How To Buy a Car You’ll Love for the Next 25 Years

 

Modern society is a disposable society.  We buy something, use it until it becomes old, and replace it with a new item.  Repairing things isn’t fashionable.  According to recent studies Americans buy, on average, 9.4 cars throughout their lifetime. This number was higher 8 years ago, before the economy fell into recession; U.S. car manufacturers used to count on people exchanging their cars every 3 to 4 years. But do you really need to shop for a new vehicle this often? What if you were to choose a car you’ll drive for the next 25 years? 

The Automarket: A Brief History

While preparing this article I discovered an interesting question on quora.com: “Are new automobiles today superior to those from 25 years ago?” While the answer seems obvious, I decided to dig a little deeper to see exactly how the automotive industry changed over the past quarter-century.  

Top-selling cars in 1991:

Honda Accord

Ford Taurus

Toyota Camry

Source, caranddriver.com

Top-selling cars in Jan-Sep 2016:

Toyota Corolla

Volkswagen Golf

Ford F-series

Source, http://focus2move.com/world-best-selling-car/

With the Toyota Camry being outsold  by the Toyota Corolla, its  smaller counterpart, we can clearly see a shift toward more fuel-efficient compact vehicles. But Camry still remains a popular choice, holding on to the 9th position on the list, while Honda Accord went from 1st to 18th place over the past 25 years.

(Information for the comparison chart provided by autodata1.com)

Performance

You probably would expect much better performance characteristics from the latest models, but despite having more powerful engines and higher horsepower, modern cars with large engines didn’t advance much in fuel economy or in maximum speed or acceleration time. To be fair, I am comparing manual transmissions, the most common in the early 1990s, with automatic transmissions, preferred by today’s drivers.

A manual transmission provides more options for faster acceleration and reduced fuel consumption, because it gives control over RPM (revolutions per minute) to a human being behind the steering wheel. Even the most advanced automated transmission system can’t compete with a manual transmission operated by a professional driver, who can opt for a lower shift for faster acceleration or shift early for better gas mileage. Consumerreports.org provides detailed test results which  prove this.

For those looking for lower fuel consumption versus  more speed, modern auto manufacturers offer more options than ever. For example, both Toyota Camry and Honda Accord have hybrid versions available.

Comfort

For most of us, gaining a second in acceleration time is less important than enjoying  a comfortable ride. This may be where modern automobiles have advanced the most.   Increased competition made manufacturers pay strict attention to a car’s interior ergonomics: from convenient cup holders to memorizing the driver’s seat position, engineers have thought about nearly everything you might need or want. Some advanced capabilities available on an average 2016 family car include blind-spot monitoring, wide-angle cameras, touch-screen monitors, computers and sensors, all of which can be found for example in the premium version of the Toyota Camry.

Safety

It was only in the early 1990s when airbags became widespread, but up until 1998 built-in airbags for the driver and front seat passenger were not mandatory. Although the top version of the 1991 Honda Accord reviewed above was already equipped with ABS (anti-lock braking system), this feature was not very common 25 years ago. Modern automobiles are subject to stricter crash tests and have to meet enhanced safety requirements such as degree of roof damage allowed in the event of car rollover. This makes automobiles heavier, thus affecting performance characteristics, but increases the chances of driver and passenger survival in case of an accident. Advanced  traction control systems are another major benefit of 21st century automobiles.

As of 2016, 1991 model year cars are officially considered classics. However a lot of them can still be seen on the roads, used for daily driving, especially in poor and developing countries. But economy is not always the reason to stick with  an older car. There is a special breed of car buyers who get attached to their vehicle and simply don’t  want to let go of their favorite ride.

A Look at the Automarket Future

Most notable trends in the automotive industry today are automation and fuel-efficiency.

From developing hybrid SUVs to decreasing engine and vehicle size (think Germany’s Smart Fortwo), increasing gas prices have pushed consumers to think about their fuel bills. This was true up until 2014 when oil prices began falling. But cheaper gasoline (which might not last forever) didn’t reverse the overall trend. Green vehicles such as Tesla or Toyota Prius remain more popular than ever. Today it’s less about money and more about styling and environmental concerns.

Hybrid versus  electric is an ongoing competition. Tesla and its competitors are still lacking a well-developed infrastructure in most countries, whereas hybrids don’t require special charging stations. For traditional cars that run on gasoline or diesel, switching to lighter metals wherever possible and developing more efficient engines is now a practical mainstream effort. Reduced weight helps manufacturers achieve better fuel-efficiency.

While the majority of people are still hesitant about owning a self-driving car, a lot of modern vehicles have come very close to realizing autonomous driving. From automatically parking into a tight space to preventing a driver from lane changing if there is a car in the blind-spot, driving automation is now a reality. Most of these features once found only in premium models, are now making their way into the less-pricey automobile segment.

The modern automarket is full of contradictions. It seems that consumers have separated into 2 categories: compact car addicts and SUV fans. Even luxury auto manufacturers such as Ferrari and Maserati have expanded their model lines to include a compact sedan and an SUV. Lamborghini is working on launching its own SUV in 2018.

Design trends in the auto industry changed from simple square or boxy lines to sleeker sport cars at  the end of the 1990s to more pronounced  shapes and aggressive lines at  the beginning of the 21st century. New concept cars seem to be going back to sleek, more “feminine” shapes. But since we are choosing the vehicle that will look good in the next 25 years let’s forget about trends and stick to uniquely-designed  models that stand out from the mass market. For example, Range Rover, Chrysler’s PT Cruiser, the Mini Cooper and the Volkswagen Beetle all have unmistakable designs that have changed very little  over the years.

Despite all the technological progress, simple physical phenomena like rust remain the main enemy of aging automobiles, just like it was quarter-century ago. Premium vehicles usually have thicker metal and are less prone to corrosion. Since we are looking for durability, buying a premium quality auto becomes an investment rather than a splurge.

So, does history teach us anything and how can it help us choose a vehicle that will last for 25 years?

  1. Stay on top of safety. Shop for automobiles with the best safety features within your price range. Safety developments are the most important difference between modern automobiles and classics.
  2. Think anti-corrosion. Gather information about the quality of metal and corrosion treatment a manufacturer offers.
  3. Go for fuel-efficient options if possible. Whether you choose an electric car, hybrid SUV or a smaller diesel engine you can save a lot of money in fuel costs over time.
  4. Ignore trends and best-sellers. Trending shapes will change at least 1 or 2 times in the next 3 decades, so choose the automobile you feel most comfortable in. This is also true in relation to additional comfort features such as keyless entry or automated parking. If you never had the Park Assist feature and are accustomed to your car’s dimensions, you probably won’t suffer from the lack of it.

Will the value  of your car increase over time? I wouldn’t bet on it. It’s harder for any consumer product to become a “collectible” today than it ever was. Production volumes keep increasing and most 2016 vehicles might not be rare or hard to buy even in 25 or 50 years. So keep the above tips in mind, select a car you really like, with a good reputation for quality and serviceability, and enjoy it for years to come!

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