…it didn’t used to be like this. Toyota have not long recovered from a massive vehicle recall because their cars would suddenly accelerate, much to the consternation of the driver; now they are recalling well over half a million cars because they suddenly stop for no reason. Throughout the world in this modern era of motoring there have so many recalls of faulty vehicles that you have to wonder if the olden days weren’t better in some ways.
Back in the days before complex electronics and ‘infotainment’ systems, cars broke down quite often. Older drivers will probably have experienced that sinking feeling as steam rose from underneath the bonnet, usually when you were far from civilisation. Clever drivers carried spare hoses, a thermostat and some extra water for just such an eventuality.
Cars were often poorly conceived and made but at least you knew where you stood with them – mostly in a remote layby. They were simple machines. Back then you could at best easily identify the problem and take remedial action on the spot (often referred to as a ‘bodge job’: for example, a stocking made a great fan belt. For more info on ‘bodging’ seek out the writings of The Artful Bodger on these pages) to get you home or, at worse, have to trudge to the nearest telephone box and call out your chosen motoring organisation. In those days, the mobile mechanics would salute their members – these days they casually condescend to you for being so hopeless.
Now, cars are generally more reliable but ridiculously complicated, which means that a massive garage bill is almost certainly guaranteed for even the simplest of problems. A bulb goes and a whole new lamp assembly has to be fitted, for example. Mostly though the main problems are manufacturers’ recalls – and the numbers are growing – linked to the race to be first to market with a new gizmo, alleged safety feature or ‘driver aid’. Often, these advances are rushed out to stay in the race to keep ahead of the market, possibly without a sufficiently long period of evaluation. It is all getting a bit daft now.
I suspect that car makers, in their constant efforts to shift metal, are relying too much on shared parts across the brands – witness the recent Takata airbag debacle that affected several brands and millions of cars. Parts are being shared between cars and manufacturers in volumes not previously seen before to achieve the maximum amount of cost-saving. Thus problems arise worldwide if a faulty part enters the chain.
Innovation is a good thing but it has to be properly thought through. Self parking is a case in point. More and more cars have the ability to park themselves but in my totally unofficial vox pop over the last couple of weeks I have established that most drivers are just not bothered. For some reason car makers are prepared to spend millions on R&D in the search for ever more pointless gadgets (and something else to go wrong) yet they’ll skimp on the basics. That’s why we get recalls. You know, I miss my old Alfasud; it was a pile of crap obviously but at least I knew what to do when things went wrong.