Reliability v ease of repairs?

gatorgrizz27

Active member
As a mechanic and Land Rover owner, I've seen both sides of the coin. What I've come to find are the things that end up causing the most problems are the ancillaries like alternators and fuel pumps, which are common to all vehicles. In my experience, sometimes the "bulletproof/reliable" vehicles are the most irritating to work on, and those that have less stellar reputations are often designed to be easily and quickly repaired.

Crawling underneath a truck in a wet parking lot and trying to drop a full tank of gas to see if the pump is getting power or has gone bad is not a great experience, and personally I'd rather end up having to work on a vehicle twice as often that is a pleasure to repair than one that isn't. You know the things, where you look at it and say "if they had just made this space a 1/4" larger I wouldn't have to remove the air compressor, power steering pump, and inner fender well to swap this dead alternator."

Obviously this only goes so far, no one is going to be overjoyed that an engine can be rebuilt while still in the frame while a rod is hanging out the bottom of the oil pan. A person's mechanical ability and availability of parts (whether carried with you or purchased from a store when needed) also play a large role. A trip's time frame is also crucial, if you are wandering around the beaches of FL for a week most mid-level repairs can be handled with minor inconvenience, if you are on 200 mile Sunday night drive back from a weekend trip you may not be able to fix a dead battery or second flat tire.

I'm curious to see other's experiences with "in the field" repairs that were not due to neglected preventative maintenance, and the ease of working on particular vehicles.
 

goodtimes

Expedition Poseur
When I was younger, I liked working on vehicles, & didn't mind sitting on the side of the freeway pulling the top off of a carburetor to un-stick the float, etc.

Now, not so much. I like to turn the key & drive away.

I still like vehicles that I can repair. It's not like I'm not afraid to re-gear a differential, rebuild an engine or transmission, etc., I just want to do those things on my schedule - not in the middle of the Sahara on a plastic tarp while flying parts in from various parts of the world to do it.

So, I tend to choose relatively simple vehicles that have reasonable parts support for what ever area I travel in. Unfortunately, as I get older, it gets harder and harder to find those.
 

Ozrockrat

Expedition Leader
Being that I used to be a reliability engineer I would have to say reliability. And coupled with that is predictability. If something doesn't give many troubles and its life cycle is or failure modes are predictable then you can plan around the replacement before failure. The aim is to eliminate unplanned downtime while keeping overall downtime to a reasonable level.

But in saying that one of the key things in engineering in reliability is to factor in the "maintainability". i.e. If you are changing something to make it more reliable also make it easier to work on.

As an example (and I am not brand bashing here it is just personal experience). We used to run series 1 and 2 rovers on the farm (10,000 hectares). We carried at least 2 sets of spare axles and the gear to replace them (axles were also machined to get the failure points away from the diff center). Didn't take much time to change them but we had to change them often. When its a 110 in the shade it sucked. Along came the 1st landcruiser that just simply didn't break down we ditched the rovers and never went back to them. (actually I paid a guy a case of beer to haul the last one away for me)

Probably another example is actually making the ease of maintenance one of the considerations when you purchase a rig. I don't have a lot of time and I do all my own work so that is very important to me. For me this makes a really good excuse for having the freightliner ambulance over the ford based ones. I can fold the hood forward and walk up to the engine. Try that with a ford van. Fuel filter on the Freightliner is 10 minutes max. On the ford it takes twice that long just to get to the filter.
 

rayra

Expedition Leader
mechanical skill, problem-solving ability and preventative maintenance. Rest doesn't matter much, excepting British wiring and modern vehicles with 5 computers and a buttload of sensors throwing faults. nothing is bulletproof.

That said I've recently purchased my '02 Suburban with 118k, 1 previous owner and full mechanical inspection and a thorough detailing confirm to me it was the wife's family taxi and it was used-abused as such. That being the case I'm going to preventatively replace the in-tank fuel pump before I take it on any desert excursions. Likewise fully work over the cooling system. BEFORE those systems are stressed. I've already done the brakes and the rest of the 100k mile recommended services.

our '05 Tahoe (essentially the same vehicle / drivetrain) has been ours for all of its 145k mi and had all the recommended maintenance. I have no significant concern about taking it to Death Valley.

My old pickup, 365k mi, I've had every sort of mechanical breakdown, a few times on long trips. Come home on a flatbed a few times, because it was just plain easier. I don't enjoy fixing things on the side of the road / in a parking lot.
 

Dake21

Adventurer
Well this is what I'm realizing now as I am starting to work on my own vehicle. When I had the crv I did a power steering flush, pretty simple job but everything was so tightly clamped together it wasn't fun. When I inspected the front bushings on my grand vitara it was the same. My cheap ratchet didn't have enough teeth to make more than one click so I went to buy one with more. Only a few weeks ago a friend of mine showed up with his old 96 ram and during his vacation he had to change the radiator. It was so easy to reach and do I kind of wish I was impressed lol.
But between reliable and easy to fix...I think I prefer reliable. I won't have to pull a trailer full of parts all the time lol
 

AFBronco235

Crew Chief
I'll always prefer reparability over reliability, and here is why. An easily repairable vehicle can be altered or modified to make it more reliable or even easier to work on. For instance, the automatic transmissions in the full sized bronco have a history of crapping out on the owners when driven hard. Turn out, this is due to undercooling issues. The simple and easy fix is to install a larger oil cooler for the transmission, which you can usually pick up cheap from a junkyard. I did that and never noticed a single problem.

With many vehicles, most problems crop up of from poor maintenance anyways, so once you have those issues fixed, that is to say, you removed whatever it was causing the part to fail, you can usually make a reliable vehicle.

Honestly though, I think the biggest factor should actually be how skilled the owner/driver is as a mechanic. You can't fix even the simplest vehicle if you can't turn a wrench or a screwdriver. I'm very confident in my ability to get my bronco home in a breakdown situation by "limping" it home. Knowing how to apply temp fixes to limp home is an essential survival skill as far as I'm concerned.
 

GregSplett

Adventurer
This is what caused me to fall in live with old subaru wagons.They came to you stock with 73 horse power.Most people balk at this but I believe it was the major key to the reliability of the old EA81 and ea82.They were certainly not over powered and most would say under powered.The drive train on the other hand loved it and just kept going and going.The parts that always need replacing,starter,alternator.etc were staring you in the face.Change a starter or alt in ten minutes in the parking lot.I had one with the odometer broke at 345,000 and the owner said it was probably closer to 500.000.I am not bragging up subaru here as much as the old cars and the way they were engineered formed how I think on this subject.I had a nissan sport 4x4 that you had to remove the front wheel and fender liner to replace the starter.I hate that.I start yelling at imaginary engineers.The fact that I will probably break a spark plug on my ford 5.4 pisses me off to no end.I like simple it contributes greatly to rliability.I like engineering that addresses the fact that are parts to a vehicle that need to be replaced and addresses that.
 

1911

Expedition Leader
You can have both (reliability and ease of repairs) in an older (40 or 60-series) Land Cruiser; the trade-off is the lack of modern comfort, safety, and speed - but they're reliable and dead easy to work on with minimal tools. Everything is easy to get to as well. Most mechanical parts readily available at dealers or in the aftermarket. I drive my 40-series all over the western U.S. for weeks at a time and carry very few spare parts (and have never needed any yet). But it's not for everyone; you have to really enjoy older vehicles and want to drive them, to put up with the lack of creature comforts.
 

rayra

Expedition Leader
I have to add that changing the water pump on the small block chevy in my '85 C-10 is a tedious evolution, it's literally under everything that's bolted on the front of the engine. all the pump and alternator brackets overlap it, are held on with bolts thru and on the water pump. And fan/fan clutch, all the belts etc. While the 5.3L Vortecs in our Tahoe and Suburban, it's slack the S-belt tensioner and pull the belt, disconnect the upper and lower hose and 4 bolts and it's off. And the thermostat and its housing are on the pump. 2nd time I did it took literally less than half an hour from start to finish. Some things have improved with modern drivetrain design.
 

highdesertranger

Adventurer
I think you can have both, but you need to drive an older vehicle like many have stated. all these electronic gizmos give you maybe 15 years of reliable service then things start going downhill. lets face it if a part ain't there it won't fail and if it is there sooner or later it will fail. my 2cents. highdesertranger
 

eggman918

Adventurer
I have to add that changing the water pump on the small block chevy in my '85 C-10 is a tedious evolution, it's literally under everything that's bolted on the front of the engine. all the pump and alternator brackets overlap it, are held on with bolts thru and on the water pump. And fan/fan clutch, all the belts etc. While the 5.3L Vortecs in our Tahoe and Suburban, it's slack the S-belt tensioner and pull the belt, disconnect the upper and lower hose and 4 bolts and it's off. And the thermostat and its housing are on the pump. 2nd time I did it took literally less than half an hour from start to finish. Some things have improved with modern drivetrain design.
I tend to think like you...but I've owned my truck for 25 years and have done all my own maintenance and did the Cummins re-power as well so me and my rig are on very intimate terms so if and when something starts to go out i notice and i know where it is and how to get to it.I carry a medium size tool box behind the back seat and it holds everything short of a torque wrench and a piston ring compressor to do a overhaul!being a 1968 F-250 and having a totally mechanical Cummins 4bt doesn't hurt but KNOWING your rig makes all the difference when you need to wrench on it in less than favorable conditions......just my two cents.
 

GregSplett

Adventurer
I tend to think like you...but I've owned my truck for 25 years and have done all my own maintenance and did the Cummins re-power as well so me and my rig are on very intimate terms so if and when something starts to go out i notice and i know where it is and how to get to it.I carry a medium size tool box behind the back seat and it holds everything short of a torque wrench and a piston ring compressor to do a overhaul!being a 1968 F-250 and having a totally mechanical Cummins 4bt doesn't hurt but KNOWING your rig makes all the difference when you need to wrench on it in less than favorable conditions......just my two cents.
This one of the reasons I ditched the dealer servicing my truck.I have always done my own and I hate not knowing my vehicles.Something does go wrong I want to have a clue.With the dealer I would hardly of ever even been under the hood let alone have wheel off.
 

toylandcruiser

Expedition Leader
I think you can have both, but you need to drive an older vehicle like many have stated. all these electronic gizmos give you maybe 15 years of reliable service then things start going downhill. lets face it if a part ain't there it won't fail and if it is there sooner or later it will fail. my 2cents. highdesertranger
Yea that's absolutely untrue. New vehicles with all the "electronic gizmos" are very reliable.


"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
 

highdesertranger

Adventurer
Yea that's absolutely untrue. New vehicles with all the "electronic gizmos" are very reliable.
yeah for how long. you can't be saying in 40 years these vehicle will be on the road and reliable. sure for the first 10-15 years of it's life but after that I think you are on borrowed time. highdesertranger
 
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