Night Road – Why don’t builders (always) learn from their mistakes?

There are quite inexplicable mysteries. The statues of Easter Island, the disappearance of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, the ergonomics of Mercedes… And the reliability problems that are incredibly recurring among many manufacturers, and not the least.

They have been producing motors in large series for more than 70 years, so they have acquired an incomparable experience in terms of design and manufacturing. So why do there continue to be so many serious outages?

Even Porsche!

A brand quickly comes to mind: Porsche. While it was renowned for the solidity of its engines, it took more than ten years to solve the problems of the IMS bearing, the bearings of this intermediate shaft which controls the timing. Appearing with the Boxster in 1996, they were only eradicated in 2008, when the 997 was restyled. Also, let’s not forget the faulty cylinder liners, which required the block to be replaced… A very serious problem that easily lasted eight years, apparently due to a faulty material supplier.

The M3 E36, E46 and E91-2-3 have many problems with connecting rod bearings. A breakdown that lasted over 15 years! Surprising because the M3 E30 was exempt.

Apparently, engines were changed under warranty, and the new blocks supplied by the factory had the same defect. I spoke to several brand specialists about it, and one gave me the following explanation: what prevents the company from reacting quickly is its heavy and rigid chain of command. Information takes an enormous amount of time to be accepted, escalated and then processed appropriately. Especially if it is necessary to spare this or that susceptibility… It must also be said that at the time, Porsche, after being traumatized by coming close to bankruptcy in 1995, sought to maximize its profitability to excess.

At BMW, there was this infamous problem with connecting rod bearings on the M3s, starting with the E36, which lasted until the E92 V8. It was even worse on the latter. According to some specialists, the bearings are too narrow, so they quickly lose their oil film and wear out prematurely. So much so that they have to be changed with the same regularity as a timing belt!

It’s crazy to see that at Honda, for example, they make equally sporty engines, rising even higher in the revs, and which last 300,000 km without major failure. A priori, this damage is a thing of the past with the Munich brand, since it has fitted supercharged blocks in its M. Except that there, it is a timing chain sprocket that is acting up… Would we be looking, here too, for to cut back on development costs?

On BMW's N47 engine, the timing chain is mounted on the gearbox side, which complicates interventions when a problem occurs with a tensioner or a guide. There have been, and for a long time!
On BMW’s N47 engine, the timing chain is mounted on the gearbox side, which complicates interventions when a problem occurs with a tensioner or a guide. There have been, and for a long time!

Especially since BMW has already had problems with its distributions, the Bavarian N47 diesel engine suffering from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s. Worse still, BMW, like what is sometimes practiced in the VW Group , mounts its chains on the gearbox side. I can’t explain to myself the reason for this choice: as soon as you have a problem with the tensioner or the guide, you have to take the engine out, resulting in a monstrous bill. A way to encourage customers to change cars when the engine breaks due to chain failure? Perhaps.

What is certain is that the financiers have taken disproportionate power from the manufacturers and impose prices that are sometimes impossible to meet on the suppliers. As a result, they deliver parts that do not comply with the specifications, which results in an avalanche of breakdowns. We saw it at VW and Opel in the 90s and 2000s, where a certain José Ignacio Lopez, a “cost-killer” purchasing director like we had never seen before…

The taste of breakdown?

These same financiers can also try to limit the development costs of technical elements, which are launched before they are perfected. This is what happened with the engine of the SM, for example, or even at Renault in the early 2000s, which resulted in a Vel Satis/Espace IV/Laguna II trio that was disastrous in terms of reliability.

All the tedious work of upgrading quality carried out by the Losange in the 80s and 90s was instantly put down! And the manufacturer had to bring out a fragile engine like glass, the 1.2 l TCE with sometimes maddening oil consumption. Don’t talk to me about downsizing, other brands managing to get out of very advanced but solid small blocks, like Fiat. In the 1.3 l Multijet had its breakdowns, but rather on the peripherals (turbo, injection).

The Renault Captur received the 1.2 l TCe, fragile as glass. Surprising, because the old 1.1 l TCe holds the shock, just like the most recent 1.3 l. Why such hazards?
The Renault Captur received the 1.2 l TCe, fragile as glass. Surprising, because the old 1.1 l TCe holds the shock, just like the most recent 1.3 l. Why such hazards?

I could also mention the submerged timing belts which are falling apart and disturbing the lubrication of the Puretech 1.2 l from PSA, the faulty distributions at VW (the 1.5 l TSI Evo, to name but one, had a start of very complicated career), in short, so many serious breakdowns at brands once renowned for the solidity of their mechanics

Surprisingly, the Korean and Japanese manufacturers seem to escape this hecatomb (although Nissan, before the merger with Renault, put into service very problematic blocks, such as the 1.2 l of the 3rd generation Micra), without however seeing their reduced profitability. We may think too much about dough on the old continent…

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Night Road – Why don’t builders (always) learn from their mistakes?


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