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Are New Cars Too Heavy and Powerful?

A caller this week said her car exhaust was smoking. Tom and Ray told a caller she needed a new car – because her current one, an older model, was burning oil. Ray recommended as a new car to consider a 4 cylinder version vs a 6. A more simple design, easier to work on, better fuel economy, etc.

I agree with Ray. I think cars are getting heavier and bigger and needing more engine power from all the gadgets the automakers are installing on them. And even if you don’t want the gadgets (as option), you still have to buy a car which has all the brackets welded to the frame to install it, the wiring harness and connectors, the more complex computer software, etc. So you get a heavier car and a more complicated car – hence less reliable and more expensive to diagnose and fix when it breaks – than you really wanted.

I hear callers on the show saying their 1990 this-or-that gets 42 mph. One caller said his older Honda Civic EF (I think) continues to get 50 mpg. I don’t see these kind of numbers out of newer cars.

Anyone have the specs? I imagine a 1992 Toyota Corolla weighs a good deal less than a 2012. And I expect because of this, the 1992 version has a good deal smaller engine displacement.

If fuel economy & reliability are the objective, it seems like new car designs are going in the wrong direction.

What do you think?

What made the Honda CRX a great car was its weight (or lack of it). It had a small engine, but it was a little two seater and it was light as a feather compared to today’s cars.

Yes, cars from the early 1990s were more fuel efficient, but I don’t think it is extra accessories like air conditioning. It’s the modern safety equipment that makes them weigh more; things like air bags and steel reinforced safety cages.

Today’s cars are more reliable than they were in the early 1990s, not less reliable. Today’s cars are A LOT more reliable than they were back then.

BTW, software doesn’t weigh anything.

Cars do strive to be as light as possible for economy sake. But, drivers want automatic transmissions, air bags, air conditioning and safe cars built to survive crashes… Yes, cars may be a little heavier then they could be, but for good reason.

An easy way to know that cars are more reliable - every year the average age of the car fleet increases:

Either Americans prefer bigger cars, or car marketers percieve car buyers want bigger cars. Every new generation of Honda Accord and Civic are bigger than the last. For the 1st time in years the newest Accord is actually a bit smaller. While the cars are getting bigger they aren’t getting much heavier. Rather more powerful engines are installed which gives much better performance, but hurts mpg. Compared to the '90’s Accord the newer one’s are bigger, a bit heavier, and much more powerful. They ride better, handle OK, and accelerate much faster. In the '90’s you couldn’t get a V6 in an Accord, but now you can.

As more difficult mpg requirements come into play you could see cars getting smaller, and less powerful in order to get more mpg. Whether this is a good thing will be determined by how the automakers refine the cars to meet the requirements. Using more electric motors doesn’t hurt performance since electric motors develope a lot of torque and don’t weigh much. It is the batteries that add the weight to current hybrids. Better and lighter batteries could make a big difference.

Now that we have new future mileage standards in place you will see smaller engines and emphasis on lighter cars. Hyundais and Mazda’s Sky Active engines have good power and very low fuel consumption due to direct injection and higher compression ratio. Thes engines rival diesels in efficiency.

Hyundai will not put 6 cylinder engines in their normal family cars. Ford Mustangs now have a high performance 6 engine.

Ridiculous products like a Dodge minivan with 275 HP will soon be a thing of the past.

The automobile, like so many other accouterments of modern life, has become a status symbol and a fashion accessory and long term financing allows the public to buy more than they can afford. If cars were financed for 24 months there would be very few SUVs and BMWs on the road while a great many more Accents, Proteges and Yarises.

Cars are getting bigger to haul our fat asteroids around. Obesity lends itself to the need for bigger vehicles. I think for many, it’s that simple.

Cars are getting bigger and more powerful, but engines are getting more efficient too. You see these larger cars getting as good as or better fuel economy that their counterparts of the past.

What is missing is those very high mileage cars of the past that were poor sellers in their day. They made for great advertising, but when people came into the showroom, they left with a larger, more powerful car that got much less gas mileage. The Honda Civic VX of the early 90’s was rated at 58 mpg highway by the EpA at the time, but it was only available as a hatchback with a 5 speed. Honda made no attempt to put the same engine into a Civic sedan with an automatic.

There are new vehicles with 40+ mpg (highway) ratings out again, but I wonder how their sales are doing. I am glad to see that at least the option is out there again.

I think cars are getting heavier and bigger and needing more engine power from all the gadgets the automakers are installing on them.

My first car was a 1965 Sunbeam IMP. Three of my high-shool friends could pick it up and move it. However I doubt if I could sell many of them today. I would buy one, but it would be hard to find many buyers if I had them for sale today.

Cars have ALWAYS been getting bigger. Car A is introduced…next year it’s a little bigger and more powerful…then the following year…a little more roomy and more powerful…This trend has been going on since I’ve been buying cars.

Chrysler downsized its cars for the 1953 model and suffered sales and profit losses. The Plymouth was bumped out of its 3rd place in sales by Buick. For the 1955 model year, the size of the Chrylser products increased as well as the power. The result was increased sales, so Chrysler made the models introduced in 1957 even larger. Sales went way up for a while. In 1962, Chrysler really downsized the Plymouth and Dodge lines and sales plummeted. Dodge hastily rebadged a Chysler and called it the Dodge 880 to appease buyers. In 1961, GM introduced a compact Pontiac called the Tempest, a compact Oldsmobile called the F-85 and the compact Buick which was called the Special. By 1964, these cars were increased in size and became “intermediates”. Today’s larger GM models, such as the Chevrolet Impala, are about the same size as the 1964 intermediates. The very large cars have all but disappeared. My father-in-law had a 1977 Ford LTD. It was 224 inches long–even longer than a Cadillac. We had some friends that had a teaching assignment in Poland. When they left for the trip, we packed everything they were to take in the trunk of my 1978 Oldmobile Cutlass Salon. I knew that they would return with much more than they took, so I borrowed my father-in-law’s Ford LTD. We picked them up at the airport and had plenty of room for 5 passengers, and the trunk held everything they brought back from Poland with room to spare. Large cars like this are long gone–I think the largest Ford is the Taurus.

I agree that cars if looked at model by model are getting bigger and heavier. But as (for example) the Corolla has grown larger than the old Camrys, other tiny models have filled in the bottom of the product line.

In addition to all the reasons for added weight already mentioned, there;s crashworthiness. Manufacturers are using special high strength steels to control energy absorption and distribution (see attached example).
My hood weighs a ton. These steels are heavy.

As new mpg rules hit, cars will shrink some. Honda just introduced their 2013 Accord, it’s 3" shorter than the 2012, same interior room. Or, as TSMB mentioned, new small models will fill in the bottom, like the new (to the US) Chevy Sonic and Ford Fiesta.

I’m thinking seriously of replacing my hood with a fiberglass one to take some weight off th efront wheels. The only things that are stopping me are

  1. concerns about compromising my crashworthiness.
  2. the cost,
  3. the cost,
  4. and the cost.

I have to wonder whether the kids that add all these lightweight body components know that they’re compromising crashworthiness. If I didn;t have the manufacturer drawings, I don;t know if I’d realize that the hood was a critical-path body part.

GM has always been quite timid toward offering downsized models that might compete with their more profitable full size cars.

European competition forced their hand in the early 60s. Otherwise there would never have been any Tempests and F-85s.


An easy way to know that cars are more reliable - every year the average age of the car fleet increases:

That could also be an indication that the average person has less spending power thanks to the rich-centric economic system we have. Less money = buy cars less often.

I'm thinking seriously of replacing my hood with a fiberglass one to take some weight off th efront wheels.

Might effect it’s ability going through snow. This is a fwd vehicle right??

@shadowfax - maybe for the recent #s, but the trend has been in place for decades.

So has the trickledown economic trend :wink: We’re coming up on 35 years of Reganomics.