Hooniverse Weekend Edition: What is your definition of a reliable vehicle?

Here is my definition of reliability; My 2000 Mercury Villager Minivan. Yes, I own a soul sucking Minivan, so you wanna make something of it?

I bought this vehicle in the summer of 2000 after I read an article in Automotive News about how Ford announced that the Quest and the Villager were going to die. You see, I leased a Mercury Mountaineer in which the lease was about to expire, and I really didn’t want another Explorer in drag. While I appreciated the room, I didn’t appreciate the lousy fuel mileage, so the perfect replacement would have the room I needed, with a bit better fuel economy.

Therefore I zeroed in on this particular Minivan because it wasn’t as long as the Windstar or the longer versions of the Chrysler Triplets, it still had plenty of room, and it’s powered by a version of the excellent VQ engine. So I started looking at the Nissan versions, with a passing glance at the Mercury versions, and I found that the Mercury dealers were pricing these units at a lower price point, which made it easy to turn in the Mountaineer when I took delivery.

The version I chose was the base van, with few options, and I was able to buy it for close to $20,000 (MSRP was around $26,000) AND 0.9% financing. The only option was the two tone paint. I now wish I went for the option package that included deep tint glass, rear A/C, as well as other sundry options, but that is water under the bridge. Anyway, I bought the van from a dealer in West Springfield, Massachusetts, and for the next decade, the Minivan that was built by Ford with Nissan components chugged on and on and on.

This van only demanded fuel, regular oil changes, a set of tires, a replacement battery, and new front brake pads. It never left me stranded, never failed to start, always operated as it should comfortably, quietly, competently, without asking anything in return. I never replaced the shocks (something I think I should), rear brake pads, spark plugs, or hoses. I replaced only one tail lamp (yes they all work), a few filters, and one transmission fluid change. I never had the A/C serviced. The van gets an average of 25 MPG, maybe a bit more when I’m on the highway.

So this is my definition of reliability. It virtually costs me nothing to fix, insurance cost is practically nothing, property taxes are almost non existent, and I’m assured that no one would steal the damn thing. It will always start, run, and never leave me stranded. So what’s your definition of reliability?

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31 responses to “Hooniverse Weekend Edition: What is your definition of a reliable vehicle?”

  1. tonyola Avatar

    One that keeps running and working despite all odds. I bought a 1990 Civic LX sedan with stick in mid-1993 and drove it for another 16 years – over 200,000 miles. It had a very hard life, but other than maintenance and normal replacables, the only needed repairs were a new resistor block and an engine pulley. It never failed to start and even the a/c, power windows, power locks, and power mirrors never stopped working. I never even had to replace the clutch – just periodic adjustments. Now that's what I call a reliable car.

  2. Kogashiwa Avatar

    <img src="http://eternityfuture.net/__oneclick_uploads/2009/08/pic1.jpg"&gt;
    The 160mph sewing machine.
    Most likely more reliable than any car I've ever owned.

  3. CptSevere Avatar

    To me, reliability is defined by my '66 F100. Not at first, I had to build a new engine after the old one fried, but since then (that was 1999), only regular maintenance. Wait, I bought a reman carburetor, which took maybe fifteen minutes to install. The truck is so stone-axe simple that there's hardly anything to go wrong. Power nothing.

  4. ptschett Avatar

    I think one's soul is more intact with a minivan than a Camry.
    I'd like to say my '96 Thunderbird has been reliable, but that would mean having to consider the forward and reverse clutches and the 2nd-gear sprag clutch as "normal wear" items and therefore overlooking the two separate times I spent ~$1300 for a transmission rebuild. I was able to limp the car home both times, at least. More exciting was when the intake manifold's coolant crossover tube broke; fortunately I was half a mile from home and didn't have enough time to overheat it. At least that was covered under a silent recall. It also needed a lower ball joint, a tie rod end, a rack, a water pump, some idler pullies, a MAF sensor and some O2 sensors, and at 191,000 miles it's due for its 8th set of tires if I'm going to keep it on the road.

  5. PowerTryp Avatar

    Thats a nice "Nissan Quest" you got there Jim, I pray to god you never have window regulator switch issues…
    Any way my definition of reliable would be either Ford Explorer or Ford Taurus. My parents own 3 Explorers, one a '98 one an '03 and an '06 and all three of them are sturdy and dependable vehicles that are used as more than just grocery getters. Also my '03 Taurus has been driven like it was a truck and has even been put through a couple rallies (TSDs but still not the best roads). The car's got 176k km on it and it's still hums along happily.

  6. toebitus Avatar

    that would be a VW bug

  7. Kraig Avatar

    my wife loves this, she likes a car to be a big rolling purse just pour gas in it and go. This car meets that need for less $$$ than most.
    it's easy on the gas can haul 4 people in comfort or a bunch of stuff with over 50K it has only needed routine maintenance never a problem
    now the bad no torque steer because it has no torque
    handles like a juice box, as soul sucking as Jim's a minivan it's even an automatic yawn
    <img src="http://ic2.pbase.com/o4/21/513721/1/65970914.FdMcxcdO.152.jpg"&gt;
    <img src="http://ic2.pbase.com/o6/21/513721/1/71376797.VbVqtA7W.105Xb.JPG"&gt;

  8. Hopman Avatar

    my rock-solid '94 Ranger. She's a plain Jane (except for the purple paint & green cap) XL trimmed work truck. Rubber floor mat, vinyl seats, crank windows, and no AC. But at least a prievious owner installed a nice CD player. I've owned it for three years and aside from some rust issues, she's been trouble free for close to 30,000 miles.
    I'm her 5th owner, and the factory clutch is still in it after 162,000 miles. 2.3 L 4-banger, 5 speed stick, and a 4×4.
    I LOVE my "Flying Eggplant." She's taken me all over the place. Never one iota of trouble. Be it going to work at 3:00 AM in -15 weather or cruising at 75 in 95 degree heat hauling my sister's stuff through Pennsylvania.
    She's like the faithful mutt by your side. Ain't pretty, but pretty faithful.

  9. Eggwich Avatar

    I like minivans. They are like dorm rooms on wheels, not real big, but big enough to have fun. I will have one someday, whether or not I have accidental kids.
    My idea of the ultra-reliable vehicle would have to be a 90s Civic. Heck, throw 90s Corollas in there too. I've never owned either, but I've known plenty of people who could care less for their car and neglected it at every opportunity, yet the cars remained rock solid reliable.
    Honestly, I feel like most everything made post-1996 (date chosen at random) is pretty much ultra reliable, save for electric doodads and power windows and other flotsam that fails. I'm no mechanic though (yet), so what do I know.

  10. Jim7 Avatar

    My wife still misses her '95 Villager. It had had a rear seal oil leak for most of its 115,000 miles when I sold it last year, but it never let us down. Now she has a CR-V; at 70,000, it's looking pretty bulletproof too.

  11. name_too_long Avatar

    My cousin's 1983 Toyota Pickup. The Odometer broke after 300,000 miles… that was five years ago. The suspension has been collapsed, it's rusted through in places, the clutch is gone, and it survived an 80+ mile trip with no oil in the engine… how? I dunno.
    Having survived decades of wanton abuse and neglect the thing still starts every time.

  12. Maymar Avatar

    Something that's not leaving me stranded, and isn't a total money pit. My Cavalier's probably my best example – in the 55,000kms I put on it (up to about 250k), and in spite of having sat for a year before I got it, the only inconvenient failure I had was one of the CV joints going, which wasn't a bit deal. That's not to say stuff didn't go wrong, but nothing that I couldn't live with. On the other hand, my Intrepid had a voracious appetite for CV joints, and like most of them, I had to have the transmission overhauled. Still, the two times it left me stranded were my fault, due to poor maintenance (it ended up in dire need of a tuneup once, and the water pump siezed the second). I'm guessing the moral of this story is that a reliable car is a simple one, since my other good examples are a Ford Escort and F-150.

  13. dmilligan Avatar

    The 1965 International Travelall 3 door that wouldn't die. It was a retired bus from my father's business and used as a spare, and it had somewhere around 500k on the clock. We used that truck for everything – hunting, fishing and camping, and when I got older it became a party car and got thrashed some more. It always started and always got us home, no matter how stupid we were, and back in the late '60s and early '70s, there weren't many who were more stupid than me and still alive.

  14. buzzboy7 Avatar

    Our 1993 Toyota P/U is the example of reliability for me. It's been going on forever. Only at 110000 miles but it's been a good ole girl. Never have we done more than change an old starter and put brakes on it.

    1. austinminiman Avatar

      You mean to tell me you wouldn't consider the Comet to be the picture of reliability?

  15. Alff Avatar

    '99 Jeep Cherokee. Ran it up to 155k with minimal maintenance. Only the AC failed, which would have required an agonizing dash pull to address, so I drove it for 4 years without before finally deciding to kick it to the curb without the repair. It was a poor decision.

  16. Jason Avatar

    Am I the only one confused by the property tax reference??

    1. Jim Brennan Avatar
      Jim Brennan

      In Connecticut, the local municipalities charge an annual property tax assessment on your real estate holdings, and other property (like trailers, campers, and cars). They even take it one step further with businesses, and assess a taxation of machinery and equipment. Companies that still do business here like Colt Firearms, and Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Engines are taxed on the number of buildings on the property, and the machine tools used to make their product.
      Anyway, as far as cars and motor vehicles, the cities and town uses a "Fair Market" valuation to assess the velue of your car, and then multiplies that by the "Mill Rate" where one mill is one-tenth of a cent ($0.001). The town where I live has a current mill rate of 43.62339. Now multiply that number with .001, and you get .04362339, Then you multiply this number to the current fair trade value of the vehicle (using $1,200 as an example) which gives you 52.34796. Therefore, I will receive a bill at the end of the year for $52.35 as a Property Tax Assessment for my Mercury Villager Minivan.
      So what happens if I didn't pay my tax bill? Each city and town is linked in to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and if I didn't pay the bill, I couldn't re-new my registration, of even register an additional motor vehicle, motorcycle, boat, or anything needing a registration. Hope that explained it all.

  17. CrabDome Avatar

    I hate to be the guy who says this but that motor is not based on the VQ. The motor in that van is a VG33E, most commonly found on 96+ pathfinders. Its a 3.3l version of the single cam vg30e.

  18. Bo Darville Avatar
    Bo Darville

    I have an '01 Sequoia with 115k miles. The only non-maintenance item to go wrong to date was the rear window refusing to go down, which was fixed by removing a small bracket in about 20 minutes. I can do all of the maintenance myself (including the t-belt and water pump that I did at 100k, but probably would have gone another 50k+ judging by the condition of the parts I took off) and the paint and leather still look fantastic. The only rattles I have are self inflicted, from installing various TVs, etc. But on top of all that, I consider it reliable because it has gotten me through ridiculous snow storms, down all kinds of off-highway locations, and on many, many long road trips; always safe, sound, and comfortable. It will haul my wife and 4 kids and all the gear we need for a week of camping, or a new sofa, or a large refrigerator AND 500 lbs of sand at the same time, and actually handles Wyoming 2-lanes at 90 mph+ with surprising aplomb. I almost traded it for an '05 Escalade ESV when gas hit $4 and they were giving them away, but I'm glad I didn't.

  19. FЯeeMan Avatar

    How have you had that van for 10 years and only put 80,000 miles on it?
    '99 Dodge Caravan – everything but leather. Drove it off the dealer lot with 3 miles on it. Early tune up at 77k, broken tie rod at ~177k, sideswiped & totaled at 256k, still on the road, though in need of a radiator at 280k. A couple of start failures that were cured with a jump & a new battery. New brake pads (almost more often than fresh oil), and… that's about it.
    '01 Dodge Caravan – picked it up used about 3 years ago at about 140k. Now at nearly 200k. Some minor mechanical issues, but nothing major.
    '02 Dodge Caravan – picked it up used about 2 years ago at about 110k. Now pushing 160k. Window regulator, both front wheel bearings & a tie rod. That reminds me, gotta replace the other one before it lets go.
    They're dull, soul sucking people movers, but they keep on moving.
    Oh, and in case the trend wasn't enough, they're all the exact same shade of red. Dunno why – just worked that way.

  20. tenbeers Avatar

    Singo's quarter million mile WRX.

  21. jim-bob Avatar

    I would define it as something that keeps going and going despite neglect and abuse. I currently have 352,000 miles on my 1998 Nissan Frontier. I bought it new for pizza delivery at the end of 1998 and it is still going strong. This is despite the fact that the 1-2 shift is done at the fuel cut 10-20 times a day, and that it has seen some 15,000 mile oil changes. Yet, the engine is original, and the compression is still in spec. It has some minor issues now, and I probably should replace the timing chains in the KA24DE, but all in all it is still a reliable truck that sees 2400 miles of delivery work a month. As for reliable, the original clutch lasted 205,000 miles, and very few minor things ever caused me trouble for the first 200k miles. If only I could fix the A/C cheaply I would not have much more than a power steering leak and a worn upper ball joint to complain about. Not bad for a truck that sees more abuse than a taxi cab or a cop car.

  22. Nathan Avatar

    As much as it's going to hurt people to hear it… Toyota Camry. Early 90's, either the 2nd or 3rd (American) generation. They last pretty much forever.
    I've got a '90 with the 4-banger and stick shift. It's lived all 20 years of its life in lands up North where salt is on the road for more days of the year than it isn't. I've done basically the bare minimum to keep it running, but it's still going strong, 200,000 miles in. Even in -20F weather, it still starts on the first crank! It gets close to 30mpg in the city, even with my "drive it like you stole it, redline 2nd gear to accelerate up interstate onramps" driving style. The only issue that's worth even mentioning is that the AC sprung a refrigerant leak this summer, and I don't feel like sinking the money into this old of a car to get it fixed.

  23. Lex Avatar

    My '87 Toyota Pickup. I bought it three years ago for $1,500 (paid a premium for it still having box sides and wheel wells). Starts up every time i ask it to, even when it's 20 below and the carb is unhappy with conditions. I had to put a little into it after the purchase because it resented going from its former life as a toy to a daily driver. It got new brake lines and new rotors/pads on the front. I've replaced the radiator. And this spring it needed a new U-joint in the rear. Other than that, oil changes and a tuneup now and again.
    People love the McFly truck…it's all black with the fake Toyota roll bar and lamps that make it look like Mickey Mouse. I do too, and not a few friends have decided that it's worth having an old truck that's bone simple. Power nothing and 5 speed, AC delete (i live in the Great White North so i don't need no stinking AC).
    It fits the bill for my 7 mile commute to work at mostly 25 mph. It never gets stuck. Pulls stumps out of the back yard. The bed's small, but workable for 90% of my pickup bed needs. Getting loads of soil or mulch, bringing plants home or to the vegetable patch, hauling gardening tools and lawnmowers. At 183,000 i figure it's got plenty of life left in it…still the original clutch as far as i know and one of the taillight assemblies is factory. I'm looking for an old Civic to be my fun/summer car so that i can sink a little coin into the truck. Two new bedsides (which are rusting now) would make it look nearly new. And i'm itching to either convert it to propane or find a diesel crate engine for it…i don't know why, the 22R is something special.

  24. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    …it’s powered by a version of the excellent VQ engine…
    I remember Ford insisting that the VG30 be modified to be a non-interference design, and applauding them for it. I understand, unfortunately, that the VG33 in the later vans was an interference engine again… Bit of a shame.
    Anyway, your definition of reliability – starting every morning, costing little to fix and insure, and being theft-resistant – constitute my definition as well. I'd add corrosion resistance as well – in every other way, my car's plenty reliable, but 240s aren't as good at fighting the rust monster as 7/9s are.

    1. coupeZ600 Avatar

      That '69 145 that you guys convinced me to buy is far and away the most reliable car I've ever owned. It's not super-fun to drive (where did they get that nick-name "Brick"?), but it starts every time, and when shod with the studded snows it's truly amazing in the snow. I got to pull two FWD F-150's out of the Ditch this past Winter (amongst many other more pedestrian cars), and every single one said, "Wow, what a cool car!"

  25. MrAngry Avatar

    Jim… I miss mine everyday! Glad to see you're still racking up the miles on that bad boy!!

  26. dculberson Avatar

    My wife's 1992 Lexus LS400. I bought it with 239,000 miles on the clock with a broken timing belt as a drive train donor for a Lemons or GRM project. See, the early 1UZFEs are non-interference engines so I knew it would be okay once the belt was replaced. When I opened up the engine, it turned out to have the original water pump in it, so likely the timing belt was original as well. And the timing belt didn't actually break – one of the idler pulleys seized (again, original with 239k miles, I'm sure) which made the belt overheat and the teeth melted off the belt. The fibers of the belt were still intact but the teeth were all laying in the bottom of the timing belt area. So, I cleaned that up and replaced the idlers, water pump, and timing belt. The car started up and ran great, and then I discovered that all the electrical tidbits worked, the a/c and automatic climate control worked (except for the screen being dark), even the power moonroof worked smoothly and solidly. I demonstrated the awesomeness of the car to my wife, and she said she would like the car as a daily driver. Since my plans were long term, and keeping the wife happy is key to everyone being happy, she got the car.
    Now, keep in mind that timing belt and water pump are 90,000 mile interval parts. So they hung on for 149,000 miles beyond their recommended replacement period!
    Three years and many thousands of miles later, not a single thing has broken on that car. Best $500 (plus repairs) that I've ever spent. I did do the spark plugs and wires, but that was really optional as the car was running fine.
    Toyota really did go the extra mile when they engineered that first generation LS. Amazing cars, built like tanks. It doesn't even have any rattles!

  27. ZomBee Racer Avatar

    '72 MGB GT. (It's ok, I'll wait for you to quit laughing)
    I bought it with high mileage (actual unknown), and put another 250,000 on it over the next decade. I had no reservations about jumping in and driving it from Southern California to Tahoe or vise-versa, or out into the desert for an ECV event. It was dead-nuts reliable.
    Sure, I rebuilt damn near everything on the car at least once, and I was usually futzing with something, but it always got me where I was going and back. Most importantly it always let me know what needed attention long before it became a problem, and THAT is my definition of reliability. No surprises.
    The car ran right up until I stripped it for paint as a reward for years of faithful service. Then I sadly borrowed some parts when I bought "Obie" the orange MGB (another crazy-reliable car), and stole even more for the Killer Bee/Killer ZomBee racer. It has sat for over 6 years now, motor on a stand in the corner untouched, and I'm sure it would fire right up if I put it back in.
    Excuse me. I have to go keep a promise out in the garage. (gets off ass)