“They don’t build them like they used to.”
Yes, that is a pretty common statement around the water cooler. I would say you should be generally glad that they don’t. Of course I am referring to the automobile. That is what I write about.
The modern day automobile is a marvel of engineering and technology. The latest statistics for Canada suggest that the average vehicle on the road is 9.7 years old. Looking back to 1990 that number was 7.3 years. Before that even less.
What is driving that change? Believe it or not it is vehicle quality. Yes, a plastic infused packed with electronics 2010 model vehicle is built better than your early ’80s less plastic infused sprinkled with electronics vehicle.
But what about your 1970s land yacht? Those tanks lasted forever; or did they? Not a lot of vehicles even hit 160 000 kilometres in the ’70s. Engine failure and/or rust would usually take these to the scrapyard. What person now would accept the fact that their vehicle might not make it to 160,000 kilometres without a major repair? Engine? Transmission? Frame?
Now let’s talk about driving quality and performance. A few years back we did a fairly substantial rebuild/restoration of a 1969 Ford Mustang GT. All finished I was excited to take that thing out on the road. You bet, they do not build them like they used to. Sure you may have liked the style but you forgot about steering, brakes and performance. The simplest, cheapest 21st century vehicle drives a lot better than that old muscle car.
Another area that late model vehicles excel at is maintenance. There is likely not one thing or system on your vehicle that requires more maintenance than it did in the past. Spark plugs used to be replaced at 50 000 kilometre intervals. Now most vehicles go more than 150,000 kilometres before changing the plugs. Admittedly those plugs are more expensive and the time to change them can be significantly more. It is impressive that something as simple as a spark plug can have a life triple what it used to be.
Timing belts used to be changed at 100,000 kilometres. Now most timing belt change intervals encroach on 200,000 kilometres. Another impressive performance for a rubber toothed belt that does not look a whole lot different than it ever did. The list goes on.
Sometimes the explosion of vehicle technology seems ridiculous and needless. Computers and electronics invade all parts of the vehicle. Complexity makes service and repair a continuous challenge.
The fact is though, the vehicles we drive today are better in almost every way than they ever were and I do still enjoy the challenge of fixing them.
Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org