Shakespeare once said, “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so”, and that quote may have been penned with the automobile in mind (assuming Shakespeare had been able to envision the horseless carriage). Even the worst of our cars, like the worst of our girlfriends, had their own unique charms and sins that you were willing to forgive. If you’re currently stuck with a lemon, you may know exactly what I’m talking about; if it’s been a while since you’ve had AAA on speed dial, time may have dulled your senses. Take yourself back, then, because here’s what I want to know: what were the worst components of the cars you’ve owned?
I’ll kick it off by reciting my own “worst of” list, from the cars that have called my garage home. Like Frankenstein’s monster, this creature would be an abomination of nature, and something that should never exist in a a world populated by sane and God-fearing citizens:
Engine: The 1.7 liter, inline four from my 1977 VW Scirocco was the spawn of Satan. Granted, the car was tired when I bought it, having racked up over 100k miles. Still, by the time I got rid of it, the car was a rolling crack habit. Each week generally started with “what can I sell to keep the car running”, and I never traveled anywhere without tools. When things went wrong, they always went wrong at the worst possible time, like when the Bosch mechanical fuel injection defecated the sleeping surface in hundred degree temperatures. On the outskirts of Gary, Indiana. Then there was the trip where it died on the high plains of eastern Colorado, miles from civilization and years before cell phones became standard issue. I learned about suffering by replacing it’s water pump in an apartment parking lot, on the coldest day of a Colorado winter. When I sold it, I honestly wondered if the car would hunt me down, just to finish what it had started.
Tires: In 1990, I got a brand new Ford Taurus as a company car. Sure, it was big and ugly, but it was a car that someone else was paying for, so why would I complain? Standard issue tires for the 1990 Taurus were Goodyear Invicta radials, and I can honestly say that they were the worst tires ever built. They hydroplaned in any amount of accumulated water, gave no traction whatsoever in snow and ice and had braking distances typically associated with opening the door and dragging your feet. I gave serious consideration to changing the tires on my own dime, in the interest of self preservation, but opted to drive my own car for all but company business instead. There really is no such thing as a free lunch, or as a free car.
Windshield: The windshield on my FJ Cruiser is a stone magnet, and one of the standard questions on owners forums is “how many windshields have you been through”? Since the FJ windshield has roughly the surface area of Kansas, coupled with a near vertical rake, it’s not hard to understand why they get damaged. Still, I wish Toyota would have specified something a bit more durable than the Christmas ornament glass used in the FJ. If I ever hit the lottery, my first purchase will be the bulletproof windshield from an armored car.
Paint: My 2006 Acura TSX has paint with all the durability of hardened cheese rind. Stare at it long enough, and it will chip. Sneeze near it and it will chip. Write about how soft it is, and it will chip. The good news is that it’s also susceptible to staining unless you instantly wipe away any contaminants; at least the stains cover up the chips fairly well.
Brakes: Not to pick on any particular vehicle, but my 1990 Ford Taurus would again get the nod for having the worst brakes (which is a great combination with the worst tires). When driving down mountain passes (since I lived in Colorado back then), I would have to pry the wheel covers off to allow the brakes to cool. Since the transmission options were either “D” or 2, there was no usable gear for descending a mountain, which required regular and generous application of the brakes. It was particularly fun with four passengers plus luggage, as you actually had some doubt as to whether or not the brakes would last to the bottom of the hill.
Clutch: The 1991 Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX had a clutch made from paper mache. Since it also had lightswitch power when the turbo spooled up, fragging the stock clutch was more a question of “when” than “if”.
Suspension: The stock suspension on my 1997 Ford Ranger pickup couldn’t even be adjusted to meet factory camber specs at the first tire change. Aftermarket parts did the trick (and it’s too long ago to remember what I swapped out), but you shouldn’t have to re-design an automaker’s suspension at 20,000 miles.
I can’t recall ever owning a truly ugly car, or one with a painfully bad interior, so I’m at a loss in those categories. It’s worth noting that automakers have made some serious improvements since the cars I reference were built; Acura, for example, has figured out the whole water-based-paint thing and now has outstanding paint quality and durability. Ford now tests their vehicles beyond anything that’s reasonable or sane, so I would have no issues with driving a modern Taurus from Boulder to Durango, even with passengers and luggage. In fact, cars today are so good that I really wonder what kind of character-building stories they’ll be able to generate. Sure, looking for a pay phone in downtown Gary, Indiana, really sucked at the time, but I can laugh about it now.
How about you? What’s your automotive abomination?