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Jay Leno: Avoid cars from the '80s

Tape decks. Tape decks everywhere.

If you ever owned a car from the '80s, you had a tape deck. And it was probably the least bad thing about your automobile.

"The '80s was not a good time," says Jay Leno, host of "Jay Leno's Garage" on CNBC. "The cars had not caught up to the regulations. The government said, 'You must be able to do this.' Well, they just jury-rigged whatever they had to do."

So, in terms of mileage, for example, auto makers simply leaned out the fuel, which is to say that inside the engine, they added more air to the mix.

Up until the late '80s and early '90s, many cars also used carburetors, so engines often became hot and then overheated. In modern cars, carburetors have been replaced by fuel injection systems.

For those looking to get into older cars, Leno suggests trying other decades: "You're better off going early '70s or '60s for reliability."

Jay Leno’s favorite ’80s car is the Lamborghini Countach.
National Motor Museum | Heritage Images | Getty Images
Jay Leno’s favorite ’80s car is the Lamborghini Countach.

Of course, the '80s weren't all bad. Leno says, "Probably the [Lamborghini] Countach would be my favorite '80s car."

However, he maintains that generally speaking, it was a bad decade for performance cars. One glaring drawback, especially for speed freaks, was the 55 miles per hour speed limit in the United States.

But the issue really comes down to technology. Leno cites the Corvette, for example, which was so strangled from emissions standards that the only way to meet them was to lean out the fuel. The automakers and the government simply couldn't adapt at the same rate.

Leno says that has flipped dramatically, and the current pace of automotive innovation is staggering. "Cars have probably changed more from '95 to now than they did from 1910 to 1995," he says.

CNBC's "Jay Leno's Garage" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EDT.