My friend and former colleague Jason Torchinsky, one of the great comedic minds of our time, dropped a blog post on Jalopnik this week about how we could gauge the reliability of cars. It kind of reads as a joke, but it’s actually a pretty good methodology for thinking about the reliability of older cars. In fact, I’d recommend using this scale any time you want to explain used cars to somebody who’s not an automotive nerd.

Welcome to Headlight. This is a daily news feature that lights up one current event in the car world and breaks it down by three simple subheadings: What HappenedWhy It Matters, and What To Look For Next. Look for it in the morning (Eastern time) every weekday.

What Happened

Jalopnik writer Jason Torchinsky has proposed a somewhat abstract, yet practically logical, scale by which the reliability of cars could be judged. We’ll have to give him his due in clicks for the whole and hilarious illustrated rundown. But in essence, he reckons basically every automobile could fall into one of these categories:

  • Cooperative: “Such a car will have to be free of any major designed-in Achilles’ heels that no amount of preventative maintenance could help…”
  • Forgiving: “…they seem to have tolerances…”
  • Durable: “…capable of withstanding a good amount of hard use without things breaking.”
  • Abusable: “This category is for cars that get minimal or even zero maintenance or attention.”
  • Bodgeable: “These are cars that will sometimes break down, likely with some regularity…”
  • Insolent: “An insolent car will break down on you with gleeful abandon…”

Why try to articulate the predictability of a car’s health in terms of “more” or “less” reliable, or colored circles (a visual scale historically used by Consumer Reports) when we can use eloquent adjectives?

Why It Matters

Talking to people about used cars can be tough. As an outwardly car-obsessed person myself, folks in my social circles (who don’t necessarily have much interest in cars) will sometimes ask me for insights when they’re looking to buy a vehicle or make small talk. Frankly, in my experience, most of such people are more interested in validation that whatever vehicle they like for often-arbitrary reasons is good. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re trying to dispense earnest automotive advice in such a way that might make sense to somebody who rarely thinks about cars, maybe give Torchinsky’s terminology a shot!

What to Look For Next

First of all, follow my dude JT if you’re on Twitter. Then start using his new abstract descriptive tool to categorize your cars into buckets of reliability!

Anyway, it seems clear I’m not the only one who thinks Torchinksy is on to something — his post is already inspiring derivative works (besides this blog post you’re reading). Check out this infographic variant for an even deeper, illustrated, abstract scale of automotive reliability from Sam Patel on Twitter: