What is the most crucial factor you consider when purchasing a vehicle? According to a survey, “reliability” was the most important factor for three-quarters of American respondents, followed closely by “safety.” It is obvious why reliability would receive such a high score. Drivers want peace of mind, knowing that the expensive vehicle they’re purchasing will last for years and not leave them stranded on the side of the road.
However, buyers may be unaware of the precise components that comprise a dependable automobile. It needs to have durable components at a minimum. There are numerous methods for building engines, transmissions, and brakes, but some are more reliable and durable than others. We will discuss a few features to consider when shopping for your next automobile.
1. Engines: Timing Belt vs. Timing Chain
Every internal combustion engine requires a timing system, which synchronizes the pistons and valve springs. You probably don’t give the timing system much thought, but it is one of the most important parts of your vehicle, as improper timing will quickly lead to pistons and valves colliding inside the engine block and causing expensive damage.
The majority of engines utilize a timing chain or belt that wraps around gears connected to the crank and camshafts. Belts and chains are both responsible for maintaining synchronization, but they have slightly different characteristics. Timing belts are composed of steel-reinforced rubber and deteriorate over time. Depending on the vehicle model, they must typically be replaced every 60,000 to 100,000 miles (96,561 to 160,934 kilometers). It is a costly endeavor. To access the timing system, mechanics must remove numerous components, and labor costs for replacing the belt can easily exceed $1,000.
In contrast, timing chains are made entirely of metal and typically last the lifetime of the engine. For this reason, a chain-driven engine can save thousands of dollars over a number of years of operation. Why did manufacturers even begin using belts? An important factor is engine noise. Rubber belts are able to operate more quietly than chains, thereby helping to reduce cabin noise. Today, however, automakers have discovered ways to make chains less noisy, and timing chains are gaining popularity due to their reliability advantage.
With either timing component, the driver must perform routine oil changes and vehicle inspections to ensure that the system continues to function properly. The accumulation of contaminants in the timing case due to the use of old oil can result in premature wear.
2. Transmissions: Manual & Auto vs. CVT
The transmission is one of the most mechanically complex parts of any vehicle, and it must endure a great deal of stress over tens of thousands of miles. Manual transmissions are among the oldest designs for gearboxes, making them an established technology. Frequently, the manual transmission can last the lifetime of the vehicle with proper maintenance. However, eventually its clutch pad will require replacement, which can cost several hundred dollars. Additionally, the gearbox utilizes synchromesh or syncros to keep the shifter engaging smoothly. These can deteriorate over several years, causing a clunky shifter that may pop out of gear until the $1,000 component is replaced.
The majority of automobiles today, especially in the United States, are equipped with torque converter automatic transmissions, which are extremely durable. Gearboxes for automobiles are constructed with steel components and typically last hundreds of thousands of miles. To ensure this, it is necessary to perform routine inspections and transmission fluid replacements to keep the mechanism free of contaminants. Torque converter automobiles are costly to manufacture and rebuild, which can lead to tens of thousands of dollars in repair costs if the transmission fails.
Continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) are dominating the market for new automobiles. This type of automatic transmission is less expensive to manufacture. They are also marginally more efficient because they do not need to shift gears. Similar to the timing belt, the majority of CVTs use a rubber belt to connect the engine side of the transmission to the driveshaft side. This belt is also the system’s weakest link, and it wears out faster than older transmission designs. Additionally, CVTs require more frequent fluid changes. Despite being less expensive to produce, a CVT rebuild can cost a driver thousands of dollars. So, in terms of dependability, a CVT and an automatic transmission are comparable, but the CVT will require more frequent maintenance.
3. Internal Combustion vs. Electrified Vehicles
Electric and hybrid vehicles are gaining popularity on the new car market, primarily due to their exceptional fuel economy. In addition, they can offer several advantages in terms of reliability compared to conventional engine configurations.
The majority of hybrid and electric vehicles today are equipped with a regenerative braking system. When decelerating, or coasting downhill, this system operates the electric motors in reverse. The friction created by the motors slows down the vehicle while returning power to the battery to increase the electric vehicle’s range.
Automobiles with regen braking systems also have conventional mechanical brakes as a backup, but only use them in the final moments of stopping or during emergency hard braking. Consequently, brake pads and rotors can last significantly longer. As opposed to 15,000 miles, they can travel approximately 45,000 miles (72,420 kilometers) before requiring maintenance (24,140 kilometers). When a brake job can cost up to $1,000 including parts and labor, that’s a significant amount of money over the life of the vehicle.
Since they do not need engine oil or coolant, fully electric vehicles require very few fluid replacements during operation. Similarly, electric power steering and braking systems do not require lubrication. Transmission oil is likely the only fluid that will need to be changed. This will save a considerable amount of time and money at the store. This reliability advantage is exclusive to pure EVs. Since hybrid vehicles employ internal combustion engines, the majority of standard service intervals will continue to apply.
However, gas engines have one advantage over electric vehicles: they do not require expensive lithium-ion batteries. After hundreds of charge cycles, the range capacity of these batteries will decrease. Typical battery warranties span eight years and 100,000 miles (160,934 kilometers). However, replacing the unit outside of the warranty period will incur significant costs. Parts and labor for small-battery electrics and hybrids can easily exceed $5,000, with long-range EVs exceeding $10,000.
Before You Buy Your Next Car
When visiting a dealership or sending an email to a seller, feel free to inquire about the prospective vehicle’s drivetrain components. A knowledgeable salesperson should be able to inform you whether or not the vehicle has a timing chain, CVT, or regenerative braking. Additionally, search online for the model’s specifications. If a common issue arises with a particular component, people will likely raise their voices, especially if the model has been on the market for a few years. Sites such as Kelley Blue Book, Consumer Reports, and J.D. Power can also provide expert resources to help you make an informed vehicle purchase.