I heard that components from older cars (like the ones before '92-93) are more resistant than the ones from new cars. New ones are made from cheap elements, so if you push them to the limit they will almost certainly fail.

Is this true?

PS: my question is probably related to this light bulb conspiracy theory that's been floating around, which essentially says that newer products are produced in such a way that they fail after a certain period of time, so the consumer buys them again :)

To me sounds a little ridiculous that a bunch of companies agree together to make inferior products, but the fact that they are stuffing cheap things inside their products, sounds plausible, because they all want to sell them at the lowest price possible

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    It's probably unaddressable for cars in general, but let's see...
    – Sklivvz
    Oct 2, 2011 at 19:26
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    It's certainly "easier" to maintain an old vehicle than a newer one: If everything is mechanical, you can fix it "yourself" with the right tools; if parts of the car are electronic, you have to rely on the manufacturer for a replacement. If the manufacturer stops producing the electronics for a specific model, it will be near impossible to keep the car running. In that sense, the old cars are indeed better suited to last a long time, even though they may keep breaking down.
    – Jonas
    Oct 2, 2011 at 21:09
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    Not a real answer, but the fact that newer parts are more complicated will definitely have an effect. It's easier to maintain a solid block of steel than a computer. Oct 2, 2011 at 21:30
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    @Kissaki, I think you'll find that simply repeating a myth and asserting it is true, without reference to any supporting evidence, is not a good way to convince people here on Skeptics.SE.
    – Oddthinking
    Oct 3, 2011 at 1:18
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    @Kissaki: Wrong; the Philips QL bulbs are not kept out of the market and get 65.000+ hours. However, cheap bulbs are just a lot cheaper.
    – MSalters
    Oct 3, 2011 at 8:31

1 Answer 1


It looks like modern cars really are better when you adjust for survival bias

My subjective impression is that modern cars are much more reliable than older cars. But I can see one reason why fans of classic cars might disagree with this impression and it is one of those factors that can seriously bias someone's' perception. It is simply that any old car that is still on the road today is, by a process of natural selection alone, likely to have been on the reliable end of the reliability spectrum when new. The owner of a classic car doesn't see an unbiased sample of all the cars that were produced: she just sees her own car which has survived well (or perhaps the other cars owned by other enthusiasts).

The only way to make a sound judgement is to ask the question in a way that eliminates that survival bias. For example, "how many breakdowns occurred in the first 3 years". With this question you could compare, for example, the original Mini to the current Mini in an unbiased way.

There don't seem to be very obvious places where this history is accessible (but let's see what car-loving skeptics can find: perhaps someone can find the J D Power raw stats on reliability from 10 or 20 years ago). But there is some accessible evidence that points to the conclusion that modern cars are more reliable.

How Stuff Works has a summary which concludes:

...the general consensus seems to be that modern cars don't break down as often as older ones.

The evidence comes from maintenance costs:

The cost of maintenance has also fallen sharply as cars have become more reliable.

Supported by evidence about how long users keep cars before replacing them (which depends partially on their reliability):

A new vehicle-dependability study, from J.D. Power & Associates, agrees, claiming that the average age of a vehicle at trade-in has increased to 73 months in 2009 from 65 months in 2006.

J D Power themselves confirm the importance of this:

Automakers have improved long-term dependability by an average of 10 percent each year since the inception of the study, which is a testament to the industry's commitment to continuously improve and sustain quality, especially long-term quality," David Sargent, vice president of automotive research at J.D. Power and Associates, said in a statement.

I'd like to see longer term data on a consistent metric, but it looks as though the evidence says modern is better.

  • 1
    could you please put the executive summary (TL;DR) at the top of your excellent answer?
    – user5341
    Oct 2, 2011 at 23:33
  • I think the first paragraph would count as such, DVK :)
    – jwenting
    Oct 3, 2011 at 8:48
  • Using the idea of natural selection here was brilliant. Oct 7, 2011 at 14:29
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    The study by JD Power & Associates is too short-term to measure anything, and probably has more to do with a certain recession between 2006 and 2009, which caused people to hang onto their cars en-masse for reasons other than reliability.
    – Ernie
    Nov 18, 2011 at 18:59
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    Consumer reports may have some relevant data - they send out surveys every year to members and compile info about the current reliability of used cars. May 26, 2014 at 18:40

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