Category Archive 'Practicality of Maintenance'

10 Jul 2016

The Intentional Obsolescence Trap

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My wife and I bought a new BMW in the early 1980s (Our first new car!). It was terrific, fun to drive, luxurious and reliable. We sold it about ten years later. It had over 350,000 miles on the original engine.

We bought another new Beemer more recently. I discovered, too late, that it came with run-flat tires (no traction at all on gravel roads –Virginia Horse Country is full of gravel roads, and we lived on one–, accompanied by constant false electronic warnings of low tire pressure) which proved good for 10,000 miles. The run-flat tires were used because BMW (encouraged by government bureaucrats to save energy by reducing weight) had chosen to eliminate the spare tire.

What really burned my cork, though, was the discovery that the engine had no dipstick, no way to check the oil. The owner is intended to rely entirely on the dashboard computer, the same computer that issues “The World Is Ending! The Sky Is Falling! Your Engine Has Blown Up!” warnings in very cold weather, or anytime (easily) blocked engine or trunk compartment drains cause wiring to get wet.

I’ve recognized myself the same characteristics of modern consumer products Oilman2 inveighs against. I agree with him. I’ve been swearing lately that my next automobile is going to have been made on the other side of 1960, back when cars were made out of steel, not plastic, and had distributors and carburetors you could adjust yourself and no goddamned computers or emissions crap.

When you buy a car, it is designed for a maximum lifespan of about 10 years, but many are designed with even less. This gives the “design engineer” a window of materials within which he can operate. As an example, cars from the 1950’s used metal dashboards. Now, many reasons are given for why plastic and foam dashboards are currently used, including safety. But I will posit here that the safety was secondary and a great sales driver for using a lower cost material. …

Have you ever owned a car you wanted to keep, only to have the dashboard crack? The air conditioning vents crack? The control knobs crack? That is UV light doing what it does, breaking things down by shattering chemical bonds. …

As a long term material, plastic… well, it just sucks. …

My buddy George was lamenting to me just the other day that the starter on his tractor has a plastic gear that contacts and spins the flywheel. Yep – it goes out very regularly. He asked them why they no longer made a metal one, and was told that the plastic design “put less stress and wear on the flywheel”. Seriously? Really? A part that is truly designed to fail regularly, to protect another metal part that rarely, if ever, fails? I have replaced ONE (1) flywheel in my almost 60 years, and it was damaged by an idiot that just kept cranking a worn out starter. …

In a world where things cost what they are actually worth, it is nuts to knowingly buy anything you will be forced to purchase again in a few years. Today, things do not cost what they are worth – they are cheap, built cheaply with minimal cost materials and minimal standards. They are built in what I term ‘justenuf’ style – justenuf to work for a job or two. They are cheap in America due to the strong dollar as well, further fueling this morass of planned obsolescence, cheap plastic junk and ‘justenuf construction’. …

So my advice is pretty simple:

Buy items that you can repair

This may mean buying older things and restoring them to service. A 1960’s or earlier vehicle will be restorable for a cost of around $10-20,000. What does a new vehicle cost? Can you work on it yourself? Nope, so how much does a trip to the shop cost you? Minimum $500 for the easy things – easily 2x or 3x that for more difficult parts replacement.

What about a lawn mower? Easily $500 or more for something reliable like a Honda or a Husqvarna. A rebuilt one with fresh motor can be had for $300 or less – I see them at the same shops I used to take my mower to for service.

Buy items that have simple, reliable designs

Anything with an ECU (electronic control unit or computer control) is not normally fixable by a guy with some tools. This is intentional, to force you back to the dealer system for service. Anything with computer or digital controls is likely designed in similar vein. Is it really necessary to have touchpad controls and a logic board on a washing machine? To have a refrigerator that has a grocery list linked to your I-phone?

Every time digital is added to a device, the cost goes up for the initial purchase, but the maintenance and repair costs skyrocket. There is little difference in the mechanics internally – freon and compressor for a fridge or freezer and timing circuits and solenoids for the washer. The ‘digital’ end is another level of complexity tacked on to make a common item appear more “tech-ish” and new again.

Buy new items with fewer tech features – reduce points of failure.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

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