European cars for masochists only
My first car was a U.K. -imported Morris Minor of uncertain vintage, bought in Panama in 1963. It was a cheap buy at $300, a gas-sipper,...
My first car was a U.K. -imported Morris Minor of uncertain vintage, bought in Panama in 1963. It was a cheap buy at $300, a gas-sipper, and peppy (most of the time). I kept it less than a year, because its virtues weren’t enough to balance out the constant breakdowns I endured commuting from Building 519 at Clayton to Canal Zone College. And, when I would bring the car in to the only garage in Panama that would service it, mechanics would dance a little jig, knowing they had work for at least a couple of days —or weeks.
The Minor experience taught me that European automakers are quite capable of building lemons and the money you pay for the vehicle has no bearing on its overall reliability. Now, almost fifty years later, it’s apparent that the electrical and fuel-delivery systems, powertrain, suspension, and fit and finish problems on European vehicles (cars and minivans) have continued unabated.
For example, Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates have consistently ranked Audi, Land Rover, Jaguar, Mercedes, Porsche, Saab, and VW quality as worse than average. And, don’t forget Fiat, Peugeot, and Renault who turned tail and left North America when warranty claims piled up faster than the car’s 0-60 acceleration times. Even co-productions like GM’s Vauxhall Firenza and Ford’s Cortina and Merkur models were laughable —unless you owned one. Yet, BMW and Volvo owners have proven to be some of the most satisfied with their cars’ overall dependability.
There are three ways to check for reliability: owner surveys, safety complaints (www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/complaints/), and confidential automaker service bulletins. These sources will quickly show you that VW’s New Beetle, GTI, Passat, and Touareg are practically biodegradable and Land Rovers are dream cars only for masochists.
And if you are an elected member of the Panamanian legislature, sure, buy your tax-free Porsche Cayenne? just don’t keep it for long. Not unless you relish seeing your dealer more often than your wife. Porsches are funny that way. The cars are over-hyped (high maintenance) performers and the Cayenne SUVs are sick sheep in wolf’s clothing (powertrain, AC, brakes, audio, and fit and finish glitches). Better to quickly ‘flip’ it to one of your unsuspecting subordinates, before it starts using your wallet as a chew toy and puts your life at risk, as this government-logged complaint describes:
Vehicle suddenly loses power (“throttle control” as the service rep puts it), usually while travelling at highway speeds. This causes sudden deceleration, creating issues for surrounding traffic. In each case if I floor the accelerator I can maintain approximately 25 MPH to get to a side street, where I arrange for a tow truck.
So why do auto press flaks keep giving Car of the Year awards (COTY) to European automakers, if these vehicles are as badly built as I say? The answer is the awards are bought and paid for by future advertising dollars and mentions of the magazine giving the award in the carmaker’s ads. Nifty, eh?
European vehicles aren’t half as good as their hype; they do well only because they spend millions of dollars to market their vehicles to insecure social climbers with more money than brains. The performance edge isn’t worth the extra dollars.
Finally, with most European models, you are seriously dealer-dependent for servicing and you can count on a lot of aggravation and expense caused by the unacceptably slow distribution of parts and their high markup. There are few independent suppliers you can turn to for help. And junkyards, the last-chance repository for inexpensive car parts, are unlikely to carry parts for foreign vehicles that are manufactured in small numbers.
So, next time you’re stuck behind a Touareg or Cayenne on Balboa Avenue, be kind and patient. That car’s owner has endured enough pain.