Over the summer, I drove to meet a friend in Granite, Colorado, a small town a few hours outside Denver. While there, he showed me his 1966 Ford F-100.


 

From 1948 until 1984, Ford made one of the most reliable trucks in the F series: the F-100. With an inline-six and an option of rear-wheel or four-wheel drive, it’s no wonder why this truck was one of Ford’s best selling trucks during production. Its durable steel body and paint that would never chip or peel led the truck market for around 20 years before being replaced by the F-150 and F-250 models. My friend’s particular truck, named “Buck,” has lasted for over 700,000 miles with only two owners.

 

So, why can this truck last so long but newer vehicles only last around 100,000-300,000 miles before being scrapped? 

 

The answer is more complicated than you would think.

 

Today, all cars sold on the market have multiple electronic components in them. From stereos to television sized screens, people want cars to have the most amount of technology possible. That forces car companies to cram as much wiring and technology into their vehicles to get them to sell. Of course, when cars start to get more and more technologically advanced, they get much harder to work on.

 

From the ’40s until the late ’70s, many people who owned cars knew how to do at least the most basic repairs, making their vehicles last longer because they would regularly do those repairs. When I asked Buck’s owner how he got it to last for 700,000 miles and still run, he replied, “I changed the oil, a ton.”

 

That’s what I have been witnessing throughout the world; if someone can maintain their car—and even over maintain it— they will make it run longer. This idea may seem obvious, but a growing percentage of the population doesn’t even know how to change their oil, let alone change a flat tire. The most that someone without car experience can do without taking their car to a mechanic is change their headlights. 

 

Even people who have experience working on engines find it difficult to work on new cars because most engines are computerized now. In the ’60s, someone just needed to know how to work on an engine, but today you have to be an electrical engineer and know how to work on engines to do any major repairs on new cars.


 

Now, you may think that it makes perfect sense; car companies make cars with more technology, so of course, they are going to be harder to work on. You would be partly right, but what I have noticed is car manufacturers deliberately cover the engine and try to make their engines as hard to work on as possible. Doing this, more people who, even if they have experience working on cars, still have to take it to the dealer to get necessary repairs done. This practice earns car companies millions because people have to pay for their labor AND new parts for their car. 

 

As I stated earlier, more and more people do not know how to work on cars as it is a dying art, so they rely on their car itself to tell them when to bring it into the mechanics. Instead of being proactive and regularly checking and maintaining their car, people wait for the check engine light to come on or for it to make a noise before taking it in. That is very detrimental to the engine as it is not maintained correctly and not checked until something goes wrong. 

 

When owners don’t fix their car before something goes wrong and force a warning light to turn on, this wears down the engine much more, causing someone to want a new car much sooner than if it were to last.

 

Steel is too expensive for car companies to put in their cars nowadays. That’s why car companies stopped producing entirely-steel vehicles during the 1973 oil crisis because people wanted lighter cars that they could get better miles per gallon in. Toyota had already been making its cars with aluminum and other lightweight metals. When people flocked to Japanese companies, American cars started to get manufactured with aluminum bodies or lighter steel sheets instead of the heavy steel layers seen on cars from the’ 40s-’60s. Manufacturers needed to use lighter-weight materials in their cars, so they bought lesser quality steel and put thin, fragile layers on them and much more plastic and electronics where they could. By doing this, people started to buy American cars once again. Companies realized that instead of buying costly and high-end steel to build most of their vehicles out of, they could buy cheap materials and make double the amount of cars. As a result of that, their profit margins went up because they could sell more. Doing this would force people to need a new car after about ten years, so it would earn manufacturers more money at the cost of cars’ quality.

 

Today’s cars are built to optimize performance. Manufacturers make their vehicles run at higher rpm to get more torque. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it makes the best out of your vehicle, the higher revolutions per minute mean that the engine will wear at a much faster rate. Older cars, however, run on fewer revolutions but do not generate the same amount of horsepower and performance from the engine. Hence, a larger engine has to be used to compensate.

 

Dodge was able to get 808 horsepower from their new Demon; incredible compared to other sport models with V8’s in them. But that came at a price. The Demon is no longer offered as a manual, but instead in an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Driving a challenger with that much horsepower means that the engine will constantly be pushing for the max amount of torque by adding as many revolutions as possible while maintaining the same speed. A computer almost wholly controls the car. A big part of what makes old cars last so long is that most of them are manual. With a manual vehicle, the driver has much more control over the car and can drive the engine with the number of revs they like. In an automatic, that is a missing feature.

 

People view cars as very utilitarian and want one purely for transport, unlike previous decades. Instead of people wanting to drive, they now just want to go from “a” to “b” with as little hassle as possible. Car manufacturers are aware of this and design their vehicles accordingly. Features like “lane keep assist,” and automatic braking are now being put in cars because people want to do as little “driving” as possible while behind the wheel. 

 

Car companies also no longer sell a car, but an ideal. If you look at any modern car commercial, you would most likely see a car in the middle of a wide-open setting with a celebrity driving. That’s because companies sell ideals that come with their vehicles instead of focusing on the car itself. When I spoke with the owner of Buck, he told me, “Dodge, Chevy, and Ford are selling ‘what it means to be an American’ – I don’t want to know what it means to be American, I want a f**king truck!” 

 

And that’s exactly what is happening worldwide. Car advertisements focus on making a car that has an ideal around it: comfort, luxury, pride, ancestry, speed, and drivability. Those terms are getting slapped on cars at alarming rates. Chevrolet even said that they designed a car specifically for millennials to relate to in one of their advertisements. 

 

Few car manufacturers take pride in making quality vehicles anymore. Now, the market is entirely centered around selling as fast as possible and making money. Even though cars can reach much higher speeds than ever before, they lack the reliability of many classic cars and will most likely break down before older models. The car industry needs to change back to its original ways of making strong, lasting cars, but with people buying cars at astronomical rates much higher than before, it doesn’t seem like the industry will change for a while. If you prefer a car that will be able to go 200mph but only lasts ten years, or if you prefer a car that will take you 160mph and last a lifetime, it is up to you, the consumer, to decide.


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