Just how bad was the Yugo, and why did anyone buy one?

Ok, we’ve heard the jokes. But how bad was the ill-fated Yugo automobile when it hit U.S. shores?

Was it just a primitive automobile, or was it a reliability failure? And if it was so bad, why did anyone buy one? Why not buy a used non-yugo car for the same price?

It was like a Fiat built without Italian quality control.

(and while everyone is laughing, I should mention that I once owned a Fiat Panda that ran like gangbusters.)

What really doomed the car was trying to get the carburated Yugo to meet fuel efficiency standards - this required an emissions/exhaust system that killed performance. A similar fate begat most British marques in America in the 1970s.

You could buy a new Yugo for a bit over $4,000. That was cheap in the mid eighties.
I looked at em, but decided to splurge on a little Mazda instead. IIRC, that was about $7,000.

Yep - and the car was loaded with things you had to pay extra for in other cars - like the rear defogger. The standard joke is this could keep your hands warm when you were pushing the car.

Yes, I had a friend test drive one in High School, and actually considered buying. Until they told her she would have to pay extra for Reverse. REVERSE wasn’t a standard option!!!

I did test drive one. And the controls on the tree were extremely flimsy. I was afraid that I would snap the turn signal just by turning it on.

As for why, well, they were dirt cheap. $3990 was the advertised price which was quite the deal at the time. But I remember reading Consumer Reports and see almost all black dots for that car.

It was a complete piece of crap. I’m surprised that they sold as well as they did. I’ve driven more solidly built go-karts.

I’m calling BS on this one. I worked next door to a Nissan dealer that sold Yugos and spent more than a few hours looking them over. Reverse was never an option on the cars, it was standard. The engine and transmission were the same as used in the Fiat 128. What made the manual transmission unique at the time was it was only a 4 speed when every other small imported car had a 5 speed at the time.

I remember a friend of a friend buying one back in high school. When he popped the hood I remember there being a lot of empty space around the engine and a clear view of the ground below. It looked like a lawnmower engine suspended by 4 bungie cords.

A friend of mine owned one. I rode around in it a few times. It was what you’d expect for a cheap car. It was very under powered and the 4 speed transmission didn’t help. A 5 speed would have made it a bit peppier off the line. The ride wasn’t all that comfortable, but wasn’t that bad. It did feel like a cheap car and did not feel solid though.

I wouldn’t say it was extremely unreliable or anything, but when something did break it cost a fortune to fix it because no one stocked parts for the thing. My friend got rid of his when it got to be a few years old and the repair costs started going through the roof for simple things. When you start paying a lot of money to repair a cheap car I think it helps boost the car’s reputation for unreliability. That little repair that should have only been 50 bucks ended up costing you 200, which makes it a bigger repair just because of the cost.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t call it solid and reliable either. It was what it was, and it was just a cheap car. Still, other el-cheapo cars haven’t had quite the reputation as the Yugo even if they were just as bad.

I don’t remember him paying extra for anything, especially reverse (was that serious?). In fact, they threw in a pretty nice stereo system for free just as an incentive to sell the car.

“Buy a little freedom, buy a Yugo.”

I don’t know why I remember that.

Old joke:

Q: How do you double the value of a Yugo?

A: Fill the tank with gas.

Man goes to the auto parts store, walks up to the counter, says, “Hey, I’d like to get a gas cap for my Yugo.”

Man behind the counter thinks about it, says, “Okay, sounds like a fair trade.”

One of the Clinton Administration’s greatest actions was to bomb the factory in Belgrade, so the thing could never be made again. That Serbian-massacre stuff was just a cover story.

I drove one for years. His name was Victor (Victor Yugo- never once got a chuckle or even recognition- welcome to Alabama).

There were two reasons I bought him. The first and foremost was the price of course (the one I bought was about $4600 by the time you added tax and fees, this in 1987 [roughly $8500in 2007 USD]), which of course was far cheaper than any other new car. Only slightly less important was the fact that the Subaru dealership, which owned the Yugo franchise for the city, was eager to get rid of them and therefore approved me even though my credit rating was “Stop, thief!”, and nobody else in town would give me credit for any car new or used.

As for the car itself: the worst part was parts. I had a major accident in the car a couple of months after buying it, which had nothing to do with any fault of the car itself (had a lot to do with my inexperience driving stick), and while no person was hurt (thanks be to All) the car was badly damaged, basically to the point of “one more ding on the side and the adjustor would have totalled” it instead of recommending repair. I wish that he had totalled it, because even though the car was fully insured it took several months to get it fixed, during which the car just sat FUBAR in the parking lot of my apartment, the reason being that nobody in town (not even the Subaru place) worked on them or could even get most of the parts for them! They could get used body parts (though the insurance company insisted that they couldn’t use them) but the engines had to be ordered from Yugoslavia (which was still in existence in those days but is today called “New Hinkleyville”). Because there were some oddities unique to the Yugo transmission not all mechanics would work on them either. That was a major pain in the ass/biatch.
I finally got it fixed after months of waiting. So, taking for granted that a 8500 (in 2007 USD) car is going to be no frills and that it was tiny and had lots of irritating cosmetic faults [the window knob coming off, all things kind of cheesy) here's the part that might surprise you: it was far from the worst car I ever drove. The honor of worst would probably go to a 1980 Chevette that I bought when it was only 5 years old and that died after just under two years, causing me to buy the Yugo, but I've driven a couple of other U.S. made clunkers over the years (a Ford Festiva for instance) that were certainly no better than the Yugo when they had lower mileage and were about the same age. Some of its quirks- the gas gauge stopped working [so you always had to remember how much gas you had or you'd be by the side of the road] and the clutch breaking one night (I stepped on it to stop and it just stayed there) may or may not have had to do with the accident. Also, I have never been broker in my life than I was when I drove that car so I never had the money to fix anything about it or if I did it was through jacklegs, which should probably be added in its defense. However, with only occasional work it lasted for almost five years and was still running a couple of years after I sold it (not very fast and I wouldn't want to risk driving it to New Mexico and back) but I did drive it on several 300-400 mile round trips and usually without incident. Two things about the Yugo I have actually, believe it or not, missed on the far more expensive ones I've driven (none of them related to engine or spaciousness obviously and I'm sure the features were because of it being such a cheap car, but I miss them nonetheless). One was that you had to lock your car door with the key, thus making it impossible to lock your keys inside. The other was that it was impossible to leave your headlights on as they automatically went off when you turned off the ignition. And of course gas mileage, which is hardly surprising since it was a stick and weighed 18 pounds: it could get over 40 mpg on the Interstate, and though at 80 mph or more you felt you were in the Enterprise attempting time travel, up to about 70 mph it wasn't bad. It also had the best steering of any car without power steering i've ever driven. Absolute least favorite thing about it: the &*@##ing tire jack. I honestly don’t think that Dean Kamen, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford working together for a month could figure out how to use that damned thing. (I bought a hydraulic jack when I could afford it.) And the A-C, which even when it worked didn’t work well (rolling down the windows worked much better) and took a good 10 mph off your maximum speed.
Incidentally you haven’t lived until you’ve driven yourself and 4 mental patients up hill in an un-airconditioned Yugo. I did that many times, often leading everyone in a group sing of “Hit the Road Jack” as a DREAM TEAM homage (which 2 out of 5 mental patients I knew at the time loved and 1 out of 5 felt was stealing their soul).

So, synopsis and analogy: they weren’t great cars, but had they been more easily serviced they probably would have been better, and for the price you paid it wasn’t horrible. Think of it as getting a $35 hotel room in Manhattan on New Years Eve: the fact that there’s no room service, the mattress is lumpy, the blanket’s thin and torn, and the room reeks of cigarette smoke shouldn’t surprise you negatively nearly as much as the fact there’s in-room coffee, a flat screen TV with HBO, and a private bathroom that works and seems reasonably clean should surprise you positively, and that’s kind of like the Yugo.

I actually miss Victor sometimes, mainly for some very fun memories. GOD STRIKE ME DEAD BEFORE I EVER HAVE TO GO THROUGH THOSE TIMES AGAIN FINANCIALLY, but all in all, I have some nostalgia for them as well and Vic’s a part of that. And also the only car I ever traded for a used VCR, a gold necklace, and $40 in cash.

The Yugo was just an old Fiat made by the Zastava factory in Serbia. It was made for a price (cheap) ,and used Russian-made hot-rolled steel (low strength and rust prone). So it was a Fiat, without Fiat quality. In addition, YUGO franchises were not exactly desireable-so you had a lot of dealers who were two checks away from bankruptcy-I’m sure that affected the dealer’s ability to stock parts. I had a friend who was a mechanic, and he said that FIAT parts would not fit Yugos…and that was a problem.
So, if you bought one of these things, you were looking at a car that was basically worthless after a year-dealers would not take them in trade-ins.

Pretty bad.

The design wasn’t primitive, though it certainly wasn’t advanced. However, the manufacturing procedures and materials weren’t up to the standards of Western Europe, Japan, and the U.S. I worked on a lot of Fiats (essentially the same car, but made in Italy by Fiat) and don’t recall ever having to overhaul a transmission. But even though many less Yugos were sold, I overhauled several, and furthermore they typically had mainshaft or countershaft failures (large, expensive, and normally durable internal tranny parts). I replaced more of those shafts in Yugos over a span of 5 years or so than I did in all other types of cars over a span of 20 years.

Because it was a new car cheap. Most people figure with a brand new car, you ought to be able to get five or more years out of it without significant problems. With most cars of the era, that was true, but it wasn’t for the Yugo. Of course, as the word got out, less people bought them.

From here:

"During the summer of 1985 the Yugo went on sale as the cheapest car sold in the USA. With a base price of $3990, it was thousands cheaper than the next car up. Standard equipment included fabric upholstery, full carpeting, reclining front seats, folding rear seat, rear window wiper/washer, opening rear quarter windows, rear window electric defroster, low fuel warning light, cigarette lighter, locking gas cap, and a full size spare tire. There were few options such as air conditioning, stereos, floor mats, wheel covers, and roof racks.

"As soon as it was announced that the Yugo would go on sale, people stormed the 90 Yugo dealerships, and put down deposits on the cars. They did this before even seeing the cars, much less driving them. By the time 1500 cars had arrived dealers had orders for 5 times that amount.

“Auto critics tended to laugh at the Yugo, and branded it more of a toy than a car. They also pointed out a series of flaws, and as it happens many of the flaws were valid. Many owners complained of mechanical problems including premature engine failure, bad brakes, poor shifter and transmission, and faulty electrical systems, and terrible dealer service.”

The Subaru dealership where I bought mine and the Hyundai place in B’ham that sold them both started literally giving them away with any new car purchase.

I am in tears. IN TEARS!! For some reason the mental image of this is the funniest thing in weeks. Bless you.

Sampiro, I think that is a fair description. It was a cheap car and you get what you pay for. It is not realistic to pay half the price and expect to get the same thing. I dated a woman who had one and it gave her perfectly good service for driving around town. If that’s all you needed then it was adequate but obviously it was no substitute for a car which cost two or three times as much.