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1978 Dodge Aspen


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From what I understand, it is one of the nation's

most oft-recalled cars--and sorry to say,

very poorly rated by Consumer Reports!

That may be why we rarely see them today.

Too bad, because they were decent looking cars.

According to my Consumer Reports 1981 Buying Guide Issue,

the 1978 Dodge Aspen's reliability was:

"Much Worse than Average" in Body Exterior (rust);

"Much Worse than Average" in Body Hardware;

"Much Worse than Average" in Body Integrity;

"Much Worse than Average" with its brakes;

"Much Worse than Average" with its steering;

"Much Worse than Average" with its suspension;

"Much Worse than Average" with its Automatic transmission;

"Worse than Average" in Engine Mechanical, Exhaust, Paint, Fuel System, and Ignitition System;

"Much Worse than Average" OVERALL.

And the 1976 and 1977 Aspens were rated even worse than that!

Hmmm...I wonder why Chrysler was going bankrupt in the late 1970's!

Edited by John_S_in_Penna (see edit history)
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I owned a 1978 Dodge Aspen coupe, and that car turned me off Consumer Reports and their ratings. 

 

CR was on an anti-Chrysler crusade at that time.  Chrysler could do nothing right.  Chrysler came out with North America's first FWD small car and CR failed it with a test they had not done on any other car (they later admitted) - while at speed, make a 90 degree turn then let go of the wheel (or something like that).  The steering did not immediately return to centre.  CR was thoroughly denounced by every other car magazine published in North America.   Chrysler could have had a winner with the Horizon and Omni, but that was not to be.   Later GM's X-body FWD cars got high ratings, but they were junk compared to Chrysler's FWD models. 

 

My experiences with the Aspen showed CR wrong on all counts, although the Aspen had some rust on the passenger side rear quarter when it was about seven years old.  It was not a power house (225 slant six) but it was reliable and I fit.   I'm 6'2" with long legs and I found GM and Ford compacts cramped with no leg or head room.    Torqueflite, still best in the business in 1978, never needed repairs.   Maintenance on the Aspen was the basic oil changes, lubrication as well as one brake job,   Nothing else went wrong. 

 

Thanks to CR, used car prices for the Aspen and Volare sunk like a rock.  They were common for years - Chrysler built a couple of million of them, although production after 1976-77 dropped.  That in itself speaks for the reliability of the twins.  But, as prices dropped, when these cars needed repairs or were in accidents, they generally got junked instead of repaired.  Their CR ratings went with them right to the junk yard.

 

The one area that hurt the Aspen and Volare was the rusting front fender problem on the 1976-77 models.  There were no inner fender shields in 1976-77 and the thinner sheet steel rusted quickly.  The 1978 models got fibreglass inner fender liners and galvanized steel in other parts to prevent rusting.  My 1978 Aspen still had solid front fenders in 1990.

 

By the way, the 1976-77 Aspen and Volare models, which were the same cars as the 1978, got high ratings from CR initially.  The handling on rough roads did not get high ratings and CR placed the Aspen/Volare twins second after the Chevy Nova in the compact field.  

 

Seems CR changed their opinions after the Volare and Aspen were out of production.

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I owned a 1978 Dodge Aspen coupe, and that car turned me off Consumer Reports and their ratings... 

Thanks to CR, used car prices for the Aspen and Volare sunk like a rock.  

 

Bill, thanks for the detailed Aspen report.  

I always enjoy reading first-hand accounts of 

people who owned a car for many years, because

they have insights that today's collectors may not have.

 

Consumer Reports' driving reviews may be subjective,

but their reliability ratings are based on the actual reported

repair experiences of typically 100,000 or more owners in total.

So maybe Aspen's failure rate on a particular item

was 15%, while highly rated  Mercedes diesels and Nissans

were 3%.  (Hypothetical numbers.)  That would mean

that 85% of Aspens had no failure of that item.

 

And the frequent recalls couldn't be attributed to Consumer

Reports, because recalls are based on government findings.

 

I myself have a '61 Imperial, so I definitely appreciate Mopars.

But they must EARN their reputations for me! 

Edited by John_S_in_Penna (see edit history)
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I had the Plymouth variant of the Aspen, a 77 Volare wagon purchased new. It was the worst POS we had ever owned. Calling the 225 "no power house" was an extreme understatement. It was a downright slug. It was at the dealer countless times during the warranty period, ranging from water leaks, various inoperative items, poor fit and finish, rattles, and various engine, transmission and problems. I was really angry when Lee Iacocca had the nerve to ask for, and get, a bail out in 1979 because Chrysler didn't give a rats behind about all the problems we had. I eneded up giving the car away to my father in law. He didn't complain much about the money he ended up dumping into it because he got it for free. He eventually asked me to take it back which I quickly unloaded it to another unlucky person.

I guess I'm a glutton for punishment and took my chances again with a 97 Ram 2500 with a Cummins. Short story, the Cummins engine was the only good thing about it.

Another new Chrysler product in my future? Not on your life.

 

 
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Three times I have purchased used cars (for everyday use),

and used Consumer Reports' reliability ratings as a criterion.

I have chosen a car with a "Much Better than Average" rating--

their highest, based on reports of other car owners.

Very few models earn such a high rating.

 

All 3 times, my experience has been very satisfying.

The cars have reached 100,000 miles or more without the

SLIGHTEST repair, other than normal maintenance items.

Not a switch, not a glitch--NOTHING went wrong!

 

I suspect Mr. Bleach might have bought another Volare

if his '77 Volare had achieved such a record. 

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Even if the car would have been more reliable I wouldn't have bought another one. Not only was it a slug, it got horrible fuel economy. It would never get more than 15 mpgs and averaged around 13 mpgs. I'm sure the 318 that was available would have done better. I still remember looking at countless  Volares that were at Ellis Dodge in Glendale CA trying to find one with a 225. I should have taken this as a sign that maybe a 318 equipped car would have been a better choice. We found this particular car in a very obscure place on the dealers lot which should have been another bad sign.

I currently drive a 2001 Crown Victoria with over 188K miles. Aside from normal maintenance this car has needed nothing. I did not use any guide other than the fact that if law enforcement and the taxi industry use this model to make my choice for this car.

On the other hand my wife's 2005 Civic is now needing a transmission rebuild at only 97K. I blindly made the assumption that Hondas were supposedly good long lasting cars. But after recently reading countless complaints about their transmissions, I find that I'm not the only one let down by Honda's dubious claims for reliability.

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The very earliest A/V's definitely suffered from poor build quality from being rushed to market.  (They were already 2-1/2 months late, being introduced in December, and missed the traditional September new car introduction)  And the lack of quality control was evident, and I saw this first hand.  The local Plymouth dealer told me they spent more time "dealer prepping" brand new Volare's from the factory than on any other vehicle in the Chrysler-Plymouth line than ever before, and he showed me a Volare station wagon they just received where the imitation woodgrain  trim was lifting around the door edges which they had to fix before releasing it for sale.  But over time, though, build quality did improve, and GM's X-cars ultimately overshadowed the A/V line for recalls, much to Chysler's relief.   By the end of 1980, the Aspen & Volare names were retired, and the Diplomat, LeBaron, (and Caravelle in Canada) carried on for several more years until the last of the rwd Fifth Avenues in 1989.  That rwd platform could not have been all THAT bad as for a time, the Diplomat/Gran Fury in Police Package form were the favorite of many local constabularies in North America.

 

Craig

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I think the car we got didn't get all the dealer prepping it needed as the wipers didn't work because they weren't hooked up. It took a drive in rain storm to find that out.

I also found a set of door and ignition locks with keys in an area behind the rear seat that opened up when you folded it down.

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