Cars built to last…no more

The perception is that cars built in the past are better, longer-lasting machines. Are they, truly? Automologist, LILY, weighs in.

“The old cars are better, it’s hardy. Today’s cars…once there’s a problem with the electronics, the rest falls apart.” This or an iteration of this sentence is uttered by Baby Boomers, those who are in their fifties and above.

“Who cares about how long the cars can last? Before even paying back the entire loan, I would have changed cars a few times!” These words come from Generation Y and some from the X, those aged 35 and below.

Have you ever checked the accumulative mileage of your car? Irv Gordon from East Patchogue, New York made it into the Guinness World Record by completing 2.9 million miles (4.7 million km) with his 1966 Volvo P1800. Another salesman named Gilbert from Milwaukee, who has done a lot of travelling, hit 1,001,385 miles (1.6 million km) with his 1989 Saab 900 SPG car. He did it!

Gordon with his trusty old Volvo

Today, we can find few faithful car owners who proclaim the matrimonial vow “…till death do us part” to their cars; not that car owners are no longer faithful or the cars no longer lovely, but consumerism has changed. Competition has levelled up the marketing expertise and the creativity of engineers of car companies; and that has influenced the habit of consumerism, a never ending cycle. Modern cars can go up to a maximum mileage of 250,000 miles (403,336km); not many cars have enough space on the odometer for the million digit mark. Having said that, to have the odometer reach 250,000 miles has become a challenge that car owners want to achieve and feel proud to do so. The 200,000 Mile Club Allpar is a car club of such car owners and they have some 4,000 members!

The notion that cars in the past last longer could just be a perception. A J.D Power & Associates’ study indicate that today’s cars are built for better endurance. The overall performance of three-year-old vehicles are still “at an all-time high”. The research was based on 198 varieties of problem symptoms experienced per 100 vehicles, with lower scores indicating higher quality. The score has actually improved from 355 to 155 between the years 2003 and 2010. 36 vehicle brands have participated and 25 brands have improved in long-term dependability.

Perception could be influenced by many factors: one of which is “when it is out of my control, it is no longer good”. When I was a kid, my dad owned a Mazda which gear controls were at the left of the steering wheel (now, I thought that was really cool). I don’t recall what model it was as at that age I could only differentiate between a car and a motorbike, and the different car marques. Dad never sent his car to any mechanic; he was the car doctor, treating everything from automotive fever to heart bypass surgery! We no longer can do this with our modern-day cars as the electronic system equals the many nerves and cells in the body – we just cannot determine the source of problem unless it is plugged into a computer, like using the MRI scan. So, it is not that the cars are not durable, but the power of diagnosis is beyond our capability; so we think that the problem is hopeless, but in actuality, it does not mean that the car cannot be repaired!

Once, the after-service personnel of an overhead projector told me that the projector that I had sent for servicing needed to have its lens changed, which costs near to the cost of the projector. Most would suggest to “buy a new projector”. The fact is, the projector can be repaired and is still good and fit to be used, but the environment that we are in has changed, thus we make the choice to buy a new one.

Back to the car. It’s not that cars do not last anymore, but we just do not have the patience to deal with it anymore. We are living in an instant society with instant gratification; we’re used to instant messages, instant noodles, instant delivery and the list goes on and on. When accusing car manufacturers that their “cars do not last anymore”, four fingers are pointing back to ourselves as we were the ones who created the whole cycle of consumerism. Product designers aim for consumer’s satisfaction; your contribution in social media – reflecting your lifestyles and mirroring your heart’s desire – are informing them of what you want.

Modern cars do not last like the ones in our grandfathers’ days, but is there really anyone to blame?


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