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What's The Worst Vehicle You Have Ever Owned and Why?

I’ll start off by saying that I’ve owned a lot of clunkers in my life. I started driving at an early age so the vehicles I’ve owned were of the $50-$200 variety. A quick rundown of some of them is Renault, Fiat, Simca, Pontiac Tempest, Chevy Corvair, Chrysler LeBaron and Pontiac T1000. The worst one, however, was a 2001 Mercury Sable. The funny thing is…it was an almost free vehicle as my mother-in-law left it to my wife and I. She had replaced the transmission at the 36K mark and we replaced one at around 80K. When the third one died at less than 110K…we sold it as a “project car.”

I’ve been told by several mechanic friends of mine that Sable and Taurus transmissions of that era were very unreliable. I can attest to that. Before any Ford fans blast my comment…the best vehicle that I’ve ever owned was a 1994 Ford Ranger XLT. I can’t tell you how many trips from the east to west coast the little pickup managed without one breakdown. So…what was the worst vehicle that you’ve ever owned?

Never admit your faults. Let others do it for you.

2000 Oldsmobile Silhouette. Cheaply built and impossible to work on under the hood. If a week went by and I didn’t have to fix something on it, I did a little tap dance. Very problematic transmission regardless of service. I’ll never forget when I learned that the procedure for thermostat replacement involved removing the exhaust manifold, though I did manage to get around that through some skin donation and hand acrobatics. If you have one of these and have to do the heater hoses - forget it - just take it to the scrap yard.

It was not a neglected junker. I bought it with 100K and full maintenance records - all recommended services and then some over its lifetime.

Have you ever seen anyone do a tap dance after having an engine hydrolocked with coolant? (probably head gasket, but I never bothered to verify). In money terms, it was a terrible time to have to get a different vehicle, but I was never so happy to have an excuse to scrap a vehicle.

Funny. As a mechanic I would have to put the Taurus/Sable at the top of the list for reliability and ease of service compared to the other cars you listed. The earlier AXOD transmissions in those could be troublesome but by about 2000 they were greatly improved and are quite durable.

My wife drives that same car–2001 Sable. I’ve done all the routine maintenance, but the only “repairs” I’ve done are a blower resistor, coolant tank, and I think that’s it. 120K and she wants to know how long it will be a good car. I want her to get a new car but she likes driving this one.

It is funny because, in my case, you can find owners of the Venture/Montana/Silhouette line that report long term reliable service with few problems.

This may be urban legend, but my uncle once told me that when he was younger it was routine to avoid buying a car built on a Monday (hangovers) or Friday (mentally checked out line workers). I don’t even know if you can find out what day of the week a car was built. But maybe my Silo and missileman’s Sable came off the lines early on a Monday morning or late on a Friday afternoon.

Not a difficult choice for me! I bought a 1957 Plymouth 6 in 1964 as a student car for $325. It had only 58,000 miles on it and the paint still looked good. The original plastic covers were still on the back seat.

However, this car was rushed into production by Chrysler and had numerous flaws. The floor boards rusted out quickly and the front seat fell through. I fixed it with heavy gage sheet metel screwed to the remaining parts of the floor. Both front torsion bars snapped as well; when the car was standing still! Windshield wiper motor burned out as well.

These cars were probably the low for North American builders.

The windshield leaked so badly that it could have used wipers on the inside as well. The dash-mounted rear view mirror vibrated so badly that ir was useless. After one year of driving it started using oil badly and I gave it a ring and valve job. Numereous things continued to plaque this car and I got rid of it (gave to kid brother) at 85,000 miles.

Kid brother sort of used it as a project car in Teacher’s College.

I had a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee, purchased new and properly maintained. If I remember the number correctly, it went into the shop 62 times over eight years. It needed some kind of brake work with every other oil change. It had the “death wobble”, which they could never fix. Needless to say, Chrysler was off my list when shopping for its replacement!

The worst car I ever owned was a '95 Saturn. That car was a POS with no redeeming virtues whatsoever. As prone to problems as my '72 Vega was, at least it was fun to drive.

I can’t say that I’ve ever owned a truly bad vehicle although I did own one once that had a chronic problem that defied any cure. Many years ago I had a chance to buy a 1977 Subaru 2 DR coupe that someone had towed in. It needed an engine due to not checking the oil and running the oil level way down. They said they were just going to scrap it so I offered 25 more than the salvage and voila. It was straight inside and out and throwing an engine together was not a big deal for me.

I commuted about 160 miles a day to work so that Subaru became my daily cheap beater. The problem was that when the ambient temperature was around 32-35 degrees the carburetor throttle body would ice up to no end due to the usual high humidity around here. Above 35 or below 32; not a problem.
The air cleaners had a lever to flip for Summer/Winter which would bring heat from the exhaust header into the air cleaner housing but even with a new heat tube the carb would ice up. Forty miles and the car would start bogging down badly. Pop the hood, flip the lid off the air cleaner, and chip the ice away with a screwdriver. Forty more miles, stop and chip.

As to the Taurus/Sable transmissions the early versions had a problem or two. The 89 transmission in my old Sable was still shifting fine after 330k miles. The only thing done to it was fluid changes every 30-40k miles.

@TSM - that’s funny - I guess they made some improvements. Best car my family ever owned (still does) is a 98 Saturn.

I had a 1980 Pontiac Phoenix (V6, auto), bought brand new, that didn’t make it one week before the problems started. Stalling, trans slipping, and radiator problems were the main issues; getting to work became a real problem. Owned this POS three months, and it spent about half that time at the dealer. The service department had no clue how to keep this thing running, and their attitude was even worse. Small wonder we never have and never will purchase any GM vehicle.

@asemaster …if your wife’s car has the Vulcan V6 with 155HP then that may be part of why it’s a good vehicle. Our Sable had the Duratec V6 with 200HP and some mechanics insist that is why the AX4N 4 Speed automatics were failing. It’s just a theory but there were several Sables and Tauruses in the tranny shop for transmission repair at the same time as ours. All had the higher horsepower engines.

Guys, weren’t those X body cars known for being abominable creations?

Years back, I seem to remember they were always on the list of used cars to avoid . . .

I can’t pick one. But I can pick two.

Worst handling car: 1982 Chevy Cavalier 1.8L, auto. It was my wife’s car when we got married. What a pig. Slow, mushy suspension; it didn’t have anything going for it.

Least reliable car: 1970 Austin America , auto trans. This was produced when British Leyland manufacturing and assembly was at its worst. By 7500 miles it had 2 burned valves and needed a top end job. I found out that Brits all had that top end job at 5000 miles because head warping on all BL cars was rampant. I sold it while at college to a local family. My college roomie stayed after I graduated and left town. He’s aid he occasionally saw it coughing and wheezing around town. It was a constant source of amusement for him. I found it amusing too, but for a different reason. I could go around corners at 25 or 30 MPH. The back end would break loose, but the front end held the road as long as I kept the hammer down. I made a several friends wet their pants in the back seat.

I have only owned one bad car that really wasn’t that bad. In 1976 I was owed $150 and offered a 1971 Chevrolet Vega coupe to settle the debt. The car was in excellent condition inside and out with less than 40,000 miles. My only concern was that it was on it’s 2nd replacement engine! The paperwork checked out. The engine was remanufactured, installed by the local dealer, and had less than 2,000 miles. I decided that I couldn’t go wrong for $150. It was a spare car so I only put about 5,000 mile on it in a years time. I had absolutely zero problems until I was driving on the interstate in 4th gear at the current 55mph speed limit. Suddenly there was a loud bang and the rear wheels locked! I immediately pushed in the clutch and shifted to neutral. I was at an exit and was able to coast to a parking lot. Since steering, brakes, and lights worked fine my Brother was able to safely tow me home with his pick-up and chain. I was able to perform an autopsy the following day and discovered a 3/8 inch X 3 inch piece of a cylinder wall broken out very successfully jamming the piston! A friend had been wanting to buy the car for a V8 conversion project and was very happy to hand over the $50 I asked for. I figure the $100 I spent for a year and 5,000 miles worth of transportation was a great deal. GM sure “screwed the pooch” with the Vega. By the time they solved the engine problem with iron cylinder sleeves they couldn’t give Vegas away.

@missleman, no, we bought the DOHC engine, she didn’t really care which engine but I always insist on the biggest, strongest, fastest option. The first 6 years we had it we lived 3 miles from her work, so I’d consider that severe duty for the engine but easy on the trans. It really has been a great car. She likes driving it, it’s been completely trouble free, and driving back from Salt Lake it will cruise I-80 at 90mph at 3500 rpm.

I don’t really see more Taurus trans failures than I see on other makes, but I’m just a small sample.

As prone to problems as my '72 Vega was, at least it was fun to drive.

I agree…My 73 Vega was very fun to drive. But it was mechanically a dismal failure on GM.

The latest real POS was my 84 GMC S-15 pickup. So many problems…Only kept it 6 years because it was costing me too much money to keep it.

Never owned a Taurus…but I’ve people say they were very reliable…and others say the opposite. Sister-in-law owned 2 (mid 90’s and a early 2000 (think it was 03)…POS in the worse way. Every time we visited them it was in the shop for something. She spent thousands and thousands just to keep that thing to 60k miles.

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I can’t say that I ever had a real bad one. My Dad’s new 78 Volaire pretty much destroyed itself just sitting in the garage though. If I had to pick I guess it would be my 81 Olds Delta 88 diesel. I special ordered it with posi traction and cost me $10,000 and $800 extra for the diesel. $300 starters, $600 inector pumps, etc. and the engine went at 200K highway miles. It did get 24 mpg but the new Goodwrench engine at 200K only got another 150K or so, then another engine, and head gaskets, etc. I went to trade it in two years but they would only give me $2500 for it that I paid $10K two years before, so I got mad and just kept driving it to my demise. Not to mention the transmissions every 80K and cold feet in the winter when the head gaskets wouldn’t allow the heater to work. What finally did it was the air conditioner compressor froze up and without the second belt caused the remaining belt to squeal in the morning on start up. It was too embarassing to keep driving so I sold it for $200 after 500K. Looked great still and I did keep the hood ornament as a memento.

“weren’t those X body cars known for being abominable creations?”

Yes, they were.
However, my '81 Chevy Citation (X-car) was actually far more reliable, and required fewer repairs than my '74 Volvo, which was the absolute worst POS that I ever had the misfortune to own. I would list all of the problems with that POS Volvo, but the regulars have heard my gripes about that car previously.

“1970 Austin America , auto trans. This was produced when British Leyland manufacturing and assembly was at its worst”

I think that BL’s “worst” period lasted for quite a few years. I knew somebody who bought a brand new Austin Marina ('76 or '77 model year) that broke two crankshafts in the first 30k miles. Back in the '20s & '30s, some cars might have had a problem with crankshafts snapping, but I think that BL was the only mfr that still had problems like this as late as the '70s.