We can look back on a lot of cars, especially American ones, from the 1990s and wonder about their questionable styling, but they did have one redeeming feature: they’re some of the easiest cars to wrench on today.
Have a look at the engine bay of my Jeep above. Now compare that to the engine bay of my 1985 Jeep J10, which isn’t much older, but was outfitted with a crap-ton of emissions control devices like vacuum tubes and strange air pumps. Seriously, ’80s cars (especially trucks) are a disaster by comparison.
Go back a decade or so from there, and the smog stuff goes away, but you’re still left with carburetors, whose jets can get clogged, whose floats can magically sink, whose mixture can be a hassle to adjust, whose cold-temperature performance sucks, and whose power output is pathetic compared to electronic fuel injection. Add to that the fact that many cars from the ’70s and back came with drum brakes and points ignition, and you’re just asking for heartache in the garage.
If we move forward from the 1990s and into the 2000s, things don’t get too much worse. But as you get closer to 2010, a lot of vehicles become significantly more complex; the simple and easy to fix distributor goes away, transmissions become electronically controlled, electronic stability control (and the required sensors that apply) becomes standard, and O2 sensors become so prevalent that you need to care a dozen spares in the glovebox.
Former Jalopnik writer Murilee Martin and I agree on this point that ’90s cars are the best for wrenchers. He said in his 2010 post:
As far as I’m concerned, the Golden Age Of Cars was the early 1990s, when every vehicle came with electronic fuel injection, pretty good brakes, and— in many cases— interesting styling, but hadn’t yet been loaded down with 900 pounds of cup holders, power everything, and sound-deadening insulation.
I sort of disagree on the styling bit, except in the case of trucks (which I think tended to look nice in their boxy 1990s form). But for the most part, he’s right on.
Yes, older cars had bigger, more open engine bays, but the 1990s, in my eyes, represented a great era between emissions controls of the ‘80s and computer-driven complexity of the 2000s. It’s the decade that gave us some of the most serviceable cars ever, and I thank the car gods for that everyday.