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Quality cars

I have a very basic question.

My mother drives a late 70?s Volvo, and my cousin an early 80?s Mercedes. Both vehicles were well maintained and are still running strong with 100?s thousands miles on them… My wife bought a mid 70?s Chevy Vega, which was also well maintained but was basically junk in < 10 years. My neighbor?s late 70?s Ford Pinto was also worthless after several years.

It appears to me, since the ?world is flattening? and auto parts are manufactured all over the world, and there is more global competition now than the 70?s and 80?s, that all cars are basically constructed these days with the same quality ?parts?. My question; Is there an auto brand(s) these days that is truly constructed with better quality ?parts? and better ?engineering? such that, properly maintained would be expected to last longer than others. Has the new car market evolved into ?they?re all about the same? construction wise and people buy cars now based on features not on their ?component parts? durability and quality?

I?m thinking of my mothers 70?s Volvo or those London, England cabs that have 300+ thousand miles on them that look and run like they?re brand new.

Are those days over?

I think you are “romantisiing” the good ol days for cars a bit much. Glad you can cite some examples of cars that lasted the test of time. But, there are plenty of '70’s Volvos and '80’s MBs that have found their way to the junk pile.

Todays cars actually run better longer and with less maintenance the cars of the '70’s and '80’s. I am pretty sure that todays Volvos don’t hold up like they used to, so for that brand perhaps you are correct.

Parts suppliers today meet higher standards and closer tolerances with more quality inspections before they are accepted by the auto companies and assembled into autos. While there are still some brands that outperform and outlast other brands overall cars are produced better today and last longer and require less frequent repairs. They even resist rusting out much better than previous generations of cars.

If the owner’s washed and polished their cars they’d look new longer too, due to better paints and materials. Perhaps what has changed is the mindset of the owners.

Many owners seem to see their cars like appliances, toaster don’t require much attention they just work. This is the way many owners are with their cars now. They are so trouble free they just assume like toasters and all you do is turn the key and go - until you turn the key and it doesn’t go. Perhaps that is why many cars don’t go many 100’s of K miles.

A quality car is, of course, the Bugatti Veyron. A Volkswagon developed car, produced by Bugati. A Volkswagon that gets 8 MPG city driving. 3 MPG at top speed, 250 mph. You could pass this one on to your kids.

I don’t think parts are as much a part of the problem these days as is assembly. There are lots of common suppliers and similar parts that can be seen in both Toyota and GM products. Attention to detail tends to lead to better cars as much as any factor. Some years ago, Buick began using a real time assembly technique using the same GM parts as the other GM brands. With early reporting of problems and computer assist on robotic assembly lines, problems could be corrected before many units left the factory. Instead of stock piling faulted cars for sale, the limited but slight delay in assembly seemed to have helped quality control.

Many makes are designed with a particular life expectancy. Cars are designed for a finite life that will yield the highest margin of profit for the lowest cost of construction. Maintenance may be the biggest profit maker for most. Toyota products are touted as being the most reliable for example, but the price of their factory parts more than make up for the less frequent repair…it’s all about the $$$$$$.

“Toyota products are touted as being the most reliable for example, but the price of their factory parts more than make up for the less frequent repair…it’s all about the $$$$$$.”

Of course it’s about the money. Capitalism is always about the money. But how a business goes about their quest for money is the important thing. Apparently most, if not all, auto manufacturers are aware that quality sells cars these days. They build in as much reliability as the public is willing to pay for. Over many decades, they’ve learned what level that is and they design and manufacture accordingly.

dagosa, I gotta ask - you constantly point to maintenance as the key profit center for the manufacturers, and you mention a big percent number at times. What is the source of your information?

As Uncle Turbo stated, the OP is “romanticising” the situation.
I had the misfortune to buy a brand new '74 Volvo, and it was–without question–the worst piece of crap that I ever bought.

Despite maintenance that went well beyond the mfr’s guidelines, the transmission began leaking a few days after the warranty ran out, and by 60k miles, it began burning oil excessively. By the time that I finally dumped it at 76k miles, it burned a qt of oil every 600 miles. In order to take a trip, I had to carry so much transmission fluid and so much motor oil in the trunk that it limited the amount of luggage that I could carry.

Rather than going throught the very extensive list of other chronic problems with that CRAP Volvo, suffice it to say that my next car–a Chevy Citation (one of the infamous, problem-plagued General Motors X-Cars)–was far more reliable than the Volvo, and cost far less to maintain over its life than the Volvo did.

My subsequent cars ('86 Taurus, '92 Accord, '97 Outback, '02 Outback) have each been better than the car that preceded it. The total number of repairs on those 4 cars were FAR fewer than the number of repairs that were necessary on that one Volvo.

I am very happy for the OP that his mother has had such good service from her Volvo.
However, if the OP thinks that cars are getting less reliable and less durable than they were previously, he is wrong, wrong, wrong.

One thing that made some older cars seem more reliable, was that they were so much simpler, very few options and power accessories.

Be Careful That You Don’t Buy Into One Of Many Car Quality Myths.

The fact that you cite a 70’s Volvo, 80’s Benz, and London cabs as superior is surprising to me. They possibly were kept going for a long time, but at what expense and hassle ?

Comparing any vehicle to a Vega or Pinto is like comparing an indoor flush toilet to an outhouse. Those cars didn’t stand out as two of auto history’s finest achievements.

I’ve driven good old GM and Chrysler cars for hundreds of thousands of relatively trouble free miles at a very low overall operating cost and I’m still doing it.


Excellent post, CSA!

By the way–welcome back. Your absence for a few weeks was a loss to many folks.

VDC Driver, Thanks & Thanks !


James May says the tires will give out in 15 minutes at that speed, but the fuel will run out in 12 minutes.

Back in the bad old days, it was perfectly tenable for a company like Mercedes or Volvo to get away will selling cars that cost a lot more because they lasted a lot longer. People were willing to pay more for a car that would last 200k+ miles as opposed to one that would be pretty worn out by 100k.

The trouble is that now most cars can, with good maintenance, run indefinitely. Consequently, a company is not going to get away with charging more for a car that will last longer in some theoretical sense. So companies like Mercedes and Volvo who once justified the premium their brands commanded by having better components and engineering now have to justify it with more gadgets and bigger engines.

An interesting factoid is that in 1980 a completely stripped down Mercedes 240D, which is a miserably slow and spartan car, sold for more than a top-of-the-line El Dorado with all the bells and whistles. That’s because people knew they were paying more for a better made car (and note how many early 80’s Benzes versus early 80’s Caddies you see driving around now). But these days, there’s no such thing as a car like the 240-- all the luxury cars are more along the lines of the El Dorado now.

CSA hit on an important issue. For cars to last long, they need to be well enough engineered and built and have good, affordable parts available during their lifespan.

Both 70s Volvos and Mercedes cars had good BODIES, so the rust did not eat them up in under 10 years. Both companies made parts available for a very long time. The buyers of these cars were very focused and proud owners, so they tended to keep their cars longer. VDC seems to have had more problems than average, however.

I worked with two engineers who had these Volvos, and since the bodies did not rust they went to great lengths to keep them mechanically fit, at great expense, I might add. My Chevelle Malibu V8 was more reliable and much cheaper to keep running, but the body did not last as long.

The Pinto and Vega were basically “throwaway cars” designed to fill the “import fighting” niche without any enthusiasm from the designers. We used to have a GM dealer in our country club, and he kept telling me not to buy small GM cars, since they were a half-hearted effort form a design point of view. The full size and mid size cars got all the engineering attention.

This was true of Ford as well, and the Lincoln, Mercury and Crown Victoria tended to be good cars with very long lives; ask any taxi driver. This situation is still basically true, a Chevy Aveo has a very short life expectancy, but a full size Impala will last several hundred thousand miles.

Volvo quality has dropped from one of the world’s best in the sixties to one of the worst over the years. Mercedes has gone down hill as well. This has nothing to do with globalization, however.

To add to OP’s post; parts are manufactured all over the world, but the car company specifies the level of quality and designs the part for a certain life span. US parts manufacturers initially could not meet Honda and Toyota quality levels.

The main difference between Japanese and US car manufacturers is the Japanese make most their money worldwide from “small” cars, and they are very profitable for them. Ford lost up to $1400 on every small car they made (Escort, Pinto, Maverick), and could not put any quality in them. Same for Chrysler (Omni, Horizon, Neon) and GM (Corvair, Vega, Vauxhall, etc)

dagosa, I gotta ask - you constantly point to maintenance as the key profit center for the manufacturers, and you mention a big percent number at times. What is the source of your information?

Forgive me for conflating Toyota manufacturing with the franchised dealers who sell and support their products and just use the name Toyota. Toyota has an obligation to it?s dealers to provide a profit margin to dealerships to sustain their business. Auto industry sources say the average dealership profit breakdown is 60 percent back office, 30 percent used cars and 10 percent new cars. So it’s not coming from new car sales.

Now the manufacturer obviously makes a bigger profit on new car sales than the dealer given these percentages, but it?s still up to Toyota to support the dealerships, which represent the real cost of ownership to the customer by having MSRP of parts extremely high (I?m not telling you anything there.) and supporting back office profit including finance rates and hourly wages for maintenance costs to give the highest single profit line, service and parts.

Ford Corp. for example directly reports that the majority of their direct corporate profits come from finance alone.

This profit structure has a huge bearing on projected maintenance of cars, where 70% of new cars are brought back to the dealership during the first ownership cycle. It also has a huge impact on projected maintenance cost of different vehicles and why the Toyota corp. alone must realize a profit of over $3000 for it?s ?too? reliable Prius.

Lastly, I have friends and family in a total of 12 local dealerships as owners and managers. During reunion time we talk, and their talk coincides with the reading figures I?ve sourced and a few I’ve referenced. So it bears out objectively and subjectively to me.

Cars are designed, not only for performance intent, put profitability after the sale. And, making a statement that the cost of a car and it?s parts are directly related it?s reliability; is false. It?s related to design intent and long term, not just immediate profit. This has a huge impact on production of hybrid, ev, and flex fuel incl. gas powered cars and why a Volt will costs $40k.

And why, tongue in check perhaps, CR years ago made the statement in their annual car review I’ll never forget, that the Ford Maverick was one of the best engineered cars of all time…decent reliability to year(); then everything seemed to break down at once.

Ford for example, at Lemforder suspension and component plant, purposely paid more for inferior parts when better were made available for less.
You all can come to your conclusions, I came to mine.

They build in as much reliability as the public is willing to pay for.
I feel differently. I feel they build quality around several factors and cost is not one of the top two or even three. Cars are meant to be serviced, cars are meant to deteriorate and cars are purposely designed around part reliability coordination and only because of the mandated govt. emission warranty are exhaust system are stainless steel. Ford purposely makes a truck of sub quality /performance to keep it’s merchandising edge in sales in the FOrd F150 as the top seller…they don’t want the competition from the Ranger. All corporate profit decisions. GM Ford have always been capable of making cars that equal or exceed quality of Toyota…they do with models on the international market, but GM/Ford has made high volume fleet cars in the US for years and Chrysler gets caught with it’s suv pants down.

They care as much about making quality cars as the health companies do about making HC payments…they do so as a last resort or when their benefactor (Obama to GM) tells them to. GMAC made too many housing loans or they would still be making junkie Malibus for Hertz. It’s still about the $$$$$; every decision from product line to HC cost of their workers. A few thoughts and opinions :slight_smile:

What you want, a car made of visibly higher quality mechanical parts may have existed in the early years in more obvious ways. There is some of that yet but is intended as it always was for your perception and therefore price justification. Note that all cars go away including Cadillacs, Mercedes and the like.

Keep any modern car out of the winter salt or away from oceanside salt, strong sunshine as in southern states, don’t crash it, don’t abuse the drive train, maintain it correctly and it will last as long as you want to drive it, some with more repairs needed than others.

I have owned domestic and foreign (mainly Japanese) vehicles for years. For me the Japanese vehicles have been far far superior in terms of quality compared to the domestic vehicles I’ve owned. I was able to keep my domestic vehicles around for a few hundred thousand miles…but at a MUCH HIGHER COST. In some cases OVER 1000% higher cost.

Unless you plan on running the car into the ground the other thing you have to consider is resale. Most foreign vehicles maintain their value a lot better then the comparable domestic vehicle.

I think that there is a Checker cab in the Smithsonian that went 1,000,000 miles. Checker supposedly put parts in the vehicles that would last a long time. The Checker cabs that came out right after WW II had solid front axles with the idea that an independent front suspension wouldn’t hold up under taxicab service. The engines were Continental Red Seal engines, but had heavier bearings than the engines Continetal furnished to Kaiser/Frazer. The next series Checker cab that came along about 1956 used a Ford front end because Checker thought it was rugged. When Continental quit supplying the engines for the Checker, the company began using Chevrolet engines.

I am not certain how the Checkers of this time period would compare with the Ford, Chevrolet and Plymouth vehicles with the heavy service “taxicab” package.

They were a lot better in the small items such as body panels, door handles, durable upholstery, bumpers, etc. The engines and transmissions were basically the HD police and taxi stuff. I don’t know why they put one with 1,000,000 miles in the Smithsonian, there is a 1982 Toyota Celica running around my neighborhood with 1.2 million miles on it and the original white paint still looks good. We live in a low humudity area with little salt used in winter. The Celica spent most of its life in Nevada.

But a million miles in the 50s, 60s,and 70s was quite something.