2002 Daewoo Lanos
2002 Daewoo Lanos. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

Normally, my used car column focuses on a single model, but this week I’m breaking from the norm to include three different cars from the same manufacturer in a single review. The subjects this week are a trio of cars from a South Korean automaker that entered the North American marketplace in 1999 with the hopes of achieving the kind of success its fellow countrymen at Hyundai had realized throughout the 1990s.

Daewoo was the second of South Korea’s “big three” automakers to set up shop here and were followed by Kia, whose cars first arrived in Canada in 2000 (Kias had been on sale in the U.S. for a number of years before that). Daewoo’s initial offerings – and as fate would have it, the only cars it would have a chance to sell here – were a modest line-up of inoffensive cars: the subcompact Lanos, available as a three-door hatchback and four-door sedan; the compact Nubira in sedan and wagon versions; and the mid-size Leganza sedan, also the company’s “luxury” model.

Unfortunately, success was not in the cards for Daewoo despite its catchy “Daewoo, that’s who” ad campaign that introduced the cars to North Americans. In fact, after 2002, a simple “Who?” was more appropriate, following the demise of the company’s North American division. The company stayed alive in other more lucrative markets, and its cars have actually returned to North American shores, but I’ll get to that a little later.

About the cars: as mentioned previously, Daewoo’s line-up during its four-year foray into North America consisted of three models. The compact Lanos was a subcompact along the lines of the Hyundai Accent or Toyota Tercel, but offered a little more interior space than either of those cars. A three-door hatchback was available with either a 1.5 litre four-cylinder producing 84 horsepower, or a peppier 1.6 litre DOHC engine making 106 horses.

2001 Daewoo Nubira
2001 Daewoo Nubira

2000 Daewoo Lanos
2000 Daewoo Lanos

2001 Daewoo Lanos
2001 Daewoo Lanos

2001 Daewoo Leganza
2001 Daewoo Leganza. Click image to enlarge

The Nubira sedan and wagon, which shared a 129-hp 2.0 litre, found themselves competing for sales with the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and a plethora of other small cars from Japan, Korea, Europe and the U.S. The Nubira was a well-equipped car for its price, with standard air conditioning and lots of other goodies included in the top-of-the-line model.

Finally, the mid-size Leganza was Daewoo’s mid-sized/entry-level luxury offering, competing with the likes of the Accord, Camry, Sonata and seemingly countless other family sedans. Its 131-hp four cylinder was average among other four cylinder models in its class, and it was only available with an automatic transmission. No six-cylinder engine was offered. Four-wheel disc brakes were standard, as was air conditioning, cruise and a CD stereo.

So why didn’t Daewoos start flying off the lots in 1999 like the first Hyundais did in the mid-80s? A plausible answer is that many buyers who took the leap with those early Hyundais didn’t want to repeat the experience and stayed away. But for those who did buy into Daewoo’s during its numbered days, what kind of return did they get for their money?

Generally, Daewoos have been lumped into the same boat as Hyundais and Kias and are not always thought of fondly, but in truth, it’s tough to get a good read on the cars’ long-term durability since so few were sold. For example, Consumer Reports doesn’t offer reliability stats for any of Daewoo’s models, citing a lack of information and even a thorough search of the web will reveal little about the history of these cars. J.D. Power and Associates is one of few organizations that offers any information in this regard, giving all three models slightly below average ratings in just about every performance and quality category. Scour online automotive communities and you’ll find a mix of opinions, some favourable, others not.

Even if the cars are reliable, parts will still wear out and need to be replaced, and finding those replacement parts could be the biggest challenge in owning a Daewoo. When the company’s North American sales outlets disappeared in 2002, so did the network of parts suppliers and many owners have had to resort to scouring salvage yards in search of parts after the company’s dissolution in North America. Finding a mechanic who knows how to fix the cars was, and likely still is, another challenge facing owners.

There is something of a silver lining here, however, even if it is a faint one. As mentioned earlier, Daewoo has made a bit of a comeback here, with its current products being sold under license by General Motors as Chevrolets, Pontiacs and Suzukis. This should make it easier to get basic maintenance and repair items, but replacement body panels for those original cars are still next to impossible to come by. The lack of available parts can make for higher than average insurance premiums, too.

Another mark against a used Daewoo is that some financial institutions won’t finance the purchase of one due to rapid depreciation. And the extent of that depreciation shows up in the Canadian Red Book used car values for Daewoos. According to that publication, a base model Lanos from 1999 is worth a paltry $2,325, and even a top-of-the-line 2002 Leganza is worth just $9,900, which works out to 39 per cent of its value when new. Not even Hyundais – once the poster child for insane depreciation – can be found for such low prices. Used values for Hyundai’s 2002 models tend to be $2,000 to $3,000 higher than those for Daewoos from the same model year.

All Daewoos returned fuel economy numbers that were average for their respective classes. The Lanos is rated at 9 L/100 km in the city and 6 L/100 km highway while the Nubira uses 10.5 L/100 km (city) and 6.9 L/100 (highway). The larger Leganza is rated at 11.9 L/100 km in city driving and 7.9 L/100 km on the highway.

The cars didn’t fare as well in U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash testing, though. In 2002, the Nubira received four stars for both driver and front passenger protection in frontal impact tests, but three stars each for front and rear seat occupants in side impact tests. Also, the head of the rear-seat crash test dummy struck the C-pillar, indicating a potential for serious head injury in a side impact.

The Leganza received three stars for driver and passenger in front impact testing, and four and three stars respectively for front and rear seat occupant protection in side impacts. In this case, the rear door panel intruded into the passenger cabin and struck the test dummy’s pelvis, again indicating a potential for serious injury.

The Lanos was never crash-tested by the NHTSA.

Low prices may make a used Daewoo an attractive proposition, but these cars have a lot of strikes against them. While they seem to have held up reasonably well, the lack of a reliable parts supply and the potential for high insurance premiums certainly don’t paint a pretty picture for these cars on the used market. If you like the prospect of owning a rare automobile, a used Daewoo is certainly an affordable way to do so, but be sure to do your research beforehand to ensure that you won’t be stuck with an unfixable car down the road.

Online resources

As mentioned in the review, there aren’t many resources available for Daewoo owners. A search of the web will bring up some references to the cars on general interest automotive websites, but Daewoo-specific sites are very few and far between. One of those few is www.daewoous.com, an unremarkable site that claims it will begin selling Daewoo parts in June of this year.


Recalls

Lanos

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004350 Units affected: 4,219

1999-2002: On certain vehicles, the camshaft position sensor may melt resulting in a burning smell and visible smoke, which may subsequently lead to the melting of the camshaft cover and camshaft position sensor wire harness. This could possibly cause an under hood fire. Correction: Dealers will replace the camshaft position sensor and install an additional fuse.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001073 Units affected: 1,472

2000-2001: On certain vehicles, the ECM wiring harness which is located in the passenger footwell area may chafe against a caulked body seam due to movement of the passenger’s feet and result in a short circuit to ground. There is a possibility that engine driveability may be affected and/or the engine may stall. Correction: Extra protection will be applied to the wiring harness and an additional tie strap will be installed to reroute the ECM harness away from the body seam.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999096 Units affected: 433

1999: On certain vehicles, a pad located on the left hand and right hand door side impact beam was incorrectly positioned during vehicle manufacturing. The positioning of this pad is integral to the vehicle complying with the requirements of CMVSS 214 – Side Door Strength. Correction: All vehicles have had both left and right door pads re-positioned and secured in their intended position.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000021 Units affected: 586

1999-2000: On certain vehicles, insufficient wheel bolt torque could result in wheel separation and a possible crash without prior warning. Correction: Wheel bolt torque will be increased to 120nm (88lb/ft).


Leganza

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001150 Units affected: 1,433

1999-2001: Certain passenger vehicles fail to comply with requirements of C.M.V.S.S. 201, “Occupant Protection in Interior Impact.” These vehicles exceed the maximum allowable Head Injury Criterion value specified in the standard for passenger-side A-pillar target location. Consequently, in a crash, the front seat passenger could suffer increased head injury from contact with the passenger A pillar (forward most roof support). Correction: Dealers will install padding to the A pillar to reduce the risk of injury in a crash.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004350 Units affected: 4,219

1999-2002: On certain vehicles, the camshaft position sensor may melt resulting in a burning smell and visible smoke, which may subsequently lead to the melting of the camshaft cover and camshaft position sensor wire harness. This could possibly cause an under hood fire. Correction: Dealers will replace the camshaft position sensor and install an additional fuse.


Nubira

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004350 Units affected: 4,219

1999-2002: On certain vehicles, the camshaft position sensor may melt resulting in a burning smell and visible smoke, which may subsequently lead to the melting of the camshaft cover and camshaft position sensor wire harness. This could possibly cause an under hood fire. Correction: Dealers will replace the camshaft position sensor and install an additional fuse.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002178 Units affected: 1,165

2000-2002: On certain vehicles, the outer rubber layer of the front brake flex hose may crack near the grommet. This could cause the hose to burst. Correction: Dealers will replace both front brake hoses.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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