Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Well Made

We've all heard, in this country, how well made Japanese cars and trucks are. How they are far superior to any American made car. I've been wondering about this lately.

I don't drive newer cars. I don't drive anything that was made in the last twenty years. I have a 1988 Isuzu Trooper, and a 1989 Chevrolet C1500. This gives me a nice side-by-side look at which side of the planet is making truly long-lasting and dependable vehicles. I've had others through the years, and I've noticed a pretty strong trend. And it isn't what you've been told.

A very old American vehicle is more dependable than a very old Japanese one. 

I've not found many exceptions to this. Dear old dad had an Isuzu P'up he bought new in 1987, and it ran great for years. The gas gauge didn't work after the first year or so, but it was ok until the radiator got clogged up. 243,000 on the clock when my parents got rid of it. He also had a Chevy Tracker (Made by Suzuki) that ran into the 200,000 mile range, had a couple of little issues, but was OK overall.

But those are the exceptions to the rule. My parents also have a Ford Truck a couple years older than the Tracker was, that behaves exactly like a new truck. Normal wear items have been replaced, and there was a problem with a slave cylinder a few years back. That's it. It's a 13 year old truck.

In my own personal stable, I can recall a Mitsubishi truck, 1988 model. It ran halfway decent, most of the time. But the cylinder head cracked. Had to replace that. The timing belt fell off. The water pump leaked. I had to replace the radiator. After years of messing with the factory carburetor and never getting it to run quite right, I replaced it with a Weber, which helped a lot. Reverse gear (it was an automatic) always seemed to slip. The windshield wiper blades wouldn't stay on.

More recently, I have the aforementioned Chevy truck and Isuzu Trooper. The Trooper is made in Japan, the genuine article. It has a 2.6 liter inline four, an automatic, and four wheel drive. It will go anywhere you point it, on or off road. It has 157,000 miles. Sometimes it won't start. Doesn't seem to be any reason. There are so many vacuum lines on the EFI, so many places to leak, that it's nearly impossible to get them all sealed up. Almost every day I drive it, I have a problem with it. (today it was the carrier bearing in the driveshaft. The driveshaft is 3 feet long. Who decided it needed a carrier bearing???) When you start it, it takes a bit of cranking before it fires, and then it runs rough for a minute before it runs... less rough. When you stop at a light, the brakes howl, the engine slows down to almost-stalling speed, and the whole truck shakes. The temperature gauge doesn't work. The suspension squeaks. The exhaust manifold leaks. It struggles up the slightest incline. Oddly enough, once you take it off the pavement, it's an amazingly capable machine. Will climb any hill, go over any terrain.

The Chevy truck, on the other hand, is a fullsize half ton truck. Single cab, eight foot bed, 5.7 liter V-8 engine. It has a manual transmission. It has 215,000 miles on it. There have been minor problems, such as the ignition coil, and a bad piece of fuel line. The ABS valve got stuck open once. The clutch wore out once. I had to put a belt on it. Other than the coil and the ABS valve, it's normal stuff that just wears out. When you start the engine, it cranks for about a full revolution, and with a roar that shakes the windows, thunders to life. No smoke. No knocks. No rough sputtering. No misfires. The truck accelerates with an unstoppable, frame twisting authority, no matter what is loaded in the bed, no matter what I'm pulling behind it. The A/C works. The heat works. The radio works. Everything on the truck works. No leaky head gasket. No puddles on the ground. It doesn't leak coolant, engine oil, or transmission oil. Safety? There have been two cars that hit it, one in the side, and one in the rear. The truck was still driveable after both accidents. Neither car could be driven.

There are many more examples. I had a Honda Accord that burned a hole in the piston, no overheating, no low oil, just failure. After that, I had a Chevy Corsica with 232,000 miles that ran like it was new. There was a Corolla that if you turned on the air conditioning, it would blow a fuse for the transmission and you'd be stuck in first gear. It broke the timing belt and destroyed the engine.

I think it comes down to complication. My truck is very simple. My Trooper's engine is very complex. It has one fuel injector for each cylinder, my truck has two injectors for the whole engine. The Trooper has 50 PSI of fuel pressure, the truck has 13 PSI. The Trooper has a bunch of sensors, the chevy truck has just a few.


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