Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

To all the cars I’ve owned before

Some guys talk about all the girls they’ve dated, but all I have are the cars I’ve owned.

(I can also talk about the four houses I’ve owned, but then everyone knows I’m a responsibility drone.)

It’s quite a collection, with a definite bias toward American makes and one foray into foreign design. I’ve never bought a car whose final assembly point was not somewhere in the U.S., and my experiences with the cars has ranged from bad to really, really good.

Letters to the editor declaim all the time that U.S.-made cars are trash, U.S. autoworkers are trash and people who buy U.S.-made cars are idiots. Personally, there are good and bad cars from all automakers. Toyota’s recent recalls show that even a Japanese manufacturer renowned for quality can fall short, and even some luxury makes can turn out to have massive problems.

Here’s the list, with comments.

  1. 1978 Dodge Aspen SE – In early 1983, I had just started working for the Postal Service, was living with my parents, and needed and wanted my own car so I could get to work. Using my parents’ car was not a good option for them, so I went out and found the Aspen on a nearby used-car lot. I loved the car, which had 55,000 miles on it, a V8 engine and cloth seats. It looked good outside, but under the hood it was a disaster. A few days after finally getting a loan approved to buy it (I think I financed $3,500), I was driving home from work in the morning when the engine started running very rough. Soon, it stopped running at all. A tow truck came along and took me to where I bought the car, and I found that the engine computer had died. A new one cost almost $1,000, but for a few hundred the mechanic could convert it to a points-and-condenser system, and that’s what I had him do. I was young and naïve, and did not know that the Aspen (and its Plymouth twin, the Volare) was one of the worst cars ever made. Problems continued, including a loose ballast resistor that could cause engine stalling in turns and just about everything else that could go wrong. I traded in the car when it had 85,000 miles on it.
  2. 1985 Plymouth Reliant – I was, by this time, living in Coram on Long Island and driving to Garden City every day to work, but with an unreliable car I worried about getting there and back. The local coupon shopper showed an ad for a 1985 Plymouth Reliant, and I remember the price: $7,888. It was a new car, though, and its AM/FM radio was a step up for me. With a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, fuel economy was good and at least it would be under warranty. In early 1985, I persuaded my mother to co-sign the loan and off I went with my new car. There were no troubles at first, but I was putting a lot of miles on the car. At 30,000 miles, the carburetor failed. Every 10,000 miles or so, the alternator would die. In late 1985, I was moving to Florida and barely staggered into Jacksonville, Fla., on New Year’s Day with a car that was just not performing right. I made it to my new home in West Palm Beach and drove the car amid growing problems. One day I started hearing a popping noise when I turned the steering wheel, and took it to a large Chrysler/Plymouth dealer in West Palm Beach, where I saw a level of abuse inflicted on service department customers that really opened my eyes. One family I remember well was in a Plymouth Voyager minivan, and their vehicle had conked out on I-95. They were from up north and were heading to Miami when their vehicle died. The tow truck driver had brought them to the dealer, where they were informed that it might be days before they could have the vehicle looked at. Needless to say, they were very upset. One retired couple had just bought a Chrysler Fifth Avenue the week before, and it was leaking oil, but the dealership seemed to just want them to go away. Needless to say, I swore off Chrysler’s products, especially after I wrote a letter to Chrysler detailing what happened and was blown off with a letter about how they were working on improvements. The Reliant had about 50,000 miles on it when I traded it in.
  3. 1987 Pontiac Firebird – I got a letter one day that said I could get a coupon book for maintenance discounts at a Pontiac dealership, so I went in – and ended up buying a new car. As with the Reliant, I rolled over the loan balance into the new loan, but it was worth it to get a new car and get the lemon off my back. I paid around $13,300 for the red Firebird, plus tax, tag, etc., and got a pretty nice car. It had a 2.8-liter V6 engine, four-speed automatic transmission, and an AM/FM/cassette player. It lacked a glove box, but did have a folio on the front of the passenger-side dashboard that was held on by Velcro. My experience with this car was pretty good, but near the end the car was really showing its age and the wear-and-tear problems made it an unreliable vehicle for long trips. I do remember one big failure when the power-steering shaft let go at around 40,000 miles while I was driving the car. Fortunately, I was on my way to work and was able to pull over and get a roadside repair. Notwithstanding its problems, I have fond memories of the 1987 Firebird so it was cool that 20 years later, I bought another pony car, a 2007 red Ford Mustang.
  4. 1993 Saturn SC2 – I’ve told earlier in my blog the story about how I came to trade in the Firebird and buy this car. The Saturn was a great car with few problems, and it was also the car I kept the longest. I remember when it turned 100,000 miles and at 102,000 miles I traded it in for my next car, a 2000 Oldsmobile Alero.
  5. 2000 Oldsmobile Alero – I was looking for a two-door car with a manual transmission, but ended up buying Oldsmobile’s last model, the Alero. It was a very nice car, with a 3.4-liter V6 engine, four-speed manual transmission, sporty looks and a nice interior. There were no initial problems with the car, but I did have a problem with a “Check Engine” light that was not fixed until, finally, a dealer dove into the engine and cleaned out the injectors. It was a misfire on the number six cylinder, the mechanic said, and after that there were no engine problems. Still, I did have one other big problem: the passenger-side window made a horrible sound one day, and fixing it involved disassembling the door to change out a part. Fortunately, the dealer was walking distance from my house in Vero Beach. I traded in the car at around 56,000 miles in October 2003 for a 2004 Toyota Solara SE Sport.
  6. 2004 Toyota Solara SE Sport – This car had a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission and a very nice interior. I had no problems with this car at all. I sometimes kind of regret trading it in for the 2007 Mustang but I had ‘stang rabies so at around 58,000 miles, I made a new deal. Had I known I would lose my job in September 2008, I wouldn’t have bought a new car in December 2007.
  7. 2007 Ford Mustang – This car, my current “ride,” has a 4.0-liter V6, five-speed manual transmission and is the shade of red that turns heads. The stereo system is really nice, and I enjoy playing my iPhone through the audio system. I keep thinking that maybe I should have sprung for a new car stereo for the Solara, but the Mustang is a good car with no problems. Right now, it just turned 19,000 miles and it’s running as well as ever. Who says U.S. automakers can’t turn out a good product? Not me.

April 2, 2009 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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