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Are American small cars unfriendly to home garage mechanics?

I’m looking for some help choosing between two cars - the 2012 (or 13) Ford Fiesta and the 2012 Toyota Yaris. I’m starting a job with a pretty serious commute this September (120 miles per day), so I am happily selling my SUV in order to buy something far more economical.

My beloved spouse/mechanic, who loves Ford trucks, says that he is not willing to consider a Ford car because they “go out of their way to make it difficult for home mechanics to work on” their non-truck vehicles. Lots of specialty tools required, things wedged up in hard or impossible-to-reach places, etc. I trust his judgment, but I also know he hasn’t been under a recent Ford car.

My question is – does anyone know if this is an accurate sentiment? And is the Yaris any better? I like both cars a lot, but if it’s true that the Fiesta will be a burden to us later on maintenance-wise (we do most of our repairs at home), I’ll have to pass on it.

Thanks!!! :slight_smile:


Most small cars are not “friendly” for any mechanic. Due to small spaces things get wedged in and access can be hard. Is it “engineered” purposefully to make it hard for a home mechanic? I don’t think so. Cars have had more stringent emission numbers to meet compared to trucks and that has added to the complexity of cars compared to trucks. The engine bays of trucks are huge compared to cars, making trucks much easier to work on.

My guess is the Fiesta is just as mechanic friendly, or not, as the Yaris. Base your decision on some other criteria, me I like the Fiesta over the Yaris. I have an '03 Honda Civic that needed a simple replacement of the alternator. Should be easy, and on any truck pretty much a snap. On the Civic I had to pull off the power steering pump to get to the alternator from the top, and take off the drivers side wheel to get access to the bottom. This turned a simple job into a body contortionist mess. I paid the $90 for 1.5 hours labor for my mechanic to do the job. It would have taken me much longer, meant crawling around under the car on a jack stand in a very awkward angle. If I snapped off a bolt it would end up at a shop anyway, and that seemed highly possible.

Your home mechanic can still do oil changes, replace plugs, and lots of other stuff. Just sometimes you have to decide whether you want to do a job yourself if access is a problem. As for special tools, this is an issue on lots of cars and I think this is less a problem with Ford than Toyota as a brand.

By the way, the distinction between “American cars, and foreign cars” is pretty much mute now. The Fiesta isn’t any more American than the Yaris. Cars are built everywhere and the Fiesta was made to be sold all over the world, not sure where it is manufactured. Ford is an American Company, but it makes lots of “foreign” cars if you consider the site of manufacture. Most of Ford trucks sold in the US are made in North America, while a much smaller percent of Ford cars are made in North America.

I agree, it’s not Ford that’s the problem, it’s small, front wheel drive that’s the ‘problem’. But there will be VERY little for him to do under the hood for years to come, mostly just replacing fluids, filters, and (in several years) plugs.

Normal maintenance on late model Toyotas requires only the basic tools that most DIYers have. Belts, hoses, alternator, water pump, spark plugs brakes, etc., that would likely need attention from 100,000 to 150,000 miles, require no special tools. Often, the engine must be supported and the front mount removed to gain access and that seems peculiar to the hard core domestic truck DIYers. The Yaris has a transmission dipstick which is a plus to the DIYer and the engine is often criticized for being dated but that means well proven to some of us. A friend asked for my advice last week and I accompanied her to look at some new models and the Yaris caught her eye and I was impressed by the car’s handling and the relative cost. But the dealerships can’t seem to keep them on their lots. With row after row of Camrys, Corollas, and SUVs the lots usually had a single 4 door Yaris.

Count me in as another that says it isn’t Ford that is the problem - its small cars in general.

Will there be some things seemingly unnecessarily hard to do on the Fiesta? Sure… but the exact same thing will be true of the Yaris.

If you want to guarantee a decent amount of space, hold off on your purchase for another year or so - Ford is supposed to bring the 1.0L Ecoboost over for the Focus and Fiesta starting with the 2014 model year (due out fall '13). That’s a 3 cylinder engine instead of the current 4 cylinder. Since the engine is mounted transversely, that’s going to reduce the size of the engine considerably - basically a 25% reduction in block length, which will all be extra space in the front and rear of the engine to work on… The engine compartment still looks crowded, but that’s largely because of the extra flex tubing that’s easily moved for work…

Overall, those extra few inches will make work seem like a piece of cake compared to any 4 cylinder block in a subcompact. Sort of like my old Taurus with a 3.0L V6. That was a big engine, but the engine compartment was sized to hold a 3.4L V8. Lots of space, particularly on the sides of the block.

(disclaimer: I am invested in Ford stock and bonds)

Thank you everyone for your insightful responses. :slight_smile: I guess now it will come down to the test drive!

@eraser1998 - Yes, it’s a smaller block, but ‘Ecoboost’ means ‘turbo’, so all the extra space will be used up with the tubo hardware and plumbing.

I agree with the general consensus that the reason isn’t Ford, it’s “small”. The primary way manufacturers get “small” and keep costs down is to deign the vehicles with sideways-mounted engines integrated with transaxles (hasically, the engine, transmission, and differential are all one compact assembly, with the axles connected to the sides (ends?). That enables everything in the drivetrain to be packed into a small space, allowing more cabin space in a tighter body. But it makes things harder to get at when domething needs to be fixed. .

I do want to point out, however, that of he’s the one that’s going to be doing the maintenance and repairs he should have a say in the selection. If he believes Ford make its small cars harder to maintain, there are lots of other options out there. I trust you would expect him to yield to your needs, real or perceived, and you should yield to his too. This has to be a joint decision.

You mention that “I also know he hasn’t been under a recent Ford car”; in fairness, have YOU been under a recent Ford car?

@texases - have you seen the engine? The turbo and the plumbing is hardly taking up all the extra space. Yes, there is additional plastic ductwork that you’ll need to move to access the front of the engine - but the front of the engine is quite a bit farther back from the wheel well than in the 4 cylinder versions. That’s a lot of extra space. The turbo and its plumbing simply don’t come close to sucking up as much space as a whole cylinder.

@eraser1998 - I’m sure that it’s better than a turbo 4, but still doesn’t seem all that much better than a non turbo 4:

@thesamemountainbike Reasonable concerns, but don’t you worry. I asked this question in order to clarify the situation for both of us. If he’s not comfortable with a Fiesta regardless, we will not get one.

I have not recently been under a Ford car, but I have spent plenty of time beneath a Suzuki Grand Vitara, and whenever he is under any car, I am always at the ready with tools and beer. In fact I just bought him a new creeper for his birthday (at his request).

Fret not. :wink:

The last car that was truly friendly to a home mechanic was the Aircooled VW bug.

I tip my hat to you. I guess you’re more knowledgable that I imagined. And to think I used all that “lay-speak” like “sideways-mounted” instead of “transverse”.

Tidbit for you & hubby: the first mass-produced car to use the transverse mounted engine with transaxle and FWD to get maximum cabiin space out of a small car was the original Mini in 1959. They also put small wheels pushed out to the corners of the car to maximize space, and they put a tiny radiator in the corber of the front, as out of the way as possible… It’s said that 80% of the floorpan was used for cabin floor.

"whenever he is under any car, I am always at the ready with tools and beer. In fact I just bought him a new creeper for his birthday (at his request). "

I hope your husband knows that he is a lucky man.

I agree it is not a Ford issue, but I disagree that it is a small car issue. I have had as much trouble working on mid size and full size FWD cars as I have had on small cars. Its worse if you order a larger optional engine, i.e. a V6 over a 4cyl. If we are brand bashing here, I think GM is the worse here with Nissan hot on their heals.

If I were to commute 120 miles a day, neither the Fiesta nor the Yaris would be a choice for me. I think it would make sense to rent one or both of these cars and drive the route you travel for your commute. You may want something a little bigger and more comfortable. Since your travel is obviously on the highway, the savings in gasoline may not be worth the difference for a larger vehicle. Cars get their best mileage on the highway. What kind of SUV are you now driving and what is the highway gasoline mileage.

Please understand that I am a 70 year old geezer and I don’t think my body could take a 120 mile per day commute in a small car. No doubt, you are younger, but do try out the small car to see if it is tolerable for your daily commute.

The good news is that most of the small cars, especially with the standard engines are very reliable, and that includes Ford and GM. My 02 Saturn has been more reliable than a slew of Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans that we own or have owned. The first 100k miles should be trouble free with almost any brand now.

My suggestion, look at the PM requirements that he will be performing. Air filter, spark plugs, oil filter, etc and see how hard they are to get to. Then at 120 miles a day, comfort is crucial. I have had a 100 mile/day commute for the last 11 years before retirement, believe me, seat comfort becomes VERY important.

After checking the PM requirements, take your top selections on a 60 mile trip before the final choice. BTW, cheap seats can sometimes be more comfortable than the high priced ones, its all in your back. Don’t rule out the less expensive cars.

@keith is exactly right, it’s a fwd issue. And the one major difference for routine maintenance is I4 vs V6, those back 3 plugs are a bear on many V6 vehicles.