The seven stages of man (people when viewed in a more modern light) as written by Shakespeare for Jaques’ monologue are well known: Infancy, Schoolboy, Teenager, Young man, Middle aged, Old man, Dotage and Death. When a power window recently failed on my Acura TSX and I decided not to fix it I wondered if there were similar stages for vehicles and where in that scale would my Acura now find itself?
Being a 2004 model my car is now knocking at the door of being sixteen years old and while I still think it looks good there is no denying that it is getting older. The TSX has been providing reliable service as my daily driver (COAL coming soon) for the last couple years. On a recent snowy and very windy Saturday morning the whole family piled into the car for an errand in town. Due to the colder temperatures and all five of us stuffed into the car the windows fogged up briefly as we started to drive away. My wife lowered her (passenger side) window to clear the fog and then pulled up on the power window switch to raise the window back up when nothing happened. A few more attempts were made before we determined that it was indeed unresponsive and staying that way. The Acura was swiftly returned home and wedged into the garage so it did not fill with snow.
As a bit of a diversion I seem to have a bit of history with power windows and winter. This time it was not so bad being close to home but my previous experience was less enjoyable. We had a 2000 Chrysler (Canadian market) Neon at the time when I was visiting my wife and our newly born second son in the hospital at the end of January. At the time we lived about forty minutes away in a commuter town, so every day for a month I would go to work and then spend some time at the hospital before heading home. It was an extremely cold February with temperatures ranging from -20C (-4F) to -35C (-31F). The hospital required that one paid an attendant for parking, and as I was leaving, the drive-up I discovered that the driver’s side electric window would no longer go up. I had no luck with the unresponsive switch, so I had to drive for thirty minutes at highway speeds in -25C (-13F) weather with the driver’s window fully down. I positioned myself as far to the passenger side as possible avoid the worst of the airflow but it was undoubtedly one of the colder drives of my life. I retried the switch occasionally on the trip home and it, of course, finally responded two minutes from home. The power window motor was replaced shortly after.
Back to the Acura, I started by attempting to pull apart the door to do some basic troubleshooting. I did not get far before realizing my usual method of using an assortment of screw drivers in lieu of specialty tools was going to end with a series of broken plastics tabs and trim. I guess the Acura TSX is a step up in complexity from my usual driver vehicles. Before proceeding farther I researched the parts costs of a replacement power window motor. Oddly on all the usual sources I could not find it listed. Eventually I did come across some for sale at seemingly elevated prices. A quick search for other DIYers that have shared their replacement stories again yielded very few results. The few that I did find mentioned that when disturbing or replacing any component of the power window system the dealership would have perform a pairing and reset procedure. Ugh. I guess I am not used to dealing with cars in the TSX’s semi-entry level luxury class.
This is where I finally get to the stages of a car’s life cycle. What I had was an older but generally reliable car in decent shape with an annoying but not crippling issue. Based on the parts price I figured it would be close to thousand dollars for a dealership to put it right. Did I want to invest that into the car when its whole net worth was likely only, at most, three times that figure? Especially given that it had three other functioning windows, a sunroof and air conditioning. I decided against repair and was able to shimmy up the window into the closed position. I figured a reasonable solution for the car was informing the family and others to never under any circumstance try to touch that window switch again but with this non-repair stance was I moving my car into more of a clunker status? Would this same method fly for any other car I had? For the wife’s brand new minivan that answer was an obvious no even if a repair was not covered by warranty. For the Tercel I could even settle for a less elegant solution involving duct tape and zip ties. I needed a classification of clunker-ness.
So given all that extremely long preamble let me present my “Seven Stages of the Car Life Cycle”.
- Stage 1: Brand New. Driven off the dealer’s lot with pride, shiny paint and a new car smell. Not unlike new parents, new car owners might be picky about who gets to handle their car (baby) and obsess over every potential scratch or bit of dirt. There is likely a strict no food or drink policy in the car. Your neighbors are envious of the new arrival.
- Stage 2: Nice driver. Perhaps it has had its first parking lot scratch which really annoyed you at first but you have finally accepted it. The intervals between car washes and vacuuming have lengthened a bit but it is still kept in fine shape. You allow drinks and some non-crumbling foods (no chips please) to be consumed on road trips. Like a toddler’s parents who are still proud of their offspring but they do not attract as much attention from old ladies in supermarkets. Your neighbors probably have something similar but perhaps slightly less nice which makes you smile internally but no one else really notices your vehicle.
- Stage 3: Family workhorse. You may or may not have a family of your own but hauling a few children or co-workers does not bother you. It even does not bother you overly if someone eats in your car now. It has moved from the garage to parking on the street. You wash the car on a semi-annual basis. You have confused your ride with your neighbor’s a couple times since they look almost identical.
- Stage 4: Economical transport. The paint has faded, it has a few minor bumps and bruises but it still looks good for its age. Unless blessed with fantastic genes it has probably gone under the knife at least once to replace a component or two. One or more of the interior convenience features no longer works, and you just tolerate the inconvenience. Your car only receives car washes when it rains. Your neighbors do not even notice it.
- Stage 5: Clunker. A good number of its peers have moved onto later stages but it is still hanging in there. Perhaps living a little precariously as it is only one repair away from slipping into stage six or seven. This might be a minor or major ailment depending on the risk tolerance and mechanical savviness of its owner. Any repair that does not hamper its ability to start in the morning is deferred to “later”. You try to avoid washing the car since a little road grime goes a long way to covering some of the blemishes. Your neighbor wishes your car’s transmission or head gasket would fail so they could stop looking at it.
- Stage 6: Parts Car/Yard Art/Craigslist Resident. A fuel pump conking out might lead to an extended stay on the driveway and a repeated statement “I will get to it soon”. Then a classified ad stating “new breaks, ran when parked, I know what I have, open to offers” yields only time wasting tire kickers. Perhaps a few components find their way onto other vehicles or go missing. Spousal pressure or municipal laws mean that the once loved vehicle passes into the next stage.
- Stage 7: Scrapyard. A sad end but hopefully it can provide a few parts that let others survive a bit longer.
For most of my vehicular history I have had vehicles in the stage three to five range but oddly I find that we, as a family, seemed to have moved up a stage or two lately. If I was to evaluate my own fleet by this scale I would rate them as follows:
- Stage 1 – 2019 Kia Sedona (wife’s)
- Stage 2 – 2016 Suzuki TU250X, 2003 Nissan Fairlady Z
- Stage 4 – 2004 Acura TSX
- Stage 5 – 1996 Toyota Tercel
Obviously the stages do not line up perfectly to the person stages, but does this automotive life measurement scale seem reasonable? If not what refinements would you suggest? If it does ring true where does your fleet of vehicles sit in the seven stages?
This reminds me of a 1971? or so Datsun 510 station wagon I drove back when I was young and broke.
The Datsun had been given to me and was teetering between a Stage 5-Stage 6 car.
The neighbor across from me said she would have been too embarrased to be seen in the Datsun.
I took it as a compliment to my cheapness……
Great writeup and it has given me food for thought.
My 1993 Camry stick shift is between 4 & 5 and I want to be an optimist. Sure it has an oil leak, but at least various gaskets have been replaced so the leaking is less now. Even has a new timing belt, water pump, and spark plugs with new wires as well. Once a year since 2017 one of the windows will no longer wind up so the mechanism has to be replaced. As of now only one window is still using 1993 hardware.
Sure my 2004 Sienna has slight coolant leak and some oil seepage as well as a lower control arm bushing that is getting near to needing replacement, but I still consider it a 2 or a 3 on the scale.
2004 LeSabre: In April I bought somebody else’s 4 and spent the summer turning it into my 2.5 (want to know how many individual little light bulbs there are in a dashboard? 😉 )
1965 Chrysler: Basically a 6.5 that I have kept as a 4.5 through sheer stubbornness.
I currently have a 1996 Olds 88 that was given to me by a family member because it was a solid stage 5 car and he was going to move it right into stage 7 before i said I wanted it. I’m slowly turning it back into a stage 3/4. I don’t know why, but I get a lot of joy out of turning old boring cars back into decent drivers
My Kia Sedona (2012, 85k) should be a 3 but I still kind of consider it a 2.
The Honda Fit (2007, 134K) is a 4.
I rode the 93 Crown Victoria all the way through stage 5.
Power windows are still the bane of older cars. My elders were right – “they are just one more thing to go wrong.”
Great concept, but I don’t see enough differentiation between Stages 3 & 4.
My inclination was to merge them and go with 6 stages, but after further consideration I’d add this to stage 4: “One or more of the interior convenience features no longer works, and you just tolerate the inconvenience.”
That is a worthy addition. I hope you do not mind but I have added that to stage 4.
Interesting analysis. As vehicles age failures of ancillary systems tend to be ignored. Talking about comfort and convenience items like radio/ entertainment, power door locks and seats, a/c and eventually even heat. Luckily with modern cars the wholesale failures don’t usually begin until after the 10-15 year mark.
I think that most people don’t face the entire scale of decrepitude with a particular vehicle. Those that lease are treated to a new vehicle every couple of years. There are those that buy new, and trade every three or four years. These vehicles are being passed down to their second tier owners who might keep them for anywhere from five to ten years. After that, they enter the huge used car galaxy where their value is accessed by just how much maintenance they received over the years and their state of cosmetic respectability.
A lot of my fleet is over twenty years old and I’ve learned to ignore and put up with the little aggravations that accompany that. One issue that looms on the horizon every two years is California’s bi-annual smog test. That’s a deal breaker that sends a lot of cars to the scrapheap.
Unlike like I think most people play mostly in a portion of the automotive scale. As you say those that lease never leave the top and those that cannot or don’t want to afford a new car might never see the top.
It’s interesting that the ‘convenience’ features are the first ones to go. We had a similar problem with our 2000 Verada (Diamanté) a few years back. The front passenger side window motor died (why not the more trequently used driver’s side one?) but fortunately the local garage had a mechanic who loves these cars and knew them inside out. From memory replacing the motor cost about $300. Like you, I’d tried having a look inside the door first, and found ‘no user-serviceable parts inside’.
The rest of the car was still going strong until the auto trans died without warning while my wife was on her way to work. Friendly mechanic replaced the transmission with one from the scrapyard (no warranty) and we were on the road again. After 350,000km the engine still seemed as strong as ever until I crashed it. Emotionally I would have put it at a stage 3 but realistically after these repairs it was probably a stage 5. The insurance company wanted it off their books and scrapped it. Sad, because to look at it, it was still in great condition – but then, I’ve always had trouble letting go of a car.
Not sure on the passenger vs driver’s side. It does seem like the driver’s one should go first as I would expect it receives 4x as much use.
It’s the lack of use that typically takes out the motor.
My Honda Element is somewhere between stages two and three.
My Vanagon is stage six. It’s currently sitting disabled in the driveway waiting for me to address a significant oil leak and a parasitic draw on the battery. It’s been stagnant for about a month now and I hope won’t be that way for too much longer.
My Citroen is around stage 4 it has battle scars runs great its stupidly reliable nice to drive, I water blasted it recently so its had its 15 month wash thats two since I bought it the master control for the power windows is playing up a new one that seems a match though its for a PUG 407 is on its way via the interweb the annual inspection is nearly due which it should pass I’m planning to just drive it till it dies or becomes too difficult/expensive to repair and just buy another one and do the same.
Great post. Love the graphics too.
The TSX is a 2. As is the Promaster van.
My xB is a 4
But my ’66 F100? I’m struggling to find the right category. Maybe we need another, between 5 and 6: suspended animation? It was a clunker when I bought it in 1987. It still is, looks worse for sitting outside its whole life, but it always starts (well, except for on a recent rare occasion) and I have no plans for it to go to the junkyard.
Yes no category for my Hillman either its still alive just not in regular use, it turns 60 on the anniversary of first registration in two days so I’ll give it a birthday present of 12 months rego it passed inspection a couple of months ago but Ive been away working so no point in registering it.
Thank you. I think the stages are a fit regular vehicles but classics that are revived or lead longer lives that normal don’t really fit.
Those cars are the zombies. They stagger around more or less functionally but not with the speed or power or looks they once had and every once in a while something falls off or starts dripping that may or may not be addressed.
Was the same with my ’69 F-100. I did a little bit of repair when we brought it to the Middle West from my Dad’s, but nothing really major failed for the next ten years. In a certain sense, it brings to mind Miss Havisham in Great Expectations.
My current ride is still Stage 1 even if it’s approaching 10,000 miles. Only 6 of those thousands are mine since I bought a ‘new’ dealer demo.
I tend to trade at the point when I think the car is about to have it’s second round of stage 4 surgery, which to me means it’s soon approaching Stage 5 or even Stage 6. My ’89 Subaru XT Turbo went from running great to Check Engine Light of Death when the head gaskets went and warped the head expensively enough that it became a fixture at the mechanics shop where it was towed. It was still parked against the fence a year later.
One of the reasons I really have no interest in buying a new car. As it gets to stage 4 or 5 you’re stuck with the memory of what once was, and I find that depressing. That’s why I like buying cars that are at the end of stage 2 or beginning of stage 3.
Whenever my next Power Window Catastrophe hits, I’ll think of your story coming back from the hospital, and I won’t feel so bad. Power windows never seem to fail on warm, dry days.
In thinking about my current fleet of three vehicles, I think I’d classify them like this:
Stage 1.5: 2018 Kia Sedona – The new hasn’t completely worn off yet, despite having over 16,000 mi., having its bumper scraped up (and repaired) once while parallel parked, and having a few upholstery stains. To us, it still feels new.
Stage 3: 2010 Honda Odyssey – Now my daily driver, the Odyssey has 140,000 mi. on it. It feels its age, though still does its work well, and without complaint. My wife and I jokingly refer to the Odyssey as our “beater van” though that’s being a bit harsh. Come to think of it, I haven’t washed the Odyssey since the summer.
Stage 4?: 1995 Ford Thunderbird – It can’t qualify as “economic transport” because there’s nothing economical about keeping a 25 year-old car around just because you like it. My wife bought this car new in 1995 and we still have it – probably will until something major like a transmission needs replacing. It looks awfully good for its age, but every year the list of things of minor things that I don’t have the time or energy to deal with grows. Like the broken fuel filler release, or the door trim upholstery that fell off years ago, but I never got around to gluing back on. I love that car, but it’s worth practically nothing, and I suspect that when something major does go wrong with it, it’ll catapult directly from Stage 4 to Stage 7.
My Renault Sandero is stage 1, being 3 years old, always garaged and with 22000 km on it. That said, it’s the first car I bought new and will be the last, as depreciation is too steep. I’ve owned my share of 3’s, unless a smoking car is down the ladder.
In my fleet:
Stage 1: None since I don’t buy new cars
Stage 2: 1983 LeBaron, 1995 Voyager, 2015 C-Max, 2001 LeSabre
Stage 3: 2000 LeSabre (it lives in FL where it gets driven 1000 miles per year)
Stage 4: None
Stage 5: None
I love the descriptions of the stages of life!!
With regard to the window motor, I probably would have tried to by pass the harness and connect directly to 12V power, using a switch from the hardware store.
Neat, you have a 1995 Plymouth Voyager. My folks had one in Bright Red from 1995 to 2012.
As someone who buys his cars new or almost new, and then puts an enormous number of miles on them before giving up, here goes…
My 2007 Mustang:
Delusions of former grandeur stage: 2 – I keep it clean and shiny, but who am I kidding at 178,596 miles? In 2016 I had the transmission rebuilt to give it a new lease on life back at 170,435, and then took it off the road as my daily driver. It’s now my pleasure car. So with all that, yeah, stage 2.
In reality? I have a few niggling things to fix (stage 5), but she starts every time, and the neighbors don’t complain about it, in fact I still get compliments on the old girl.
My wife’s 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer:
Solidly between a Stage 3 and Stage 4, and I still washed it like it was at stage 2, until the clearcoat started to peel off of it. Now, while I wash it more than twice a year (stage 3), more often than not, I let the rain do it (stage 4). I think you guys call this look “patina”, and some say it’s desirable. Sorry… I’m just not a fan.
Mechanically, I almost always give the Lancer what it needs in a timely manner. It gets used for weekend trips to places I worry about door dings and such like a shopping center, and it is used as my wife’s daily driver for her whopping 1.2 mile commute. I try to drive it further than that 2 or 3 times a week, just to give it some exercise keep the battery charged up! She’s been stuck at 89,xxx miles for this entire year, but it will soon/eventually go to 90K.
My 2016 Civic Coupe EX-T:
In my mind it’s still a 1 (see the above “delusions of grandeur” about my Mustang).
But in reality it’s a Stage 2. I’ve already got just over 57K on her in 3 short years, but there have been no problems with it other than routine maintenance (once the glitches under warranty were all sorted out). I wash it a little less than I did when it was new, but still keep it nice and shiny like my Mustang.
Since my Civic is my daily driver, and has to deal with a very difficult commute where its performance must be top notch, it receives the most attention to detail regarding maintenance, as it must perform like new as long as it can.
Normally, I get about 8 years out of a car before it starts to show its age, no matter what the odometer says.
My favorite movie that discusses this theme (1st 10 min.) Birth, life, death, and resurrection:
I think you have the life cycle laid out accurately for “normal” cars. How do you handle old cars that are shunted out of the life cycle and become classics? As far as I can tell, the life cycle was generally 1-10 years, ordinary used car, 10-25 years, cheap used car descending into beater status, 25 years and older officially classic based on club rules, special plates and in the US NHTSA/EPA import exemption.
I say was since I see a lot of well kept 90s pickups in daily use as well as older luxury cars.
My family fleet is mixed,
stage 2, 2016 Mazda CX-5, serviced by the book, cleaned occasionally,
stage 3, 1978 BMW R100S slightly down at the heel, but garaged and regularly serviced, the non-running 1983 Honda CM250C is also about this level, garaged slightly worn but capable of daily use with a clean carb and new battery.
stage 4 my son’s 2003 Buick LeSabre, in best GM 3800 cockroach fashion the major systems work but the interior trim and minor controls are failing.
I think classics and special interest cars don’t really fit into this life cycle. Similarly most exotic cars are simply worth too much (and high running costs). to be beaters and then scrapped although I guess one does see the occasional abandoned Ferrari in Dubai but that is more to do with quirks in ownership status there.
Exotics yes, very rarely do those make it past stage 2, and even that’s rare. Classics though? More than a few sought after and very valuable collector cars made it to 5/6/7 before being restored back to 1. Most unrestored “survivors” are stage 3 or 4.
That’s sort of the idea behind the classic timeline, for non-exotic cars there is always a period where they are just old cars.
I also think rust needs to be considered in the lifecycle. In areas with a lot of salt and thus rust cars hit beater status sooner as compared to cars in low rust areas.
If you ever see them drive in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, you would be surprised that there aren’t a lot of smashed Ferraris and Lamborghinis along side the roads. Some of these folks drive their super cars in the left shoulder of the freeway (known locally as the bonus lane) at 100 MPH and then try to merge back into the left lane before the shoulder narrows at the next overpass. Fun to watch as long as I’m in the right lane far away.
Cougar jumps back and forth directly between 2 and 6 in recent times depending on its occasionally fragile mechanical state, and I brought it back from a 4 to a 2 at one point(not that it was economical, but it was dependable)
Focus is a 3, but I treat it more like a 4.
2008 Acura TL: somewhere between 3 and 4. I treat it like a 3, but it’s getting close to 130K, the Bluetooth doesn’t work, it needs new tires, the leather is discolored, it’s needed a new radiator and suspension parts in the past year. Then again, it runs perfectly well and has only left me stranded once.
’03 Opel Corsa: stage 4 or 5, I’m not really sure. It’s certainly economic transport but in fairly good shape for its age, and I generally take care of it including washing it fairly regularly. I don’t drive it too often since I get around town on foot and by bicycle but it’s still, you know, mine. However, while I’m reasonably confident it will pass the biannual inspection in April, if a big, likely rust-related issue crops up, it may very well become “uneconomical to repair”. If that were to happen – I hope it won’t – it will probably have to go straight to stage 7. Corsa parts aren’t worth a cent anyway. Again, I hope to keep it in stage 4.
I happen to coincidentally have the first four stages more or less covered.
Stage 1.5 – The 2019 new car – Gets the deduction due to the hail damage on the back half, appointments are six months out to fix it, on the schedule, will be a 1 again after that if nothing else happens in the meantime.
Stage 2 – The 2015 Wrangler, daughter’s car now – Needs a side marker light replaced (on my desk) due to a parking lot mishap, otherwise going strong, she washes it more than I did
Stage 3 – The 2016 Highlander – family workhorse, has a couple dings, needs another wash, gets driven hard and put away wet, also on the list for hail repair on the roof, but moved back into the garage this winter and just got a new battery. The eyes are wandering somewhat but not seeing anything much better that justifies a significant cash outlay so it stays. Just passed four years of ownership last week, a minor milestone for us.
Stage 4- The truck – rattles/squeaks, lots of miles, never gets washed, has had invasive internal surgery before my watch, hail damage, was recently treated to a used (free) Vanillaroma Tree Scent thingy found in a junked but decent looking Audi A6, but keeps hauling the freight and thus gets an off-street parking spot under the basketball hoop.
Nothing else in the current fleet.
My Volvo 940 diesel is a firm stage 5, but it has been that way for the 6 years I’ve owned it. The heated seats, AC and cruise control don’t work, neither does the heater fan on it’s highest setting. The sunroof will open but it won’t close. The tailgate struts won’t hold up the tailgate any more. None of which affects the running of the car. It’s done 275k miles, I just don’t think it’s worth fixing any of that. It might blow up next week.
My other car is an ‘87 Mustang GT that doesn’t really fit any of the criteria as it’s a reasonably well preserved weekend toy.
Despite having over 100K combined miles, I think that both our Golf and Tacoma are still in Stage 1. Despite having a combined age of 35 years and 60K miles, I think my two motorcycles are still firmly in Stage 4, although as I’m the only rider they’re not quite FAMILY workhorses.
As for power windows. I’ve had two incidences of slow-to-go-up power windows on my Toyota’s. Usually ignored until manually pulling up on the glass was required to get the glass to budge at all. Maybe not your issue, as my motor still worked, but the symptoms were definitely worse in cold weather, despite lubing linkage and seals. In both cases, disassembling the switches and cleaning the contacts reduced the voltage drop enough they worked well again. In fact I did the same on my BMW 528i years before, when I think the window stopped working altogether.
I had an Rx-7 with the slow windows that improved with some lube in the tracks and linkage. Here is the weird thing – there was no slowing down involved with the TSX. Worked fine then all of a sudden didn’t. If we get a warm patch I might be tempted to try it again but that could be a couple months away.
There is a non trivial chance that the failure is in the master switch on the drivers door. That’s what happened on my 06 Mazda6; both the passenger side front window and driver’s side rear window eventually failed at different times.
There is a company that sells aftermarket replacement modules for pretty cheap – mine was $39.95 IIRC and it did fix both, and the reprogramming was simple.(However I ended up putting the original back in and will be searching ebay for a junkyard replacement, since the new one still let you work the windows with the car off, and I think had a parasitic loss that killed my battery.)
Said Mazda is now stage 4.5; our 2010 Honda CRV is stage 3.
Despite being my only car, my 2000 Golf is somewhere between stage 4 and stage 5. I keep the stop/go stuff in order, and even after all these years I still wax it twice a year (I live in the sunbelt, the “metal” paint looks pretty good, the “resin” paint is fading on the door handles and sideview mirrors, though the car is mostly garaged, it spends 3 days a week outside (so 60% garaged)). Someone keyed the rear hatch, but that was back when it was still pretty new, but I never buffed out the paint (or had it repainted). I’m retired now so I can tolerate the occasional problem and it beats carrying groceries on the bus (and toting them home in the heat). Guess driving a 20 year old car also allowed me to retire a bit sooner…but eventually it will have to be replaced (with what?).
The stuff that doesn’t work is pretty much the power locks in 2 of the 5 doors…does any car have the option of manual locks anymore? Even in 2000 when I bought it new, power locks were standard on it (keyless lock/unlock was pretty new and I guess they thought everyone wants it)…so couldn’t avoid it if I wanted to buy this model. This car did have the common VW window regulator problem, and that’s been addressed, but I’m not brave enough to open up the door and remove the window regulator mechanism to get at the power locks.
The sad thing is that supposedly it is usually due to a poor solder job on some of the connections on the circuit board inside the door…probably a 5 minute fix, but getting to it takes more time than I want to dedicate to it, especially in 95 degree heat that lasts much of the year.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. 2 of the doors won’t open unless you first push on the weatherstripping…there’s some part in the latch that won’t release with pressure on the door latch. I think this is another design issue, but it makes my car more theft resistant, don’t know if anyone would know the unlocked door latch will work if you press on the door (shh….don’t tell anyone please!). But this is the kind of stuff that makes it “my” car. I’m pretty sure this problem is independent of the power lock issue…one of my doors where the power lock still works has this issue…and another door where the power locks don’t work also has this problem.
Of course I can’t say my car has been trouble free (yeah, its a VW…but some of the other problems I’ve had might be due to rubber/plastic degradation living in the sunbelt…the linkage to my (manual) transaxle went, leaving me shiftless last year, this year the power steering rack went. Other than that, the only other thing that went that left me carless was the ignition lock cylinder. I’ve replaced batteries 4 times, they last almost exactly 4 years (to the day once!) and seem to always go without any warning, sounds like knitting needles (load reduction relays seem to kick in) when they ultimately go. But for 19 going on 20 years, it’s been OK. Guess I’m used to VW by now, I’ve owned no other make since 1981
Funny thing this reminded me of my Mother’s ex (1988) Ford Tempo. My sister and her family moved in with my Mother awhile ago (15 years) and she was going to share the Tempo with my mom, I took the opportunity to fix up a bunch of stuff on the Tempo…it had inop power locks, but it turned out to be a problem with the switch, much easier to fix. Had a remote gas door release button in the glovebox that stopped working (had to open trunk and use emergency release) but a relay fixed that. I got pretty much everything working on the car, some might question why, as 5 years later the AC compressor went, and sad to say ended up junking the car because of it (maybe some other things also went wrong in the meantime but the car ran OK, just was hot with no A/C). Funny thing was that 40 years ago none of my cars had A/C, I wouldn’t have dreamed of junking a car that still ran….but part of it was timing, this was during the cash for clunkers era…I’m sure many a still capable car had its lifetime reduced in the name of expediency…the Tempo was replaced by a new Escort, which they still have (only 10 years old now…probably stage 2 or 3). Before my Sister and her family moved in, the Tempo also served as my “spare” car I borrowed when I needed a several day repair on my car (now I have to rent a car, or do without, if my car can’t be fixed the same day).
My ’09 Dodge Caliber. Low end of 2.
’87 Chevy Caprice. Low end of 2. Mostly due to age/lack of use.
’95 Olds Cutlass Ciera. Definitely a 6.
Runs/drives fine. Pulled off the rear bumper in March to fix rust that caused it to fail inspection. Still waiting. The little amounts of rust elsewhere have exploded since to the point it is looking pretty rough. Can’t bring myself to get rid of it.
Every car I’ve purchased since the early eighties has had power windows. The only trouble I have ever had with them was due to the switch getting wet (occupational hazard with convertibles) and frying itself. Replacing the switch took literally 20 minutes, a real mechanic might have been able to do it in 10.
The two cars we have now are both at the high end of the scale. My wife’s RAV4 is still a 1 (it is still under warranty), although, since it is the car we use for vacation, we have snacked and rehydrated in it. At the moment it needs a good cleaning, we have tracked wet leaves and other detritus in on our feet. My Mustang convertible is a 2; there are some minor dings and scuffs but it is definitely a good weather vehicle and spends most of the bad weather season in the garage. I have owned the Mustang for a little more than four years and have only accumulated some 21,XXX miles.
Back in my younger days I had several cars that were fours, if not fives. These tended to not be kept very long, once they needed a repair that cost more than the car was worth they were disposed of.
Great article David! I think your stages are pretty good overall, although I like David Skinner’s addition above to Stage 4. When little things go without repair that is a big step in the slide downward. I also love the little diagram you created.
As for my daily driven cars they are as follows:
Stage 1.5: 2016 Subaru Outback with about 50K miles. This car is pretty near as perfect as a almost 4 year old car can be driven in the winter conditions we have. It is regularly washed and waxed (did it yesterday), garaged and rust proofed. The interior is virtually perfect, but the exterior does have some signs of wear, so it can’t be called like new anymore. Mechanically, there are no issues and it still drives like new. It has some stone chips and touch ups to the front end. For a well used family car, its pretty darn good.
Stage 2: 2008 Toyota Tundra with about 143K miles. If the truck were newer, I’d call it a stage 3, but for a 12 year old truck it’s pretty darn good. it does have some minor scratches and stone chips on the paint, but no rust and I touch up little spots pretty regularly. Mechanically, everything works as it should and it drives well with a tight solid body and suspension. Most people think it is much newer than it is, which is why I think it’s more of a stage 2. In fact a coworker was saying the other day how his van was old compared to my truck. He was flabbergasted when I told him my truck was 4 years older than his van!
Forgot to add.
Two of my three cars have manual windows. Caliber has power windows. It had the passenger side regulator fail at less than two years old.
When I have the choice, always manual windows for me!
Neat article. Where humans unfortunately cannot reverse any life stages, cars can be made to live for forever, depending on the owner’s will (and bank account.) So how to account for classic restored vehicles?
” where does your fleet of vehicles sit in the seven stages?”
OK, you asked…
2018 Charger: Stage 3
2010 Challenger: began as stage 1, now stage 2 and will hopefully stay that way
2004 Ram: began as stage 1, now stage 3
2002 Durango: began as stage 1 for about a day, was a stage 2 for a long time and now somewhere between stages 3 and 4
2002 Saturn SC2: started out as wife’s stage 1, now a stage 5, but we wont let it become a stage 6; we dont have neighbors so thats not an issue
2000 Sonoma: somewhere between a stage 4 and stage 5; the kids use it
1996 Ram: began as a stage 1, now somewhere between a stage 2 & 3
1987 Grand National: began in my ownership as a stage 6, now a stage 4 and working its way up the ladder
1984 Delta 88: stage 3 and holding steady
1983 Malibu: stage 4 and holding steady
1977 Grand Prix: began as a stage 2, fell to a stage 6 and has worked its way back up to a stage 4 and climbing. I also have a ’76 Grand Prix for parts thats a stage 7 and will be cut up by my volunteer fire department once Im done stripping all of the usable parts
1973 Duster: somewhere between a stage 2 and 3
1971 Satellite: stage 4 and holding steady
1971 Road Runner: stage 2 after as low as a stage 6
1969 Charger: began in my ownership as a stage 4, now a stage 2
That is quite the fleet!
Most of these are awesome in every stage!
No more ’83 Grand Prix?
We happen to be not long into a complete replacement cycle ourselves:
2018 Buick Regal TourX. Purchased this past May, but already have 17,000 miles on it, so I don’t consider it “brand new” any more. Gets parked in the driveway close to the house entry since it’s the wife’s DD, but moves to the machine shed during inclement weather.
2017 Chev SS. Just clicked 70,000 miles and yes, I eat in it – I bought it to drive, not to look at!
2015 RAM 2500. Just clicked 40,000 miles. It’s picked up its share of dings and dents here on the farm, but has also made a number of long road trips. Normally gets parked in the machine shed with the SS (50’x76′, so plenty of room).
I’ve had cars in pretty much every stage over the years, though.
“The Beater” is about stage 5.5 but deserves a stage of its own. When I was much younger my commuting car was a 1974 Chevy Nova two-door hatchback, with the bicentennial Spirit of America trim. By the time I got it around ’83, it still ran great, that 350 V8 and Turbo Hydramatic were very satisfying. Enormous cargo space with the back seat down. I drove it daily for 4-5 years and its only breakdown was a radiator hose.
What makes a beater special is that while running well it looks horrible and you obviously don’t care. Peeling black vinyl roof, white paint shot. Quite a bit of rust around the wheel wells since it started out in Wisconsin. The headliner had come almost completely loose, which I repaired with extensive use of an office stapler. AM only on the radio, so I had an old Radio Shack AM/FM portable on the hump between the seats. That long driver’s side door sagged a full two inches on its hinge, so you had to lift it up while closing.
I loved that car. My neighbors were so glad when it was replaced by a shiny new Celica.
My cars get treated as if they’re stage 1 forever. Even if it gets to stage 7, I’d wash and vacuum it before taking it to the junkyard.
Lol. I am living this. I’ve had two cars now that became the 6th oldest of 6 in our fleet. Car 6 normally has no assigned driver. Perhaps not coincidentally, car 6 tends to spend time in Stage 6.
My 2004 Focus, 2004 Le Sabre are still at stage 1. Both get washed weekly and waxed every 4 months. No food, no dirt, no nothing allowed. My 91 626 was passed onto me by a friend so I take it I am the third owner. It was a 4- but I have moved it back to a 2 except for some faded clear coat. The wife’s 2018 Mazda 3 is at stage 1. Four of the older classics are at stage 1 while the Park Lane is at 2- due to exterior bumps and bruises from the PO. My wife’s old 98 Sable wagon is a definite 3. Lest you think not my OCD is very well controlled.
Weird wouldn’t show the post so I gave up and logged out and then it was there x 2. Just as weird as my “Forbbiden Site, Error” on the office computer which has never let up no matter what on Firefox but is Ok on IE when I have it bypass security certificates.
Now it is only up once immediately after this posted. So strange…
Every once and a while an admin has to approve a post. Not sure on the exact reasons why sometimes.
It of course makes me think of my 2003 Mountaineer that we purchased new as our family truckster and its progression through the stages which you so eloquently described.
It was moved out of front line use many years ago, but there have been 3,000-5,000 miles per year, for the last several years, where it is still the best tool in the box for the situation at hand. Just earned its keep today in fact.
I’d say it is in stage 4. Though I don’t think I describe it as economical transportation due to the ~16 mpg. It has had the transmission replaced everything works except for 1 thing and that is just intermittent. That is the back up sensor system. The right inner comes and goes. I do have the part, but that requires the bumper cover removal. It seems like every time I think I’ll have time to do it it will start working again. I am going to spend the money on 4 new tires as the ones on there are getting pretty old and hard. And yeah it hasn’t been washed in over a year, but it didn’t look too bad the last time I did do it.
Regarding the “coding” of window motors, it is something common on many newer cars including some quite basic ones as it is part of the auto bounce back to prevent injuries. Some cars can be forced to learn w/o a scan tool with the proper procedure of rolling it down and up. For others there are programs/apps to do those kinds of OE tool functions. It is the kind of thing that will soon be unavoidable.
Just a thought…
If just the window motor is bad, could the “smart guts” be transplanted to a good motor? In theory, the vehicle’s computer would be none the wiser. 😉
No, the way the systems work the motor has an encoder that senses movement but it has to learn where closed is. Disconnect the battery, (or have its voltage drop really low) while the window is open and you’ll have to reset it even though nothing was changed.
That happened to our C-Max. Apparently the battery went dead while at the dealership and they had replaced the battery. I’m betting the tech jumped it, took it into the shop, rolled down the window so he couldn’t lock the keys in the car and then proceeded to replace the battery.
Because it was in the middle of winter when I test drove it I didn’t roll down the driver’s window. Then when I did use it it would bounce back when you auto closed it and you had to sneak it to the closed position. I was able to use the manual method of running it down and up a few times and holding the switch in the up position after it bounced. Unfortunately at that time Forscan hadn’t added the C-Max as one of the cars you could use to put the window controller directly into learn mode. Several months later the change log showed they added that function.
I had something similar happen with my Lincoln’s automatic trunk as I hadn’t driven it in a while and the battery got low and silly me opened the trunk before starting the car. But again I was able to manually re-teach it where it was w/o getting out the scan tool and laptop. Especially since it was raining that day.
I had assumed that the learning procedure involved storing the vehicle’s VIN in the window motor controller. My (very limited) understanding is that manufacturers seem to be going nuts for that sort of thing.
Your description makes waaaaay more sense. Thanks for shedding the light on this!
2015 Mazda 3 I’d say is 1.5, 1964 Mercury Comet was 4 when I got it and is slowly being nurtured back to 2 (I like the original patina and the peace of mind it gives me when I leave it parked somewhere) but with many modifications, so perhaps it does not fit the mold at all.
2015 gmc Sierra 4 door stage 2 purchased this used.
2014 Chevrolet Cruze stage 2 purchased new
2014 gmc acadia stage 3. Purchased new.
2000 gmc Sierra stage 4 purchased new.
The 2015 gmc replaced a 2000 suburban that was purchased used as a stage 5 and fixed up to stage 4 and driven 3yrs.
What an excellent piece of writing! True reference material.
I keep my vehicles in Stage 1 and 2 as long as possible. When they migrate to stage 3, they get parked in the driveway, not in the garage any longer.
Southern Ontario salted roads vastly accelerate car life cycles. I have managed to keep my 2010 Escape with 190,000 kms somewhere between stage 2 and 3, but it has gone under the knife for some needed repairs. Just replaced the exhaust yesterday. Still kept garaged. Paint dings are fixed, but the touch up paint does not match the colour of the car (thanks, Ford).
My 2014 300C is as close as possible to stage 1. It has only 40,000 kms (24,000 miles), has just come off extended warranty, and is kept clean, and in the garage. Small paint chips are fixed quickly.
My Mazda3 (can’t believe I’ve had it for a year!) is in stage 2. It’s become a daily driver of daily drivers. I still like it, but don’t keep it near as clean as I did when I first bought it.
Lily (85 El Camino) was Stage 5 that was brought up to run than quickly became a Stage 6 car with an electrical fire and quickly sold.
Barbara (87 Ford Bronco II) seems to be at a permanent Stage 4 and has been for many years. It’s never been kept up with enough to be pretty, but it’s never been drop kicked so hard it stopped running all together.
My wife’s Highlander is still comfortably a # 2.
My F-150 Crew Cab is a firm #3.
Saturn Aura is a #4 and I’m working hard to keep it that way.
My BMW Z3 is a bit harder. It looks very good for its age, but is definitely no garage queen. The odometer is spitting distance from 200k, the leather seats are in distress, the AC needs frequent recharges to stay operational, and it leaks a bit oil. Based on its condition, I’d say it’s closer to a #4 than anything else, though I aspire to get it up to #3 status.
David, I just got to this and it is a great article! A standardized classification system is very important for weighing repairs to ancillary and auxiliary systems.
Stage 1 is very short-lived. I have kids, live in an old neighborhood with no garages so the cars spend 24/7 outside, and I do not have the time to fuss with, obsess over, and detail the family haulers frequently enough to keep them in this category.
Stage 2, however, is very manageable over the long haul even under these restrictions. Kids don’t get to eat whatever whenever in the car, it gets vacuumed and cleaned with some regularity, and you keep up on regular maintenance as if you intended to keep it for 20 years.
I haven’t gone beyond Stage 4. Not enough mechanical aptitude to make the repair costs worth it vs. the resale value.
I have a couple of fours. When one becomes a five I will subtract the four and have a one!
My wife and I started with nothing and have most of it left…
Huh, I came to this thread late. I’ve got three:
A 2006 Honda CR-V, at Stage 4. We are venturing into the expensive repair phase at 130K on the odometer; we replaced the A/C compressor and the clutch master cylinder this past summer. In the spring, I replaced the hood after the clear coat disintegrated, buffed the paint, and polished the yellowing headlights with a 3M kit. It looks like an 8 out of 10.
A 2009 Honda Accord, also at Stage 4. It looks fine from the outside. Inside, the driver’s side rear door lock has refused to work since we got the car; I’m going to pull a spare from the junkyard this spring and replace it. It’s got various dings and scrapes, but would buff out into a good-looking used car, and it’s only got 80K on the clock.
A 1976 International Scout, at an unknown stage. (Stage V?) It’s multiple colors. Several of the interior lights don’t work, nor does the gas gauge. The seats are from a PT Cruiser. But it’s insured for more than both of the other cars, due to the steeply rising prices of Scouts nationwide.
These are probably a rough approximation for vehicle life for most people because most people fail at performing proper maintenance.
I tend to buy older survivor vehicles (15+ years old) at Stage 2 and maintain them there indefinitely until a (thankfully rare) collision makes repair vastly exceed the replacement cost. Don’t you dare eat or drink in my 17-year-old daily driver!
Sometimes, if a vehicle is special enough, I’ll even buy a Stage 3-5 vehicle and bring it back to Stage 2. But this practice requires dedication that only the eccentric can provide.
It blows my mind when I see vehicles less than 10 years old at anything worse than Stage 3. That’s just neglect.
I like to apply this same logic to computers and other computing equipment!
As of today, we have:
– a stage 5 2009 macbook. The CD player tray no longer opens but it also doesn’t stay closed properly (held closed with electrical tape) and the battery is dead. The keypad pretty much works great but the touch pad is wonky – nothing that a cheap USB mouse can’t fix. It was upgraded with extra ram many years ago and I think that has helped to keep it functioning.
– a stage 4 2007 IMAC. This was a hand me down from grandma. It is stock with 2 gb ram but updated with software and it is the family trickster (in computer terms). All important files are stored on an external hard drive so that if (I mean WHEN) the computer’s hard drive fails we will simply unplug the external drive and move on to the next computer…which is not yet sourced, but will likely come from craigslist!
– 2 kids iPads that are 5 years old. I would call them stage 4 or 5 because although they function well, everything works and they look pretty good (always cased), they are obsolete in the software sense. But they still function for their needs.
– Wife’s iPhone 5S. This is probably a stage 4. Still supported, works great. Battery is rock solid. We’d like 2-3 more years out of it.
– my iPhone 6s. Probably also a stage 4. supported, but the battery stinks and i’m not interested in fixing that.
– circa 2018 iPad. I would call it stage 1 since its been in a case all its life and is in pretty much as new condition.
So there you go. You can probably apply this lifecycle analysis to any mechanical device you own.
…with that in mind, my craftsman mower is definitely a stage 5. One of the front wheels is pretty much completely worn and held on with additional screws. But the engine still turns over and starts typical on the 1st or 2nd pull. The blade gets sharpened 2-3 times per year. Oil change every spring.