As a suspension and alignment specialist I used to love seeing Fords come into the shop because I knew they would have a lot of worn front-end parts, but eventually I became disgusted that they have done things differently than every other manufacturer, and they've had problems since the mid '70s when some engineer figured out they could leave four grease fittings off and save four nickels per car. The result was breaking and separating steering parts that led to many crashes. Things REALLY got bad with their Escorts and Tempos. At the mass merchandiser I worked for in the '80s, we got a shipment of front-end parts in every Wednesday that included a half dozen tie rod ends for GM cars and trucks, a half dozen for Chryslers and imports, and 40 for the Escorts. We always sold out of the Escort parts by Saturday and were ordering more from local auto parts stores. It seems that after a few years of owners comparing notes and realizing their breakdown wasn't an isolated incident, the engineers will make some insignificant change, then splash advertising all over the place touting their "new and improved steering system". Seems like they're trying to trick previous crash victims into thinking it won't happen again. They've been doing that for almost 40 years.
The Taurus and many Ford trucks used "rubber-bonded-socket" outer tie rod ends. Those are critical steering parts. They just plopped the ball into the socket, filled it with molten rubber to glue the parts together, then expected them to survive by some lucky chance. No other manufacturer has ever done something so stupid and put people into those cars. The parts twist every time you turn the steering wheel, and it's just a matter of time before one tears apart allowing that wheel to go whichever way it wants to, ... Into a tree or into oncoming traffic. If you ever hear a clunk or rattle, you should have the vehicle inspected at a tire and alignment shop. If it's a Ford product, I wouldn't wait even a day. If the cause turns out to be something that is not serious, that's wonderful, but if you don't have it fixed you may not recognize when a new / additional clunk shows up that could be deadly. GM has had their common problems but none so serious that you could expect to have a high percentage of crashes as the Fords.
My two biggest issues with GM are their business practices and the crash-worthiness of their small front-wheel-drive cars. Chrysler has a history of being first with innovations that actually benefit car owners way back to the '50s. They were first with anti-lock brakes, air bags, electronic ignition, lock-up torque converters, computer-controlled ignition systems, and the alternator, (a term they copyrighted). GM has a totally different history. They were first with anti-theft systems that are real effective at keeping owners from driving their cars. They also had computers that need to be programmed by the dealer so you can't buy good used ones from a salvage yard. You're tied to the dealer. They also figured out it was in THEIR best interest to stop allowing us to buy radio service manuals. I can't fix your radio now for $35.00 like I did for many years. You're tied to the dealer and their two grossly over-priced repair centers. THAT'S what I mean by "customer unfriendly" business practices. GM is not the worst manufacturer in the world in this regard, but they're trying harder.
The dealership I used to work for was the county's impound yard for any car involved in a crash with a fatality. Most of the cars in there were GM front-wheel-drive models. The Grand Ams and Cavaliers were the worst. My mother got stuck on our highway when waiting for a crash to be cleared. Upon talking with the deputy, he was following the girl who lost control on an icy hill right in front of him, so he witnessed the crash. That girl was going 45 mph in a 55 mph zone, and the car coming toward her was also going only 45 mph. Both were GM front-wheel-drive models. All four people were killed; two in each car. Both cars had slowed down before the impact yet those cars couldn't protect the occupants.
Now, to be fair, there are a lot more GM cars on the road than any other brand, so it stands to reason there will be more involved in crashes, but lately I've been helping a friend in his body shop. He specializes in rebuilding smashed trucks. His current one is a 2006 I helped with that was hit so hard in the front that it pushed the engine back over a foot into the firewall. There were no fatalities in that truck. (It is not a Ford or GM).
In the words of a nationally-recognized high-level trainer, when it comes to customer-friendly business practices, meaning putting the best interest of the owners ahead of profits, the top three are Hyundai, Toyota, and Chrysler. I can't speak to the reliability yet of Hyundais, but from what I've learned about how they help the independent repair shops take care of their customers, I would at least look at their products. Toyota already has a very good reputation. My favorite car of all time, if I HAD to be in a crash and wanted the best chance of surviving, is the Dodge Shadow. They also had a really tough and reliable engine and drive train. There aren't any newer products I'd want to own, especially after helping in my friend's body shop. Structurally, you can see how well thought out some of the designs are, but the inappropriate use of electronics has gone way beyond ridiculous. As an electrical expert I should be able to diagnose and repair the machine I expect to haul me around and get me back home. Even if I could do that, I still can't make the needed repairs without spending a lot of money. Why would I want to give up my reliable older vehicle for something that is going to cost me a lot more to keep running?
The Dodge Stratus seems to be a popular car but repairing them can be frustrating due to lack of accessibility. That translates into dollars for most owners who don't do their own repairs. Also, Chrysler has built a real lot of tough, reliable engines over the decades. The 2.7L is not one of them. If there's an engine failure, you can guess it's the 2.7L. Stay away from that one. I'd also stay away from any newer European car and any car with an "interference" engine. Those incur expensive repair bills if the timing belt breaks. There's no need to buy something like that. If you find a car you like, reply with the engine size and I can tell you if it's of that design.
Sorry for sounding like Mr. Negativity. Being in the repair business and having to hand bills to people, I focus on why those repair costs are so high. THAT'S why so many mechanics like me drive older stuff.
Monday, September 30th, 2013 AT 1:21 AM