviously advertising supported media is going to do their best to claim the mitsu is better. The car market is about as bad as the video game "magazine and website" market this way. The review score is a direct simple function of advertising budget, nothing more.

Re:Reliability ratings aren't reliable anyway... (2)

Ironhandx (1762146) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123799)

A lot of it was bias. Honda somehow had a reputation for good cars and(while this is anecdotal) my family owned two civics while they were supposedly one of the best cars out there for reliability...

Overall our chev cavaliers ran better, and longer without major problems. There were more minor problems(brake pads, calipers) but the transmission and engine etc never went... while the transmission on the civics was about as reliable as a just-out-of rehab crackhead at a drug dealers house with a pile of coke left out on the coffee table.

Overall what I've found is that foreign cars, pretty much all of them, VW, Toyota, Honda etc, run longer without any problems, but cost you more in the long run anyways due to the fact that when they do get a problem its invariably 2k+ to fix, whereas a $200 brake job once a year is much easier to swallow.

Re:Reliability ratings aren't reliable anyway... (1)

Tridus (79566) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123881)

It's also a matter of small sample size on the part of the people doing the survey. When I grew up my family had a Honda Civic. We drove it heavily, and it still ran perfectly at 400,000KM. Body was still in good shape, very little beyond standard maintenance ever required on it. One advantage is that it was a fairly basic model without power everything, so there was just less stuff to break, but we also took good care of it.

So when I think of "Honda" now, I remember that car. With a sample size of one car, my opinion of Honda is very high. That's the problem with judging cars: most of us actually get experience with so few of them that an individual can't draw good comparisons.

Re:Reliability ratings aren't reliable anyway... (1)

SethraLavode (910814) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123883)

I don't suppose you have a citation for that? Every report I remember reading about either car in CR mentioned they were rebadged twins.

Numbers can lie (1)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123607)

Those stats could reflect people who purchased cars but just use them less; eg: more car owners are biking, walking and using public transportation in effect to rising gas prices.

Re:Numbers can lie (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123813)

Those stats could reflect people who purchased cars but just use them less; eg: more car owners are biking, walking and using public transportation in effect to rising gas prices.

The unemployment stats are irrelevant because they are fudged for political reasons. However no one has fudged the civilian job market participation stats (total number of people with wage income aka W-2 and contractor 1099 receivers), and several millions fewer people are employed now, therefore they don't drive to work.

I can verify that a couple times a week for 7 years I've been driving the exact same route home at rush hour and I've shaved about 15 minutes off my average commute. For years I used to rarely get home before 6pm, and now I rarely get home later than 5:45. Until I get downsized too, its all good for me because I don't see sitting in stop and go traffic as the peak of my hierarchy of needs like some idiots do (some morons see traffic jams as a kind of belonging and acceptance thing, where they're all in it together)

Problems per car? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123611)

They don't seem to explain the metrics or methodology in this article. How do you measure problems per car? Is this reported to the dealer? Is this new cars only or does this metric effect long term reliability, where American made cars usually lack. Even a Kia usually holds up fairly well for the first year. If you aren't measuring how many have major failures and the number of minor failures on 3, 5, and 10 year old models then these numbers are fairly useless for my needs.

Thankfully... (3, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123623)

In-car 'infotainment' and navigation systems are now becoming more common, so what we have gained in mechanical reliability we can make up in the endless sorrow of interacting with dubious software...

Probably because all the cars are the same... (4, Informative)

Ogi_UnixNut (916982) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123629)

.. at least underneath.

I don't know how it is like in the US, but in Europe almost all the car manufacturers have consolidated. Cars are a commodity now. The cars from many different brands (e.g. VW, Audi, Skoda) all have the same chassis and parts. They all have the same body shape (more or less). Usually the only difference is in the body panels, the interior trim and the badge at the front.

As such you can pretty much buy any of the above cars, and you'll find that they all have similar reliability. For many people cars are just a method of getting from A-B, so overall the above is good news for them. They can pick based on things like warranty, extras included, financing options, etc.... while the cars are more or less the same.

For example, once upon a time in the west, Skoda's were considered lemons, now they are basically rebadged VW's with reliability to match. Now they are known as VW reliable cars, without the price tag and some extras that the VW's may have.

Not my thing personally, I prefer my cars unique, so I buy old cars built before the consolidation, but for the majority of people, it is a benefit.

Re:Probably because all the cars are the same... (1)

grumling (94709) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123705)

Maybe in Europe. But in the US, your VW was built in Mexico, using US sheet metal. Sure, the drivetrain is from Deutschland, but the rest of the car is not.

Re:Probably because all the cars are the same... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123985)

Don't worry, all the American cars are also European cars now. Lincolns are Jags. Ford sells the same car everywhere in the world by different names. GTO is really Australian. Before now it was true in other ways anyway. Lots of Fords were Mazdas, Chevys were Isuzus, etc etc. About the only companies not sharing designs with everyone were Honda and Nissan. Nissan is now part of Renault so that's over. AFAIK Honda still stands alone.

The Biggest Loss (3, Insightful)

Phrogman (80473) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123633)

is the fact that most new cars are very difficult for the owner to repair themselves, given that many are highly integrated with computer systems. Shade-tree mechanics are going to disappear.
That and the fact that every new car seems to be built on the principle that repair costs are no obstacle, so if a car gets hit, its highly damaged, extremely expensive to repair, and much more likely to be a write off - meaning you need to buy a replacement.

Re:The Biggest Loss (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123717)

Your point about just writing off damaged cars isn't totally correct. It may be part of it, but isn't the principle of designing them that way. Vehicles are built to crumple up and absorb energy in a crash. They are engineered to be safer. The fact that they get written off is just a byproduct.

Re:The Biggest Loss (5, Interesting)

Spad (470073) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123729)

That and the fact that every new car seems to be built on the principle that repair costs are no obstacle...

Compared to people repair/replacement costs, yes. Modern cars deform so "badly" in accidents by design in order to absorb as much of the impact energy as possible so that energy isn't absorbed by your bones and squishy bits.

Personally I would rather have to make a car insurance claim than a life insurance one.

Re:The Biggest Loss (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123793)

The tight computer integration(and tight manufacturer/dealer grip on diagnostic details beyond the bare minimum ODBC stuff) reeks of pure profiteering; but there is a more defensible trade-off when it comes to mechanical damage:

Some, to be sure, is plain bullshit: 'bumper' ought to mean 'part designed to absorb minor bumps' not 'expensive piece of plastic with some chrome vacuum deposited on it'. However, many of the changes to the body designs, that do have the unfortunate, er, impact, of causing the car to crumple like a paper bag also have the convenient effect of eating the force that would traditionally have reduced the driver to a layer of extra-chunky meat sauce on the dashboard.

Given the relative costs of mechanics and trauma surgeons, and the present impossibility of just buying a new one if your body is a write-off, sacrificial engineering isn't all bad...

Re:The Biggest Loss (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123871)

That and the fact that every new car seems to be built on the principle that repair costs are no obstacle, so if a car gets hit, its highly damaged, extremely expensive to repair, and much more likely to be a write off - meaning you need to buy a replacement.

Mostly it's safety requirements, build it too rigid and the impact is transferred to you. Today's car will absorb far more of the impact, routing it around the passenger cabin but there's no way to make it work only on the big collisions, even a small impact will bend all those parts that are supposed to bend. And you can't leave them bent because then you'd have gaps that would cause terrible shock impacts on a big collision. It's the same reason they recommend replacing your bike helmet any time it gets a good knock, even if it looks okay. Of course that's a much smaller investment but same idea.

As for computers and integration, well people want all sorts of sensors and anti-spin and stabilization systems and parking systems and so on that means it has to be all hooked up. You can still build a car like they used to, but it will lack many of the checklist points people look for today. Personally I'm hoping they'll soon give me an automated driver too, at least for the times I don't want to drive. I don't see that as a problem any more than computers putting more and more on the motherboard and in the CPU and moving towards SoCs, it's progress.

Re:The Biggest Loss (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123885)

is the fact that most new cars are very difficult for the owner to repair themselves, given that many are highly integrated with computer systems. Shade-tree mechanics are going to disappear.

Tired meme. I've been hearing continuously and forcefully since I started helping my dad change the oil on his car... in the 80s... Let it die.

The funniest part is people going on and on about how expensive ODB-II scanner are... first of all yes in 1998 they were thousands of dollars, but I bought one half a decade or so ago, pretty full featured too, for something like 3 tanks of gas (and I drive a small car, for a SUV its probably more like one tank). Seriously, they cost less than an old fashioned PDA, figure less than a hundred bucks and you're good.

Secondly autozone will loan you one in exchange for a drivers license with the assumption that whatever you need to replace, you'll buy from them upon return, so if you can push-pull-drag the thing to the lot if it barely runs at all, or have one friend in the whole world who will give you a lift, its free.

Thirdly most failure modes don't require a scanner unless you're an idiot. Battery is dead, no lights no start no voltage, I'm not stupid enough to scan it, I put in a new battery. Same for coolant leaks, oil leaks, cracked hoses, suspension/tire/brake probs, blah blah blah. You do need a scanner for some more obscure emissions problems. If you are stupid and/or don't know how to google, sometimes the only way to test a sensor is a scanner.. a scanner is the Fastest way, thats how I figured out my 12 year old O2 sensor had gone out. If the rusty 5 year old muffler rattles when you floor it, only a idiot hooks up a scanner instead of replacing the rusted out muffler. Brakes make horrific scraping sound? I don't think a scanner helps you figure out the brake pads are toast (and after that scraping, the disks too)

Re:The Biggest Loss (1)

Pentium100 (1240090) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123901)

Yea, this is one o the reasons I like my 1982 car - it is actually possible for me to repair it, well, at least the electrical system and some other parts. Oh, and the electrical system is all discrete - no microcontrollers, firmware and EPROMs going bad to worry about. For example, the turning signal relay is made out two transistors, some passive components and a relay - in modern cars it's probably a 10MHz CPU running software that does the same thing - blink a light every so often (more often it the current is too low, indicating a bad bulb).

Re:Shade tree mechanics have it EASIER today. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123963)

It's actually much easier to work on cars now. There's no such thing as a tune-up anymore - you just change plugs and filters. No more timing, points and distributor caps to replace. No carbs to fiddle with. If something goes wrong, buy a diagnostic computer that plugs into the ODBC port. In inflation adjusted $, it's way cheaper than what we used to pay for timing lights and other tune-up gear. Most of the diagnostic lights that come on are for oxygen sensor replacement. Brakes are mostly disk now. Way easier to work on that drums.

Have a look at your owner's manual and see how little needs to be done - and how much of it you can do yourself. Don't make the mistake of looking at the dealer's own maintenance manual that seems to triple the amount of service required. I laughed out loud when the guy at the service counter told me I was due for an "emissions system diagnostic". My reply: "Federal law mandates that the system be self-diagnosing and put up a trouble light on the dash if there's anything wrong. What on earth are you going to diagnose???". He went pretty quiet after that.

Re:The Biggest Loss (1)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123977)

I honestly would not be surprised if cars start coming out with sealed up hoods and a "Warranty Void if Removed" sticker on the seam within 10 years.

I have great memories from when I was a kid helping my dad work on his various cars over the years. Such a shame...I open the hood of my car today and I don't even know wear to begin, it's such a tangled mess of shit everywhere. My dad used to be able to damn near stand inside the engine compartment back in those days...

Re:The Biggest Loss (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123981)

You know, I see people complain about the computers on cars being the issue making them tough to repair.

As someone who only seriously started to repair his own car seriously starting last year, I can tell you the computer often makes for some free and easy diagnosis (of course, you still have to prove out what the computer says, sometimes it gets things wrong!). There's a couple of things the computers make more difficult/expensive, for example, ABS, I have to admit.

I'll tell you what I find makes fixing modern cars difficult: They're too damn small, they're FWD, and they're transverse. I just did spark plugs on my dad's Mazda Tribute (which is a Ford Escape). What a nightmare. You shouldn't have to pull an intake manifold off a stock engine to change the spark plugs! WTF?!!! I learned the other day how one changes oil on a Smart Car. You can either suck it out the dipstick tube or pull the oil pan. Yep, they cheaped out and didn't put a bolt in the oil pan like every other friggin' car on the planet. So glad nobody I know owns one of those. Another idiotic design.

There's some modern things that are really nice. I'm diagnosing an engine miss. On an old car, that meant either pulling spark plug wires by hand and hoping there's no insulation problems, or using a tool for the job. Nowadays, you can just pull a low voltage connector from a COP. Nice!

Personally, since I started fixing cars myself, I have a Crown Vic and a Jeep WJ. The design of both is such that you don't need to rip apart any unnecessary stuff to fix broken parts. Of course, both are old designs with computers bolted on as an afterthought. The computers aren't the problem. Modern compact designs are.

I dunno (2)

EliSowash (2532508) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123643)

I just swapped in my 2006 Passat for a 2012, after a pretty poor showing in terms of reliability over the last few years, and I have to admit - I'm much more impressed with my old busted '98 Jeep Cherokee. I know it's an apples to oranges comparison, a German sedan vs an American SUV, but the Jeep just won't quit.

You young people don't remember the horrors (4, Insightful)

Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123645)

Of being stranded on the side of I95 in the dead of summer with steam pouring out of the hood of a behemoth Ford.

Re:You young people don't remember the horrors (1)

crawling_chaos (23007) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123735)

Or an American built VW Rabbit.

Re:You young people don't remember the horrors (3, Insightful)

T.E.D. (34228) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123827)

...with no cellphone.

Re:You young people don't remember the horrors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123849)

Perhaps not, but I have been stranded on I-95 in the wee hours in the dead of winter with a dead alternator.

Re:You young people don't remember the horrors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123851)

Dear American, being stranded in the summer is a luxury for us Finns.

More than one problem per car? (1)

wintercolby (1117427) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123647)

. . . .an industry average of 278 problems per 100 vehicles, but this year, the number fell to 132.

Sure, the average has been cut in half, but there's still an average of more than 1 problem per vehicle sold. How can they claim that "Bad cars have gone extinct"? I'd like to see that tagline when it's measured in under 9 problems per thousand cars.

Re:More than one problem per car? (1)

netsavior (627338) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123745)

a "problem" reported with a car is usually a very inconsequential one. Reliability is a crappy measure, because it measures buyer's willingness to come in to the mechanic for a minor problem like a scratch in the mirror or a slow window motor with a NEW car. Resale is king. If you go to a used car lot and see all the 4 year old Odysseys for 20 grand, and all the 4 year old Dodge Caravans for 8 grand, that tells you a lot more than "reliability ratings" ever could.

Reliability ratings attempt to measure the problems the cars ship with, resale value measures the problems they eventually develop.

Re:More than one problem per car? (1)

elashish14 (1302231) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123747)

They don't really report on the severity of the issue (haven't read TFA). Who knows, it could be something as minor as a window malfunction or a defective cupholder. I remember the AC would stop working in my old station wagon - not a show-stopper, but still a problem. There's so many things that can go wrong, I wonder if even half of those 92 problems are even significant or something you couldn't get by without.

I don't buy it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123649)

5 year old Hyundais still rust to the ground, many Mazdas too. Whos to say the 2012 Hyundai Genesis won't be plagued with wheel well rust by 2017...

Wrong (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123653)

AP reports that global competition is squeezing lemons out of the market

Wrong. I can't remember the last time I saw a TV commercial pimping the reliability of a car. Then again I don't watch much TV. The cause is ever more stringent emissions testing.

Whats driving out bad cars is aside from purely cosmetic issues its almost impossible to have a mechanical problem yet pass the "smog check" tests and get/renew license plates. They've been getting dramatically more stringent where I live. They use to wave anything thru with a warm engine and no current codes regardless of test status. As long as it "runs", even just for 5 minutes, just clear the codes in the DMV parking lot if necessary and you used to be all good. Now, until the 05 model year you are only allowed 2 test fails and 05 and newer you are only allowed one test fail, in addition to the previous no failed codes. It takes "about a week" or "half a tank of gas" to pass the evap test so basically you need completely perfectly flawless operation for a week or so in order to pass.

I had some problems last time because my thermostat was failing so it was just a little too cold for the computer to be satisfied therefore it refused to run the catconv test and the egr test and I believe one other test, leading to a fail, although I had no codes. Would have passed in '10, failed in '11 due to bad test results.

It's all meaningless anti-environmental political grandstanding BS because my 30 MPG car, even if horrifically detuned would still pollute less than half what a sloburban or a tiny manhood compensator pickup truck would at perfect tune. If they cared about the environment etc then my car would auto-pass without any testing ... I could pour crankcase oil directly into the exhaust to make a smoke screen and still be cleaner than any diesel truck I've seen.

The point of this is you can't drive a car with license plates in my state unless its basically in perfect mechanical condition. Or if it isn't, you've got less than two years until your plates are (permanently?) pulled. Value engineering has finally figured out how to get 99.9% of cars to pass within the manufacturers guarantee period so the dealer doesn't go bankrupt on repairs, but they haven't figured out how to make them fall apart the very next year after the guarantee expires. Give them time, they'll figure it out eventually.

Re:Wrong (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123809)

I am sorry but my diesel is by far cleaner then anything your car can do simply because it takes less fuel to do just about anything. I have a Ram 2500 and I get about 32 mpg. Your car getting a little less and half the size is using more fuel to go the same distance as I do.

Diesel is not dirty like it use to be. Its American thinking like yours, assuming you are American, that causes diesel to get a bad name. If you go to other countries, you will find diesel everywhere.

For what its worth I have a diesel truck (farm truck 2005), diesel Benz blue tec (2011), all get over 30 mpg and all are clean with no black smoke. The sad thing is you see morons tuning their truck to smoke cause they think its cool. that just ruins their engines and makes them look stupid.

Fight Club Ecomonics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123655)

"A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one."

J D Power versus Edmunds (2, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123667)

The Edmunds comment does not bear out the survey. What it tells us is that the worst cars are about 4x worse than the best while in 1998 it was about 6 times.

What I would suggest from my own reading of the J D Power surveys is that the gap at the top is much narrower, with a number of high quality manufacturers including the Germans, the Japanese and a few others fighting over quite small differences. If you buy a Merc, a VW (even if it is called a Skoda), a Porsche, a BMW, a Toyota or a Honda, you're unlikely to complain. Buy a recent Korean car and the same is likely to be true. And then you get into the long tail (I may have missed some good ones, I agree).

A modern clunker is better than an old clunker, true, but the customer dissatisfaction is going to be just as great. It's all relative. In the early 80s many American cars were...well, they got traded in after a year and the next owner was the QA and rectification department. But people accepted it. When a lock fell out of the door of my boss's car - sorry, Chrysler- he just said "Well, it's 11 months old, not worth fixing". Twenty years on, a lock broke on a colleague's ten year old Merc and he complained that German engineering wasn't what it was.

i beg to differ (2)

gTsiros (205624) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123683)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4orHdycJl4 [youtube.com]

renault authorised service centers don't even acknowledge it as a problem. in fact, one of their mechanics tried to pass it off as a feature.

i am at a loss for words

They missed something. Outsourcing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123689)

Over the last couple of decades, the auto makers have outsourced more and more of their parts for their cars. The big guys off of the top of my head: Mannesmann VDO, Walbro, Bosch, Seimens, etc.. make parts for everybody. And the car makers make parts for each other. For instance, my Chevy has an Isuzu transaxle.

When you have everybody using the same parts, quality is going to converge.

It's much cheaper to outsource for a good part than it is to make your own shitty one these days - Hallelujah!

Here's the bad news - the push for plastic to be put into things that shouldn't have plastic, like transmissions in order to cheapen the product and improve margins. (The public line is that they're using plastic to lighten the cars to improve mileage.) And of course, more and more parts are being made in poor countries. There are still American made parts, but they're under HUGE amounts of pressure to reduce their prices (quality be damned!) and send their manufacturing overseas.

Car makers are becoming more and more marketing and branding firms and assemblers instead of die hard manufacturers. It won't be long before a car maker will just buy the frame and everything from VDO and just place their own body on it ; which is like what car makers already do with their luxury brands: place a luxury body on the frame of a mid-range car.

nano (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123695)

The problems have disappeared from the developed world, but exist in the developing world
Theres the TATA Nano with a much higher than usual self immolation rate
There is Skoda whose quality is not even worth mentioning,etc...

I missed the memo (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123725)

"Have Bad Cars Gone Extinct?"

So the Italians stopped making cars? Next thing you'll be telling me is the British threw in the towel too.

Before anyone flame baits the post have you ever owned an Italian or British car? Italian cars are rated in "parts per mile" and British cars are infamous for electrical problems, among others. I love old Lambos and Jaguars but you'll be replacing parts before your first oil change. It took selling out to Ford as in FoundOnRoadDead, to fix the Jag electrical issues. Lambos are wonderful cars so long as you leave them in the garage and don't actually try to drive them. Notice I haven't mentioned the former Soviet countries? How about the Tata Nano? India's answer to the Soviet crap cars. Thankfully the Yugo died a silent death but cars like the Nano are carrying the torch. Yes cars from the big three and the Japanese cars are better than they used to be but there's still plenty of scary cars to go around.

The main problem still exists. (1)

Cragen (697038) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123733)

GM and Ford make ugly cars. The Taurus, the Fusion, the Focus, ugh. Same old, same old. Why, oh why? I would love to buy an American car but they all look goofy.

Nope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123739)

GM are still around.

Chevy Volt (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123749)

The average owner has a salary of $170,000, yet still needs a $7,500 tax credit (possibly jumping to $10,000 this year) to buy that piece of shit. One Chevy Volt owner told me he bought it to support Obama and save the environment (in that order). But he doesn't actually like it, so he still drives his BMW most of the time.

Ease of repair still matters (1)

characterZer0 (138196) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123751)

Things still break. If a car is designed to be easily and cheaply repaired, people will fix them, and they will still be running in 20 years. Poor design can mean that it costs $800 to replace the alternator instead of $200, and people are going to start junking those cars much earlier.

Don't Confuse Initial Quality with Reliability (5, Insightful)

mixed_signal (976261) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123775)

There's a big difference between "initial quality" reports and long term (5, 10, 15 year) reliability, though there is probably some correlation due to overall manufacturing control at the factory. Initial quality tells you if something was built correctly, for the most part. Long term reliability has more to do with the design and specifications of the car and its components. You can have a cheap car (or camera, or toy, etc.) that works fine out of the box and breaks in a short time due to cheap materials. Or you could have one built of high quality materials with fine tolerances that lasts effectively forever.

No. The opposite is true. (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123787)

I work in the car industry. That means I am a hell of a lot more qualified than most
of you people to make an informed comment on the current state of the art in new
cars.

Cars now are junk, even very expensive cars. The "product cheapening department"
has found new ways to lower the production costs for cars, and this will come back
to haunt anyone who owns a car for more than a couple of years. Since only the wealthy or
the stupid buy new cars every couple of years, this means a lot of people are going to get
screwed by how the new cars are being built.

Such things as plastic intake manifolds, wiring which is as small as possible in gauge in order to
save copper, and even thinner body sheet metal all mean the cars you can buy today are more
of a disposable item than cars built a decade or more previously. Argue against this if you like,
but you will be wrong.

Re:No. The opposite is true. (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123867)

Are there any manufacturers who haven't gone down this path ?

Translation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39123801)

"American cars are just as reliable as foreign cars!" screams the American automotive industry.

Warranties (1)

ebinrock (1877258) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123823)

If more cars today are built with high quality, then why don't all the manufacturers have 10-year warranties like Hyundai, Kia, and Mitsubishi?

Extinct ? Just hibernating. (2)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123855)

Have Bad Cars Gone Extinct?

Nah, they're just hibernating. Once the car industry settles down again to only 2 to 3 major players, they'll be back.

No (2)

eternaldoctorwho (2563923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123887)

Whenever a /. headline asks a question, the answer is always No.

Definition of bad (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123899)

Almost all of them use gas, pollutes, are noisy. don't drive themselves, don't fly, don't have MrFusion, are bulky, dont just teleport to the destination. Oh, and there are too many of them, everywhere.

Now, for others definition of bad most cars today could be pretty good, or any past car could be a dream, going back to the Ford T. But at any moment you can claim that bad cars are gone, just adjusting your definition of bad or good.

Buy a Tesla, just don't drain the battery (1)

schwit1 (797399) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123927)

The $48k battery pack must be replaced [theunderstatement.com] if it completely drains. Insurance and warranty do not cover this.

Internet (1)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 2 years ago | (#39123931)

He Internet probably has a lot to do with it. It can easily cost hundreds of millions of dollars to design a new car. Now with the intenet if that new car is crap people will talk about it online. Think back to the pinto, once a very popular car. Who would have ever bought one if they knew they had a bad habit of catching fire in rear end collisions?

Fact of the matter is manufactures invest too much money in a new model today to risk producing something that is complete crap. In today's hyper competitive market you can't afford to keep making a bad car by offering an extra discount.

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