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Planned Obsolescence

November 9, 2011

I have an allergy.

I’m allergic to depreciation.  We own but one car, a 1996 Geo Tracker.  We bought said car as a ‘learner’ car for the girls; when we quit the mainland and moved to Key West, we sold everything save two cars – a magnificent 1995 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon, and the crusty-yet trusty Geo.

I have a couple of secrets I’d like to share with you, and the aforementioned car serves to illustrate them:

Secret #1 – The purchase of a new car is quite possibly the most asinine thing one may do with one’s money, save for perhaps gambling and snorting cocaine.  The estimated rate of depreciation on an average new car is over $500 a month – that’s money which goes away and never comes back. $17 a day spend just to have a car sitting in the drive – you’ve not insured it, no gas in the tank.  Tack on another $250 a month for insurance and fuel – now you’re at $750 a month.

The arguments for a new car are equally as idiotic.  “I want peace of mind – that it won’t leave me stranded, and that it has a warranty.” Horsepucky. Modern cars a stupidly bulletproof, and damned near every idiot I see driving down the road has a cell phone plastered on their ear – if one does get hit by the lighting bolt of mechanical failure, relief is but a phone call and a short wait away.  If todays driver’s had to endure the trials and travails if their motorist ancestors, hell…they’d never leave the driveway.

No – it’s possible to drive an older car some time and distance without issue.  Exhibit “A”:

A 1972 Opel 1900.  Paid $900 for it off a back lot in Southern California.  Used it as a daily driver for several years, then sold it in 2006 for $2500.  Did it break from time to time?  Yes.  Was it worth it?  Well, considering it was sold for more than the initial puchase price, maintenance and repairs…Yes again.  I drove a car for the cost of insurance and gas for 40,000 miles.  Closest comparison is my wife’s last car, which we leased for about the same amount of time.  Total cost of lease?  $9,000.  That’s easy math – driving Maggie the Opel was $9,000 cheaper.

Exhibit “B”:

Shortly after Alicia was born, I bought the Pheebs a 1956 Chrysler.  The one in the photo is a ’55 – a later acquisition.  I paid $700 for the car; I had to spend several months whipping it into shape, including a paint job.  It became the Pheebs’ daily driver for the next four years, and it  never left her stranded – ever.  I sold it for more than we had in it – yet another free car.

So – buying an older car is the hot ticket, right?  Well..not so much these days, which brings us to the next point.

Secret #2 – Modern (as in post 1970 cars) are designed to die.  Yes, that’s right – they are designed to fail after a given period of time.  It’s in their DNA.

Want proof?  Easy.  Go to Ebay, and type in Ford Galaxie.  See how many are available for sale.  At the time of this posting, 59 were listed on Ebay.  They stopped making them in 1970, I believe.

Now type in Ford Granada, followed by Ford Fairmont.  Add those numbers together.  The total at time of writing?  Three.

Ford Escorts?  Absolutely none of the first generation Escorts, built from 1981-1990.


How is this possible?  Well, as near as I can tell, around 1970 the automakers really started to use large amounts of plastic everywhere in the vehicle.  This plastic begins to break down 15-20 years out, causing all sorts of issues. Where plastic in the car is a significant problem is in electrical componentry; its degradation causes failure.  The gorgeous Estate Wagon at the top of the post was pristine, yet the plastic bits started failing all at once – load leveling system, harmonic balancer rubber, memory seat electronics, and then the last straw – an optically triggered electronic ignition system which cost $1500 to replace. Near the end, I was epoxying trim tabs and resetting trim moldings every other month.

To add insult to injury, the manufacturer stopped carrying repair parts after about ten years.  A $30,000 car new, it was impossible to maintain after the supply of parts ran out 15 years later.  It was, in effect, a disposable car – as are all modern cars.

The Geo’s DNA is in process of breaking down.  Plastic bits are as fragile as eggshells, and the stock of repair parts are dwindling.  Time for it to go.

The replacement?

Well, I learned something from my Dad.  He bought a car in 1973 – a car which he still has today…A 1929 Model A.  There’s virtually no plastic in a Model A (save for a Bakelite steering wheel and shift knob) and the aftermarket industry is strong enough that if one has a rebuildable engine block, one may build a complete car out of spare parts!  And no – after 38 years of ownership, the car has never stranded him, even when he took it to the top of Pike’s Peak.

So – how does one beat the depreciation and planned obsolescence bugs?

With a bug!  Early VW’s (pre 1967) had very little plastic, and since millions were made, it’s possible to build a bug with spare parts.  Full pan off resotrations are available for about $10,000, or the cost of a well-used car.

So – we look forward to whipping planned obsolescence into submission shortly by avoiding bad DNA and buying a car which, maintained properly, should last as long as Pop’s Model A.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. jeff permalink
    November 9, 2011 12:29 am

    Oh, you got the Bug bug too. Carls lil jobbie he’s doing up for the boy is cool. My buddies here are doing a neat dune buggy, my other buddy just got a corvair….. the simple rear motor stuff has bit me too.

  2. dangerboyandpixie permalink*
    November 9, 2011 1:39 am

    It was a logical progression. The Geo has a rusted flange in the pipe between the header and the cat – the pipe alone is $500. That’s insane. The dash controls are breaking off as we use it, and the remaining dark plastic bits are turning white from UV radiation.

    Selection criteria were simplicity, serviceability and economy with a minimm of plastic bits to fail in the nearly tropical Key West sun. My Sportster was the clue; I can break a part on it at 3:00 in the afternoon and have its replacement on my doorstep before noon – and that’s just about anything on the bike.

    A similar vintage Honda is disposable by comparison.

    The Beetle is the only post 1960 small car I can find with a full array of aftermarket parts.

    I found a really nice one up in Connecticut. I have to think about the $$ amount, but it’s a pan off resto with a properly built 1.9 liter motor and trans. I don’t have the place or the time to do it myself – and besides, a done one (assuming it’s done right) bought outright is cheaper than doing it myself.

  3. November 9, 2011 8:51 am

    Are you sure you weren’t writing about me too? Got some DNA issues breaking down like my poor little GEO. Poot! The bug is very cute. If only I had easily available replacement parts too.


    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      November 9, 2011 5:34 pm

      I’m pretty sure your obsolescence is unplanned. Let’s see what we can do to properly maintain you.

  4. November 9, 2011 6:46 pm

    Interesting decision… I used to work for a guy that would never buy a foreign car. Wonder what he’s doing. 😉

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      November 10, 2011 12:29 am

      He’s being pragmatic.

      With GM being run bey a cell phone dweebie with a loud mouth and no industry experience, Chrysler being reduced to Fiat USA by an egomaniac, and Ford the only company left standing…There’s just not that much to choose from. The closest analog is to buy a 1st gen Mustang, but their propensity for rusting out is so great that it would be gone inside of five years. A Beetle, by comparison, is a fairly solid little beastie, and when (not if) a drunk ass idiot tourist whaps the fender on a drive by, the fender gets unbolted and replaced for $200. Cheaper than an insurance deductible.

      My job (at the time) was to insure the office understood where their bread was buttered; as I shift gears, I have to do what’s best for my family – and this makes sense. Besides – it was made abundantly clear in 2008 the GOP has no interest in supporting an American auto industry, as it does not serve Mr. McConnell’s constituency.

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