The cars you love, the cars you hate

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We asked about the autos you've dreamed of, and those that became nightmares. Here's what you told us.

Cover Story / Part 2

The cars you love, the cars you hate

Jump to:Choose article section...The best car gets you there in styleMost often, "worst" is spelled "d-o-m-e-s-t-i-c"The car you'd love to park in your drivewayYou covet caviar, but eat steak

We asked about the autos you've dreamed of, and those thatbecame nightmares. Here's what you told us.

When we recently queried readers about their vehicles, we unleashed atorrent of ire and fond memories. A couple of you recall former cars as"deathtraps." Yet urologist Alan H. Domina, of Lincoln, NE, remembershis 1981 Mercedes-Benz as "the only car I've been emotionally attachedto."

Some of you have no interest in high-end autos, but others still pinefor a fantasy car. "The 1955 Ford Thunderbird was my dream car as akid, and it still has a special panache," writes James M. Rubin, anallergist from New York City.

Our spot survey asked:

  • What are the best and worst cars you ever owned?
  • If you could have any car, what would it be?
  • What do you drive now? Are you satisfied with it, or is there room for improvement?

Here's what we learned.

The best car gets you there in style

When we conducted a similar survey four years ago, readers most oftennamed Toyota their "best" car, followed by Honda and Mercedes.This time, Mercedes leads the pack, with Lexus and Chevrolet in tow. Toyotasinks to number four, and Honda drops way down on the list.

For some of you, "the best" means an exciting driving experience;for others, luxury, reliability, and endurance do the trick.

The thrill seekers include GP Stanley J. Kirk of Paso Robles, CA, whocites his 1955 Ford Thunderbird: "No one--including the hot-rodders--everbeat me in a drag race! Ninety miles per hour in second gear!" AnesthesiologistRoger J. Bagshaw of Gladwyne, PA, got a speed rush from his 1951 AllardJ2: "It made a Corvette look like a family car," he writes.

FP Bruce Young, of Paola, KS, raves about his 1991 Toyota Land Cruiser:"It was a beast! Nothing could stop it!"

Those who call a Mercedes the best car they ever owned cite flawlessengineering, trouble-free operation, a plush interior, and a smooth ride."My Mercedes was solid, went forever, and in 180,000 miles, I onlyhad to replace a power steering pump," reports FP Ross E. McRonaldfrom Boynton Beach, FL.

Overall quality made Lexus owners chime in. "It has a quiet engine,excellent performance, superb power, timeless styling, and elegance. Theygot it right the first time," comments FP Stephen L. Hanson of Benson,MN. General surgeon Robert Y. Uyeda of Los Angeles notes, "Every detailwas unobtrusive and carefully thought out; the dealer gave topnotch serviceand offered pickup and delivery and a free loaner."

Endurance impresses some readers. Oklahoma City's Gerald L. Dickman,a pediatrician, praises his astoundingly long-lived 1979 Toyota Celica:"I had 450,000 miles on the odometer before I was broadsided. I wasaiming for 500,000." Dermatologist Charles S. Samorodin of Cockeysville,MD, reports, "My 1967 Ford Falcon Futura went 230,000 miles, and upkeepcost virtually nothing."


Most often, "worst" is spelled "d-o-m-e-s-t-i-c"

Quality problems and foreign cars' expensive repair bills made your hatelist.

Chevrolets and Fords lead the parade of "worsts" in our survey,as they did in 1995 (in reverse order). This year, two other American cars--Cadillacand Oldsmobile--rank third and fourth. Volvo tied for fourth.

"My Ford Contour was horribly unreliable; I had three engines in94,000 miles," notes ob/gyn Michael J. McCoy of Lawrenceville, GA.Daniel L. Schmidt, a family practitioner from Pearsall, TX, was foiled byhis 1990 Chevrolet Celebrity "due to frequent repairs for a varietyof problems."

Urologist Alan Domina complains about his 1976 Volvo: "At no timedid everything work. At the 1,000-mile checkup, I had a list of 31 problems.It was awful." FP Frank J. Niesen of St. Louis says of his 1954 Buickcoupe, "It was ready for the junk pile at 29,000 miles. Nothing functionedas it should have, not even the upholstery."

Cadillacs fared no better. A disillusioned Ross McRonald gripes, "MyDe Ville was a hog! The paint peeled in two years, and the car was alwaysa problem." Former Eldorado owner Lawrence C. Miller, a psychiatristfrom Staten Island, NY, says, "It gobbled oil, was noisy, had terribleacceleration, sounded like it had a diesel engine, and broke down 14 timesin two years. This was my last American car ever."

General surgeon Howard D. Slobodien of Metuchen, NJ, slams his 1980 PontiacSunbird: "It was a piece of crap--expensive crap!" Roger Bagshawscoffs at his 1959 Jaguar: "It was a boulevard car in sports-car clothing.It was unreliable and had multiple defects."

Some glamour car owners were put off by high maintenance fees. FP JamesDonnell of Wichita says of his Porsche: "When parts and repair wereavailable, they cost a fortune!" William A. Delp Jr., a family practitionerand Porsche owner from Loganville, GA, agrees: "Fixing everything thatwent wrong cost five times as much as it would have on any other car."

Even Mercedes, our most frequently cited "best" car, ranked"worst" for some readers. FP William H. Shoemaker Jr. of Charleston,SC, says of his 1998 E320: "It had quality problems, very difficultsteering and suspension, controls in the wrong place compared to Americanmodels, and the dealership's service department was horrible." RichardH. Conklin, an infectious disease specialist from College Station, TX, zapshis 1984 Mercedes: "It blew an engine at 61,000 miles, and the companyresponded poorly."

Poor quality and costly service weren't the only reasons cars qualifiedfor the "worst" list. GP Thomas C. Wascher of San Antonio dislikedhis 1980 Volvo because, among other problems, "It was so boring, itput me to sleep."

The car you'd love to park in your driveway

Trophy cars made the wish list. "I'd want to own a Ferrari for thesame reason I'd want an original Monet," says Mark Patton, a familypractitioner from Estacada, OR. And anesthesiologist David Rosen of Chicagoexpresses "a lifelong dream to own a Ferrari."

Rolls-Royce is also a prize. "Who doesn't want one?" asks neurologistLaszlo J. Mate of West Palm Beach, FL. FP Jonathan Maltz, of Brookeville,MD, for one. He'd prefer a Jaguar: "I have an irrational attractionto its beautiful design and interior."

Still, 41 percent of you named Mercedes, Lexus, or BMW as the type ofcar you'd most like to own. Writes Klemens E. Gustafson, an FP from NorthRichland Hills, TX: "The Mercedes-Benz 600 has all the gadgets andthe most high-tech innovations in the history of motor vehicles."

Force and freedom tantalize some readers. Rheumatologist Paul Goldfarbof Lexington, KY, craves a 1999 BMW 540i for its "power, handling,drivability, FUN!" And FP James B. Vogus of Warren, PA, wants a BMWM3 convertible because "it has Corvette performance, and I can haulmy three kids in it."

You covet caviar, but eat steak

Most of you don't own your dream car. But a sizable percentage drivea Mercedes. Lexus and Toyota rank second and third in popularity. Four yearsago, Ford, Toyota, and Honda topped the list.

Why Mercedes? It combines comfort and reliability, say several respondents.But not everyone is completely satisfied. Remarks GP Murray G. Winchellof Kirtland, OH: "My Mercedes is enjoyable to drive, and has 190,000miles, but it could have more room in the back seat." GastroenterologistJames Arterburn of Atlanta comments, "It's solid, spacious, and paidfor, but the diesel is smoky, slow, and it's not sexy at all."

Acura climbed from ninth place in our 1995 survey to fifth place. Ownerslike its reliability, drivability, and amenities. Emergency physician WayneW. Oberti of Jacksonville, FL, raves: "We've been a two-car Acura familysince its birth in '86. The car's reliable, never requires more than routinemaintenance, and is covered by a great factory warranty."

But sturdy cars can be dull. FP Paul J. Concepcion of Franklin Park,IL, grumbles about his Toyota Avalon: "It's kind of boring; not likeme."

Some of you shun glamour cars. Wayne S. Strouse, an FP from Penn Yan,NY, drives a Ford Escort station wagon and remarks, "I don't have carenvy. There are too many things in life more important to me. My Ford ridesnicely, has room, and is fuel efficient."

Rheumatologist Robert E. Levin, a Saab owner from East Lyme, CT, comments:"It's the most reliable and trouble-free vehicle I've ever owned. Itcannot be intimidated by weather or terrain." But he laments, "Iwish it had a legitimate cup holder."

Anesthesiologist Robert W. Warren from Jackson, MS, has mixed feelingsabout his Lincoln Town Car: "It's safe, fuel efficient for its size,and dependable, but it's slightly too large and is an 'old guy's' car."

What does pediatrician Bill Morgan of Sarasota, FL, dislike about his1995 Cadillac Seville STS? "Realizing it won't last forever."

By Leslie Kane, Senior Editor

Leslie Kane. The cars you love, the cars you hate.

Medical Economics