Next time you’re out window shopping for cars or entertaining your mate by listening to them ramble on about their favourite models, pay close attention to the model years. Just because everyone believes a model is good doesn’t make it so. Auto makers change their magical formula each year, even if only slightly, to give us a new model at which to throw our hard earned money.
Usually, we see improvements over the years, but sometimes the changes are downright painful for us car people. These include detuned engines to meet emissions standards, added weight for safety features, or ugly styling changes.
With all that in mind, here are the model years of otherwise good cars that you need to avoid at all costs.
Bad Years: 1971-1976
The 1970s were hell for American manufactures who were forced to bow to the almighty environmental laws aimed to reduce vehicle emissions. The 1971-1973 Mustang Mach 1 took a radical step backwards from earlier models in terms of power. In 1972, the base 4.9-litre Windsor V8 engine only produced 140bhp. The notorious Mustang II came in 1974 without a V8 option. The car was smaller, heavier and less powerful than any past Mustang. Ford brought back a weak V8 for the rest of the second-gen models, and the mass of drivers who bought these models eventually realised their mistake.
Bad Years: 2004-2009
The Mazda 3 is a comfortable daily, easy on fuel and virtually anyone can drive it. It’s not flashy, but it gets the job done. In this five-year stretch, however, Mazda failed big time. Thousands of owners have had their cars destroyed by a faulty AC compressor that is known to seize, frying out nearby lines and erupting in fire.
But wait, there’s more! Just in case you’re lucky enough to have a proper compressor, Mazda threw in a bonus risk. The fuel tank is unprotected from the muffler and its sharp brackets, meaning even a small fender bender can result in a burst of flames. Just last year, a US court awarded almost $10 million to the victims of a fire caused by Mazda’s negligent design near the fuel tank. Zoom Zoom Boom.
Bad Years: 1986-1992 (7M engine)
Get ready for an angry mob of Supra fan boys. Supras with a 1JZ are safe from the problems vexing the 7M engines. These engines may be packed into a nice ride, but they have head gasket issues like no other. Blame it on the material, the wrongly torqued head bolts or the head design itself…you’re still going to have to change the gasket fairly early.
Add the 1700kg/3800lb it has to drag around (plus the turbo if equipped), and you’re going to rip through that thing in no time. With that problem aside, it’s a damn good car.
Bad Years: 1993-2002 (The Catfish Years)
We’re not sure what Chevy was thinking when it redesigned the Camaro for its fourth-gen reveal. It’s not the most attractive car, but it could be worse.
Here is where it gets stupid: the Z28 models came with either a V6 or a V8 in the second gen run. The V6 models came standard with a five-speed manual transmission, while the V8 models came standard with the 4L60E automatic transmission. To get the 6-speed manual in a new Z28, you had to opt for the extra package cost. Camaro owners who were content with the automatic would later find that the 4L60E, one of Chevy’s most widely used transmissions, is terrible. Fast forward to fourth gen, and you’ve got the same transmission and the same problems. Some owners found themselves changing their transmission more often than their tyres!
Bad Years: 1971-1984
Like the Mustang, the Corvette sacrificed performance to save the environment in the seventies. Under the pressure of rising import car sales, Chevy had to make a desperate attempt to satisfy the need for better fuel economy. With less power than ever, the models of the seventies slowly faded from their celebrity status.
You may see lots of these models on the road, but any willing owner will tell you their troubles. Just when the big boy engines were making a comeback into the Corvette lineup, Chevy tosses in some more disappointment. From 1982 until late ‘84, the great American muscle car was not available with a manual transmission.
Bad Years: 1996-1999 (EJ25 engines)
It’s hard to talk negatively about Subarus, but here goes. The cursed head gaskets from these years fail far before their time is due. Subaru originally said the owners were to blame for not properly maintaining their cars, but later admitted the problem was widespread. The likely cause is a combination of a clogged heater core not allowing the fluid to circulate properly and a poorly positioned thermostat that remains closed for too long from contact with cold fluid on one side.
But no big deal, right? It’s just a simple head gasket replacement. Wrong. The boxer engine design forces you to put in ten times the amount of effort as you would for an easy in-line four. Everything you do on one side of the block must be replicated on the other.
Add 34 million other cars to the ‘Good Cars, Bad Years’ list thanks to Takata. Here is the current list of cars with faulty airbags. Make sure to get your car serviced if it’s on the bad list.
- Acura: 2002–’03 TL, ‘02 CL, ‘03–’06 MDX, ‘05 RL
- BMW: 2000–’05 3-series sedan and wagon, ‘00–’06 3-series coupe and convertible, ‘01–’06 M3 coupe and convertible
- Chevy: 2007–’08 Silverado HD
- Chrysler: 2004–’10 300, ‘07–’08 Aspen
- Dodge: 2003–’08 Ram 1500, ‘04–’10 Charger, ‘04–’11 Dakota. ‘04–’08 Durango, ‘04–’09 Ram 2500 and 3500, ‘04–’10 Ram 4500, ‘05–’10 Magnum, 2008–’10 Ram 5500
- Ford: 2004–’06 Ranger, ‘05–’06 GT, ‘05–’14 Mustang
- GMC: 2007–’08 Sierra HD
- Honda: 2001–’07 Accord (four cyl.), ‘01–’02 Accord (V6), ‘01–’05 Civic, ‘02–’06 CR-V, ‘02–’04 Odyssey. ‘03–’11 Element, ‘03–’08 Pilot, ‘06 Ridgeline
- Infiniti: 2001–’04 I30/I35, ‘02–’03 QX4, ‘03–’05 FX35/FX45, ‘06 M35/M45
- Lexus: 2002–’07 SC430
- Mazda: 2003–’08 Mazda 6, ‘06–’07 Mazdaspeed 6, ‘04–’08 RX-8, ‘04–’05 MPV, ‘04–’06 B-series
- Mitsubishi: 2004–’06 Lancer, ‘06–’10 Raider
- Nissan: 2001–’03 Maxima, ‘01–’04 Pathfinder, ‘02–’06 Sentra
- Pontiac: 2003–’07 Vibe
- Saab: 2005 9-2X
- Subaru : ‘03–’05 Baja, Legacy, Outback, ‘04–’05 Impreza, Impreza WRX, Impreza WRX STI
- Toyota: ‘02–’07 Corolla, Sequoia, ‘03–’07 Matrix, ‘03–’06 Tundra, ‘04–’05 RAV4
What other models and years should make the list? Let’s hear those horror stories.