Which is better: an '81 Chevy Malibu or a '75 Volvo 242 GL?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 1993

Dear Tom and Ray:

Help! I am faced with the dilemma of chosing between cars. I am 16, and my mother is making me choose between her old car (a 1981 Chevrolet Malibu) and my current one (a 1975 Volvo 242 GL. The Chevy has 75,000 miles, and the Volvo has 68,000. They both have been plagued with horrible repair histories, but are extremely well maintained. I drive normal mileage, and do not push a car hard. Which do you think would be a better choice?

TOM: You know, David, your question immediately brought to mind the expression "Hobson's Choice." Do you remember Hobson?

RAY: Yeah. Didn't he manage the Red Sox last year?

TOM: Not that Hobson. I'm talking about the Hobson who ran a "horse rental" business in the old days. As the story goes, there were always long, long lines at Hobson's waiting for horses. And when someone would get to the front of the line, Hobson would say "either you take the first one I give you, or you go back to the end of the line." So you had to either take whatever lousy horse happened to be next, or go wait another six hours in line with people who hadn't bathed in two weeks. And so when you're faced with two choices--both of which are lousy--that's called a Hobson's Choice. Sound familiar, Dave?

RAY: Both of these cars are losers. The late seventies and early-to-mid...actually early-to-mid-to-late eighties were not the greatest years for General Motors. And this Chevy Malibu, made during these Roger Smith "dark years," was a pretty crumby little car.

TOM: Unfortunately, 1975 happened to be a particularly dark year for Volvo, too. In fact, I don't think they had any sun at all that year in Sweeden! The very next year, in 1976, they changed the engine, the suspension, and all the other parts necessary to bring this car into the 20th century. But you missed the cut off by 12 months.

RAY: So I wouldn't pick either of these dogs. But if I was forced to choose between them, I'd probably go for the Chevy, for one reason; at least you'll be able to find people who can fix the Chevy for you. On the other hand, you'll be hard pressed to FIND people who can work on your Volvo, and if you do, the prices for parts will choke you!

TOM: I agree. The Volvo is a safer car, but unless your mom is giving you an unconditional 7/70 warranty (and she'd have to be wacko to do that), I'd take the Chevy and drive carefully.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter