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Monday, May 27, 2013

Get It Left, Get It Right, Get It Up And Down...

Some fires may ensue after this post, but my love of American cars from the 1990's has diminished entirely at this point.  You see, I have owned many cars for the simple fact that I love them, and most of these have been American cars from this period, which I have discovered to be of a bad era.  If you know me at all, you are well aware that I do every bit of maintenance on any vehicle I own and always do it on time. However, after owning over a dozen vehicles over the past dozen years, I now know that there is a certain point in the mileage life of American cars from this decade where they just sort of start to fall apart on you. 

The exception was this:
I owned this 1995 Jeep Wrangler for a few years and the only thing to go wrong with it was a $7 oil pressure sending unit.  The reason for this, is probably because other than fuel injection, emissions, and a bigger roll bar, everything about these went fairly unchanged from 1976 - 1995.  This was the most simple and basic vehicle you could buy at the time.  There was not much to go wrong.  I sold it with 118,000 miles on the odometer.

I loved this car:
1994 Chevrolet Camaro Z28.  This is what replaced my Jeep because I wanted something more secure when I went to college.  It was fast, loud, and looked nice.  The factory paint cracked on every exterior piece of soft plastic, but that was not a huge deal to me.  At one point the engine ran very hot in the Atlanta sun and after replacing the temperature sensor, thermostat, and fan relays I could not find a remedy, so I wired the fans on the radiator to a switch and controlled them from inside the car.  The headliner came down one day.  The coolant level sensor went out.  The catalytic converter went out.  The power window motors were nearly dead. 
Then this happened:
It was not my fault, but maybe it was meant to be.  I had owned this car for nine months before it was totalled.

This replaced the Camaro:
1995 Firebird Formula.  This is essentially the same car as the Camaro, if you know anything about these cars.  I bought this car with 68,000 miles.  Just like the Camaro, the factory paint was horrible and I actually ended up repainting the entire car.  Like the Camaro, this was a six-speed transmission and the reverse lockout stayed engaged shortly after I bought it.  This meant getting the car into reverse took a strong right forearm.  The motors on the flip-up headlights both went out.  The headliner fell down in this car too.  The power window motors were slowly on their way to death.  The valve which controls the air coming out of your dash vents for the heat/AC went out about once every three months.  The lenses on the tail lights peeled away from their housing.  And the worst of all was when the ABS control unit went out.  At random moments when you were braking to a stop, the ABS light would flash on the dash and the brakes would just let go.  In other words, you would keep pressing the brake pedal and the car would still be rolling.  I disabled the ABS system on this car.  Sold after almost two years of ownership with 81,000 miles.

This piece of crap:
1999 Ford Explorer XLS.  This car should not have been all that difficult get right because in 1995 it was the most popular vehicle on the road in America.  Nothing was really changed on it until 2002, so all of the bugs should have been worked out of it, right?  No.  I bought this Explorer with 60,000 miles on it and owned it for less than two years.  In that time, the DPFE (emissions part) went out and so did the coil pack.  Soon after I sold it, the head gasket blew out.  I only know this because the guy I sold it to sued me over it being my fault.  After seven months and somehow dragging me all the way to Superior Court in an attempt to press criminal charges against me, he lost the lawsuit and infuriated two different judges.  I sold it to that guy with 91,000 miles on it.
*Sidenote* My neighbor has the same Explorer and the head gasket blew on his with similar mileage about a year and a half ago.

This was my grandfather's car.
1997 Ford Thunderbird LX.  This is what I am currently driving daily.  This car just turned 80,000 miles and, like the others that were made in the same decade, it is starting to kill itself already.  The factory paint is better than what was on my Camaro or Firebird, but it is still not aging well for a car that spent most of it's life in a garage.  There are a few, random interior bits coming off, the headliner has a sag, one of the HVAC vents has broken, the airbags do not work anymore and neither does the pump on the windshield washer, but the mechanical bits are what cause concern.  The alternator went out at 70,000 miles (fair enough, but still young), the idle air control went out, the overdrive on the transmission has gone unless you engage it manually, the coolant is disappearing slowly (I have no idea where it is going)  both power windows are dead, and today it developed a misfire and started throwing a code because of it.

Luckily I had a collection of these:
I may have fixed the issue because the Ford Motorcraft wires (with only 20,000 miles on them, by the way) have started falling apart.  If that is not my problem, one of the coil packs must be the culprit.

Now, you may be saying: "Drew, those cars are old, the mileage doesn't matter as much as the age."  Like I said at the beginning, these are cars I have owned anywhere from over ten years ago, to now, so most of them were not all that aged when I owned them.  I also never beat up on my cars and have always been strict on maintaining them, to the letter.  I just look at Mercedes Benz, BMW's, Volkswagens, or (almost) any Japanese car that were as old as my cars during the time I owned them and as long as they were maintained rather than abused, most seem to have held up better.  

I have a big issue with planned obsolescence, and I really do think that American car makers followed that method during the 1990's.  Maybe not so much today, because the quality of car the "Big Three" have been selling the past five years or so is really good and on level with the market.  But, if I can look at how well my 1966 Mustang's parts have held up to nearly 200,000 miles as compared to the Thunderbird's 80,000 miles, something was lacking when the Thunderbird was born.

Am I saying European cars are superior?  In most ways, during that period of time, yes.  Currently?  I have no idea.  But the Europeans did have their share of inferior build quality for a time.  Do not forget, I did own this little gem for a few years:
And it caught on fire more than once.  

What was my point in all of this?  Maybe it was a warning of what you may be getting yourself into with an American car from the 1990's decade.  It seems when 100,000 miles gets closer on the odometer, they all start disintegrating more quickly than their imported counterparts.  The Thunderbird is now in that process, and I cut the crap out of my finger because of it:

Anything else I buy from this point forward will be a restored classic, without a computer, without emissions control, and made mostly out of steel and iron.  Mark my words...

Grace and Peace,   

The lyrics in the title of this blog are from this song:



  1. A friend of mine had an MG. A 1970 B GT, if I recall correctly. The wiring on those can be very finicky, but he managed to wire at least 600W of stereo into one without any major fires. I don't know if he just got lucky, but I've heard that Lucas tends to make their wiring harnesses a little more fire prone than most.

    The English make their cars pretty, but the last British engineers of any note built Hadrian's Wall.

  2. They're not TOO bad as long as they are left intact over the years. That way you can figure out where everything goes in the harness without having to deal with someone else's butchering. Luckily mine was intact, but the problem with the MGB's is that the factory went from using a positive ground system initially to a negative ground system later on by just dropping in a different harness that Lucas designed to fit the same car. The brown wires are all hot, all the time, and anything else is just a bird's nest of rainbow colors wrapped in plastic stretch film. The insulation doesn't do well with heat either because it tends to break down (that's why mine caught fire). My ignition switch wiring went out too so I wired it all into toggle switches that took the place of the head unit (moved it to the glove compartment) and made a bracket to mount a momentary button behind the cigarette lighter. I did it all with harnesses so I could revert it back to original and used the proper colors.


    Look up "Custom Starter Switch On The MG" in my Facebook videos to see the push-button cigarette starter I made.