Over the past few decades, I’ve noticed that it’s more and more expensive, and less and less practical, to fix any appliance or electronic item that breaks. For a start, labor costs per hour are prohibitive; then there’s the almost complete absence of critical spare parts, particularly electronic ones. In the old days, a soldering iron and a couple of transistors, or a replacement plug-in card, could fix most things. Today? Fuggetabahtit! The average personal computer used to consist of a fairly simple motherboard, with all peripherals and add-on components on separate, plug-in cards. Nowadays, a motherboard contains everything, and has little or no room to plug in any cards at all. If an essential part of that motherboard fails (e.g. the video interface), you have no choice but to replace the whole thing – and in most cases, the manufacturers won’t sell you a replacement motherboard. No, they want you to buy a whole new computer!
Increasingly, the same applies to motor vehicles. I’d been thinking about it in general terms, but an excellent article today by Eric Peters sheds light on the subject.
Insurance costs are skyrocketing because cars have become too complex, fragile and more disposable.
While they don’t need the regular tuning-up and other minor adjustments cars once needed, when they do need work, it is often extremely expensive – because of the complexity of the components and the specialized diagnostic equipment and highly-trained (and highly expensive) technicians needed to service them competently.
They are also easily damaged. Front and rear clips are made of plastic; hoods and fenders of extremely thin gauge metal (often, aluminum) in order to shave weight and increase mileage (to comply with government MPG fatwas) with the result being that what used to be minor fender-benders are now major accidents, in terms of repair costs – and these costs are necessarily being reflected in insurance costs. While the insurance mafia is despicable – any business that uses the government to force people to buy its services is despicable – one cannot blame them for adjusting premium costs to reflect repair costs.
Also, throw-away costs.
Cars now have so many air bags – the average new car has at least six – that the chances of the car being declared a total loss (economically unrepairable) in the event of a relatively minor – and otherwise repairable – accident are high. It can cost several thousand dollars to replace just two air bags – and all the related interior parts destroyed when the air bags go off. This is before one adds up the cost to repair damaged body panels. Most insurance companies will write-off a car as a total loss if the estimated cost to fix it exceeds 50 percent of its retail value.
Getting to 50 percent isn’t hard when a car is say four or five years old, worth 60 percent what you paid for it – and the wreck you just had will take $10,000 to repair (a third of that cost being the cost to replace the air bags that went off).
A car that cost $35,000 when it was new – the average purchase price of a 2018 model car – is effectively worthless after just a few years or a fairly minor accident. It is a lot of money to just throw away.
There’s more at the link, focusing particularly on why vehicle ownership is set to decrease drastically, simply because motorists can no longer afford to buy their own transport. Increasingly, “rental as you need it” is going to be the only affordable option. Highly recommended reading.
You might think that driving an older, more “repairable” vehicle will allow you to avoid these problems. Not so much . . . Many manufacturers are no longer producing OEM spare parts. You have to rely on cheap Far Eastern knockoff components, where the quality is at best questionable, at worst abysmal. Even there, only the more popular parts are being produced in economical quantities. Try to find something hard-to-get, and you’ll pay through the nose. Furthermore, many parts are now only available as complete sub-assemblies. For example, on my wife’s car, a front headlight must now be bought as a complete assembly, even though only one bracket is defective. You simply can’t buy the bracket on its own – at least, not from the manufacturer. Additive manufacturing (so-called “3D printing“) is supposed to help alleviate this problem, but I haven’t yet seen any reports of it making a significant difference.
Therefore, your old beater car will remain a good, low-cost solution, unless and until you can’t get the parts you need to keep it on the road. We might end up like Cuba, where thousands of pre-revolution cars had to be kept going for decades with ingenuity, handmade parts and other workarounds, because there were no replacement vehicles available.
There’s also the growing issue of self-driving cars and automated vehicle safety systems. As we’ve observed in these pages before, once cities have installed the necessary roadside hardware to more efficiently and effectively control vehicles fitted with such systems, they’re going to want all vehicles without them to be removed from the roads. It makes sense from the point of view of control, after all – no mavericks wanted! They’ll protest that they aren’t confiscating our private vehicles; we merely have to bring them into compliance with “modern road safety standards” if we want to drive them on their roads. Since it’ll be technically impossible to bring them into compliance . . . well, that’s our problem, isn’t it?
I have a nasty feeling that the next vehicle Miss D. and I buy will have to last us for a long time, because its replacement will be either unaffordable, or so automated that we won’t be allowed to drive it ourselves. We’ll have to allow a computer to operate it, and carry us hither and yon – if, and only if, it condescends to agree with what we want.
Neither prospect pleases.