Are OLD CARS more RELIABLE? Planned obsolescence and SUSTAINABILITY in the AUTO INDUSTRY

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“They don’t make them like they used to!” I’m sure you heard someone say this when talking about cars, or maybe it’s something you think too. But is it really true? Are older cars more reliable, easier to maintain and capable of longer lifespans? Are car manufacturers using planned obsolescence to make sure their cars don’t last much past the warranty period so we’re forced into buying new ones? Today we’re going to answer all of these questions

Let’s start from the basics. What do car manufacturers do? Obviously they make cars. Why do they make cars? So they could sell them for a profit. Car manufacture is a manufacturing business like any other. Making pots and pans, computers, shoes, etc. You manufacture things and sell them for a profit. If there’s no profit you go bankrupt and the company ceases to exist. So profit for car companies is like air for humans, without it we die.
To ensure their cars sell well car manufacturers have to meet the needs and expectations of the consumers and at the same time they also have to abide by various government regulations. Both the expectations of the consumers and the standards of government regulations are constantly on the rise. Consumers want ever better, faster, safer, and more attractive cars while governments want the cars to have ever lower emissions and environmental impact.

Obviously to meet all of these demands car manufacturers must make the cars more complex. The more complex they are the more parts they have, the more parts there are the higher the chances of failure right? On top all of this cars must be competitively priced so car manufacturers must somehow cut costs while at the same time increasing the number of parts. So this explains the plastic thermostat housing? It was made from plastic not because car manufacturers are evil but because they had to cut cost somewhere to keep the car competitively priced while meeting government regulations and consumer expectations. It’s the rapidly changing world that forced them to make plastic thermostat housings as well as plastic valve covers, water pumps, intake manifolds and more.

Well yes, cars have become a lot more complex over the years and as such they obviously require a lot more engineering and more parts and this does to an extent increase the possibility of failure. But there’s also an illusion that many of us have when it comes to the reliability of old cars. Many modern cars can easily do 150.000 miles without any major servicing or overhauls. In fact there’s a number of them that manage to do 500.000 miles and more. Back in the 60s and 70s a car that did more than 100.000 miles was considered “over the hill”, I mean they had 5 digit odometers that would roll over to zero when the car hit 100.000 miles. But by the 80s and throughout the 90s technology and quality control had become so good that factories gave birth to some truly memorable machines that seem to refuse to die. Even today, 30-40 years later there’s a high number of these cars still going strong on the road and racking up miles. But we also mustn’t forget that many of these cars are on the road because they’re exceptionally well taken care of and constantly maintained. Whether it is vehicle value, rarity, emotional attachment or something else, owners are willing to go to great lengths to keep certain old cars alive. For example the amount of money I had to spend to make and keep my 1987 Toyota MR2 roadworthy would be more than unacceptable for a newer car.

But here’s the elephant in the room, the Government regulations that only concern themselves with emissions and safety while the car is on the road. There are absolutely no laws and rules that tell manufacturers how long a car’s lifespan should be or how repairable or easy to maintain a vehicle should be. This means that manufacturers are completely free to make things like alternators and other components that cost a small fortune but aren’t serviceable. Or they can make components that are comprised of multiple parts fused into one. Of course when only a small part fails you have to replace the entire thing. Often the cost of these components can be as high as a third or even half the value of a 5 year old car. Of course all of this can easily be justified because it contributes to a 0.5% reduction in emissions and that’s all government regulations at this point care about.

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38 COMMENTS

  1. As a technician that works on cars daily . New cars are completely made to fail.. new cars are mostly junk.. the best cars were made in japan from 1990-2010 especially if they did not change much from the previous model so no CVT or other untested parts added.. if you want a car that last 600k in harsh environment it has to be an older japanese toyota or Honda.

  2. Good analysis of sustainability. The energy needed to recycle and separate different materials that are bonded together as in batteries and solar panels is not considered by the lobbyist for electric cars.

  3. The content of this post is very similar to something I've ranted about for years, and that's fuel economy. Fleetwide fuel economy of most manufacturers didn't change for about 350 years (average fuel economy in 2015 was roughly the same as it was in 1980) It's only since about 2015 that fuel economy has started increasing, and that's due to regulations for carbon emissions–manufacturers are making vehicles more efficient today because they have to.

    While cars in 2015 on average have as much fuel economy as they did in 1980, it's not because engines aren't more efficient. They are. They're MUCH more efficient. It's just that cars are making the same efficiency at higher performance, rather than higher efficiency at the same performance. For decades 30mpg has been the gold standard for "good" fuel economy, and I've questioned that for a long time. How is today's "good" fuel economy set to the same standard as a 1955 Volkswagen?

    Why is this? Which would you rather buy: A car that makes 150hp and gets 48mpg or one that makes 250HP and gets 30mpg (pulling numbers out of thin air to make a point)? Not many people will buy the 150hp car because horsepower sells more vehicles than fuel economy does.

    The only time people care about fuel economy is when gas/diesel prices are high. And this leads to another stupid consumer behavior: People will buy cars based on the price of fuel. When fuel prices go up, sales of large trucks goes down and hybrid vehicle sales go up. For my part, I think it's foolish to base a multi-year financial obligation based on pricing that could change by mid-afternoon.

    So the next time you feel like complaining about the price of fuel, know that it's your fault for not wanting to buy that economical, slow vehicle. It's not "big oil," it's stupid consumer behavior.

    Note: I say this as someone who drives a car that has horrible fuel economy, by my standards–I'm willing to shoulder that cost for the fun factor.

  4. I love your cute naivety (or nicely written propaganda) but the "no legal requirement for cars to last beyond manufacturers warranty" is an absolute nonsense. Especially in Europe.

  5. I beg to differ about planned obsolescence. I believe whole heartedly that everything should be built with no foreseable failure mode. These vehicles should be considered as they were in the past, multigenerational vehicles. The price point should also reflect that. Cars should also be made more modular, where if the engine fails a newer version of the engine could easily be fitted. If a new body style comes out, the panels can be swapped and the old panels can be used for repairs or for upgrading to another person's taste. While you say it's wasteful for a manufacturer to design things for functionality beyond a warranty, I say you're wrong. Rather it's wasteful, in the literal sense, for them to do this. Financially it's pragmatic at best, but it is a highly irresponsible mode of operation which diminishes the entire world.

  6. I can not say that cars have planned expiry date, but motorcycles are closer and closer to this idea. For example thermostats on many Hondas are now located almost on top of an engine. This reliably cooks them in about 30-50000 miles. Fuel pumps on a BMW are unlikely to survive past that mark as well. Consider a VFR 800fi honda produced 1998 to 2001 – an almost indestructible engine that can last a million miles with gear driven cams and little service needed on a sportbike! 2002 total rework that demands servicing valves every 6000 miles. The thing got more expensive, less reliable and had practically zero change in performance.

  7. Nothing is black and white. Thank you for articulating that so very well. If fellow car enthusiasts made up the majority of the market, vehicles would be made very different. My personal view to the solution of this problem is doing what YOU can do. For me, if I could afford a brand new vehicle, I would take that budget and get a older vehicle that has a strong cult following that is rust free. When a vehicle has a cult following the top shelf after market parts and services are ten fold better quality than any oem parts. At least here in the US. What’s left of that budget after purchase, would be invested in the vehicle to”save it from its self” . Other than that, if we all make enough noise, someone will see the opportunity, and start manufacturing, simple, reliable vehicles we would buy, even if they were more expensive, we know they will save us money in the long run.

  8. EVs degraded batteries can be used in 2nd life as stationary buffer to benefit the grid, also the technology is getting better every year, i expect a useful lifespan of 20+ years soon, and then most materials can be recycled.

    the fuel used by a ICE is just gone 🤷

  9. This is why I love my 2001 mx5. It’s cheap, it runs well with only the basic service every few thousand miles, I can get around 40mpg when I behave, it has a nice interior, and with the addition of a new pioneer head unit with Apple CarPlay, it has most of the creature comforts I want in a car.

  10. In the 80s I traded in my BMW for a Mercedes. That was a HUGE mistake! The Mercedes was much less reliable then the Ferrari, Lotus and Alfa Romeo I had previously owned.

  11. And yet Toyota and Honda are able to build quality cars in the midst of all the competitive pressures you named. Planned obsolescence in the car industry is worse today than before because so many people lease rather than buy. Mercedes and BMW build their cars just barely good enough to last the first lease period.

  12. You are wrong.

    – My previous car (VW Passat 1.9 tdi made in 2004) serves to my mom and I just needed something more suitable to my needs. I borrow it time to time if I need to move something big. It already has 300k km and is still getting repaired.

    – Bought new and expect it to last at least 10 years with repairs and an adequate maintenance. Also it is sold in Russia, so I am sure parts will be made for long time.

    – It is the first time I bought a new phone not because the previous was was broken. It just had no more updates and therefore could not correctly connect to my car, get some apps I have to use at work. My friend has the phone, because she can destroy one every half year and this one cracks tiles on floor.

    The main problem is there are no good quality parts, many things can't be repaired (have to be replaced) and even if I could pay for better pats, it is not available, or legally usable.

    In my country (CZ) EV does not make sense. No subsidies, lack of chargers, expensive public charging, impossibility to charge it when it stands on the street 600m away and you live on 14th floor.

    Way out might be old simple diesels, which run on anything. Example could be Praga V3S with Tatra 912 engine (air cooled 7.4l engine you could repair with a hammer and 3 wrenches). It could run on vegetable oil, diesel, petrol, jet fuel, ethanol…
    Btw there are many still in daily use although mostly made in 60's. There is still no replacement for such a car.

  13. Anything made out of metal will last when looked after , anything made out of plastic is made to throw away and fill rubbish dumps, that is why older cars last give me a older ford falcon or fairlane with basic fuel injection where the distributor looks after injection not a computer

  14. Well said. Not working in car industry anymore, now in power generation sector and literally no one cares about the environment. It's all profit driven. They would build the biggest wind farm, get the founding for it and scrap it the next day to build a PV field for the next subsidy. It's all greenwashing and marketing to boost the profit.
    My GF once got my old car, a well maintained Golf with over 200k km on the clock. Years later after being threaten like shit it still runs strong but she refuses to do anything on it since she wants a new fancy premium brand car. No chance to convince her keeping it 🙁

  15. Sorry not true,car manufacturers make car last for ,10,20,30 years wen the latter is the way the old reliable cars where manufactured and today usually only for off-roadees and suited for military applications
    The problem is when you pay for something reliable and you get shit.
    1.bmw, merc,and all the other old reliable cars ,that today are shit,but they sell there car as reliable prices ,all these companies are selling less these days.
    2.all the new reliable cars sell much more and people are waking up not do bay shit anymore
    3.all the true reliable cars became icons and worth a ton
    4.toyota and volkswagen are the biggest car sellers just for that reason
    5.all the higher off-road car are all made for min 30y all its a prove that it is possible to make cars reliable.
    All the car companies want to sell you shit ,that you will continue paying forever in parts .

    6.cheers

  16. Great video, but what you're describing is not planned obsolescence that people usually take issue with. It's perfectly reasonable to make a part cheaper and less durable if the product ends up being cheaper for the consumer. Planned obsolescence is disabling or crippling a perfectly good product to force consumers to buy a new one, for example a certain phone manufacturer releasing an update that slows down older iPhones.

  17. This is a perfect example of what happens when engineers ran the show then the bean counters got involved
    Destroyed everything

  18. Old cars are the best cars and relible compared to new cars, and now days new cars are just junk in my eyes, and now this new thing going around about EVs being the future, for me it's not the future its a ruin for the future and disgrace, people just fall for the new trends and think they can live in 2050 in 2020s, now days its ripp off every business wants to ripp consumers, its shame that now days people just buying new cars and not many appreciate what they have or can get for the money instead buy new car. These days its all about these warranties which people fall for and also leasing and changing cars ever 2 to 3 before minimum people would keep a car for 7 years to 10 years and max some kept for 20-30, years, the thing is new cars break and no one wants to fix them people are getting lazy by the technology and schemes that make people get somthing to just throw old away for no reason.

  19. your samsung to fairphone comparison is hugely flawed. Fairphone does not have the logisits or go to market ability to compare with Samsung in any way shape of form. You couldn't walk into a cellphone shop and see a fairphone on sale next to samsung and make a decision, you had to have heard of fairphone, be willing to wait to have one delivered and also trust that a first time manufacturer was going to deliver a product on par with one of the leading giants of the industry.

  20. I believe that 'right to repair' legislation should be enacted globally to reduce the waste from consumer goods including cars. Some OEM's do a great job of producing long-lived reliable vehicles, historically Toyota was king of the heap on this measure. All OEM's could be as durable if they wanted to be or if consumers or governments demanded it. One of the problems as demonstrated in the video, is that first car buyers rarely keep their cars past 3 or 4 years 100 -150,000 km, so not much incentive for them to insist on those qualities.

  21. I own 2 cars both over 25 years old and running perfectly, just keep the maintenance up to them Edit just worked it out make that 30

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