Cars Have Become Sail Fawns

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Modern cars are increasingly analogous to consumer electronics. They are basically throw-aways. They are either not cost-effective to fix after a certain point or they become obsolete, insofar as not being the “latest” things.sail-fawn-lead

Of course this was also true in the past.

A car accrued miles; eventually it wore out.

But the cost to keep an older car operational in its middle age was less than now. And what was typical then was the drivetrain wore out or the body rotted out – usually around the same time as the rest of the car wore out.

Modern cars, on the other hand, typically remain mechanically and structurally sound for a very long time. But once their electronics begin to fritz out, they begin to nickel and dime you to death with problems.

Not infrequently, it amounts to more than just nickels and dimes.

In some cases, what would have been a “fixable failure” in the past is today strong incentive to just throw the car away.

Example: I know a guy who owns a recent-vintage VW equipped with the DSG transmission. It failed. The car itself is in good condition, including the engine, which probably could go another 100,000 miles. The body hasn’t rusted and the paint still looks great.

But the replacement cost of the DSG – in the neighborhood of $5,000 – is disproportionately high relative to the value of the car itself.dsg-image

It doesn’t make economic sense to replace the DSG, so the car gets thrown away.

For the same reason that most people won’t spend $300 to fix an otherwise still serviceable computer. Why would you, when you can buy a new computer for $500?

Still, it’s gratuitously wasteful.

An otherwise sound/functional car goes to the crusher (or gets parted out). It’s like throwing out the other half of the foot-long hoagie you bought for lunch.

Contrariwise, a pre-modern car (I’ll use my ’76 Trans-Am as an example) has a transmission that costs less than $1,000 to replace. Even if the car itself is only worth $5k it’s still worth replacing the transmission if the rest of the car is sound. With pre-modern cars, it was more feasible to keep them going until they literally couldn’t keep going.

You threw them away when they wore out.

The car itself. Not just the transmission.

It’s like buying a six-inch hoagie. And eating the whole thing. You got your money’s worth.

There are fewer “big ticket” items in the pre-modern car. The main ones are the engine and the transmission. If they’re ok, the rest is usually small stuff. Alternator, fuel pump, water pump, brake master cylinder, etc. Most of these parts are inexpensive and so worth replacing even if the car itself isn’t worth much.

With modern cars, there are many big ticket items.

Not just the engine and transmission. Problems with peripherals (the computer that controls the operation of the engine and transmission, for instance, and without which the engine may not run or the transmission may not work – even though both are mechanically sound) can hit you with four-figure repairs.sail-fawn-2

Which is financially catastrophic when the car itself is only worth four figures. Which is the case with most cars, after about eight years or so.

Modern cars also hit you with more little ticket problems, too.

Potentially and actually.

This is a function of the much greater complexity of modern cars; they have more systems and the systems they have are more involved.

More things that could go wrong often means more things will go wrong.

Complexity also usually means cost.

The DSG transmission in the late-model VW, for example. It is a “dual clutch” transmission, a type of automated manual transmission that is much more efficient but also much more technically complex than a conventional automatic. This is why it costs so much more to repair/replace when it fails.

And because it is so complex… well, you begin to see the problem.

The same issues apply generally to other modern car systems; for example electronic climate control AC, adjustable suspension systems and (latest thing) direct fuel injection and multiple/staged turbochargers.sail-fawn-3

These technologies offer many advantages to the car buyer, but simplicity and low cost are not among them.

The other thing is the Pace of Change.

What’s “new” today in terms of technology (gadgetry, especially) begins to look pretty hagged out after as little as five years. Like consumer electronics, such as your sail fawn. There won’t be anything wrong with; you can still use it to make a call. But it will seem “old.”

My “white brick” Mac laptop, for instance.

It still works fine. But it looks ancient compared with the new thin-line Macbooks and iPads. I don’t care, but most people do. And it is most people that determine what the market offers. Since most people – so it seems – are ready to stampede themselves into new debt in order to get the Latest Thing, even if their Older Thing still works perfectly well, the rest of us are carried away by a powerful socio-economic rip tide.sail-fawn-4

It is why people – generally – trade up to a new sail fawn every couple of years and throw their old ones away.

Like a half-eaten hoagie.

The same is happening with cars. The pace of change is almost certainly going to increase; ditto the complexity of the cars.

But it’s harder to throw away a $30,000 “sail fawn.” Or – more to the point – justify buying one in the first place.

Enter Ride Sharing.

You don’t buy the “sail fawn.” You rent it. By the hour or the day or whatever. You don’t throw it away. But you do walk away. No huge investment of resources. No angst about repair costs (or titanic depreciation; fodder for another rant). Someone else deals with all of that.

Meanwhile, you get all the Latest Stuff.

Maybe it’s a good idea. At the least, it has the potential to reduce the cost of having access to a car. But I mourn for the loss of the apparently fading-away idea of owning your own car. Of it being an extension of ourselves; a friend, almost. Something personal and familiar that’s ours.

Like the sound of a Quadrajet four barrel’s secondaries gulping air, the idea of owning a car may be history soon, too.

It may be inevitable – some can’t wait for it – but I can’t summon much enthusiasm for it.

Maybe because “gadgets” do the same for me that a nice set of tits did for Liberace.

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54 COMMENTS

  1. A great car was my 87 Corolla: crank windows, AC and a cassette deck I had installed. Didn’t need any more tech. Until it was stolen because the local polizei were out harassing good drivers to pay for their sky-high pay, perks & pensions instead of preventing car thefts. A good reason to turn traffic control & theft prevention over to insurance companies.

    • Hi John,

      The late ’80s/early-mid-’90s were a golden age for cars. Just “modern” enough (overdrive transmissions and TBI, etc.) to have excellent drivability (easy starts, almost never stall; great highway performance) without the demented complexity and cost of today’s cars.

  2. This is really getting to be difficult to know what to do. I’m almost ready to pull the trigger on a ’17 Honda Ridgeline. And I can pay cash, i.e. no loan, no lease. The truck itself ticks most of the things I need out of a vehicle, and I’ll not be getting the full nanny electronics stuff (lane departure, collision warning etc.). Even so, there will be a lot of gadgets, electronics, etc. that will someday fail. I would love to buy and keep a vehicle for 10 or 12 years, but I think 4 or 5 is more like it all things considered.

    • Hi Dave,

      Yes, but it’s not black and white.

      For example, Subaru is really good about locating oil filters in an easy to get to place, not obstructed by brackets and so on. It is usually very easy to change the oil.

      But, the engine also requires timing belt changes at “x” mileage intervals. This is a big job, involving partial engine disassembly. If you have to pay someone to do it (and most people do, as it’s not a DIY job unless you have the knowledge/skill/tools necessary to tear down an engine and put it all back together properly) it’s typically around $800.

      Your best bet, in my opinion, is to the extent possible to avoid complex engine/driveline designs. For example, a pushrod/overhead valve V8 is an inherently simpler/usually more maintenance-free design than an overhead cam V6 or a turbocharged four. Rear wheel (or even front wheel) drive vs. all-wheel drive.

      Avoid air/adjustable suspensions and elaborate electronics/gadgets.

      For long-haul low maintenance/repair costs, the simpler the better.

    • I can speak somewhat to this as a former shop owner/mechanic.

      As a manufacturer who creates the easiest cars for the layman to work on, I’d lean towards Honda and Toyota. Oil filters often right at your finger tips (R18 Civic), air filters removable with a single pop off door (Gen III 4Runner), lots of “idiot proof” parts (one way only fitment), etc etc.

      However, I don’t like how Honda generally has internal transmission filters (on top of the auxiliary filter) that can’t be accessed unless you rebuild the transmission, or that Toyotas have a lot of disposable assemblies now like electrically operated brake master cylinders, power steering units, and millions of auxiliary pumps, hoses, and other rubbish, so that’s why I categorize them as “easy to maintain”/”useless to keep long term” vehicles.

      I would NEVER own a modern (post 2006 ish) Toyota or Honda because of all the unserviceable electronic support systems that will fail and total the vehicle, although that really could be said of any vehicle.

      In terms of cars that are meant to be worked on by experienced mechanics, Subarus are ultra customizable. Pretty much all parts you can imagine (stock and aftermarket spec) are available for them. i.e. I can get 10 different 5th gear ratios for an stock Legacy, or a handful of steering rack quickeners if my tinkering heart so desired. They’re not super easy to work on in terms of monkey tech serviceability, but they’re definitely made for people who know how to setup cars, if that makes sense.

      Yes I know that most car companies have aftermarket parts makers for them now, but I’ve found Subies to have the most tech savy crowd, next to the 911 and M3 race car builders, but they’re a little out of the price range for most.

      On the German side, BMWs (except the MINI) definitely have the mechanic in mind compared to other brands. Lots of things are accessible with the car on simple jack stands, and parts are made to be accessed quite easily. I can’t say the same for Mercedes, but I have little experience with them. However the cost of keeping them going is often prohibitive, so there’s always that factor.

      American cars (little experience with full sized trucks) I’ve generally found to be crap to work on and I don’t enjoy wrenching on them at all. Same goes for most small Korean cars, I have little experience with large Hyundais/Kias.

      So in essence, if I were to pick for an ultimate ease of maintenance, it’d be a Honda or Toyota.

      Truth is though, if you’re an experienced wrencher, doing your own major work on anything isn’t a big deal. Last week the entire subframe and drivetrain was out of my car and my transmission was on the floor in ten thousand pieces. Today I’m driving around enjoying the experience of having a fun car to play with.

  3. Eric,

    When you were making the example of replacing a transmission in your ’76 Trans Am – you mentioned it only being worth 5 grand. Were you referring to cars of that year in general or yours? I was just wondering because I thought that car was coveted and would fetch more (I am assuming your car is in great condition and highly collectible and desired).

    • Hi CP,

      I was making a general point about pre-computer cars like mine. When it was just an old car (about 20 years ago) it was worth much less than now. But even today, the cost to replace/rebuild the transmission is relatively modest – as it was 20 (and 30) years ago,both in real terms and relative to the car.

      A brand-new stock type (TH350) automatic (with torque converter) costs less than $1,000. A rebuilt manual (Super T-10) with new clutch would be around $1,500.

      I could (and have) rebuilt the entire engine, oil pan to carburetor, for less than $2k. And it’s important to keep in mind that with a pre-computer car, that’s the whole ball of wax. A ready to run engine. Not just the long block. There are no additional (major) expenses for a fuel injection system, for instance. Absolute worst case, I would need to buy a new carburetor and fuel pump. About $400 for everything. But – usually – the carb is rebuildable and a kit costs less than $100. A mechanical fuel pump is $40.

      No ECU. No O2 sensors. Even if I had to replace the catalytic converter, there’s just one (stock) or two (modified) … vs. the four that typically are fitted to a modern V8 powered car (plus four 02 sensors). And I can get away with no converter – because my car is an antique and exempt from smog testing. A new car isn’t – and won’t be – for a very long time.

      Also, my car has no air bags (and all the related electro-scheisse) or ABS or TCS… much less “collision avoidance/automatic braking” .. no back-up cameras, no seat belt minders…

      Etc.

      • You don’t need smog testing for your 76′ where you are? My doomsday car is a 77′ and needs to be smogged and have been told “antique” is a 68′.

            • Hi AJ,

              Is there an exemption for a vehicle registered as an Antique? Many states have this option… the vehicle usually has to be at least 21 years old.

              • I’ve checked and have been told only 68’s and older can have this exemption. It’s alright though, I like bypassing the law in favor of giving a fellow thinking man some extra cash and a free case of beers.

                • Amen, AJ!

                  Back when I lived inNorthern Va – and had to pass visual I/M – I simply cut open a pair of generic cats, removed the lattice and installed the shells over the pipes. It looked legit and The Man did not hassle me!

                  • eric, one of the most amazing(to me)things I found on my Nissan pickup was the exhaust pipe was bolted front and rear to the cat. I said I ran it WOT nearly all of it’s life and the crux of that was pieces of the cat material began to bang around in the housing. I knew it wasn’t doing any good, had known it for a while actually since it didn’t get so hot, a good thing for me since I drove through tall pasture constantly. I unbolted the body, shook all the crap out, had to break up a few pieces further, and it all came out. When it was bolted back, nary a sound issued forth, best cat I ever saw.

                    BTW, to tell you what a hazard those things are in this country, we went through a period of burning up pickups and pastures left and right. The power companies had such great losses they removed the cats for straight pipes. My cousin had a shop, did inspections and exhaust work. One day the nosy DPS inspector saw a huge pile of cats, many of them brand new. He had a fit soon thereafter my cousin had to hide every cat he removed and disavow doing it, taking only cash for it and making sure he knew who he did it for. Next thing you know it’s part of inspection, verifying it was there. A couple times at night I’d be going down the highway and see flashes and realize I had a rolling grassfire. Good thing I kept welding gloves in the toolbox so I could crawl under there and pull the burning crap out. Of course that was dicey when the barditches were crisp and so were the pastures. Then I had to make sure I put out all the burning crap. A catalytic converter has got to be one of the greatest evils ever.

          • I now live in Oregon- No yearly “safety” inspections (or windshield stickers). Do whatever mods you want w your drivetrain and be left in peace.

            I used to live in New York. There every f-in’ dashboard light must be functional (every one!– even windshield washer fluid level) or else you: (i) fail inspection; and (ii) are immediately reported to NYS DMV. If within 10 days, no subsequent reporting indicates a passed inspection, the vehicle registration is suspended. Then, w the increased amount of license plate scanning being employed by LE, you a virtually guaranteed to be pulled over, towed and multiply ticketed.

            Takeaway is > yet another reason (as if you needed another one) not to live in NYS.

      • eric, not to take everyone off-subject but I’d like an opinion or three. I looked at a Honda Shadow(686 cc) this week, an ’07 model. The guy riding it said it was his wife’s bike and she hadn’t been riding it much so he was. It looked comfortable and easy to ride which he said was true on both accounts. He said he thought it got about 40mpg overall and was a nice cruiser at 75. He really liked it and I liked the looks even though it had no tach(what’s up with that?). I was wondering if it really would be a good cruising bike which would be all I’d do with one. There are no speed limits lower than 70 and those are just FM roads. It’s not a good idea to run less than 75 anywhere I’d be riding since traffic is fast regardless of where you are. Every road I’d be on is a NS or EW route from border to border, lots of trucks and wide loads.

        I liked its looks although it had a tiny cafe type fairing. Would a full cruiser type fairing ruin the performance of that type of bike? Would a larger bike be a better fit for high-speed travel? I’d be using it in pretty extreme weather since we rarely have any other.

        One of my co-workers pulled into the yard one day this spring. It was windy as hell, enough so to break all the tumbleweeds loose and send them north at 40 mph or more. I’d seen pickups with them stuck to the front although the small car size is too large to stick to a vehicle but they will jam and scratch hell out of the. He was driving a Volvo that has no steel bumper beyond the frame on each side and the hood is very thin where a bumper should be(Volvo’s suck in construction). The passenger side of the bottom of the hood/bumper was missing. He said he lost it backing up over a tumbleweed that had blown in and he didn’t know about it. I’d probably avoid a bike on days like that but they don’t usually start that way so you never know. Maybe I should have a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome special for those days.

        • Hi Eight,

          My 50: Bikes are hugely personal and everyone’s got a different idea about things like the ergos, the sound of the engine and whether it seems like it’s working too hard; whether it’s got guts enough for the way you ride… etc.

          That said, some general thoughts:

          A fairing will slow it down. Maybe a lot. Major wind drag. It’s ok if the bike has a big engine and can bully its way through the air wall. But if the engine’s a little on the weak side – and (like me) you are a fairly big dude (200 pounds-up) the bike is probably going to be less-than-great on the highways with traffic running 75-80 or faster. It’ll do it – but there won’ be much reserve on tap and the bike may feel winded.

          But, maybe try it and see… will the guy let you take a test ride?

          • Thanks eric, that’s what I needed to know. This bike, as far as I know, isn’t for sale but I looked at it because it was a twin, what I’ve been looking at. I thought it might be a little weak loaded up punching a hole that size but being a twin I didn’t know if it had the torque and some extra. I’d just as well return to my search for a 900 or more.

            • Hi Eight,

              This is why Harleys have big twins! 🙂

              I tried an experiment once with my ’83 Honda Silverwing. It has a 650 twin, by the way. I took the front fairing (Vetter, identical to the one used on the same-year Goldwing) off and went for a ride. The bike was suddenly much stronger. Who’d a thunk it?

              With the fairing back on, the bike becomes less quick as speed (and are resistance) builds. It will hold 75-80 but that is approaching top speed, so not much margin for dealing with highway situations. My bike is great on secondary roads. Which is what it was primarily designed for. You can run it on the highway (as you can a 250 cc dual sport or beginner bike) but what you really want (need, arguably) is at least a 750 and probably a 900 or more.

  4. The dual clutch transmission exists because government edict conjured it into existence. It’s to make an automatic function like a manual. Problem is it now has a wear part like a manual and is more expensive. Double bad if buying German for the usual reasons.

    For many decades people threw their cars away at that point anyway. The car then hits the market where people fix cars and resell them. The problem here though is government regs are also squeezing these guys.

    Then there’s the dealers that are trying to squeeze out independents who typically would get cars like this back into operation. Junkyards also get squeezed on multiple levels of government and becoming more corporate and consolidated as a result. Which is another point of my disgust with modern environmentalism. The junkyard is greenest thing there is. No other place gets so much out of the waste stream.

    • A dual clutch setup is nothing more or less than making the swept area of a clutch much smaller in diameter. It has to do with high horsepower and trying to compact the clutch into an area feasible in a vehicle. The dual and triple disc clutch is to reduce the size of a flywheel and everything behind and around it. Consider trying to transfer several hundred or a couple thousand foot lbs. of torque into a relatively small(but strong)transmission. The space for a flywheel that large in a single disc setup would be huge. At first it was big rig and big tractor clutches. They didn’t use dual disc clutches on a farm tractors back in the 60’s to be sexy. Same for triple disc, For many decades manufacturers experimented with disc brakes for big rigs but they didn’t have enough swept area. Now they’ve become common and all because of multiple rotors. GM went with disc brakes on their rear axles in HD light trucks over a decade ago and then went back to brake shoes. Now the pendulum is swinging back and we see multiple rotors on a single wheel. No matter what you use to transfer power or stop, it all comes down to swept area. Big rigs now use auto shift manual transmissions and the same parts are used for manual shift manual transmissions. Some people have good luck and like them, some don’t and hate them. Big equipment is the same way. Or should I say, was the same way. It’s hard to find a manual transmission in big equipment now since hydrostatic transmissions have taken over. A small amount of equipment is manual since hydrostatics are tougher and deliver torque in any increment. Pickups with diesel engines are now all automatics. Back in the 90’s diesels began to deliver more torque than manual transmissions would accommodate. Dodge hung in there for a few more years but now they’re all auto’s.

      I first replaced a dual clutch in a farm tractor in the 60’s. Now even small tractors are hydrostatic transmissions. Since the early 80’s I’ve used hydrostatic transmissions with an inching pedal. There is no clutch, just a pedal to control the flow of fluid that acts as a clutch. I can hear that high pitched whine of one easing into a load in my mind. Hell, every farmer knows that sound.

      But back to dual clutch transmissions. They were made to keep the size of the flywheel and clutch assembly to a decent size for a car. Auto shift manuals are great for some applications. It’s nearly impossible for a person to mimic the torque load in a manual transmission as well as a computerized auto-shift. They’re becoming the standard in big rigs as well as automatic transmissions.

      Back around ’70 John Deere made the Power Shift transmission and did it so well it became the industry standard. The other shoe was with transmission like my Case had, a dual range gearbox hydrostat with inching pedal. That’s still the most used type of transmission in farm tractors today.

      Every transmission used today has a definitive function and is the very reason it’s used. The only problem I have with any of them is the kiddy crowd is now designing transmissions and they grew up with tiny controls that are too sensitive. I don’t care for the new Caterpillar dozer transmissions that use a touch pad to engage with one of two modes, idle or WOT. If you need to attenuate power you use a pedal that instead of being an inching pedal works as a power reducer. If you don’t want to go WOT, you have to use a pedal all the time to get the desired speed. One of my co-workers got off a trackhoe after a long day and said “Damn, my thumb and finger are killing me”. He wasn’t joking. They’re a pain in the hand.

  5. For all the claptrap about “sustainability” coming from every quarter it seems pretty darn wasteful to have all the electronic doodads being tossed in the dumper every few years. TV’s, computers, phones, washers, dryers, refrigerators and on and on. From being hectored about grocery bags to what our “carbon footprint” is (how ’bout I show you my carbon “finger print”?) everyday brings a new “humanity is destroying the world so we need more GovCo”. Now it’s cars…thanks to GovCo.

    I’m I the only one that thinks this is insane? It has to implode, this kind of crazy HAS TO eventually kill itself.

    • Ever notice the latest and greatest is more centralized, more allowing for intrusion, more access for monitoring?

      That’s why environmentalist disgust for the endless replacement is minimal and not generally organized and without media support.

      If you don’t upgrade, you’re dangerous.

    • Upgrading things in favor of better technology doesn’t necessarily mean it’s excessively wasteful, but what we do with the materials or used things is another matter. If the device gets thrown away to the landfill and it’s perfectly operational, then yes, it’s ridiculously wasteful and bad for the environment undoubtedly.

      However, if you’re like myself where I tend to buy second hand things and rebuild them (I just picked up a washing machine for free and replaced the control panel for $20), then what’s the problem having a class of consumers who eat the depreciation up and provide us “second handers” with something to use later on?

      So long as we provide a way to recycle the fundamentals of this earth that are used for building our “thingies”, then by all means we should keep upgrading in favor of better technology.

      • AJ, you make a good point however, you make a case for those that are probably less than 1% of the population. Most people don’t know which end of a hammer to hold much less can conceive of the idea of actually “fixing” something. The problem is only getting worse as more and more people look upon those that use their hands along with their heads are with disdain…unless it’s their tattoo/piercing artist.

        It’s up to those of us that CAN do these types of things to make sure we pass along the idea and knowledge of using tools to maintain your life. When I hand my grandson a Snap-On tool that was used by MY grandfather you can see the appreciation in his eyes that these things are important.

        • I would reply saying that it doesn’t matter if only 1% of people can work with our hands, as long as the people can appreciate there is a place for those people in society, but as you mention people are getting more and more dependent on the newest latest greatest thing, handymen are becoming dinosaurs now, soon to be melted underground and turned into fossil fuels which will never see the combustion chamber of an engine.

          Thing is though, I don’t understand why people can’t see the value in doing something yourself. I never wanted anyone to give me anything when I was a kid because it felt cheap and worthless, so how the world evolved into a vast ocean of entitled “gimme brats” is a mystery to me. Seems like merit itself has gone out of fashion.

          Keep up the fight for virtue with your grandson, there are so few people left in the U.S. that have any idea what any of what we were talking about means.

          • “Seems like merit itself has gone out of fashion.”

            Indeed, for some time now. It’s more about “pull” than productivity. Do you say the right words? Think the right things? Go to the right school? These are the “things that matter” in today’s society.

            The manifestation of this will eventually implode…or evaporate like the morning dew…because there is no substance. There is no there, there.

            When I first heard that we were entering the Information Age about 35 years ago I asked the question, “How can we all get rich selling each other insurance?”. Information is only of value if it can produce something tangible. Today corporations are drowning in email, conference calls and spending time and money being A Good Corporate Citizen. It doesn’t matter if you actually make a profit and generate wealth, posturing instead of producing is all that matters.

            My son is also teaching my grandson welding.

            • “posturing instead of producing is all that matters.”

              I could write a very long rant on that.

              “Seems like merit itself has gone out of fashion.”

              And probably a longer one on that.

              All that matters now is the con. The confidence game. The manipulation of others. Merit, productivity, etc don’t matter. Just social cons and social image. Maybe it’s always been this way except for a brief period. I don’t know.

    • Some time ago I saw a cartoon. Can’t locate it any more, sorry. On 1 side of the street is a store front w/the sign “Joe’s Fix-It Shop.” One lone soul, presumably Joe, stands in the doorway looking across the street. Over there is another store with a line going down the block waiting to get in. Its sign proclaims “Ed’s Throw It Away and Get a New One Shop.”

  6. A few thoughts:

    Aging population: old guys, overweight guys, can’t wrench they way they could when they were young. I’m not talking about someone in their 50s or early 60s, I’m talking about people 70+. This age group is only going to increase in the coming decade.

    Worthless garages: I have a 2 car garage. Right now it has 2 vehicles parked inside, and the work truck in the driveway. It’s driving me crazy not having any space to do anything. My lot is fairly small and isn’t conducive to parking vehicles all over the place. While I don’t have to worry about it, many people have to deal with HOA rules that won’t allow for you to work on a vehicle in the driveway. Sure, you say just don’t buy a house in an HOA, but good luck with that if you’re on an average income. My parent’s house and both my grandparents houses had big garages, big yards (with big trees that could serve as an engine hoist -hence the term “shade tree mechanic”), and plenty of space for tools, and if dad needed to pull the other car out for the weekend no one said a word.

    Necessity: Dad worked on cars because he HAD to, much the same way he fixed the roof and replaced the water heater. It wasn’t a hobby, it was a necessity. Vehicle maintenance was just part of ownership. Old ladies and rich guys had their cars “serviced.” The rest of us had a good set of Craftsman socket wrenches, a timing light and a hydrometer, and a buddy with some other tools we could borrow.

    Waste disposal: Used to be you could throw out old parts. Now you have core charges, recycling, and fewer places that will take in used fluids. Sure, it probably wasn’t ever a good idea to dump used motor oil down the storm drain, but there were guys who had oil burner heaters, and places like Sears would let you drop used oil out back, no questions asked.

    Fixation and specialization: We are getting much smarter about fewer things. The days of the generalist are numbered. At work it is all about specialization, mostly because of all those motion studies done in the 1930s, which made it easier to not pay people and break down their tasks into finer and finer detail. In our personal lives, most people aren’t interested in taking the time to learn how to maintain complex items because they value the time spent learning more than actually learning. It isn’t that we aren’t interested in some subject, but that spending more time than required to read a wikipedia page means we can’t spend time on something that is more interesting. That and for whatever reason spending time shuttling kids around to adult organized activities is thought of as more important than any other activity, except maybe shopping.

    • The non-HOA properties and the towns without similar laws are old and generally economically downtrodden in my area. Those that aren’t tend to be very expensive. Either in prices, taxes or both.

      It seems so many things fight the independent person, but it’s been that way for awhile. The internet however solves tons of problems in that regard. Thanks to the internet I found someone willing to sell me a heat exchanger for my furnace even though the HVAC business is generally a racket. Yes, I still paid too much for it, but a lot cheaper than the alternative.

      The lack of learning in society is frustrating to no end. People just don’t care to learn about a damn thing outside their little compartment(s). It makes them so dependent and scamable. It’s not that the generalists’ days are numbered but that he’s actively being hunted down and destroyed. Socially, economically, and legally.

      Why? The generalist is difficult to scam. He spends his time learning. He’s not dependent on anyone except maybe a free market to serve his need for parts and tools. The independent man is someone who doesn’t need to be governed and doesn’t need help. Many people will follow the independent man even if he doesn’t want them to. This is scary to those who want power.

      • Reminds me of this:

        “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

        • Yeti, that was my grandparents generation. Some of my parents generation could fit the bill except for the computer part. It’s tough to learn that when you’re 40 years old before you ever saw one and it had its own building and a/c system via clean room. My dad had to learn computers in his late 50’s, drove him crazy and that was before PC’s.

  7. Not just ride-sharing, but leasing will become even more popular, especially for fun-to-drive-but-not-known-for-reliability mass-market brands like VW, & luxury brands like BMW.

    Thrash the heck out it, then turn it back in before the warranty expires.

    Leasing makes the most sense with luxury brands, which have higher residuals & often allow you to put down multiple refundable deposits to buy down the money factor (i.e the interest charged.)

  8. Eric, You didn’t mention the WORST part of cars becoming ever more like sail fawns.

    They are becoming much Easier To Track! Also much easier to use to spy on their owners and other occupants.

    • And, control. GovCo thinks the roads are too crowded or the air isn’t good enough or fuel needs to be conserved…just disable the cars.

      It’s probably been 10 years since I saw the story of the woman in St. Pete, FLA that had her Caddy stolen. Cops call OnStar, find out where the car is, surround it and have OnStar shut it down. The Heroes win the day. Lady gets her car back. Everyone lived Happily Ever After.

      I had a cold chill run down my spine.

      • Mark, back in the 90’s when the Northstar debuted Caddy had a communication system even back then. A friend used a big sedan as a farm truck. He locked the keys in the car and called GM. They unlocked the doors for him. He thought it was dandy. I thought it was 1984 coming true.

  9. For the same reason that most people won’t spend $300 to fix an otherwise still serviceable computer. Why would you, when you can buy a new computer for $500?

    This is a factor with other things (dishwasher, washer, dryer, etc.) around the home as well. The cost to keep the item functional (especially if someone else does the labor) tends to be high enough that it makes it harder to justify (financially) fixing versus buying new. Even if one was willing to fix it now, there is no guarentee against something else breaking down. Two to four of these fixes and you could have bought a new item.

    Eric,

    That quadrajet was music to my ears. It moves the soul and body.

    I think part of the issue with the increased complextity and “need” for “new and improved” is a desire by companies for profits, people conditioned to demand keeping up with the Jones (whomever they are), and fatwas demanding ever increasing demands (costs be damned) regardless of actual cost-effective benefits.

    While there is a market (demand) for items built to be (reasonably and cost effectively) serviceable by a DIY, I suspect it is much more profitable if things are designed/built to require special equipement and/or parts to keep going. It gives work for those that repair and fix the items and as a side benefit, if the expense to keep the old opperating is high enough, it will encourage buying new to replace the old.

    Those that constantly need to have the latest and greatest will pay dearly for that “privilege”.

  10. Eric, I didn’t realize people from Virginia used the term “hoagie”. I thought that was reserved for my little corner of the world around Philly… 🙂

  11. What’s sad about the entire cost repair aspect of vehicles is that mechanics and shops now are so heavily regulated that it forces the repair costs of cars up so high to the point of causing exorbitant prices. If the government would just get off our backs with all their hyper regulation and let us just fix cars and lawyers weren’t so hungry to sue for any micro injustice out there, we’d be able to provide great services for much less cost.

    i.e. I can buy a transmission for my car $50, and spend 3 hours removing it and 6-7 hours rebuilding it. While no full rebuild kits exist, I can still order all the “wear” parts separately though the dealer and rebuild it myself. Total cost is $1,200 for a full blown rebuild (my cost), and that’s for a CVT that’s usually quoted at $8-10k for a replacement.

    Most people I know would be happy to pay $2,000 for a fully rebuilt transmission that would last another 100k, but because of all the regulations in place for a shop, I can’t do it for that price. I’d have to charge upwards of $4,000 just to make ends meet, and that in itself is a deal breaker.

    I blame the people though, having no clue about what makes a car tick and what mechanics have to go through in dealing with customers.

    • I’m with you, AJ –

      Two good friends of mine are professional mechanics and own their own shops. I am very familiar with increasingly daunting (and economically not-viable) repair costs.

      As you note, a good portion of this ties in to micro (and over) regulation. The costs my friends have to pay just to keep the door open would have me closing it, if the shops were mine.

      • Uncle’s policies and regulations are a major reason why I’m a Libertarian now. Very hard to align yourself with big government when all it does is destroy you.

        • A.J., if enough people would simply think about what their place is, enough might be see the light and make their life’s purpose to throw off the chains of servitude and no longer be a slave. The Bill of Rights is a bad joke as is the Constitution. The state(our governing tyrants…..we elect and mostly we don’t) only give us the right to die. Even the air we breathe is now owned by the state. Carbon credits represent the last thing in this country we lost to the state. Now, we are taxed even to breathe. Clover doesn’t understand this because it’s not listed on her paycheck stub or on her grocery receipt.

      • Mechanics I know have been picking and choosing for over 20 years. I’d do the same. GM brags its vehicles now constantly monitor themselves and stay in touch with “home”. So that OnStar you didn’t renew is actually constantly on. If I were forced to drive one I’d make sure the antenna was unplugged. From a personal standpoint I have nothing to worry about since I wouldn’t buy one and I haven’t seen them so desperate to monitor someone they give one away.

      • Regulations are one of the reasons I quit selling real estate. There is ALWAYS something new we don’t want and didn’t need coming down the pike when it comes to real estate regulation. Not just the feds, but the state, the county, and many towns would throw on crap. Just the basic sales form went from 4 pages to 6 in the decade I was in. I would end up with a book sized collection of paperwork for a simple “problem free” sale. Insanity,,,,,, and it protects no one, not the buyers or sellers, and for sure not the agent. Meeting after meeting on how not to screw up the forms and not get yourself (and the company) in trouble.

        When my folks bought their first house back in 1971, the sales form wasn’t even a full page. It was the address of the house, the legal description, the price, how much they were putting down for a deposit, if it was cash or a mortgage and a place to sign it. That was it.

        Of course back then you could buy a whole house for what it costs to put siding on one today………… 21k for a one year old 3 bedroom house. Granted between the both to them they were only bringing home 15k a year, but they had a mortgage of less the 200 dollars a month.

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