From 1986 to 2005, GM came up with the N body cars that encompassed the Pontiac Grand Am, Olds Calais, Olds Achieva, Olds Alero (dumb made up names) along with the Chevy Beretta/Corsica, Olds Cutlass, and Chevy Malibu. For the most part, these cars were decently made, with a fair amount of room, efficiency, reliability, and with a little bit of care, longevity. Most of the earlier examples have dissolved into clouds of rust, but the later ones are still plodding up and down Michigan highways and byways taking their owners where they need to go. Ours was one of the last to roll out the Lansing Car Assembly plant before it was shut down in 2005. We bought it in January 2006 with 17,000 miles on the odometer. In the seven and a half years we've had this car, we've changed a power window regulator, two sets of tires, four brake rotors, two brake calipers, three or four sets of pads, a master cylinder, two wheel bearings, two tie rods, four strut plates and two struts, a washer pump, the headlights, two sets of tail lights bulbs, a hazard switch and the radio. As of June 2013, we have 103,000 miles or so on the clock.
Yesterday, my wife called me letting me know her (our) car has stalled out in the middle of the left turn lane on a busy highway. I drove out there, several miles in ten minutes to push and then call a tow truck to get this heap home. After checking the fuel pressure and jumping out the fuel pump relay, my diagnosis was a burned out fuel pump. In days of old, the fuel pump lived on the engine towards the front and operated very much like the water pumps of old did. These were fairly easy to get to and remove, required simple tools and you could be on the road for under $30 and an hour. Since the 1980's car makers have been making their vehicles fuel injected. This has made them easy to start as well as controlling emissions and improving fuel economy somewhat. It also helps provide much more power than could be realized 40 years ago. The pumps are conveniently located in the fuel tank (note use of sarcasm) and are operated electrically. The actual motor is about the size of a roll of quarters and is buried in a cocoon of plastic and connected to the fuel sending unit. Because of the small size and high demands, these depend on a steady stream of gasoline going through them as well as a bath in same to keep cool. These parts should last for a while, and I've owned a lot of cars over my driving career and only replaced one on my 1977 Olds Delta 88 in 1988.
One can argue up and down, and as cheaply made as cars and their parts are made today, but the fuel pump can and should go to 200,000 miles with reasonable care. The fuel filter needs to be swapped with a new one every 30,000 miles or so and most importantly, the driver needs to make a habit of filling the tank when it gets down to a quarter tank. One factor that is completely out of control of the driver is that the quality of gasoline has plummeted as prices have quadrupled in the past 13 years. Ethanol, a popular oxygenate, is also corrosive to metal and some plastic parts. It doesn't have the lubricating quality of gasoline and unlike same, which is an insulator, alcohol is a conductor of electricity. Alcohol is also hygroscopic, which means that it attracts and absorbs water, which is further corrosive to the fuel system. Admittedly, when I removed the fuel filter (never changed it) it was filled with black stuff and the sock to the fuel delivery module was also black. In the interest of not being long winded, I'm going to make this a two part.