Decades ago, Cuba found itself effectively isolated by international sanctions due to the usurpation of businesses from nationals, forcing desperate ingenuity to keep their cars on the road. In the new millennium, the process is now being repeated in another Latin American country, Venezuela, where people can barely hold onto their cars as a result of Chavista corruption and economic recession. Some of the causes of Venezuela’s car crisis echo those faced by American drivers, raising the question of whether the Venezuelans’ struggles herald hard times for American drivers.
Speaking with car owners and mechanics to understand the struggles of locals struggling to maintain their cars, never mind replacing them. The country’s economy collapsed over the past decade for myriad reasons, nearly wiping out its middle class and leaving a typical monthly salary in the range of just $53. Domestic vehicle manufacturing ceased, and Venezuela reportedly built just eight trucks and zero cars in 2021, up from 172,000 in 2007. half of 1 percent of the 237,675 reportedly sold in 2007.
New cars and the money to buy them are so hard to come by that Venezuelans’ vehicles are aging and degrading because they often can’t afford to repair them either. That leads to roads littered with old, unreliable vehicles, and DIY repairs and emergency roadside maintenance are a common sight. Those who depend on their vehicles for work, like Argenis Ron with his 1983 Chevrolet C-10 truck, are forced to pay for maintenance every time something goes wrong, no matter how big the problem.
“When the mechanics ask for parts, the truck asks for them, you have to buy them,” said Ron, whose mileage and mechanical wear and tear have increased with the lifting of COVID precautions. “One cannot refuse because the truck is a resource to earn money.”
“[At least] it’s not like today’s cars that have a computer and have a lot of system-level stuff,” he added. “I say [the old trucks] are reliable and more reliable because they use nothing but gas and water.”
One of his countrymen, Eduardo Ayala, recently had to take his 1999 Nissan Sentra in for additional service because his one-month-old, no-name dealer had failed prematurely. That wouldn’t have been a problem if he could afford a better part.
“It wasn’t that I chose that car, it was that I had the money for that car,” Ayala told the publication. “I’d like to buy a [Suzuki] Grand Vitara, at least a 2005, [but] you also have to stick to your finances as much as you can.”
Brake specialist Emerson Ramirez added that he often sees drivers procrastinating on maintenance to the point of failure, with cars arriving with cracked brake pads and scratched rotors. Often, he has to compromise on his labor costs just to secure work for clients facing similarly tough times.
“They put off doing the brakes on the front end because their budget isn’t enough,” Ramirez said. “And well, we negotiated with them. We negotiate the labor costs because… if he doesn’t do the work, we don’t earn anything.”
The state of the nation’s cars has been in turmoil since long before the global pandemic, with NPR reporting similar trends in 2017. Observing Venezuela’s situation from afar, however, it’s hard not to see similar scenarios with many owners. of cars in the Our middle class in the US is shrinking and problems with the supply of parts are driving the cost of maintenance out of the reach of workers. It is one of the reasons why the average age of our cars is the oldest in history. The situation may only be complicated by worrying inflation, high gas prices, and a growing shortage of affordable, trained mechanics.
Sure, wages aren’t as low as they are in Venezuela, but it seems owning a car is no longer the symbol of personal freedom it once was. Instead, cars are becoming costly lifelines for a society that almost requires your property to participate. Maybe it’s time to rethink how we get around, lest we end up stalling our cars like Cuba and Venezuela?