Of all the potential victims of the economic crisis, there is one thing I definitely won’t miss—planned obsolescence. Since the 1920s, when mass production became the American way of life, manufacturers have sacrificed product durability in the belief that consumers will keep coming back for more. Nowhere is this more evident than in the automobile industry, and until things change, the burden falls on the consumer to seek out products with longevity. In 1990, the average life of a car was about ten to twelve years. Today, the average age of a passenger vehicle hovers close to seven years.
Everyone has his or her car story. We’ve all been hoodwinked by a car salesperson or given the run-around by a mechanic, or both. In this economy, it’s up to us to fight for our rights as purchasers and make sure we spend our money wisely. The best way to do so is through education.
If you’re in the market for a new or used car, but are stymied by the recession or because you don’t know where to start, check out the following vehicles that have earned consumer satisfaction for durability and longevity.
… or Pilot, or Civic, or Accord, or CRV. You get the idea. If it’s Honda, chances are it’s a safe bet. Forbes.com rated the Odyssey first on its list of most durable vehicles in 2008 and Warranty Direct listed the Accord as number one on its ten most reliable cars list in 2006 (Civic ranked sixth). In both tests, the cars were evaluated based on overall performance, crash-test ratings, and estimated five-year repair costs. Across the board, Hondas proved reliable, safe vehicles with low repair costs and few problems. You won’t have to sacrifice luxury for durability, either. The Accord sedan, for example, comes with attractive and unique features like an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support and the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System with voice recognition.
Toyota Yaris, and RAV4
Toyota, the number-one carmaker in the world, has a tradition of generating long product lines—like the Celica and Corolla—that have been around for more than thirty years. Rather than making one reliable car here and there, Toyota shows consistency in all of its models. Warranty Direct called the Yaris the best small-car buy (fifth most reliable overall) and the RAV4, in ninth place, a practical four-wheeler that is also fun to drive.
If you’re worried about fuel economy, the environment, and durability, Toyota is likely the make for you. The Highlander Hybrid and the Prius were ranked first and second, respectively, on Automotive.com’s list of the top ten hybrid cars. Prospective hybrid purchasers have hesitated at the high price of battery pack replacement (usually around the 80,000-mile mark), but Toyota has reduced the cost of its nickel-metal-hydride battery packs and begun to cover the replacement in its warranties (150,000 miles/ten-year in some states; 100,000 miles/eight-year in others).
Years of complaints about the poor construction of Korean cars was halted when these two companies (which are now merged) started producing vehicles made to last. Both companies were pioneers in the industry for offering 100,000 mile/ten-year warranties on their cars, and both made Warranty Direct’s “Top 100 Most Reliable Used Cars of the Past Decade,” proving that they’re built for more than one generation of ownership.
The Forester ranked number two on Warranty Direct’s list and, more importantly, was pronounced a “Great All-Around Buy.” Not only is it durable, but this Subaru SUV blends off-road capabilities with the comfort of a station wagon. It will last a long time and follow you through life changes like relocating or having a baby, since it’s as sporty and fun as it is practical and roomy.
It’s no mistake that U.S. auto manufacturers are glaringly absent from this list. (Subaru is an American company, but the cars are Japanese.) Though my grandfather would turn over in his grave to hear it, the days when “a good old American car” was the best buy on the market have been receding for some time now. The long lasting vehicles are coming from Asia, where new technologies and better fuel conservation techniques skeep us on the road well into the next decade.
Of course, what will never change is the fact that good driving habits can significantly increase the longevity of your vehicle. Car Talk’s “Click and Clack,” Tom and Ray Magliozzi, offer advice on the best ways to keep your car running, like making fewer short trips, unloading extra weight, and keeping up with auto-maintenance checks. Because no matter what car you buy, it won’t last forever.