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The Worst Things About Old Cars

Summary:
There’s a new reason for buying an old car. It’s not nostalgia, it’s not a love for classic lines – though those still come along for the ride. It’s a desire to drive something without all the stuff new cars come with. To be free of the hassle, expense and Big Brotherism of new cars – which for many of us has passed an Event Horizon of tolerableness. Enough. There’s got to be some kind of way out of here. And, there is. Old cars – the really ancient ones, those built before the early-1980s – do not have computers or fuel injection or air bags or back-up cameras. They do not noise-torture you with buzzers if you elect not to buckle up for saaaaaaafety. You can turn the headlights off – and the engine doesn’t shut off unless you shut it

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There’s a new reason for buying an old car. It’s not nostalgia, it’s not a love for classic lines – though those still come along for the ride. It’s a desire to drive something without all the stuff new cars come with.

To be free of the hassle, expense and Big Brotherism of new cars – which for many of us has passed an Event Horizon of tolerableness. Enough. There’s got to be some kind of way out of here.

And, there is.

Old cars – the really ancient ones, those built before the early-1980s – do not have computers or fuel injection or air bags or back-up cameras. They do not noise-torture you with buzzers if you elect not to buckle up for saaaaaaafety. You can turn the headlights off – and the engine doesn’t shut off unless you shut it off.

Time to buy old US gold coins

There is no Event Data Recorder to keep track of what you do behind the wheel; no serial idiot-proofing technology to control what you do behind the wheel.

The drivetrain is mechanical and not Borg’d by electronics that are baffling even to engineers and which sometimes require specific, very expensive diagnostic machines and tools to deal with. Most service work can be done by the owner, with very basic hand tools.

In this way, pre-‘early ‘80s cars are like soda with real sugar and grass-fed beef vs. high fructose corn syrup and . . . corn-fed, clogs-your-pipes beef.

But pre-early ‘80s cars have their issues, too.

First and foremost – they are not idiot-proofed.

Be aware that a car without anti-lock brakes (ABS) will become uncontrollable if you slam on the brakes, because that will usually lock up the brakes. Which, in turn, locks up the steering.

The car will skid in the direction it was going and you will lose the ability to steer in another direction unless you let off the brakes  – something that’s counterintuitive as well as no longer taught because with ABS-equipped cars, it’s not necessary. You just slam on the brakes  and the ABS system prevents the brakes from locking up by automatically releasing pressure just before they do lock up.

In the pre-ABS days, new drivers were taught the skill of threshold braking – or at least, had heard about it. The idea was to manually do what ABS does automatically: Apply and release braking pressure to slow the car without losing the ability to steer the car. If you buy a car without ABS, it is wise policy to practice this skill so that it becomes automatic, in the event you ever have to slam on the brakes.

You should also become acquainted with stopping distances – and increase your following distances – because older cars not only haven’t got ABS, they generally have mediocre brakes (relative to new cars) and take longer to stop, especially if they need to do it in a hurry.   

The same applies with regard to wheel slip during acceleration. Traction and Stability control are things cars didn’t have before the ‘80s (and it wasn’t common until the ‘90s). This means that if you floor the accelerator pedal and the car has the power to do it, the powered wheels (usually, it will be the rear wheels, if it’s a pre-1980s car) will break traction. “Traction control” in such a car means easing off the gas just enough to maintain control of the car and avoid going sideways beyond the point of recovery.

This, too, is a skill that takes time and experience to acquire.

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Eric Peters

Eric started out writing about cars for mainstream media outlets such as The Washington Times, Detroit News and Free Press, Investors Business Daily, The American Spectator, National Review, The Chicago Tribune and Wall Street Journal.

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