By DAVID THOME
Special to ADAMM
Today’s cars and trucks prove they’re in it for the long haul
Today’s cars, like these 2016 Honda Accords, are built to last.
Cars are lasting longer. That includes pickups, sedans, SUVs, compacts, crossovers, minivans – you name it. Luxury and budget models. American, European and Asian.
Ten years ago, Consumer Reports estimated a buyer could expect a new vehicle to last eight years. In 2015, the research firm IHS Automotive reported that the actual average was just shy of 12 years — 50% better than predicted.
Automotive experts list reasons ranging from intense free-market competition to stricter government-imposed standards, from tougher cylinder linings to computers doing jobs that used to belong to mechanical parts, and from high-tech rust-resistant paint to electronics that allow vehicles to send oil-change reminders to their owners.
Local experts from SCHLOSSMANN’S Honda City in Greenfield, WILDE Toyota in West Allis and SCHMIT Ford in Thiensville say improved design and production techniques get a lot of credit.
They also say that the bottom line is that buyers of new and pre-owned vehicles can expect a big bang for their buck in terms of longevity.
“Every new car today,” AAA manager of technical services Mike Calkins told CBS News last fall, “is built to last a quarter of a million miles.” A week later, IHS executive Mark Seng told the told the New York Times that quality steadily increased over the past two decades. And customer satisfaction surveys by organizations like J.D. Power and Associates show cars having fewer and fewer problems with each passing year.
“We have a joke here at the store,” said Schlossmann’s general manager Craig Lucas. “The best thing about selling Hondas is that they run for ever. The worst thing about selling Hondas is that they run forever.”
A quarter of a million miles is a huge improvement from the days when seeing 50,000 on the odometer induced panic. Here’s a look at some of the biggest contributing factors:
“Much of the improvement is a result of intense global competition — a carmaker simply can’t allow its products to leak oil, break down or wear out prematurely,” writes New York Times automotive reporter Dexter Ford.
“As cars are kept longer, 200,000 miles is the new 100,000 miles.”
J.D. Power’s 2013 dependability study of 2010 models recorded an all-time low in the number of problems over the first three years. For the past 24 years, according to Power, manufacturers that fared poorly in the study routinely took measures to catch up to the leaders, which narrowed the differences between brands and nation of origin.
• Design and production.
“The production process is better now in every aspect,” said Wilde new car manager Terry Schwieso. “The body panels, the engine components — everything fits together more precisely.”
Lucas added that tolerances for even small parts such as ball bearings are so tiny that even ones that deviate slightly are rejected and never used.
• Better materials
Ford engine design team leader Jagadish Sorab told the New York Times that while piston rings would show 50 microns of wear “over the useful life of a vehicle” 15 years ago, today less than 10 microns is not unusual.
“We use very durable, diamond-like carbon finishes to prevent wear,” he said, “We have tested our newest breed of EcoBoost engines in our F-150 pickup for 250,000 miles, and when we tear the engines down, we cannot see any evidence of wear.”
The Times also noted that the average width of a human hair is 200 microns.
• Emissions reduction
Sorab said the federal Environmental Protection Agency requires that catalytic converters perform at 96% of their original capability at 100,000 miles. But to meet that regulation, he said, manufacturers reduced how much oil the engine uses to cut back on the amount reaching the catalysts. That, he said, is what led to the vast improvement of piston rings, which seal the cylinders.
- Better motor oil.
Oil lubricates moving engine parts and reduces heat buildup, which makes those parts wear out. “The synthetic oils used to today are much more effective than what was used a few years ago — and the oil needs to be changed every 10,000 miles instead of every 3,000,” Schwieso said.
Monitors keep track of when the next oil change is needed, if the tires are properly inflated and warn you when parts or systems need professional attention.
“Tech in the vehicles takes care of everything,” said Schmit Ford sales manager Jim Slayton. “You can set up an account with Ford and have a ‘health report’ sent to you every 5,000 miles. Just keeping up with regular maintenance helps make your car last longer.”
All experts agree that although cars are built better than they used to be, maintenance still plays a huge role. It’s important to note, though, that replacing fluids may not be as easy as dumping a quart or two of an off-brand product into a fill spout because manufacturers have developed formulations of oil, brake and engine fluids designed for specific vehicles.
“Decide early that you’ll stick to all the auto maker’s maintenance recommendations,” said AAA’s Calkins. “Your car performs better with the recommended product.” He also noted that dealerships carry the exact fluids and replacement parts that manufacturers recommend.
Furthermore, he said, it’s a good idea to check fluid levels and tire inflation once a month between service appointments. Components like belts and hoses also last longer than they used to, but after 100,000 miles, they should be checked for cracks and wear. Most manufacturers also recommend replacing the timing belt between 60,000 and 100,000 miles, which can cost from $300 to $1,000. But a broken timing belt can ruin an engine.
“It’s amazing how much the manufacturers do to make cars better today compared to a few years ago,” Lucas said.
“Cars are better now, and the technology is only going to continue to advance.”