We’re talking about reliable cars all wrong so I fixed it
We have all heard of the reliability of certain cars time and time again, and we all have generally understand what it means. Basically what we mean is whether the car will break down on you or not, stalling you and leaving you with a lot of expensive repairs or will you never have to worry about it? The problem is, we are asking too much of that one word, “reliability”. In reality, reliability is more of a spectrum, with multiple factors at play, so maybe it’s time to expand the way we talk about it. And I have ideas.
I think with reliability we’re dealing with a kind of spectrum; it’s not so much binary, because we have to take into account the way the car is treated and maintained, and the ubiquitous unknown factor: are the problems that a car can even have understood and expected? Can we explain them?
With that in mind, I have divided the concept of reliability into six main categories. It was hard to reduce that number to six, but I think most cars can fit into one of those categories.
Also, a car can, hypothetically, move from one category to another, to some extent, depending on how much the owner is able to spend on maintaining the car.
This will make more sense when you know which categories I’m talking about, so read on:
Cooperative: A car that, if you do what is necessary, maintain it with care and regularity, the car will never let you down except maybe for something really catastrophic and inevitable. Such a car would need to be free of any major Achilles heel that no preventative maintenance could help.
Ideally any car should to be able to enter this category, but the cruel reality often does not allow this, and it is demanding: this category only exists with direct and coherent actions of the owner.
Indulgent: A forgiving car is a wonderful thing. These cars can definitely break down, but they seem to have tolerances with a little more play than you might think. It’s not the end of the world if an oil change is missed, for example, as long as you get there before. too much long.
If you lack the considerable discipline to be in the Cooperative category, you can do your best and hope your car will forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean magic, and cars in this class can break down with you, but at least they’re more generous with their tampons.
Durable: A durable car is one that is able to withstand a fair amount of heavy use without things breaking down. The opposite of fragility. This does not mean that the car will never break down, but suggests some sturdiness this can come as much from the simplicity of the design as from being actually oversized.
It doesn’t mean that it won’t block you for some mechanical reason, it just means that it’s hard to break by your use.
Abusable: This category is intended for cars that require minimal or no maintenance or attention. This does not mean that the cars run particularly good, and probably these cars can have a number of issues, even some serious ones, but somehow they keep running.
The old saying about cars from certain brands going bad longer than most cars or your old school friend’s old Corolla that never had an oil change and with seat belts squealing like an orgasmic banshee goes in in this category. Think of the crap boxes that seem to keep running out of spite, defiantly, forever.
Wrapable: These are cars that sometimes break down, probably with some regularity, but when they do, it is almost always because of a simple, obvious, even stupid problem, easy and inexpensive to fix, and which is wrong. lends itself well to any improvised jamming you can do to keep it moving.
My Yugo falls into this category, as shown by the two-necklaces-and-rock to fix.
Insolent: This is probably the worst category on the reliability spectrum. A cheeky car will break down with cheerful abandon, at unpredictable times and for unforeseeable or foreseeable reasons, no matter how much care and maintenance you give to the car or how much money you spend on it.
Sassy cars will have confusing and elusive gremlins, maybe electric, maybe otherwise, but still boring. They’ll look good for a while, then lock you in a cool, humid, far place. They tend to be complicated and often have a number of built-in design flaws that may be well known, but, worse yet, maybe not.
My wife 2010 VW Tiguan is a cheeky car. Nice to drive but cruel and deceptive underneath, and as of this writing I’m about to order a new PCV unit to try and get this stupid thing to work properly and turn off the check engine light. .
I think these six reliability variations cover most of what you’re likely to come across. TTo make it easier to remember and understand, here is a small graph, where we’ll use oil changes as a common metric across categories:
Does this make sense? I’m open to suggestions but what I’d like to see is the adoption of language like this so when looking to buy a car someone might tell you it’s a car forgiving, in his experience, but it used to be a bogie car before they started at least to try to take care of.
Plus, being able to tell whether a car is genuinely cheeky or not could save a lot of sanity, marriages, and money.
What am I forgetting here? Let’s chat, argue, cry, laugh and maybe grow a little bit in the process.