The First Lemon?
The early Model T had so many quirks and defects that it’s unlikely liability lawyers would pass it today. Because the car lacked a fuel pump, gasoline flow to the engine was controlled strictly by gravity. This system worked fine until drivers encountered long, steep hills, where the car would always stall. Ford, made aware of this problem, simply put out the word that drivers should back up long inclines instead of approaching them head on – and many owners did just that without any lawsuits or nation-wide recall campaigns!
******The Top Ten Safety Defects Reported by Car Owners
No matter the make or model, cars that fail tend to fail in the same way. Here’s a list of the most common safety defects reported by car owners, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. How many of these problems can you spot on the car pictured below?
1. Airbags not deploying when they should or deploying when they shouldn’t!
2. Total failure of the anti-lock braking system (ABS); wheel lockup.
3. Tire tread separation.
4. Electrical or fuel-system fires.
5. Sudden acceleration.
6. Sudden stalling.
7. Sudden electrical failure.
8. Transmission fails to engage or suddenly disengages.
9. Transmission jumps from Park to Reverse or Neutral; vehicle rolls away when parked.
10. Steering or suspension failure.
******Ten Rules for Buying New
1. Never buy a vehicle during its first year on the market, just after an extensive redesign,
or during a labor strike.
2. Choose a rebate over low-interest financing if you’re buying a moderately priced vehicle.
3. Have several models in mind and look for cheaper versions sold by another division of the same automaker.
4. Make sure your contract states that a free loaner will be supplied whenever you need warranty repairs that take more than a day.
5. Ask the dealer for a specific delivery date and a “protected” price while you make your decision. If the price goes up while you’re thinking things over, you will still be able to buy at the original rate.
6. Don’t buy an extended warranty for vehicles with proven reliability.
7. Make sure you and the dealer use the same figures. You will move up from the dealer’s
wholesale price, while he’ll try to move down from the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.
8. Don’t go to the showroom alone. Recruit a tough-minded friend or family member to go with you. Women – yes, your mom! – are particularly effective negotiators because they do sweat the details.
9. If you’re leasing, watch out for hidden fees and a low mileage allowance (less than 15,000 miles [24,000 kilometers] per year). You should also avoid excess mileage costs of more than five cents a mile (ten cents a kilometer).
10. Keep the lease as short as possible (no more than three years) and ask for arbitration if the dealer alleges excessive wear and tear when the vehicle is returned.
******Ten Rules for Buying Used
1. Try to buy a vehicle that’s presently being used by someone in your family. You will have a good idea of how it was driven and maintained, and you can use the same garage that has been repairing the car for years.
2. If you’re buying from a dealer, delay your purchase until mid-year, when clearance rebates on new cars bring a lot of inexpensive trade-ins on the market.
3. Look for high-mileage vehicles being sold by reputable rental agencies, like Budget. Budget sells its vehicles directly to the public, with honest money-back guarantees and reasonably priced extended warranties.
4. Refuse all preparation or “administration” charges.
5. Stay away from most American front-wheel drives. They fail more frequently and require costlier repairs.
6. Be wary of cheap, discontinued American models that were dropped because of poor quality (such as the Chrysler Omni/Horizon, the Ford Tempo/Topaz, and the GM Corsica/Beretta). You can check a model’s past performance in reliable sources such as the Lemon-Aid guides.
7. Avoid European models. Parts and servicing can be a problem, and quality control is declining.
8. Look for five- to ten-year-old, one-owner Japanese models.
9. Shop for used rear-wheel-drive, full-sized wagons or vans, instead of American minivans. The American vehicles are not as reliable or as fuel-efficient as their Japanese counterparts.
10. Don’t buy for fuel economy alone. A four-cylinder minivan is cheap to run, but highway merging will be a white-knuckle affair.
******Hydrogen Fuel: Driving the Future?
Hydrogen is the fuel that sends spaceships to the moon, and it produces no climate-altering pollution. It also has another important advantage over other fuels: it is the most plentiful element in the universe. If we switched to a so-called hydrogen economy, no one country would have control over the production and distribution of the world’s power.
Currently, the governments of the European Union, the United States, Canada, and Japan are investing huge amounts of research money into addressing the difficulties of harnessing such a tremendous source of fuel. Basic questions such as how best to store and distribute hydrogen in its natural gaseous state are complicating the process of introducing it as a major fuel source. Nevertheless, the idea of converting to a hydrogen economy is gaining favor, since such an economy would rely heavily on the pipelines, storage facilities, and fuel stations that are already used to produce and deliver oil and gas.
The shift to hydrogen as our principal source of power would likely create a revolution in the entire world economy. Hydrogen fuel cell technology has been described as “the power train of the future,” and the world’s automakers are already putting prototypes of hydrogen-powered cars in their showrooms.
Meanwhile, American car giants are working to develop fuel cell stacks, fuel processors, electrolyzers, and the systems around them into products for both stationary and transportable uses. Just as James Watt did with steam power, researchers hope to turn fuel cells into a power source that can be harnessed to make high-volume, highly durable, affordable products. Now that the shortcomings of the first battery-
powered cars have been laid to rest by hybrid cars that never need plugging in, no one is laughing at the prospect of an “ever-ready” car with enough energy to outlast any skeptic.
But don’t get too excited just yet. Although the big auto manufacturers are collaborating in order to accelerate progress, hydrogen-powered cars won’t be rolling off the assembly line for mass-market distribution for another ten or twenty years, which means we still have to address the immediate problem of declining fuel efficiency in our current gas-guzzlers. In fact, some experts believe the future lies not with fuels cells and hybrids at all but with improved emissions output and the increased use of other alternative fuels.
Excerpted from Car Smarts by Phil Edmonston and Maureen Sawa; illustrated by Gordon Sauve. Copyright © 2003 by Phil Edmonston and Maureen Sawa; illustrated by Gordon Sauve. Excerpted by permission of Tundra Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.