Get Ahead of the Warranty Curve
What to look for once the dealer service guarantee on your F-150 (or Civic, Camry, Mazda3 and BMW 3-Series) expires.
Automobiles are machines; they break. It's inevitable, death and taxes, etcetera. No big deal when your car’s new, because, hey, warranty! Five or more years down the road, though, when your dealer fix-all is expired, things can get expensive. That five- to eight-year-old is the time that matters most in vehicle ownership. It’s just you, and your poor little wallet, waging a never-ending battle against the phalanx of shoddy electronic and mechanical parts.
That’s why we ran down some pro wrenches for advice. We asked about the common problems—and known strengths—of a few popular cars from the 2008-2010 model years (read: just out of warranty) that are still on the market as new models today.
"The general consensus is that most cars are more reliable now than they were in the past," says Michael Hogarty. He owns Hot Rods 2 Hybrids, a small independent repair shop in Sterling, Virginia.
"All the brands have improved, and in newer cars, I don't see any major problems other than manufacturing defects and recalls."
But Hogarty also says “pattern failures”—persistent gremlins like exploding Takata airbag inflators, suddenly accelerating accelerators and faulty electronic modules—can affect several brands at once, since manufacturers often use the same parts suppliers.
Paul LeBlanc agrees. He’s the co-owner of Paul's Auto Repair, a family-owned shop in East Hartford, Connecticut. Both of these guys are master technicians and they work on everything, so they've seen it all.
Here’s what they told us...
Hogarty: "There's a huge difference in reliability between the V6 and four-cylinder models. Toyota went from a timing belt to a timing chain on the four-cylinder engines in the 2006 to 2011 models. They had a huge problem with oil consumption. Many needed the pistons and rings changed, and there were frequent water pump failures. I think it was just a bad design. I like the V6 a lot. It's powerful and reliable, you just don't get the same fuel economy."
LeBlanc: "Camrys are fantastic. They were really built to stand the test of time. You will most likely only do routine maintenance items for the first 80,000 to 100,000 miles on these epic machines. I've fixed dozens of stuck driver-side windows, but that's primarily because it's the most-used window in the vehicle. Overall these cars are solid. I own a Toyota and am a fan for life."
BMW 3 Series
Hogarty: "The 3-liter inline-6 engines have a great flat torque curve, but when you get them slightly out of heat range, like, 'Oh hey, I forgot to top off my coolant,' you lose an engine in a BMW. Not only that, but they have electric water pumps that have been known to fail slightly out of warranty. That's $1,500 if you don't kill the engine when it fails. The 3 Series' ignition system is complex. It isn't a DIY kind of car unless you're a tech geek and have friends with the right type of scanner."
LeBlanc: "Great ride, great vehicles, but I'd throw that recommended 10,000-mile oil change interval right in the trash. I tell people to use the synthetic Castrol oil as recommended, and cut that interval in half if they want the car to last as long as they're intended to last."
Hogarty: "They drive like cars and the 4.6-liter V8 is very good. I do a couple of engines here and there, but mostly from owner neglect. Get a new coil when you get a tuneup and you'll have many trouble-free miles. But a lot of mechanics aren't pushing that because it's a more expensive service that won't sell. Overall, these trucks are good. Really good."
LeBlanc: "These are great trucks. A lot of the ones I see are work trucks, so they've been subjected to extreme use. Their 3-valve-per-cylinder gas engines got a bad reputation, but to be honest I think they're great. Nobody maintains them the way they're supposed to—oil is crucial in most of the Ford engines these days. Use a full synthetic oil—usually 5W20—with a Motorcraft filter and change it every 5,000 miles. You're not likely to have engine problems."
Hogarty: "Generally, you can point your finger at any part of a Civic and I can find a problem with it. But they're pretty fixable – maybe it's because we fix so many of them. Because of that, there's a lot of support out there for the Civic in terms of aftermarket parts and information. Anything over 150,000 miles is naturally going to have problems. That said, I get a lot of 170,000-mile Civic head gasket jobs. I guess it's just one of those things, but I can get a used engine really cheap for that model. Sometimes that's the way to go."
LeBlanc: "These are fantastic cars as well; very reliable. Low maintenance, inexpensive to own, very efficient. I don't think they're insulated very well from the world around them, but you can't ask for much more from a small, inexpensive sedan. I haven't done anything but the regular brake and tire services on these, and constantly give even high mileage ones a clean bill of health."
Hogarty: "If the four-cylinder engine is a little bit low on oil, the computer will throw codes and run poorly, because it needs maximum oil press to operate the variable valve timing and keep the timing chains under tension. You have to watch the oil level like a hawk and use synthetic oils; if you screw up, you cook the goose. Spark plug fouling and clogged catalytic converters from poor running can knock cars out of emissions spec in a shorter amount of time. But these problems aren't specific to one manufacturer—it's across the brands."
LeBlanc: "Hyundais and Kias have a great warranty and good engines. I have my opinions about their transmissions. Some just seem to shift a little funny. I've had customers complain, and I sent them right to the dealer, with no resolution. Also, they really cut corners on their suspension components. I've done shocks, struts, wheel bearings, and ball joints on more than a few of these with less than 60,000 miles. This is too soon in my opinion, and it doesn't surprise me. Overall, I'm not really impressed. Most consumers are drawn to the warranty, but the components that seem to fail are not covered, obviously. I wouldn't own one."
Hogarty: The Mazda3 is a fun car, similar to the Ford Focus. They tend to have suspension issues, motor mount failures and misfires, but they're fairly easy to repair. It's no Toyota, but then, even some Toyotas aren't all that Toyota. One car that'll blow your mind how crappy it is: the Sienna minivan. They're literally falling apart when they come in here. The spot welds are separating and the engines are coming apart. The doors break apart – out of warranty. Most of my customers wouldn't fix them, they'd just join the class action lawsuit that was appropriate to the problem."
LeBlanc: "These cars ride and handle great. Great engines. But the suspension? Not great. I've replaced many blown struts on these at low mileage. Control arm bushings and ball joints seem to take a beating, too. I'm not sure whether they're sensitive or I've just had that kind of luck with them, but I've have replaced more than a few ABS control modules on Mazdas and Fords alike. The brake fluid should be changed every 30,000 miles, and at the time of any brake service."