Another Way Uncle Costs Us

The fuel delivery system in a new car costs more than the entire engine used to cost.

And still does — if you’re lucky enough to own a V8-powered American car or truck built before the mid-1990s. If you do, you can usually buy a brand-new/manufacturer-warranted crate engine for about $2,000.

Compare that with the cost of a modern car engine’s direct-injection fuel delivery system.

You don’t want to know . . .

If you ever have to replace the transmission in a car built since about 2010, better have smelling salts nearby. The tab can run as high as $5,000—not counting the labor to install the beast.

If the air bags go off, the car is usually a total loss, even if the car itself could easily be repaired. Because just replacing the driver and front seat passenger air bags can cost several thousand dollars before a cent is spent to fix bent fenders. It’s easy to reach the financial threshold beyond which the car is not worth fixing.

These are just a few of the costs of Uncle — the costs to us of the regulatory burden imposed by the government.

But there are other costs of Uncle not as obvious.

One of these is the cost of changing a modern car’s oil. Because for openers, there’s more oil to change.

I began to notice this doing the background research I always do before writing a review of a new car. A trend became apparent: New car engines may be smaller but their oil capacities are greater.

This is particularly apparent when it comes to modern four cylinder engines — most of them in the 2-liter-ish range and turbocharged, to make up for their small size and (absent the turbo) insufficient power. Ford’s 2.3 liter “EcoBoost” four, as an example, has a capacity just under six quarts, about the same amount of oil required by the 7.4 liter V8 in my ’76 Pontiac Trans Am.

It costs as much to change the EcoBoost four’s oil as it does to change the oil in my old muscle car, which has an engine nearly three times as large.

Costs more, actually because the Ford requires $10-plus per quart synthetic oil because it’s turbocharged. Turbocharged engines run hotter, with their internals subjected to additional stress because they are pressurized. That is (cue Dr. Evil voice) what turbochargers do.

But turbochargers used to be rare.

They were generally added to increase the power of an already powerful engine. To make a sporty car sportier. The reason turbos are now as standard as air bags is because they are being resorted to by the car companies to make up for the power lost as the result of installing smaller engines in cars, including ordinary family cars.

Federal fuel economy edicts have made V8s and more recently, six-cylinder engines, as rare as ashtrays in new cars. You can still find them here and there, but they’re usually optional and not cheap.

Which is another cost of Uncle.

V8s and V6s depress a car company’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) number.

The MPG difference between a six and a turbo four usually isn’t much—about 3-4 MPG overall is typical. It doesn’t seem like a lot, and it’s not, on a car vs. car basis. Hardly worth the fuss or the cost.

But when scaled and factored over a car company’s entire yearly output, which is how CAFE averages are calculated, it does matter.

A great deal.

If the CAFE average dips too low, the “gas guzzler” fines appended become onerous. The company is at a competitive disadvantage vs. rivals whose cars aren’t saddled with exorbitant “gas guzzler” fines.

The only way to tilt the scale back in the government’s favor is to sell fewer cars (and other vehicles, such as trucks and SUVs) equipped with engines larger than four cylinders. The easiest way to do that is to make engines larger than four-cylinders optional and cost extra.

This has the side benefit of recovering some of the money that goes to pay the fines for failing to meet the CAFE average.

Paid for by the people who buy the cars, of course.

Never the edict-issuers.

The saying has it that there’s no such thing as a free lunch and that saying is even more accurate when it comes to the cost of Uncle. People fall for it every time whenever a glib-gabbling, Tele-Prompter’d politician promises to wave his authoritarian wand and give them cars that get better gas mileage, are “safer” or some other boon.

But none of it comes free.

Uncle’s minions simply take the credit and hands the bill to the marks who thought they were getting something for nothing.


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One Response to “Another Way Uncle Costs Us”

  1. lonnie pfeifer says:

    Spot-on. But don’t forget all those other costs that we have no choice in. All those “safety” items that should be a choice, but no longer are. Once upon a time the end buyer could CHOOSE how many bells and whistles he wanted on his vehicle, and pay for only those he chose to pay for, not so anymore.

    ABS, SRS, Day-time running lights, stability-control, traction-control, back-up cameras, lane-departure… the list is endless, and growing.