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February 14, 2009

Today’s cars last longer

Sales of new vehicles dropped from 17.3 million in 2000 to 13.2 million last year. Most think this is primarily due to the sad state of the economy. No doubt this is a big factor.

But remember new cars back in the ’60s? It was conventional wisdom that when the odometer rolled past 60,000 miles, you started shopping for another. Rolling past 100,000 was an event you invited the community to see.

Then, led by Japan, quality improvement measures were instituted that led to better and better cars with longer mileage lives. This is a good thing. You spread your capital expense over two or three times the miles driven.

It is also good energy policy, for it takes quite a chunk of energy to create a new car out of those scraps of steel and plastic and aluminum and such.

The auto industry has suffered from its own success. Let us not return to the planned obsolescence of the past. New policy should continue to focus on miles per vehicle as well as miles per gallon.

Ron Platt
Overland Park


red rover

and I'm not saying the cars were built "undercost", I should have been more specific and said they were sold undercost.

red rover

Pub, and I'm sure when your toyotas hit the 150k mark it'll be ok to tell us what a great accomplishment this is. Actually I've driven both vehicles rigorously, towing with the Tahoe, etc. and yet they remain reliable.

Pub 17

Give it a rest, Mike. You've got two vehicles that have been very, very, very lightly used--10,000 miles a year? I own two Toyotas. Both were built in the same factory, about five miles south of downtown Fremont, California. If they're being built under cost, don't let the guys at the NUMMI plant hear about it.

red rover

Well, Ron, I've had plenty of American iron that put in over 100k on the clock. I've got two now, a 96 Tahoe w/150k and a 93 Buick Le sabre w/155k, and more before those two before japan was allowed to dump their cars in the U.S. undercost. Yes, the Tahoe was built in the states.

Pub 17

Come on, Mad Magazine was all over "planned obsolescence" in 1959. People used to turn cars faster than today out of necessity. Don't confuse sales with leases: people turn leases two, three years because that's how leases work, and leases are wildly more popular than they used to be.

And recall that car notes used to be STRICTLY capped at three years. Now they run five and six years. Why? Because a five-year-old car has enough residual value that the bank can take the chance. My Tacoma (admittedly a paragon of resale value) is worth SIXTY PERCENT of what I paid for it, Kelley Blue Book private sale value and I just retired a five-year note. Didn't see anything like THAT when I was peddling sleds. Thirty years ago a five-year-old car was a wipeout on the dealer's used car lot and had to get wholesaled.

Deals, deals, deals on wheels, taillights OVER the curb and down the highway...being one of the few who can legitimately claim to have pushed used iron AND made coffee in a college faculty lounge, I can confidently say that the level of personal integrity was much, much higher on Auto Row...


83 caddy....Biarritz....my favorite toy. With the windows down and the roof open its like a touring coupe.

You are six years older than I am, but i don't know what that has to do with my point that the industry has sold you on the fact that you need and want a car note and the associated repairs.

Pub 17

So did I, solomon.

Think about this one verra, verra carefully: today if you see a '78 car driving down the street, you might or might not look. Corvette, maybe, Ford Fairmont, not a chance. There's a kid drives around northern Johnson County in a 1961 Falcon two-door; several kids run around in fairly ratty '64-'68 Mustangs.

I graduated high school in 1963. You graduated high school--when? When you were a senior in high school, what year would a thirty-year-old car have been made? I think you said one time you had like an '84 Caddy--dude, that's 25 years old. When you were a senior in high school, how many pre-WWII Cadillacs did you see driving around?




The public has been told they should always have a car payment, the resulting insurance on a depreciating asset and the cost to maintain a vehicle requiring computerized diagnostic services.

I think that's a load of crap.

BTW, I spent a few years in the car industry in management and sales promotions.

Pub 17

Update your mind, man--if you're not getting 200K+ from everything you drive, you need to switch brands. Why do you think leases got so cheap?

Cars USED to be designed to be obsoleted, but not by wearing out: surely you must be old enough to remember the annual sheet-metal change. Today, there's no maintenance to speak of--remember points? Condensers? and the styles don't change substantially except every fourth or fifth year.



People spend as much on vehicles as they do on their home, and the fact is that they are intended to become obsolete before they are paid for. Long gone is the time when parts were easily replaced and affordable.

Pub 17

This is what's changed. Most new cars now don't get their first scheduled change of spark plugs until 100,000 miles. There's used car lots in town with actual decent driveable little sleds for sale ALL of which have 100K+ on the odos. The good old days sucked on toast.

Note that a car that sold new for $2500 in 1969 would sell today for $17,500, and prolly wouldn't have things like airbags, radial tires, 5 mph bumpers...


"Then, led by Japan, quality improvement measures were instituted ..."

... by William Edwards Deming. He was the leader and Japan was the follower.

Deming was from Iowa.

The first vehicle I ever bought was a '69 Chevy. It's still around and passed through only a couple of hands since I sold it in 1978. It's racked up well over 100,000 miles. I suspect it's new retail price was something like $2000-3000.

Doesn't anyone from JoCo actually know anything or do you people only "learn" from FOX and the WSJ?

Pub 17

Don't post that early in the morning, solomon. Cars get double or triple the number of miles they used to, with vastly less maintenance. And I see NOTHING to brag about in the fact that, for instance, Chrysler used the same engines for thirty years.


"...conventional wisdom..."

Load of crap.

The automobile industry, using the most effective advertising vehicle available, TV, convinced Americans and to a lesser degree the world that to have an older vehicle was a bad or risking thing, and also that YOU deserve the latest in technology. So, they give you a product that goes "out of style" on a schedule.

The same water pump that fit a 62 Galaxie would fit a 69 Fairlane, and you could switch engines, radio's, seats and most parts with ease. Don't think american cars can go past 100k? Look at Cuba, where vintage American cars are still rolling.

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