A Measure of the Obsolescing

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Once upon a time, the car industry was accused of planning obsolescence – i.e., designing cars to be replaced, ideally as soon (and as often) as possible. The accusation was true, but only superficially so.

What the car industry did – this was back in the ’50s – was make superficial cosmetic changes – such as redesigned bumpers, relocated headlights, maybe taller (or lesser) fins –  each new model year, so as to encourage people to trade-in what they were driving for something “all new.”

Italics to make the point.

No one was forced to buy a new car each year by the car companies. Indeed – in fact – it was easy to keep the same car you were driving going for years because its fundamentals – its engine, transmission and other crucial-to-functionality components were often far-from-being new. As an example, the V8 engine Chevrolet debuted in 1955 remained in production, fundamentally the same, for the next 30-plus years. Pu another way, these critical components lasted decades – and so could the cars they were installed in – because these critical components were designed in such a way as to be both repairable as well as economically replaceable. So long as you didn’t care about how you looked by not driving the “latest thing,” you could drive your old car for decades, if you wanted to.

Today, the obsoleting is designed in.

You are all-but-physically forced to get rid of what you’re driving when a functionally fundamental component such as the transmission fails (let alone the engine). For these components are designed stay in production about as long as the model of car they’re installed in does – which is about 4-8 years, typically – and to be replaced rather than repaired when they fail – at a cost that is frequently too high in both absolute terms and relative to the worth of the car, itself.

It may not be deliberate obsolescing, as the designing is a function of the governing, but the end result is the same.

Here’s an example to make the point:

I know someone who owns a very popular model of crossover SUV, a Lexus RX. The transmission in this rig needs to be replaced. Italics to make the point that it is a general truism that late-model automatic transmissions are not rebuildable because the rebuilding of a late-model electronically controlled automatic transmission is to complicated for most shops (this includes dealerships) to bother with. But replacing a failed unit with a new/remanufactured unit is very expensive.

How expensive?

The cost quoted in this case ranged from around $3,500 on the low end to more than $5,000 on the high end. The problem with this is two-fold.

First, very people have the means to cut a check for $3,500-$5,000 – which means having to charge the sum on a credit card. The monthly-compounding of interest on a credit card balance of $3,500-$5,000 can and often does mean ultimately paying nearly as much in interest as what was paid for the transmission. It is a terrible financial decision.

A new car loan usually beckons with lower interest – and the illusion of paying less by paying for longer. And there is the allure of the new car, fully warranted. It is so much easier to just throw away the car with the bad transmission and drive home in a new car, with a transmission in good working order.

Second, even those who have the ability to pay for a $3,500-$5,000 replacement transmission may not want to pay it, if the car itself isn’t worth much more than $3,500-$5,000 – even though it may be very much worth paying it, if it means not having to pay four or five times that sum (plus tax) for a new car. But many people who know only a little about cars are afraid to “put money” in an older car, having been conditioned to assume it’s an “unreliable” car and likely to fail again, soon.

In the Before Time it cost much less to deal with a bad transmission, for they were still often rebuildable – and even if they needed to be replaced, it was far less expensive. It still is, even today – if you’re driving a car that was made before things like automatic transmissions got so complicated (courtesy of government) that they became almost-insurmountably expensive to replace because few if any shops could rebuild them.

A car from the ’70s such as my ’76 Pontiac Trans-Am came with a TH350 automatic transmission. This transmission – which GM made for decades – doesn’t have electronic controls or more than three forward speeds. But even today, one can rebuild it for a few hundred bucks in parts or buy a new/already rebuilt one for around $1,200. That’s worth doing even if the car, itself, is only worth $3,500.

It is also a much more doable sum to deal with – without charging it.

The old stuff can be criticized on many levels, but keep-’em-going-ism wasn’t – isn’t – one of them.

It was – it still is – much more feasible, financially, to keep the old stuff operable.

The new stuff operates better  . . . until it stops operating. When that happens, the fix is frequently unaffordable. Or – as in the case of EeeeeeeeeVeeeees – critical replacement parts such as the battery aren’t even available.

And that’s how they obsolete you into buying the “latest thing.” By designing the previous thing to be something you can’t afford to keep on driving, even if you wanted to.

. . .

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  1. Eric,

    Didn’t Nissan keep the 2.5L four for three generations? The current gen Altima has a 2.5L engine, the same as my 3rd gen had. Granted, it has direct injection (I’m not sure what mine had), but it’s a 2.5L engine. Mine had 175 hp, while the current gen has 188; I’m assuming mine didn’t have DI, but I don’t know for sure. Would it have been possible for them to use same engine for that long and improve it while maintaining compliance with emissions regs?

    • Hi Mark,

      “Would it have been possible for them to use same engine for that long and improve it while maintaining compliance with emissions regs?”

      Twenty years ago, sure. But it is now today – and the regs have become almost-impossible for any older-design engine to “comply” with. Especially as regards C02 “emissions” – which of course aren’t emissions, in terms of pollution. This is why you see so many 2.0 (and smaller) engines. And soon even they will no longer be able to “comply” with the regulations.

      The key point here is to stop assuming good intentions and reasonableness. This is about forcing most of us out of cars – and into penury and dependence.

      • Eric,

        I wasn’t assuming good intentions; when it comes to gov’t it’s best to assume the opposite! I was simply curious if Nissan’s engineers were good enough to make their outstanding 2.5L engine last. I loved it! It was a good, strong, and solid engine; IMO, it was one of the best ever put in to a car… 🙂

      • Hi Eric

        CO2 is lower now than in more than 95 percent of Earth’s history……but the CO2 narrative, using lies, misinformation, disinformation, fake science, bs are being used to ban all ice cars….

        • An intelligent look at the inside of the wacko green movement killing off ice cars, with Patrick Moore…

          People in the environmental movement are now just political activists, social activists, entrepenuers trying to make money, just a way to get a huge amount of cash, they have no formal science education, they just use fake science, their beliefs, so it is just a religion. they are intellectualy and scientifically bankrupt.

          They take more and more extreme positions to keep the good guy bad guy narrative going, like banning all hydrocarbons, which is impossible and insane.

          They hire the best PR firms to push their bs narrative and their main focus becomes just fund raising, just a racket.

          They lie and use photo shop to back up their lies, like the island of floating plastic in the ocean twice the size of Texas, ……it doesn’t exist it is another lie…….it is remote so it is hard to fact check

          They pick something that is invisible or remote or both, like CO2 so it is harder to fact check. Big pharma did this with the bat germ narrative (bat germs are invisible) they just used a cgi image…lol.

          All the environmental problems they talk about are all lies, it is all fraud. Some of them are being charged with fraud now.

          CO2…plants are actually starving for CO2 today, it is too low.

          Under obama the EPA said CO2 is a pollutant…but is the most important food for life on the planet.

          Because the EPA said CO2 is a pollutant, which is a lie, all ice cars are being banned….

          CO2 went from 2500 ppm a long time ago, when there was huge forests everywhere down to 180 ppm in the ice age (150 is when all plants die) back to 400 ppm today….plants are actually starving for CO2 today, it is too low.

          These liars are banning all ice cars because of CO2, they are insane…..


  2. What unites Libertarians besides Godlessness is the passionate, fervent love of pot.

    “If at first you don’t succeed pack a bowl and smoke some weed”

    • Hi Chong,

      This libertarian has a fervent love of liberty! Respecting every person’s natural/inalienable right to do as they choose with their own body is merely an expression of that love. The corollary of that is fervent opposition to the suggestion that it is ever legitimate to tell another person hey may not consume… anything. That is their choice to make. The corollary of that is being accountable for the consequences of the choices they make. But this business of prior restraint – based on the assertion that harm might be caused – is far more dangerous than even any harm that actually ensues in a given individual case, for it establishes a dangerous principle – that of “safety” and “for your own good” – that becomes the precedent for never-ending expansion.

      You cannot eliminate risk from life. But you can control everyone’s life in the name of trying to.

    • Chong,
      The audacity to claim you know better than someone else does about what they should not put in their body, and propose to keep them from doing so is surreal. What’s next? Eggs?

  3. I remember when I was gifted a 1977 orange Pinto from my family in 1986.

    I was thrilled- my friends made fun of me, but that car rocked.

    I wish I could buy a VW bug/Datsun B210/ or that Pinto again. New.

  4. Unease is supplanted by panic:

    ‘On Thursday afternoon, Energy ‘Secretary’ Jennifer Granholm told Reuters that the “Biden” administration is weighing the need for further releases of crude oil from the nation’s emergency stockpiles after the current program ends in October.’ — ZH

    Hahhhhvid lawyer Granholm is pushing this pre-winter furniture-burning, with the Strategic Petroleum Reserve down to its lowest level since 1984.

    Funny how commie greens think they can win a petroleum-fueled election … then turn off the tap.

    “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.” — Deng Xiaoping

    • We called her Jennifer NoOneHome when she was our MCHIGAN Governor.
      An expert in organic fertilizer — from years of spreading the BS
      Sorry she got a promotion — Biden only picks the least competent.

  5. Buy a Mk3 VW Golf 1992 to 1999 for low cost, reliable transportation.

    The diesel is better and the GTI has good upgrades. The GTI is one of the ten best cars in the world at any price.

    These cars are simple, well engineered and easy to repair.
    The 4 cylinder engine in them is an evolution of a Mercedes M118 engine VW acquired when it bought Audi from Mercedes in the 1960’s

    The M118 was originally developed by Mercedes-Benz for the mass-produced vehicle segment. It was first used by Audi in the F103, before and after Daimler AG sold the company to Volkswagen

    All the 4 cyl. VW/Audi engines are evolutions of that engine…

    These engines are easy to find and cheap to buy, they don’t fail so there is no market for used ones.

    Get one with a 5 speed transmission, they are very strong, reliable and cheap to buy.

    The Mk4 VW Golf is good too and galvanized.
    The Mk1 and Mk2 Golf GTI’s are collector cars now because they are so good, but the prices are very high now….

    The Mk 3 GTI was a good race car, for rally or on the track.


    There was a Mk3 in speed racers mach 5

  6. This is, as RK posted, part of the “IT” industry mentality. Replace your old unit? Now the software that worked well is obsolete as well. Web surfing? Forget it, unless you buy new. How many times have you tried to play a video and after an interminable wait it says, “Sorry, your browser is no longer supported”

    This stuff, by itself, is bad enough. What makes it intolerable is that the same folks that do this are the same ones lecturing others on “sustainability”. It makes me want to scream.

  7. If it wasn’t for government regulations most modern cars could last longer than the old stuff. They’ve come a hell of a long way on rust prevention and fit and finish. In the old days a salt belt car could be completely rotten and ready for the scrapper in 5 years. Nowadays even the cheapest cars go 10 or more years bathed in brine before rockers and fenders start their return to gaia. If we were legally able to retrofit these new cars with aftermarket drivetrains and modules they could be kept on the roads cheaply for decades and still look good. Unfortunately any modifications to the go parts is seen as tampering with an emission control device and the companies offering those products get raided by the EPA. The auto manufacturers and gunvermin are in collusion to keep you coming back to pay tribute. It’ll only get worse with these battery powered abortions.

  8. Every business wants to be Apple. Before Apple, it was possible to replace and repair your computer, even laptops were pretty easy to fix. Steve Jobs hated selling a product that had expansion ports and easy repairs due to his love of Japanese 完全 (kanzen) so when he returned he started glueing up the cases and using security screws. Then Apple started selling AppleCare, which effectively locked out third party shops. You bet every MBA for the last ten years has been required to study Apple. Wall Street loves Apple, their customers love Apple (or at least don’t hate them as much as the other guys), and they rake in so much they can own the whole of California politics. Nice work if you can get it.

    Auto manufacturers see all that and yell “ME TOO!” Too bad it doesn’t work.

    • I HATE Apple, with a PASSION! And yes, it has to do with their business model. People applaud, and some worship, that unholy model, touting how smart it is for their investors to forcefully obsolete their own products and essentially even keep ownership of them when a customer supposedly “buys” them.

      No, fuck Apple. Slavery was a “smart business model”, too, until the slaves had a knife to your throat. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t abhorrent, or that it was “good business”, and certainly it was not moral. Unfortunately, Apple customers LIKE being dominated. They think it’s cool to be first to bow to Master. Sickening.

      It’s all PCs and Linux (or some other experimental OSs) for me. I will not have my purchases owned by anyone else.

      • I feel the same way about Apple now! What makes it a shame is that I used to LOVE their Macintosh products (especially the “Mac II” line) from roughly the 1988-1992 time period. They were actually quite powerful (for the time), repairable, and expandable. Of course, they were expensive then but kind of worth it.

        Nowadays, forget it! I’ll stick with my expandable, repairable PC (even though Windows keeps sucking more with each iteration)

        • Hey Dood,

          Yes, that was a different time for Apple. In fact, their maxim used to be “Think Different”. Now it would probably be “Stop Thinking”, if they could think of one.

          My advice: Switch to Linux! It’s a lot different than it used to be, with many distributions geared toward those used to Windows, but without the BS.

  9. I once rebuilt a 225 slant six Mopar engine, and proceeded to wear out 3 or 4 used pieces of junk with it. None of which I gave more than $300 for, back in the 70s to early 80s.

  10. I am still sad that my 2014 Mazda3 has a sealed transmission with “lifetime” fluid, designed so that it is impossible to properly change the fluid.

  11. For many, cars have (and I don’t fault this line of thinking) the reverse of the sunk cost fallacy. When a vehicle reaches a certain age and wear level, one assumes the required maintenance will snowball.

    • Ha! You just described my wife! I had a 95 Subaru (which I still miss) and basically, over the course of my ownership went over that car from bumper to bumper! Thereby, I paid all these costs. I eventually traded it in, but it was running really good at that time. Sure, it looked like shit, but it ran like a top!

    • Bobo,
      Still cheap compared to a “new” one. Can’t really keep on snowballing. There’s only so many things that can go wrong and make one undrivable. Even a new engine and/or a transmission is probably less than the interest on a new car loan. The trick of course is to have enough cash on hand to pay for it. Which is easier to keep if you aren’t making car loan payments.

      • These days, there is palpable panic among regular folks about their cars/trucks. Car repair work, even maintenance that used to be no big thing, seems to be in a frozen market these days. I tried to get an oil change today at a quick lube place I’ve been using for more than a decade. Used to be 45 mins tops. Today, 17 cars in front of me. Hours long wait. Had to skip. Supply chains, labor issues, etc. New engines and transmissions? Cash? You know the thousands you have laying around? Even if you have it, be prepared to pay a lot more than in the past, just like for new and used cars. Basically, though, you can just forget about it if you’re not an insider. Most shops around me won’t even look at anything in under a week.

        I have a bad feeling the no “V’s” at all scenario you’ve mentioned in the past in going to come upon many folks much quicker than anyone anticipates. EVs will be a long forgotten footnote.

  12. Slightly off-topic but worth sharing, there as an article at Reuters this morning showing that ethanol use/manufacturering gives of TWICE the “carbon emissions” of plain ole gasoline. Gee, you think the EPA might figure that out? Not as long as Big Ag pays off Clowngress to mandate it, and the presidential hopefuls trek to Iowa every four years to ass-kiss all the corn farmers. Disgusting.

    • Hi mike

      and EV’s pollute more….lol

      An EV costs more per mile for fuel then a VW ice diesel, and emitts more pollution more per mile then a VW ice diesel.
      So they ban the diesel and force you to buy an EV = insanity.

      VW diesel 100 mile fuel consumption = 1.36 gallons @ $4.00 gallon = $5.44 = $0.05 per mile
      EV 100 mile fuel consumption = 41.66 kwh @ $0.40 = $16.64 = $0.16 per mile
      The $16.64 isn’t the only cost…….the tesla $22,000 battery is used up, worn out in 100,000 miles.
      ATTENTION: this works out to $22.00 per 100 miles it is costing you for the battery.
      Add the $22.00 to the $16.64 = $38.64 = $0.38 per mile

      The Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion has emissions of 85g CO2 per km. it is even cleaner (less emissions) than a Toyota Prius or an EV….

      A current-model large EV car with a battery produced and charged in an average European Union country emits about 88 grams of CO2 per kilometer,

  13. Nice thing about manual transmissions, they’re easier to rebuild and last longer (if you know how to drive). My Supra still has it’s original 6-speed Gertrag and it still shifts like a pro.

    The problem with Eeeeeveeeeeees is that they’ll stop making your battery pack the day the car leaves production. Unlike being able to pull a used engine or transmission from a totaled car like I did for my Infiniti (the original engine had some issues), you won’t be able to go to Billy Ray’s U-Pull and find a battery pack sitting around. You’ll either have to go into debt slavery with the car company with a perpetual car payment (WEF: You’ll own nothing and be HAPPY!) or you’ll go into debt paying for a new battery pack, even if you source it from a third-party.

    Now we understand why these car companies are fine with the “electric” transition. They get to enserf you with perennial car notes. The government gets to control your movements. The ChiComs get rich selling us rare Earth materials. What could go wrong?

    • Your government is pushing EV’s? Why?

      Re: EV’s and grid upgrade equipment……

      China has infiltrated all levels of governments, taken control, (check out the leftist/communist takeover), your politicians bought off, paid to push the EV agenda.

      Anybody pushing EV’s is a paid ccp shill.

      Who benefits the most from the EV vehicle conversion? china does.

      All the most important components in the new EV’s are all made in china. Then you are dependent on china for replacement parts, etc., in effect they take over the whole vehicle supply chain. Vehicle production then centralized in China.

      the chinese are taking over the electric car market, they are starting to export their EV’s worldwide, their EV’s are supposed to be advanced and cheap, they will kill off the other manufacturers……

      the chinese make most of the chips, maybe the shortage was to help their EV launch….lots of their cars coming here soon

      at this rate everyone will be driving a chinese car soon, a lot of electronics in your car are made there already…….

      no wonder tesla moved a lot of production to china…

      china…..it is where most rare earths are processed; and most of the mineral supply-chains for electric vehicles lead there, with existing supply sewn up.

      With more EV’s the grid has to be upgraded, most of the equipment for expanding the grid is made in china.
      The largest beneficiaries are the Chinese manufacturers of electric transformers, cables, generators, etc. since almost none of that stuff is made anywhere else anymore.

      If there is a war and chine detonates a neutron bomb that takes out the grid, they get to supply all the replacement equipment, another win for them.

      What about all the vaccines and drugs the government has been pushing, all the ingredients come from china.

      china was chosen to lead the wef great reset, they probably cooperate to help their own agenda


  14. We’re going to turn into Cuba –a third world shithole (tho blessed with natural resources) with a glorious number of classic cars bc no one can afford a new one.

  15. To paraphrase an old saying “Obsolescence is in the mind of the consumer”. Apparently I don’t mind as my newest car is over 20 years old. The local u-pull it yard normally can be found to have the part I need and as an added bonus I can practice the job by removing the part I need. Based on this why would I ever want to own a vehicle that would be non repairable in less than 12 years and as an added bonus could burn my garage down while looking ugly as h*ll?

    And have you ever noticed the Chevy Corvair grill/ front view looks similar to most EV’s? Heck even an Edsel looks nicer from that view!

    Let’s keep our old cars running and sending the PTB a message at the same time.

    • “Obsolescence is in the mind of the consumer”

      I agree! I don’t balk at putting money into the old rigs – as long as sound structure that isn’t unsafe from corrosion just keep rolling. Our 91 Silverado truck got a trans rebuild and some other related work around 11 years ago, around $3600 if I remember. That was less than tax and license for just a used truck at the time, that would be money never seen again gone to the state, plus depreciation and then interest $$ for a loan if no cash available.

      The 79 Pontiac (rest it’s soul) I bought 5 years old, 63000 miles for $3500 and drove it for 21 years without major repairs, it had GMs worst tranny, the Turbo 200, which OK for me had been rebuilt with a shift kit and worked fine after a governor tweak to lower the shift points. That car was on the Consumer mag “don’t buy list” for 1984, hah! Was going to be my temporary car till I could afford something better. I saved my money and better never came along.

    • Yes it is. 1959 was pretty much the high water mark for design extravagance. Especially tail fin size.

      In comparison, the Bat Mobile seemed kind of tame.

  16. Funny you mentioned the Lexus RX, Eric. My daughter in law (kind of an airhead) has a 2018 RX350 with the proximity key. She lost one of the key fobs a couple years ago. No big deal, still had one left. Well, this past summer, she lost the other one, asked me to get her a new one, since she could no longer drive the car. Went to the locksmith, he told me he didn’t have the equipment to program it, I’d have to go to the dealer. OK, so off to the dealer I go. EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS! For one fob, including the programming. What really frosts my ass is that I have a phone with a thousand times the computing and communication abilities of that fob and even that only cost about 3 hundred bucks. How can that fob possibly be worth that much, especially when you can bet that it was made in china with about 80 cents of plastic and 12 dollars worth of child slave labor.

    • Reply to Floriduh man:

      The reason that they can charge that much is that if you don’t spend the money you wind up with a poorly designed shed in your lane way. At least with the older GM keys with a built in resistor you could snip the wires and solder a resister into the wiring harness and be good to go. Today I doubt you can and that’s why they can get away with that. It might be worth checking on the internet as their might well be a solution that’s cheaper than the quoted price. Good luck.

    • Hi Mister,

      Yup; been there (and done that). It’s why I love my old truck (again). It has a key I can get a replacement cut for at any hardware store for less than $10. I cannot fathom why anyone would want a “key” that is in fact a transmitter that can cost hundreds to replace. What is the benefit? Is it that hard to insert a key in a lock and turn it – as opposed to pushing a button?

      • My 3 yo Dacia has a fob with a key. You can only open the boot/trunk with the key or a lever down by the drivers seat! The weird thing is the door lock is on the passenger side cause they didn’t move it for the right side drivers position for the UK market. One of the ways the car is way cheaper than anything else.

    • Another reason dealerships suck, they can charge an outrageous amount of money because you only have two choices- pay the $800 for the fob…..or walk.

    • “OK, so off to the dealer I go. EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS! For one fob, including the programming.”

      They don’t call it a “stealership” for nothing…

  17. ‘That’s how they obsolete you into buying the “latest thing.”’ — eric

    Which went from being next year’s model back in Ike & Mamie days to the next-gen model (every 4 to 8 years) in the early 21st century.

    But now, by executive decree (speak not of democracy, little citizen) the ‘latest thing’ is to be the EeeVeeee of your choice, with optional longer-range batteries for only a few thousand more. Such a deal!

    Doug Casey puts it well: ‘The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones, and the hydrocarbon age won’t end because we run out of hydrocarbons. But trying to force these things for political and ideological reasons runs a genuine chance of collapsing the economy completely.’

    This Californicator is the technocrat in DeeCeeee writing the rules to take away our toys for good:


    I’m gonna draft a letter to ‘Doctor’ Steve, let it marinate for a few days, then hone it into a real multipurpose mindfuck before sending it to him — not hostile on its face, but definitely spiced with Doug Casey’s implication that the US fedgov (already abjectly helpless to win wars or ‘fight inflation’) probably is screwing the pooch on an empire-ending, Soviet scale.

    Let’s part the curtain and show you the looming abyss, ‘Doctor’ Steve.

    They’re going to destroy
    Our casual joys
    We shall go on playing or find a new town

    — The Doors, Strange Days


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