You may have heard the term, planned obsolescence. It refers to the policy of General Motors (and others) back in the ’50s and ’60s to egg-on the purchase of new cars by making last year’s cars look “old.”
The italics being important.
If you didn’t care whether your ’58 Chevy looked “old” relative to a ’61 Chevy, you could keep on driving it for many years to come. The car, itself, wasn’t designed to be thrown away – so as to egg-you-on to buy a new car before you wanted a new car.
Here’s a “case” in point – which I’ll juxtapose with a contrary example from the era of “planned” (rather than premature) obsolescence:
A woman I know just bought a new car because her not very-old-car, a 2008 Ford Mustang, had to be thrown away. More precisely, was no longer worth not throwing away. Her car – the dealer told her, needed a new transmission. The cost of that – parts and labor – would be in the neighborhood of (deep breath now) five thousand dollars.
Which, as it turns out, is roughly about the current retail market value of her car – with a working transmission. No one with any sense puts $5k in repairs into a $5k car that will only be worth $5k after you put that $5k into it.
Most people haven’t got $5k to spend on . . . anything. And putting it on the card – at 29.999 percent interest isn’t a great idea.
It being easier – though more costly – to finance a new car.
The dealer may – probably will – install a new replacement transmission (modern electronicized automatic transmissions often can’t be rebuilt) and put the repaired car up for sale on its used car lot.
A dealer can afford to do this, because it can get a new tranny for much less than it sells them to people like my friend, who-owned-the-Mustang, are charged for them. And because it doesn’t charge itself labor to perform the installation.
She bought a new car, instead.
Her old car, itself, was still in great shape. No rust, paint looking good. Nothing amiss with the engine or the rest of it. A perfectly good car – other than a bad transmission – tossed in trash on account of the cost of replacing that bad transmission.
Now, here’s the interesting thing. The transmission in my friend’s car – as in all modern cars – was bad from the day it was new, in terms of being such an intricately complex piece of equipment that when it eventually/inevitably went actually bad, the replacement cost would be so high relative to the value of the car, itself, that replacing it would be not worth doing.
Which is very bad, indeed.
And it’s not just transmissions that are “bad” in this sense. It is also engines and their intricately complex peripherals, such as the multiple turbochargers affixed to many of them. The myriad warren of electronics behind the dash (and in the doors). Lately, the touchscreen interfaces, everywhere. Many of these items are made of cheap materials, cheaply manufactured – but haltingly expensive to replace, when they fail. And the more electronicized cars become, the more failure prone they become.
They would work, if “x” were replaced. It’s just not worth replacing “x.”
It’s a weird thing, because if it weren’t for these built-in economic time bombs, most any modern car could provide reliable transportation for decades. This being a kind of side-effect of government emissions standards, which resulted in tightened-up engine tolerances – and the general pressure to up quality control such that the overall car, itself, is a much-better-put-together thing than the cars of the past.
But the same regulatory and other pressures that led to greater refinement – and durability, up to a point – have also led to these catastrophic (economically speaking) failure points. The car works great, for years – until one day, something stops working.
The cars of the “planned” obsolescence era were in a general way junkier. They were not put together nearly as well, even high-end cars such as Cadillacs. Models from that era were shamefully slipshod relative to Hyundais from our era – and they failed sooner and more often.
But they weren’t throw-aways. It was usually worth fixing them. And it still is, half a century after the era of “planned” obsolescence.
Consider a Mustang from that era – and the cost of replacing its transmission. Which is about $1,500 or so. Even if you have to pay someone to install it, the cost is well worth paying. Similarly the cost of replacing (or rebuilding) the engine in cars of that era – which costs less even today than the cost quoted by the Ford dealer to replace the transmission in my friend’s Mustang.
Cars made back in the era of “planned” obsolescence were – ironically enough – longer lasting, in the economic sense, than the cars of our era. Even though those cars were not as refined or as well-built.
Not as electronic.
Indeed, not electronic, at all. No computer feeds data to – and receives it from – the sensors attached to the tranny in a Mustang made in the ’60s. There are no sensors. No wires, even – as far as any connected to the transmission. Just the transmission, a simpler (and purely mechanical) thing.
And so a worth-replacing thing.
Unlike the intricately electronic thing that prematurely – economically- obsolesced my friend’s modern Mustang.
. . .
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