Are newer cars harder to fix?

Thursday July 28 2016


By Mustafa Ziraba

Are newer cars harder to fix? Yes and no. Yes—because they are simply newer with components, which are few on the market. No—simply because they are still cars that can be fixed anyway.
Have you noticed a relatively new car parked for a long time? I will tell you what the owner has not told you or at least he/she should have known. That with certain cars, you sort of need a repair fund bank account.

I have always believed that any such car will always require you to be mechanically inclined or willing to spend a little more on maintenance.
So, you should not be surprised by the sort of cryptic repair gremlins that pop up every once in a while.

That’s not to say there are no competent garages or mechanics who can get the job done. More often than not, you have to visit the official dealer for specific items or even things that seem as mundane as a replacement key.

Complex systems
Newer cars are heading that way too. Making it worse is the fact that the technology in the cars is advancing way faster than the local mechanics can catch on.
So instead of a car that will potentially live on for 20-plus years on the used market, it will be junk in less than 15 years.

It is especially sad because modern engines can last hundreds of thousands of kilometres, but the enormously complex electronics and computers will make it not worth the bother.
This is not only tremendously wasteful, but it hurts those who cannot afford to buy new cars, and depend on the availability of inexpensive used cars to get them around.

Take, for example, the Mercedes Benz. A new one could cost about Shs200m–Shs400m when new but having bought it over a decade later, he or she is forced to spend quite a bit to get it moving again.


Nevertheless, with the right equipment, particularly a diagnostics tool, it is really not as bad as it sounds.
With newer cars, every part or component is able to show an error code (sometimes very specific) to give you an idea where the fault is or what the issue is—so the mechanic does not have to play trial and error.

Make it simpler
In fact I was told first hand that plugging into the car using a diagnostic machine that supports that particular manufacturer will show you all systems in the car.
You can then connect directly to that system, say the air conditioner, run test functions, check switch operations, change programming et cetera.

This makes diagnostics on modern cars fairly simple if you know what you are doing.
Also the whole system is typically setup as a “loop” of sorts.
If one component in the loop fails it should not take any other devices with it unless they are exclusively co-dependent on each other.

For example, if one of the temperature sensors fails the Air Conditioner should still work in just fine still. On the flip side, if a wheel speed sensor starts failing for example it will take out, anti-lock braking system (ABS), traction control and other systems down along with it since they are co-dependent on each other.

Problem again is that we unfortunately have a shortage of tools and the people with the right skill set to run them.

The right tools
Making matters worse is the fact that these tools particularly the diagnostic tools are quite expensive with many running into the millions of shillings, but are getting cheaper.
Eventually mechanics are going to have to adopt to the changing technologies in cars. Every garage shall need a diagnostic tool.

This means the modern mechanic shall need a good understanding of electrical systems as well as those traditional mechanical components that are still in use.

So as you buy that new car, you have to ensure you have local support in terms of parts availability of at the very least a channel for purchase of genuine parts.

A competent mechanic or garage that has the right tools to do the fixing.
Naturally these shall most often than not be the dealerships for the many uninitiated. The more mechanically inclined are able to identify a good independent mechanic who mutually can diagnose and fix any and most issues.

To note
And with a newer car, always remember that the Internet is your best friend. There are discussions, forums even entire websites dedicated to manufacturers, specific car ranges or even specific iconic cars where you get an answer to a question within hours of posting it. Chances always are that someone out there has had a problem like yours and has a solution for you or at the very least can point you in the right direction.