How Not To Buy A Lemon
November 20, 2003 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Pssst! Wanna Buy A Reliable, Second-Hand Car? You could do worse than start with Honest John, a plain-speaking, fiercely independent Cockney motor car wonk who'll see you right, no problem. If you're obsessive about reliability, i.e. don't have the time or inclination to look after your wheels and just want the damn thing to get you from A to B and back again, check out the often surprising Reliability Index for the most and least trustworthy automobiles. [Eurocentric warning! Btw, what are the most reliable independent car guides - preferably free and online - in the U.S, Canada, etc?]
posted by MiguelCardoso (32 comments total)

 
Ford at #2?

::: watches guy's credibility deflate :::
posted by rushmc at 2:53 PM on November 20, 2003


They must have different cars over in the UK... Ford the 2nd most trustworthy? Subaru the 2nd least trustworthy? That sure hasn't been my experience. I think their reliability index is a little too fixed and mathematical and doesn't take into account realistic factors, like the kind of conditions people are likely to drive different brands of cars through. I've found CarSurvey.org to be very useful when buying used cars in the past.
posted by Jimbob at 2:54 PM on November 20, 2003


rushmc: the Reliability Index belongs to an insurance company and has nothing to with Honest John, although he often quotes it. Besides, Fords are reliable! Of course, as you know, they export all the decently built cars to Europe. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 2:59 PM on November 20, 2003


Hey, Migs, you want a '95 Ford Taurus wagon (green) in.. errr...uh... pretty good condition? No, really, it runs great; it's the stopping it has trouble with. I'll ship it to you (if it makes it to the airport...)
posted by wendell at 3:03 PM on November 20, 2003


Will you swop for a vintage 50s Wartburg Trabant, wendell? It's as good as new - and Trabants are legendary for how good they are when they're new. In fact, only the Milosevic Yugo is better. Please advise. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:12 PM on November 20, 2003


Geez, Miguel, you have been reading the wrong people's propaganda...
If I have to drive a Ford, I want it to be an Edsel.
posted by wendell at 3:36 PM on November 20, 2003


Ford's cars are generally well-designed and can be of good quality if they're built well. Their European manufacturing facilities do a far better job of this than their American ones, sadly. Sadly for the Americans, that is, but happily for the Europeans. I might well be driving a Focus now if it were possible to order one built on the Continent.

Kinda cool to see Hyundai in the Top 10, as I bought an Elantra earlier this year, rather than the Focus. (This car is known as the Lantra in the UK and has a well above-average rating in the Reliability Index.)

The Koreans are really doing an incredible job lately competing in the global marketplace; in fact I believe they (i.e., LG, Samsung, and Hyundai) are to a large extent responsible for the rapid fall of LCD monitor prices over the last few years. A surprising number of laptop screens are OEM'd from Korean companies, and I believe the Apple Cinema Display HD is an LG panel.
posted by kindall at 3:39 PM on November 20, 2003


Honest John, a plain-speaking, fiercely independent Cockney motor car wonk

"It's the garage bill, sir. Well, I'm afraid that it's two hundred pounds."

"Not to worry. There's a bounty for shooting tigers, you know."

"You, uh, must have shot an awful lot of tigers, sir!"

"Yes, I use a machine gun."
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:42 PM on November 20, 2003


Wonder if that's why a lot of police cars and taxicabs in America are Ford Crown Victorias?
posted by oh posey at 4:00 PM on November 20, 2003


Some years ago I drove a rented, er, um, hired Ford Escort for a few weeks in the UK, and was very pleasantly surprised with the performance, ergonomics and build quality. So the next time I was shopping for a small car in the US, I test drove an Escort. It was like night and day; it just felt cheap, sloppy and inferior. I don't know why they do that. A few weeks ago I drove a rented Focus for a while -- same story, cheap and dull. In Europe Ford is competing head-to-head with makes like VW and Audi in the same market space and doing a fairly creditable job of it, but here it feels like they don't even try.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:06 PM on November 20, 2003


Wonder if that's why a lot of police cars and taxicabs in America are Ford Crown Victorias?

No, that's because they're big cars with space for Police Package engines. At one point, most cruisers were Crown Vics or Caprices because they're powerful boats with room to store and easily move/remove perps and equipment.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:08 PM on November 20, 2003


I think it depends at least 50% on how the previous owner took care of it and what the conditions were like where it was owned. Personally, if I had a choice, I wouldn't buy a car anywhere it snows. That road salt is hell on the bottom of the car.

Besides that, I have a '92 Ford Tempo that I beat the shit out of moderately, and it still manages to be a great, reliable car that hasn't broken down yet (though I expected it to). I even hit a deer with the thing, with nothing but cosmetic damage.

Then again, I'm an idiot when it comes to cars, so what do I know? :-)
posted by angry modem at 4:16 PM on November 20, 2003


My last Ford (as in, my most recent, and the last one I'll ever buy) was a Probe. That car was a lot of fun to drive -- it was basically a Mazda with different sheetmetal -- but it needed two transmission rebuilds while I had it, one while I was still paying it off.

Chrysler's no better, though. I rented a brand new (1 mile on the odometer) Neon for MeFiVegas and it was the worst new small car I've ever driven. Well, okay, I've driven a Chevette back in the '80s. That was worse.

To get a decent American car, you have to go to the high end. There, they're somewhat more serious about competing with the imports. European and Asian makers look at the low-end vehicles as being the cars that will get a buyer "hooked" on the make and maintain loyalty when they can afford a better car. A low-quality vehicle at any price point would sully the brand. American automakers look at the low-end vehicles as being basically disposable. Vast difference. The American consumer lets them get away with this by continuing to buy American vehicles solely because they are American, even if they don't measure up.
posted by kindall at 4:27 PM on November 20, 2003


Besides, Fords are reliable! Of course, as you know, they export all the decently built cars to Europe.

When you say all, apparently you mean all.
posted by rushmc at 4:28 PM on November 20, 2003


Best used cars, by far (in my experience) is anything over 10 years old that's still running with the original engine.

I currently own a fleet of 7 vehicles. They include a hyundai, a ford tempo, a nissan sentra, a mazda mpv van (my absolute favorite with 4wd and manual transmission and an absolutely incredibly strong frame), a chevy s-10, another nissan, um . . .a fiat 850 spyder which doesn't count because it's quirky , , ,

with the exception of the mazda and the fiat, the other five have cost me a TOTAL of less than $2,000, including recent repairs and maintenance.

The general rule for me is that if they're that old, and if they've been on the road for that long, then they have to be good. Basically, you weed out the lemons that every car maker sells by waiting until all the lemons have died. That tempo was, statistically speaking, one of the worst cars ever made by any manufacturer. But THIS particular unit is the result of some strange coalition of cosmic forces that it is actually pretty damned good. Almost enough to make one believe in god. NOT.

Go ahead and spend your $400 a month on car payments. At the end of the payment period, I could have 60 cars, and at least 55 of them will be running just fine.

Oh . . . the absolute worst thing to do is to go to one of those used car dealers that advertises with "we'll give credit to anyone!!!!!" and crap like that . . . . one of them wanted to sell me a Ford Tempo that was in much worse condition than the one I have now ---- it had at best a book value of $1200 ---- and they wanted a total of $9800 in payments for it.

It was that experience that put me over the edge, and got me looking into alternative buying venues.

Sorry to take so much screen space. But I absolutely LOVE buying cheap used cars that others consider junk and proving that they have value. Maybe I should do that for a living . . .

hey, you . . . . wanna buy a car?
posted by yesster at 5:04 PM on November 20, 2003


Ford? Wow.

My best car ever was a 1987 Subaru DL wagon with something like 4 trillion miles on it. I've had nothing but awesome luck with them.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 5:12 PM on November 20, 2003


Actually, I saw a guy with some almost-to-good-to-be-true deals on used cars a few threads down. Name of Chabali or something.
posted by trondant at 5:13 PM on November 20, 2003


I'm surprised Ford is so poor in the US. They used to have a similar reputation here - in the 1980s owning a Cortina was pretty much a valid excuse for being late for work, and the Escort range was *terrible* (by British standards any road, George_Spiggot, although there was a brief period of not-badness, around Mk III/IV I think. The RS Turbo was great, too).

Yet after they started taking a pounding in the marketplace -- the fleet buyers left them in droves for aggressively marketed VW diesels and Vauxhalls, while the cash cow mid-size family saloon market disappeared almost overnight -- they really got their finger out.

Designer J Mays has a *lot* to do with the renaissance. He is a driver's driver, and has endowed every car they make - from the tiny tiny Ka to the spiffy astonishing new GT40 a handling dream. And build quality has been dragged up by massive amounts - so massive that when they bought Jaguar and shipped the finest Brown's Lane could make over ... they found so many faults they sent a Ford team over to improve Jaguar quality sharpish. Nowadays Ford are so good that the X-Type is to a large extent Mondeo underneath.

If I was in the car market for a car I wanted for a number of years, I'd definitely get a Focus. Early niggles with electronic engine management seem to be gone, and it's still the best drive in the class. If you US types notice a better drive in the new Golf, it's all thanks to the example of the Euro Focus.

Hey! They've even got good diesels now.
posted by bonaldi at 5:20 PM on November 20, 2003


My last Ford (as in, my most recent, and the last one I'll ever buy) was a Probe. That car was a lot of fun to drive -- it was basically a Mazda with different sheetmetal -- but it needed two transmission rebuilds

I had one of those too, but mine only needed one tranny job at ~120,000 miles. Yours an automatic (4EAT) too?

The thing I grew to loathe were the leaks in the taillights that drained into the trunk -- water collected there and festered and after a while the whole car smelled like a freakin' swamp.

It was fun enough to drive, and it would hold an amazing amount of junk. But I likes the Prelude I have now muchly more.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:23 PM on November 20, 2003


That tempo was, statistically speaking, one of the worst cars ever made by any manufacturer.

Isn't an '85, perchance?

I still get flashbacks. :::shudder:::
posted by rushmc at 5:49 PM on November 20, 2003


I had one of those too, but mine only needed one tranny job at ~120,000 miles. Yours an automatic (4EAT) too?

Yep. The transmission repair place told me it was just about the most complex transmission used in a passenger car at the time.

I have a friend who works at Ford. After he started there, which was well after I got Probed, he told me this was not at all an unusual problem.

I would have been thrilled had my car made it to 120,000 miles. At around 95,000 miles, things started to go wrong with it in droves and I got rid of it.
posted by kindall at 6:15 PM on November 20, 2003


I would have been thrilled had my car made it to 120,000 miles. At around 95,000 miles, things started to go wrong with it in droves and I got rid of it.

I was in grad school and a new car was not an option. In addition to having numerous suspension problems, a leaky and swamp=smelling interior, and a tranny that went blooey, it also broke its harmonic balancer -- the most bullshit-sounding part I've ever heard of -- and would throw alternator belts two or three times a year. I finally ditched it after I got a job when the trunk stopped locking.

A nice enough car, but did not age well.

But it reminds me of another lesson: just how hugely reliable we expect our cars to be now. I got ~140,000 miles out of the car with only one drivetrain repair, and that was a moderately unreliable car. Compare that to reliable cars of the 1960s and 70s, and... wow, we have it good.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:42 PM on November 20, 2003


Fiat makes a list of "top ten most reliable cars". Film at eleven.
posted by jmccorm at 7:52 PM on November 20, 2003


Hey! They've even got good diesels now.

I'd love to see more passenger diesels here in the US. I'm actually kind of sad that hybrids will probably take their place as the low gas mileage cars of choice. I don't think anything can shake the US idea of "diesel = smelly, loud truck." Reformulated Diesel gas would probably help, though.
posted by zsazsa at 7:56 PM on November 20, 2003


The closest North American equivalent would probably be Phil Edmonston's Lemonaid.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 8:34 PM on November 20, 2003


Personally, if I had a choice, I wouldn't buy a car anywhere it snows. That road salt is hell on the bottom of the car.

In Colorado, they don't use salt on the roads, just sand. I think they experimented with some funky chemical in recent years, though.

I'm driving my 223k-mile 1989 Honda Accord until it dies. Good car.
posted by beth at 9:10 PM on November 20, 2003


I drove a 1980 Honda Prelude for the last 4 years, and sold it in February. I miss that car and all its quirks. I have a 1998 Saab 900 S now - It has a lot more room, is tons faster and gets better gas milage, but has none of those features that made me fall in love with driving in the first place.

I still miss the sound of the prelude's motor idleing (sp?) especially the way it'd skip the 4th cylinder every third cycle or so. When something went wrong with my Prelude, it was really easy to fix or a death blow. Eg: electrical short? Better buy a new box of fuses for $1.50! I unwisely sunk $1.5k into the car to buy her a new transmission after I let a girlfriend drive it and it broke ... jealousy I think.

As a sidenote, if your car has a sunroof, do not ever enter the vehicle by jumping on the trunk and running up the roof and straight down into the driver's seat. Those sun roofs are glass, after all, and they will break. Luckily prelude sunroofs were easy to find and, after 7 hours trying to install one, easy to install once you know what you're doing.
posted by Happydaz at 10:22 PM on November 20, 2003


Why do you have to put a Eurocentric warning on this post? Nobody ever puts Amerocentric warnings...
posted by salmacis at 1:05 AM on November 21, 2003


Quite right, salmacis - and did they pay any notice? No, just rambled on about their old jalopies and nary a kind word for good old Honest John. Honestly, they don't deserve us! ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:09 AM on November 21, 2003


That tempo was, statistically speaking, one of the worst cars ever made by any manufacturer.

IANACP (car person) but I think '88 Jaguars would rank down there with any car. Pretty car, but the electronics would freak whenever there was moisture in the air, refuse to start, and lock you in or out of the car. But very pretty...
posted by rdr at 2:10 AM on November 21, 2003


The Reliability Index isn't that surprising, once you bother to read how it works: "The Reliability index takes into account all factors of a repair, the cost of the parts and the frequency of failures". Expensive cars have expensive parts.
So this is in reality a combination of factors. Ford might more prone to breakage than a Volvo, but the cost of fixing the fault is cheaper. And subaru's placement isn't surprising considering that all European Subarus are AWDs. (I don't know if this is also true of models sold in the US) Those things can be really expensive to fix.
posted by lazy-ville at 3:39 AM on November 21, 2003


all European Subarus are AWDs. (I don't know if this is also true of models sold in the US)

True, AFAIK.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:36 AM on November 21, 2003


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