April 19, 2004

Farewell to the Brown Car of Doom!!!

Back in 1996, being a too-enthusiastic reader of Consumer Reports, I believed them when they wrote that the quality differences between Fords and Japanese-make cars were small. And despite the far-sighted, cogent, and accurate warnings of my wife, mistakes were made: my innate cheapness led to the purchase not of a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry wagon but of a brown Ford Taurus wagon.

The automobile of doom.

Should I speak of how it went out of alignment every 5,000 miles without fail--so going 10,000 miles without checking the alignment would result in at least two ruined tires? Should I speak of the front wheel bearings that failed at 40,000 miles? Should I speak of the transmission that sprung a leak just as we set out on the 100-mile drive to Monterey, so that when we arrived in Monterey the transmission was a mass of melted metal? Should I speak of the rear brakes that would seize up occasionally? Should I speak of the interior door panels that would snap their plastic attachments to the metal door, so that you would try to shut the door and the interior door panel would come off in your hand? Should I speak of the other stray metal pieces that would fail? Of the non-retractable seatbelts? Should I speak of how the trunk had to be slammed shut--or it wouldn't latch? Should I speak of how the little plastic thingees holding the spare tire in would break, and the spare tire would fall out at interesting times and roll around the trunk? Of the constant oil and water leaks? Of the strange and overwhelmingly loud vibrations that would afflict the car between 55 and 75 mph? (Officer! I wasn't trying to speed! I was just trying to stop the loud annoying vibration that makes my daughter cry!)

I have never bought a more expensive cheap car in my life. Well, actually I have. The car that in its death throes would (sometimes) start for me and not my wife, that had to have its front passenger door held shut by a rope, that had a trunk lock that rusted and froze so that the only way to access the trunk was to fold down the back seat and crawl in holding a flashlight in one's teeth. But that's another story...

Now the Brown Car of Doom has been replaced by a Subaru Legacy wagon. Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

And we have little brand loyalty indeed to the Ford Motor Company.

Posted by DeLong at April 19, 2004 09:04 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

I made the same evaluation - because on PAPER, the specs for the Taurus wagon made some sense.

Fortunately, I came to my senses before I actually bought one.

I realized that any money I saved buying a cheap Ford, I would have had to spend on a larger headstone to hold down my father's spirit: he would come back from beyond to haunt me if I had made such a mistake.

Posted by: Bob O on April 19, 2004 09:19 PM


I guess I should feel reassured that my Taurus wagon isn't the only one to have major alignment problems. My latest complaint of my dark-green car of doom is that one of the windows won't roll up properly. Grrrrr.

Posted by: brayden on April 19, 2004 09:24 PM


I owned a Taurus which I bought used from my brother. I nicknamed it "the car from Hell". One time while I was driving all the electric door locks started to go up and down by themselves like the car was posessed. Also the gas guage would never tell how much gas was in the tank. It would read full and then all at once it would show almost empty. That car had so many problems I'll never buy another Ford.

Posted by: Comajorr on April 19, 2004 09:31 PM


It's not just the Taurus. My mom's Explorer had the same alignment problems (learning to drive on the damn thing, my left biceps became noticeably larger than the right from holding it on a straight course) and the disturbing, whole-car shudder at speeds over 50mph. I will never buy a Ford.

Posted by: cyclopatra on April 19, 2004 09:36 PM


A Subaru Legacy: Proudly assembled by American workers in Indiana.

Posted by: bakho on April 19, 2004 09:41 PM


Good call. My family has bought four Subarus. Bad record? Hardly, the first was purchased in 1980. All of them are still running. Eventually you just want a "new" car...

Posted by: Pat on April 19, 2004 09:43 PM


Does it have a John Kerry bumper sticker on it yet?

Posted by: bakho on April 19, 2004 09:44 PM


I have to admit that my definition of success is never having to buy an American car.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim on April 19, 2004 09:50 PM


From the early 60's til 1984 I had nothing but VWs, vans and bugs; since then I've had a Ford Mustang, Grenada and now an Escort and have never been happier (not the least because I get 30 mpg).

Posted by: M. Tullius on April 19, 2004 09:59 PM


Consumer Reports was right then and is right now -- *on average*. They made no bones about that. Certain domestic models were much worse than average, and certain ones were better. More variance than with the Japanese models.

Actually, Ford has made major progress in the last 3 years. (It's about time.) I wouldn't at all be afraid of a domestic car now; in fact, though I love German cars, I just can't see paying the premium for them. The performance gaps are rapidly closing.

The most interesting story is the decline in quality of Mercedes Benz. They used to consistently rank with Toyota thru the 80s. But they have slipped big-time.

Oh, and Brad, if you didn't get one of the all- new '05 Legacy/Outback's, you should have waited.

Posted by: Hypocrisy Fumigator on April 19, 2004 10:07 PM


I can't comment on the Taurus, but last week I was stuck with a Ford Focus rental car. I have never driven a worse car. I won't detail all its faults, other than to say that when I got home I kissed my Camry.

This is my second Camry. I still have the first one, an '89, now with 220,000 miles on it. And those Camrys were American-built too -- Ohio, I think.

Posted by: Roger Karraker on April 19, 2004 11:02 PM


You've never heard the joke:

FORD == "Found On Road, Dead"?

Posted by: YT on April 19, 2004 11:18 PM


FORD = Fix Or Repair Daily

I know another one, but it's not suitable for a family blog.

Posted by: cyclopatra on April 19, 2004 11:34 PM


Brad, why do you hate America so?

Posted by: derrida derider on April 19, 2004 11:55 PM


"The most interesting story is the decline in quality of Mercedes Benz."

That happens when you switch your focus from manufacturing cars to managing numbers.

Posted by: cm on April 20, 2004 12:11 AM


Ah the infamous Ford Focus. Yes, I bought one of the first year's models. 'The 2000 North American Car of the Year'. I'll never make that mistake again. Sure it had acceptable gas mileage but also some surprising options... Like the ever present non retractable Famous Ford seat belts! (They can not be secured either when the car is moving or in any position other than on very level ground. Sort of an 'anti-roll' mercury switch, VERY stupid). The trans that disintegrated at 8000 miles. (That took a 2.5 week fight with National HQ to 'fix'). The tires that ALL failed at 500 miles, with Ford denying all responsibility for them. The side mirrors that flew off at low speeds. The interior instrument panel clusters that shed, cracked and failed. The rattles that appeared at 1,200 mi and never left. The fuel door that is prone to 'shedding' too. Ditto for the trunk latches.

How about the recalls I get like clock work every other month since I bought the damn thing. You know for minor items like a 'rear wheel retention kit' (I kid you not), a common Ford fuel pump failure at low speeds, speed throttle cables that stick open, trans that is prone to falling out or 'autolysizing', structural front cabin 'A' pillars that needed to be replaced, brakes that failed early, fittings that won't & don't, flash engine fires and did I mention the throttles that stick wide open on occassion? All this is detailed on the NTSB's recall site. I think the Ford Foucs has one of the longest entries there for all time. The Ford Edsel was more reliable for the time.

So I own a moden day Edsel in my Focus, and the fact that the miserable record of this car has not become more common knowledge is my test case for just how miserable the consumer press in this country has become. Evidently few people will tell you if the product you bought just is miserable and might just kill you, especially if it costs about or over 20K. Consumer reports barely covers it really. And I think it has a modern day recall record on it. Really. Tom and Ray, the Car Guys know this, but has anyone EVER heard of Ford 'fessing' up to this? How about any of the car press/mags or shows? Why do we remember the Edsel and the Covair, but all other models since the infamous 'K' & X cars of the 80's are just peachy keen now?

All this would have been more tolerable if my local Ford dealership were at all competent, but alas they are not. And Ford fought me every step of the way when I tried to get them to take responsiblity for their lemmon, just to make it over the lemmon law limit. Customer Service? Please! My local Honda dealer has it, knows what it is and what it takes to maintain high standards. We've owned Fords for most of our lives. I doubt I'll ever buy another one. It's not just the miserable workmanship and the piss poor mileage on their sedans that have not improved in a decade. It's the service I get that says lound and clear 'Hey buddy, go elsewhere!' I have.

So bottom line: If you value your lives, never drive in a Ford Focus, they're quite possibly death traps. Look at the recalls and then calculate how many your car dealership/rental place may have missed, maybe one, perhaps 2, right? (There's been so many). So which ones did they miss? BOTH rear wheel 'retention' kits? Or just the ones to replace Both A pillars? Perhaps the speed cable and the several recalls on the trans? Perhaps the recall on the brakes, or just the exhaust system? Really, count up the number of pages in the reporting and tell me why more people are not talking about my turkey of a car the world over! That's quite a corporate cover-up they have going, right? I want the Edsel back! It was a better car than the Focus!

Posted by: VJ on April 20, 2004 12:31 AM


Scratch the web site mentioned above I think the recall info is here: nhtsa.dot.gov [Warning! Pulling up the entire Ford Focus 2000-02 recall file will take quite sometime on a standard dial up linr, and will commonly freeze machines older than 2 yrs.].

Posted by: VJ on April 20, 2004 12:49 AM


Great choice of new car!

FWIW the Subaru Legacy is the top selling car in New Zealand. (new cars + second hand Japanese imports)

Those that have ever driven in NZ know that the roads are all corners, and those roads do not tolerate 2nd rate cars for long...

Posted by: Lance Wiggs on April 20, 2004 01:31 AM


Is the Focus in the US very different from the ones sold in the UK? In Europe it is tha car that saved Ford's bacon. With handling designed under the supervision of Stirling Moss it has done wonders for Ford's reputation over here.

Posted by: Jack on April 20, 2004 02:06 AM



Its not often that someone so publicly reveals how stupid they are.

Posted by: karlito on April 20, 2004 03:44 AM


Jack, Ford had a reputation for f*cking up small cars in the US, compared to Europe (I heard this from a fellow worker in Ford, back when I worked there). A Focus would be a mid-sized car in Europe, where in the US it'd be a 'kiddy car'. There was a tendency to assume that the US version could be cheapened considerably, with nobody noticing.

I was in the part of Ford that became Visteon, before leaving a few years later. I saw ~15% of the engineers laid off in the first layoff, with successive layoffs peeling more off. Most of the senior staff who made it to 30 immediately retired.

In one case, I saw an engineering section gutted, with a mid-level engineer leaving the company, due to the company not being willing to hire even one engineer to replace two who had quit. The departure of that guy removed the majority of the technical knowledge for a critical component. If that was repeated all over Visteon, the company had the equivalent of a lobotomy. Since it was Ford's majority parts supplier, this meant that Ford quality had to have suffered.

Posted by: Barry on April 20, 2004 04:07 AM


The early Taruses were actually pretty nice cars-- I bought one in early '87, and kept it until it (literally) fell apart 13 years later. Apparently, American auto makers know how to make good cars, they just prefer not to.

Posted by: Matt on April 20, 2004 04:12 AM


I would make an interesting study to compare the US auto industry spending on lobbying vs. the quality of US auto or some other variable like
research. Is their an inverse relationship on spending on lobbying and other significant variables -- such as market share?

Posted by: spencer on April 20, 2004 04:19 AM


Ah, yes. That brings back memories. I was a life long Chevy fan. Then I bought a Chevette. Now I'm a life long Toyota fan.

Posted by: fightingdem on April 20, 2004 04:29 AM


Well, if Ford is such a bust, how about GM? 3 years and 30,000 miles later, I'm still pretty happy with my Saturn LW2 wagon.

Will I stick with Saturn? Ask me in another 75,000 miles. Oh, and the service is pretty good also. Still have the photo of the two guys and a gal who built my car sitting in the glove compartment. Haven't had to go to Tennessee and confront them yet.

Posted by: Somewhere in Massachusetts on April 20, 2004 05:10 AM


Been there, done that. Switched to Toyota. Very happy I did.

Posted by: Chuck Nolan on April 20, 2004 05:22 AM


Honda Accords are basically American cars these days. The Accord Coupe, for example, is not even sold in Japan.

Posted by: Ken on April 20, 2004 05:31 AM


Subarus are indeed rugged, quirky little beasts, sort of the Okidatas of the auto world. I had a third-hand 2WD back in the eighties that refused to die, no matter how badly I abused it. Low on creature comforts and eye appeal but possibly the most reliable vehicle I've ever owned. Subaru is the most often recommended brand by Tom & Ray on NPR's Car Talk, and they seem to know a fair amount about the subject...

Posted by: jim in austin on April 20, 2004 05:40 AM


From link:

TOKYO, Dec. 10, 1999 - GM to Take 20 Percent Stake in Fuji, Maker of Subaru Cars and Trucks. General Motors Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. announced today that they have formed a broad strategic alliance that will allow the two global auto makers to collaborate in the design, development and manufacture of cars, trucks and related technology.
As part of the alliance, GM will buy a $1.4 billion, 20-percent equity stake in Fuji, the maker of Subaru cars and trucks. Tokyo-based Fuji will remain an independent company with Detroit-based GM as its largest shareholder.

Posted by: GM takes 20% stake Fuji on April 20, 2004 05:40 AM



This is the first indication you didn't know what you were doing.

Congrats on the Subaru. Bet it's a different color.

Posted by: Jim Harris on April 20, 2004 06:04 AM


Bravo Brad!
My wife and I purchased our 2nd Subaru last fall (Forrester XT) and love it! The Outbacks are currently a great buy, considering that the new '05s are just around the corner. Subaru has an incredible deal on prices through their VIP program that's affiliated with several professional organizations and advocacy groups. Spend $50 on an IMBA or Sierra Club membership, and get any Subaru at invoice. No questions asked.

Posted by: --locus on April 20, 2004 06:11 AM


My world view was changed in a big way by the book 'Machine that changed the world' about the difference between the Japanese auto industry and the American industry. The lesson I came away with was that the Japanese supply chain is anchored in very longterm cooperative relationships while the American industry is anchored in shortterm arms lenght competitive ones. This results in a the Japanese auto industry capturing two benefits. They manage risk better, and hence are more adaptible. The long term relationship means that longterm reliablity has reputation costs. It spoke to Hershman's comments about the assertion that the market creates a negitive feedback loop that helps firms to adapt - he asks: does this actually work in practice? Do the time constants create a functional system?

Posted by: Ben Hyde on April 20, 2004 06:11 AM


I guess I should be thankful my 1994 Ford Escort wagon with 304,000 miles on it is the exception. Still has the same engine and transmission it came with too.

It's really a Mazda though, although it was made in Detroit. So perhaps it's the design more than the make that matters.

Posted by: David W. on April 20, 2004 06:17 AM


On the bright side, you have the makings of a hilarious screenplay, one that Ford might be willing to buy and toss under a bed.

Posted by: David on April 20, 2004 06:30 AM


I am a blue blood and have owned nothing but Fords. Currently driving a 92 Ford Taurus and a 96 Taurus. Both have given excellent service. No worse than many I know with Toyotas and Hondas. My parents are on their third Sable. The previous two having been passed down to my brothers who are still driving them. I bought my daughter a 2001 Focus. It has been a great car. My decision to buy it, contrary to reports of numerous first year recalls, was the report from an internal survey done by the German auto manufacturers that the Focus was the most reliable and durable car sold in Germany. Besting their vaunted MB's and BMW's. Regarding Consumer Reports, they chose the Focus as the best small sedan. I would buy another in a heartbeat.

Posted by: Nelson on April 20, 2004 06:41 AM


Barry writes:
> I was in the part of Ford that became Visteon, before leaving a
> few years later. I saw ~15% of the engineers laid off in the
> first layoff, with successive layoffs peeling more off. Most of
> the senior staff who made it to 30 immediately retired.

[snip horrific engineering tales]

> Since it was Ford's majority parts supplier, this meant that
> Ford quality had to have suffered.

As an accidental (and soon to be former) shareholder of Ford and Visteon, I'd like to thank you very much for sharing in a public forum.

Isn't it nice when bloggers tell you things? :-)

Posted by: Jonathan King on April 20, 2004 06:54 AM


When we had our second baby, we went shopping for a wagon. My lovely wife test-drove a Ford Taurus wagon but didn't like the mushy way it handled (and mind, that was a brand-new car!). We bought A Subaru Legacy Outback wagon too, and we love it. (The fact that it was built right here in Indiana is certainly a bonus.)

I'm still driving my '93 Saturn SL1, which has more than 140,000 miles on it. I'm beginning to look aroudn for a new car, and I'll probably get another Saturn.

Posted by: Gregory on April 20, 2004 06:55 AM


My rule is never buy a car built by a company that uses English as its operating language. It's worked so far.

Posted by: knut wicksell on April 20, 2004 06:59 AM


Yeah...whatever, I had a '96 Ford Contour that with some reasonable maintenance never needed anything more extensive than tires every 60,000 miles, a good tune up, a timing belt at 100,000 miles and one of those stupid MAP-sensors, without which, I could not get the car smogged. That includes two cross-country trips (L.A. to PA)

Tranmission finally caved in at around 180,000 miles. We could have fixed, but at that time we had decided to get a new car. A Toyota Truck, which so far has been nothing but trouble.

Posted by: van.mojo on April 20, 2004 07:00 AM


Subaru wagons are cool ... except for the crash test data.

Posted by: Roland on April 20, 2004 07:01 AM


I won't argue the truth or falsity of what CR said. All I know is that when I find a manufacturer that seems to know what they're doing, why switch?

My wife bought a used 1986 Honda Accord back in 1990. Had ~58K miles on it. Other than needing a couple new A/C compressors along the way, it was a wonderfully reliable car until about the 220,000 mile mark, when we broke down and bought a new 2000 Accord. The new one just passed the 90,000 mark a couple weeks back. Other than regular maintenance, it's needed a new master cylinder cap, and the lightbulb behind the dashboard clock needs replacing. That's it.

The old Accord made it to 253,000 miles before we donated it to charity.

I'm sure other car makers do a good job too. But I'm buying Hondas until they give me a reason not to.

Ken says: "Honda Accords are basically American cars these days. The Accord Coupe, for example, is not even sold in Japan."

I think where it's made is less important than the culture of the company that's doing the manufacturing. The Japanese car manufacturers, in addition to being more forward-thinking than Americans (who haven't even bothered with making hybrids) absorbed Deming's rap so long ago that it's in their bones. American manufacturers have come a long way here, but they're still not all the way there, IMHO.

Posted by: RT on April 20, 2004 07:07 AM


Brad, I wish you well with the Subaru, but personally I will never buy another one. Our '98 Forester needed a new transmission before 50K (no warrenty coverage, wear and tear they said), two wheel bearing around 60K, and now two separate engine gaskets, rear main seal 80K and head gasket 95K. I do like the way the car handles, but my first cheap Mazda did not cost me this much to keep on the road. Of course the dealer's terrible people skill did not help the problem. Again I wish you well.

Posted by: kemtoi on April 20, 2004 07:09 AM


I drive a 2001 Ford Focus. It is a big on the inside small car with great handling and, for me, reliable performance. I was inclined to buy a Civic, but it wasn't as good.

Posted by: Steve Lehr on April 20, 2004 07:11 AM


"The early Taruses were actually pretty nice cars-- I bought one in early '87, and kept it until it (literally) fell apart 13 years later." ---Matt---

I am still driving my 16 year old Toyota. The only repairs have been a failed fuel injector, which surprised my mechanic who said they almost never go bad, and the radiator which developed a slow leak. I'm sure the blue book value isn't much at this point but it is a gold mine to me when I think about replacing it.

Posted by: Dubblblind on April 20, 2004 07:11 AM


Jack: "Is the Focus in the US very different from the ones sold in the UK?"

Same body, slightly different externals to deal with Euro/US requirements. But US market gets a bigger engine and softer suspension. For some reason Ford insists on softer suspensions (relative to other makers) for all their cars and trucks except the sport models. Some people love it, but it seriously detracts from the handling.

Posted by: Z on April 20, 2004 07:26 AM


Now that Ford owns Volvo, they really ought to consider starting up the old Volvo 740 production line, name it the Ford Rock Solid, and sell it as the most reliable sedan ever produced, which it is. The 740 uses the same platform that Volvo perfected over decades with the 240. At almost 200,000 miles, my 740 runs as well as ever. The only repairs it has ever required have been a fuel pump and a headliner. They don't need to reengineer it. Just manufacture to the old specs and sell at a moderate price.

Posted by: wetzel on April 20, 2004 07:43 AM


As a former Subaru owner (two, and the second (a Legacy) was sold after 16 years steady use for a price equaling 20% of its original value)and the current owner of Honda CRV (BROWN!), there's no question that Japan (and its neighbors, most likely) know what quality and value mean. Enjoy your Legacy in good health -- for a long, long time!

Posted by: Bean on April 20, 2004 07:48 AM


Consumer Reports is the worst source of consumer data -- except for all the rest. On the plus side, they are the only independent source of quality data for consumer goods, a fact they are fiercely proud of.

Some prime examples of CR logic:

1) To test the wear rates of tennis balls they put them in a clothes dryer.

2) To compare brands of car oil they enlisted a fleet of NY taxis, on the grounds that this represented "severe" driving. Their "independence" apparently prevented them from reading industry research that indicates most oil wear occurs during the cold start period. Taxi engines, of course, are usually kept running. Then, they based judgements on only 3 taxis per brand. But the absolute stupidest part of the study was the part in which they recommended driving 6k miles between oil changes instead of 3k. Why? Well they tested 3 taxis on the 6k mile interval. Of course, they all performed well, right. Well, no 2 of the 3 engines failed and needed early overhauls. But CR determined that this was due to causes not related to oil and therefore they could recommend the 6k interval. No, I am not making this up.

3) They recommended Pirelli tires, a popular sporty brand, for family cars based on their tests. Every tire shop in the country knows this is an inappropriate choice because Pirelli's wear much more quickly than their alleged rating, but they do perform well in dry weather. (CR didn't bother to do a wet weather test until months after publishing the article -- Pirelli ranked dead last in wet weather. No, I am not making this up.) But, CR didn't ask any experts because they wanted to be "independent". This caused a short spike in Pirelli sales and this CR article is now legendary in that industry.

4) They ranked a Miele canister vacuum dead last for ability to clean carpets. It turned out that the vacuum was not recommended for carpets without an optional attachment.

Posted by: Z on April 20, 2004 07:48 AM


I, too, spent years "buying American" and taking Ford products in for alignments. Consumer Reports rated the Forester pretty high. Then my boss had a "Fleet Managers" magazine showing the resale value of Foresters stayed high. Bought a Forester. Am on the second recall -- parking lever failure and now something to do with head gasket failures requiring special additive in the radiator.

I live where it routinely gets 20 below or worse. The stinker would start, but then I'd get a check engine light which would shoot through my system like lightning. Dare I drive it or not? It was supposedly a "false code" but you don't know that until you take it in to the shop. Had a block heater put in which, fingers crossed, seems to solved that problem.

It drives nicely, fits in parking spaces and the seats are confortable for me. I saw a "me and my car" item in the Wall Street Journal which said typical Forester owners are women 45 and up -- I clearly fit the profile.

Posted by: silk on April 20, 2004 08:07 AM


I used to work for a subsidiary of Ford.

The company had a plan that allowed you to buy a steeply, steeply discounted Ford automobile.

Funny how people would actually purchase them - because they always were up for sale not long after purchase.


Posted by: Dano on April 20, 2004 08:11 AM


"Should I speak..."

Why, yes, yes, I think you should.

Our much-loved last car was a Ford Festiva, one of the last of the great hatchbacks. It gave us 13 years of service. It's been replaced by a Toyota Scion xB, the funniest-looking car on the road.

Posted by: Jonquil on April 20, 2004 08:29 AM


Subarus are also nice solid cars to be in if you happen to mix it up with a couple of semis:


At least that guy survived... fasten your seat belt!

Posted by: W. Kiernan on April 20, 2004 08:36 AM


American automakers' advantage has always been in large full size vehicles with body on frame construction. Examples abound of Ford Crown Vics and Lincoln Town Cars in taxi use in NYC with 500,000 to 1,000,000 miles on them with the original drivetrain. American automakers traditionally looked upon owners of small economy cars as charity cases. The Japanese changed this by producing reliable high quality small cars. They each have their strengths and weaknesses.

Posted by: Nelson on April 20, 2004 08:49 AM


One of the best cars I've ever owned was a 1995 Ford Escort wagon, which gave me several cheap and reliable years of service in graduate school before being totaled in a collision with an undergraduate who took a curve too fast and lost control of his car. (Fortunately, his very wise and wonderful parents put him in a Saturn, so he didn't kill me.) But as David mentioned above, it's really a Mazda, so it hardly counts.

I now drive a '97 Toyota RAV4, which is the most perfect car I've ever owned. Long live Japanese engineering.

Good luck with the Legacy! Much more professorial, by the way, than the Ford. Haven't you taken the Car Talk Car Compatability Quiz yet?

Posted by: Matilde on April 20, 2004 08:51 AM


we bought a Subaru Legacy wagon back in '95. Now it's got 135,000 miles on it and it's still going strong. Never had a problem with it except for a belt that needed to be replaced, and there's no rust on the body, despite the fact that I never take the time to wax it or anything. I figure we'll get 200,000 miles on it easily.

Posted by: defib on April 20, 2004 08:59 AM


My grandfather drove a 1928 Dodge for about 350,000 miles, and it was still running when he sold it for $35. Be aware, should you decide to buy one, they tend to break rear axles when towed.

Posted by: mark on April 20, 2004 09:15 AM


Ford: Job One!
Wonder which job they were talking about(Quality?).
We bought our Sub because of the all time four wheel drive as we kept our horses at a place that was a winter time mud hole and we have access to a ski cabin at Donner Lake.
Have had good luck with it. Only small repairs so far - starter motor replaced as well as timimg belt.
I don't like the drivers seat comfort. I have to stop and get out every couple of hours to restore my legs and back. I can drive my full size Dodge 3500 pu all day in comfort. I attribute this to the tall seating. I would like to know if others have the same experience with Sub seats. Would esp like to know if the newer models have better seats.

Posted by: dilbert dogbert on April 20, 2004 09:16 AM


Since we long for the good old days when cars were better -
The oil drain plug on 1942 Chevys strips the threads easily.
To replace a heater core on late 1940's Fords required removing a front fender.
Hudsons(i think)had clutches made of material similar wine corks in a perforated plate.
Ramblers used a torque tube, had to drop rear axle to change U-joints.
My dad grew up working in a garage with my grandfather, so he's seen what auto designers can do first hand.

Posted by: mark on April 20, 2004 09:24 AM


What on earth possessed you to hang on to that loser for eight years? Surely Berkeley professors are paid better than that.

Posted by: flory on April 20, 2004 09:33 AM


Oh yeah, I own a 2000 Focus 4 door LX with the smaller escort engine.

apparently Ford uses the same trunk latch they did in 1996, mine needs several attempts to close the trunk.

At one point I went into our local dealers service department and the mechanic recoginzed me from all the recall and defects in my car that they had fixed. I joked I should put him on my christmas card list.

My local dealers shop has done all the work in a timely manner, so I have no complaint against them.

But my daughter has a 2000 Corolla now.

Posted by: mark on April 20, 2004 09:36 AM


Jonquil writes:
> Our much-loved last car was a Ford Festiva, one of the last of
> the great hatchbacks. It gave us 13 years of service. It's been
> replaced by a Toyota Scion xB, the funniest-looking car on the
> road.

No comment on the "Ford" Festiva, but we are coming up on an annoying car replacement milestone where the Scion xB also makes sense. Actually, in some ways it makes *no* sense, but that's not our problem. We have a '93 Subaru Impreza wagon, (125K miles; only major repairs were front CV joints just recently) but even that won't run forever and our kids are getting big enough that the back seat space situation is clearly not ideal.

In theory, we want a moderately priced mid-size station wagon, but in reality there isn't much choice here. In our price range, neither GM, Ford, nor Chrysler really makes reliable cars at this point, and neither does VW. But Toyota and Subaru are the only other companies making anything like a station wagon, and the largest one they make is probably the new Legacy...which is, alas, a pretty expensive car these days. So the Scion xB (which has *lots* of room in the back seat) could end up being the default choice if we buy new because nobody else is bothering to make a decent-sized reliable station wagon for under $20K.

Posted by: Jonathan King on April 20, 2004 09:49 AM


Mixed record on a Subaru here (a Forester). Pleasant to drive and cheap to maintain so far -- only one substantive repair in 80K.

BUT...the transmission is clearly not shifting that tightly any more (the ominous blip in RPM at shifts), and more seriously, an intermittent rod-bearing tap is starting to get non-intermittent. That shouldn't happen so soon.

With dealers, experience is mixed. Our first, Metro SD, was great. When they gave up Subaru, I was trapped with Balboa Subaru...and would now not take anything free from them, so lackadaisical and slapdash was their work.

good luck!

Posted by: PQuincy on April 20, 2004 10:02 AM


I just parted ways with a Subaru (from back before the Legacy and Outback were really different things) and I'll always remember it fondly. I hope yours serves you well!

Posted by: Lance McCord on April 20, 2004 10:55 AM


Ah, the Subaru, official car of Berkeley (or is it the Volvo as in Volvo-driving, sushi-eating, etc., etc...). I think it's the Subie these days.

Anyway, good choice. My own experience is that Subarus are pretty reliable, though their paint jobs aren't all that great, and their manual transmissions shudder when cold sometimes. But compared to a Ford, they are golden. Toyota and Honda are probably the best choices for quality, but the Subie should take pretty good care of you too.

Posted by: Chibi on April 20, 2004 10:58 AM


I drive a Ford Taurus too, or would were it not in the shop at this moment for its third compressor (at 90K miles)..

There's a great book by Mary Walton ("Car"). She went to Ford for about three years and followed the Taurus design team around as they built what became the '96 Taurus. It's a wonderful piece of industrial sociology. Ford withdrew cooperation with her after they saw the first draft. What's most notable is that Ford's goal for the '96 Taurus was to exceed the standards of the Camry of several years before. They didn't dare set a goal of meeting the standards of future Camrys.

Posted by: Dan Ryan on April 20, 2004 11:02 AM


We bought a Sable in 92. Previously, I had owned two Volvos, two Hondas, and a Subaru. Thought I would give America a serious try. It was by far the worst car I have ever had: numerous major parts failed, hoses burst, the front seats had no lower lumbar support. Cheap, cheap, cheap.
We have had two Toyotas and a Lexus IS300 since. Nothing to do but change the oil. Goodbye
American-designed. Who knows where they are made?
But we knew for sure that the Lexus was beautifully-finished in Japan.

Posted by: gb on April 20, 2004 11:14 AM


So, are you Click or Clack?

I can never keep you guys straight.

Posted by: bob on April 20, 2004 11:46 AM


When do we get to hear the puzzler?

Posted by: CSTAR on April 20, 2004 11:59 AM


If a Honda Insight was good enough for Fareed Zakaria it should have been good enough for you. If you think you need a wagon either you're consuming too carelessly or breeding too fecundly.

Posted by: fyreflye on April 20, 2004 12:23 PM


We have a 2000 Explorer and have had no trouble with it. Doors and latches work, engine and powertrain work, alignment fine, roomy, comfortable, handles well.

Posted by: J Rossi on April 20, 2004 12:42 PM


Saturn owners beware: our 92 SL1 went belly-up, like most do, with a cracked head. Estimated repair cost: $4,500. Bluebook value: $3,900. The guys at the Honda dealership were nice enough to give us $1,800 in trade for a new CRV.

More Saturn trivia: My brother is still driving his 94 SL2, but only because when his Saturn's head cracked the car was still under warranty (extended by GM because of... wouldn't you know, the alarming tendency for Saturn engine heads to go kablooey).

My sister, not so lucky. When mine died, I called her and said: "hey, better get rid of your Saturn asap." Unwisely, she dithered. A month later, cracked head. Now she too owns a Japanese import.

Unlike Brad's Ford, Saturns tend to hold together well. But the engine's are evidently made out of paper mache. And within the extended bling family, the Saturn failure rate is an abysmal three for three.

Posted by: bling on April 20, 2004 01:47 PM


Honda is the best car company on the planet. Not only are the cars super-reliable, but their environmental record is terrific. Emissions on every car they make are at least 50% better than the average passenger car. They stopped selling 2-stroke engines on mopeds in developing countries which alone did more for the air in places like Thailand than anything else could have.

Toyota has done some great things with the Prius and Corolla, but they still make monsters that get lousy mileage and have high emissions.

I love my Civic. I had a terrible commute for a few years, and it got 40mpg and never needed anything but routine maintenance.

Posted by: halle on April 20, 2004 01:52 PM


I had a brown van of doom, 82 Ford Econoline, which my wife cordially detested. Oddly enough both this truck and its predecessor, an 80 Ford Escort wagon, were quite reliable. I drove the van from 80k miles (bought used) to 220k, and all it ever needed was a transmission rebuild when I towed a Geo Metro from the east coast to the west.. which may count as unreasonable abuse. It got 20mpg on the highway, really I thought it was a pretty good car.

On the other hand, when we bought a minivan, the Ford Windstar had 210 TSB's, as against 3 for the Toyota Sienna.. did not buy a Windstar.

Posted by: Douglas on April 20, 2004 01:56 PM


I've had 8 or so cars and have noticed no correlation between country of origin and reliability. Since I always buy used, the maintenance history of the car is probably more important than make and model. Because of the superior reputation of Japanese cars, they tend to be overpriced - a worn out heap is a worn out heap, but a Japanese heap costs at least twice what an American heap costs. For this reason, I tend to buy American used cars. If I were to buy a new car, I'd get a Honda for the same reason.

Posted by: rps on April 20, 2004 06:16 PM


Brad, the Taurus looks like a suppository. Never buy
a car that looks like a suppository. And if you must,
don't buy it in brown.

Posted by: Joe on April 20, 2004 09:53 PM


I'll bet it looked like a potato.

And I have a really hard time reconciling Brad DeLong, "smart-guy", with someone who would buy a Taurus.

It doesn't matter if Japanese cars are made in the US now, Ford and GM are forever another class of suckitude. Like a bad road to infinity.

Buy German for style,design and fun, but crap-reliabilty.
Japanese are BY FAR the best overall cars made. There's no competition. It goes:
then Toyota
then Subaru and Nissan

buy a 12,000 dollar Civic, drive it for 250,000 miles.

Posted by: andrew on April 21, 2004 02:58 AM


The thing about the Honda (ah, love!) is that it sends out signals of TLC. The interior design has been so carefully thought out that it's like having your mama back, taking care of you, doing your thinking for you.

Between my Subaru and the new Honda, I had a Jeep Cherokee -- a middle-aged fling which I thoroughly enjoyed (and paid for, and paid for). But I remember the day I picked the Jeep up from the dealer, I reached under the seat for the lever to push the seat back and tore my hand on an unfinished piece of metal. That would NEVER happen in a Japanese car, at least not in my experience.

The Honda I didn't have to pick up from the dealer, they drove it (70 miles) to my door -- the salesman and his office-mate, that is, who had already given me a stellar deal on the price. We drank beer, we ate a huge lunch, became friends-for-life.

I take the car back to the dealership for its periodic check-ups now. It's a superb dealership, does an excellent job, is civilized and.... cheap! Did I ever think in my life I'd feel this way about a car dealership, for god's sake? Never!

Posted by: Bean on April 21, 2004 08:02 AM


Thanks for the chuckle. You said supository when you could have used a shorter, T**D, Anglo Saxson word. I was reminded of the "Mouth of the South's" comment, when he was driving America's Cup boats, about the naval arch attempt to chop off the boats underbody to lose a couple of drag counts, that even T**Ds are rounded on both ends.
Everything is going to S**T so we need a laugh every once in a while. Thanks All

Posted by: dilbert dogbert on April 21, 2004 11:58 AM


I have a 1995 Mercury Mystique, and although it generally runs fine, I would never buy another Ford product ever, or recommend it to others.

The suspension was so poorly designed and manufactured that main springs in the struts rust and therefore break as they were not completely coated. They crapped out at 10,000 miles and were replaced by Fnord under warranty, but of course now that I have 50,000 miles on it, there they go again.

Many other small points were designed or made poorly by Ford, such as the transmission which hits 2000 rpm in 1st at 14!!! mph in 1st, 24!!! mph in second, and so forth - i.e. was built to make the engine run at high rpms and therefore get lousy mileage (19 city, 24 hwy@70 mph, 32 hwy@60mph) for no good reason.
Why they could not build a normal transmission is beyond me as gear-shifting technology has been mature for 60+ years.

This and that always fall apart (seatbelt retractor covers, etc.) and Ford does not give a tinker's dam about it - when my seatbelt stopped working within its warranty period, Ford called it a "cosmetic" problem and refused to fix it.

What next?

Ford has decided to focus on gas-guzzlers psssenger trucks, and their products are slap-dash designs that are shoddily manufactured. The heck with them. The sooner they go broke the better.

Don't get me started on Chicago Ford dealers. Suffice it to say they are hoodlums or incompetents or both.

Now where can I get that Prius?

Michael B. Kaye
(773) 536-5656
4832 So. Ellis Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60615 U.S.A.

Posted by: Michael B. Kaye on April 25, 2004 08:46 AM


Oh my gosh! I must have had an identical car!! We had a Taurus wagon. How about needing the fuel pump replaced on our way to our friend's time-share in Sedona, AZ? We had to borrow a car! How about the transmission being replaced at 70,000 and then AGAIN at 84,000! One day we had arrived at my dad's and noticed smoke coming out of the hood and under the dash. We shut off the car and opened the hood and the **** engine was on FIRE! We called 911 and ran for the fire extinguisher in my dad's garage. When we opened the hood again, the fire extinguisher refused to work! Meanwhile, the nearest fire truck was on another call and the fire truck that finally arrived took 15 minutes. At that point we should have let it burn! But, no, we were stupid and got my dad's other fire extinguisher and put the fire out. Then the fire department showed up. The fire did $4,000 worth of damage. When Ford sent the repair parts to our mechanic they said, "Oh, by the way, be sure to install this new guard on the manifold or the power steering fluid line might get a leak and catch fire." That's exactly what ours did and Ford wouldn't take any responsibility for it. So the end of this story was that when the transmission started acting up at 100,000 miles, I was determined to drive it into the ground and not put another $$$ into it for repairs. Not long after that, the head gasket blew so we took it to our local high school who have a lot of students that LOVE to replace head gaskets. As we drove away, we said, "Well, that was our firs and last Ford that we will ever buy." I now own a Buick and love it!

Posted by: Bev Smith on May 5, 2004 08:37 AM


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Posted by: Online Casino on June 23, 2004 03:54 AM


I am strictly a Chrysler fan, but the 2nd car I ever owned was a '77 Toyota Corlla, It was bought off a cousin who sold it to me for 100 bucks. Sold it a year later for 50 bucks after the frame broke apart.So, yes, they are good cars as I never put a penny into it. Now I drive a 91 Plymouth Acclaim, a car at 176,000 miles, and still going strong, all my Chryslers have been excellent cars, (1 exception)
and I'll continue buying Chryslers. So stop bashing American cars!! (But a Ford? Never!)

Posted by: Chuck Weis on July 26, 2004 09:53 AM


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