Any parts on modern cars being made blatantly disposable?


#1

My recent experiences with some cheaper consumer grade lawn equipment has fully convinced me that the manufacturers intended on it being fully disposable no matter how well you care for it. I had a nice 7HP Briggs engine that always had torque like mad. Then it began to really lose power and bog easily. I checked the valve lash and adjusted. This improved things but not by enough to matter. The real problem was that the camshaft is made of PLASTIC and that the cam lobes had basically worn down to nothing. It was hard to start and wheezy and would only stay running at a high RPM. It barely had enough power to sustain itself at low RPM and finally got to the point where it would overheat after a few minutes and shut off. I always liked this engine and thought about replacing the camshaft but it had gotten to burning quite a bit of oil so junked and and replaced it with a Honda GCV160 series on the same deck. That engine was pulled in perfect shape from a deck that had rusted through.

I got to looking at a parts diagram for the Honda and it also uses a PLASTIC camshaft as well as a timing belt which “will last the life of the engine.” Apparently these have broken or popped off the sprockets on many people and there are DIY Youtube videos on how to replace them. My gut tells me the average person is going to roll an otherwise perfectly good mower out to the curb when this happens. For now, the donor Honda is working great on the old deck I had been using but I wonder how long that will last.

Then there is the Briggs and Stratton engine that came out over the past few years where they claim it never needs an oil change for the life of the engine. They probably also have a plastic camshaft riding against steel flat tappet lifters to limit the life of the engine.

I am curious how many cars/car parts have gone this direction. I know many parts are now plastic but this isn’t really a bad thing for many applications and may actually be better. For example, some valve covers and intakes are now plastic. Body panels are plastic. These resist minor denting and rusting much better than steel. Overall it seems that most modern cars will go farther and farther between maintenance and will last longer than ever before because of improvements in machining, materials engineering, lubrication, and such.

In my line of work (computers/electronics) I seem to be dealing with products, especially the consumer grade, being made to a lower and lower standard with each new model. They are also being made harder to service to the cost to service meets or exceeds the cost of a new unit. I had a laptop in from Wal-Mart with a failed component. The problem was that everything was integrated onto the motherboard so the entire motherboard required replacement instead of just the failed component. Business grade models are not made this way.

Any cars going this way as of yet? I know many would consider the Chrysler 2.7 to be a disposable engine but how about something current that really limits the life of a car?


#2

How about battery powered TPMS transmitters inside tires?
They get my vote as a really stupid, what can possibly go wrong, idea.
It wasn’t broke(n), but they fixed it! I own cars that use the already existing ABS sensors to detect low tire pressure. They have worked great.

I’ve got cars with the transmitters.
The transmitter type is supposed to tell the pressure and tire location, but I’d bet there are cars running around with tires in “wrong” locations because the TPMS was never taught the locations after a tire rotation AND I’d bet there are now thousands of vehicles running around with burned out transmitters.
CSA


#3

I guess I was meaning something expensive that could total the car. I know that the timing chain was also a weak link on the Chrysler 2.7. If one broke or jumped time that was the end for most of those cars. I guess some of the Ford 5.4s with cam phasers were notorious although you can pretty much keep driving them with noisy engines not operating at peak performance/efficiency.


#4

It’s been a race to the bottom for a while now since the big boys decided globalization was the best way to make money. Consumer grade small engines though were never meant to last long. In the old days, the engines were rated for somewhere around 200 hours of use before they should be thrown away. I think you really need to get into the commercial grade before you get things with metal instead of plastic or bearings instead of bushings, etc. I’ve got 500 hours on my V twin and hold my breath every time I use it because I don’t see anything as a good replacement.


#5

I have no love lost for TPMS devices but a few thoughts, The ABS wheel speed sensor driven TPMS doesn’t show enough accuracy (less than 5 psi, I think) to meet the federal spec so the transmitter types were installed. It doesn’t really matter if the car “knows” which corner they are on IF the system doesn’t tell you the corner and pressure. My Mustangs don’t tell me which corner has a low tire nor the pressure so I don’t bother to “re-teach” the system when I rotate tires. If the TPMS transmitter has a dead battery, a warning light appears and is ignored much like CEL’s glowing all the time. If it runs, ignore it.

As for throw-away parts. Yes, essentially. Wiper motors, seat motors and many other actuators used to be assembled with screws. You could clean comms and replace brushes. Now, they are sonic welded, crimped or riveted. Not meant to be serviced. Most electronic parts are that way in cars. A few transmissions did not have service parts available. They had to be used as a core for a factory rebuilt or brand new transmission ($$$). Engines are getting close. Your basic crate motor is the standard for replacement or hot-rodded cars these days.

But throw-away parts may not have the same meaning to you given the comments about plastic camshaft lobes. Throw-away doesn’t have to mean cheap, low durability parts.


#6

“Race to the bottom” is a good way to describe this… This article which I like to hand out to people who bring me cheap junkers says it exactly the same: http://www.zdnet.com/article/culture-of-cheap-how-discount-computers-cost-the-consumer/

As for mowers, this one says it all: http://www.fastcompany.com/54763/man-who-said-no-wal-mart

Basically I come across junker rider mowers that the owner has given up on and put out to pasture quite often. I see them sitting in the back with flat tires and stuff growing around them and ask about them. They often say “You can have it if you haul it off.” I have come across a lot of engines this way. The Kohler Courage is the junky consumer grade as are the standard Briggs units. They don’t hold up to the load I put on them. The Kohler Command as well as the Briggs Vanguard are the only way to go if you ask me. These are commercial grade and don’t just come apart at the drop of a hat. Kawasaki and Subaru-Robin also make a good product but you have to pay.

Some of the junk mowers are an easy fix like cleaning out the carb while others are good for parts only and the rest goes off as scrap.

It doesn’t seem like this mentality has really hit cars yet but I suspect it will. People no longer care if they have to replace something once a year as long as it was “cheap” when it could have lasted 10 years or longer if they bought something of quality. The only reason this may not be as popular with cars is the finance industry. No one would finance something that would be disposable before it is paid for.


#7

ABS tire pressure sensors don’t work well at all. They only work well if ONE tire is low. If all 4 of them lose air pressure equally (like, transitioning from summer to winter) the system will never know, because the individual wheel RPM measurements will agree with each other. And even when they do go off, you don’t know which tire it is until you check the pressure of all of them unless you can visibly see that one is low, which can be hard for some people to do on low-profile, stiff sidewall tires.

Individual sensors are far and away superior to the idiot light system the ABS method uses. You change the batteries when you change the tires. It costs an extra 20 bucks for the whole job. It’s not that big of a deal. I’ve never had a sensor go out on me, and having the individual tire pressures displayed for each wheel is a very handy, quick way to check pressures (yes, I have verified the sensors’ accuracy against a known good tire gauge).


#8

I find “left for dead” motor scooters and get them running again, just for fun. People will not provide even basic service for a machine that costs a few thousand dollars. If the service fee is 10% of the price of the machine, they skip the service and run it until it breaks, then walk away. Years ago I used to pick up vacuum cleaners off the curb on big trash day, because they always worked after I cleaned them out. I still replace appliance cords that break inside the insulation, if I can get into the housing. TV remotes often stop working because they get dirty between the flexible conductive push pad layer and the printed circuit board. Open it up, wipe off the pc board and the push pad layer with alcohol, and they work great again. People buy generic replacements instead.

New cars do last a long time now, but new small appliances not so much. It’s just another sign of our wasteful, thoughtless approach to consumption.


#9

If anything, cars are being made more non-blatantly-disposable than ever. I’ve got over 100k on my Acura now, and the thing still drives and looks like a brand new car. I changed the spark plugs on schedule at 105k and they looked nearly new. Probably could have left 'em in for another 100k miles. If I didn’t live in a state that is guaranteed to rust the poor thing out eventually, I have little doubt that the engine would last me half a million miles, minimum. The other stuff in the car like the nav system and the stereo might not, but it would still be a viable mode of transportation.

I remember when I was a kid, if you had a car get to 100k miles, it was a BIG deal. As-in, the neighbors would come over and gawk at your odometer big. Cars today are pretty amazing. You can do almost nothing to them but tires and oil changes for the first hundred thousand, and then people find out what mileage you have and say things like “aww, that’s just a baby!” That didn’t happen much in the old days.


#10

Modern cars seem to have good powertrains and such. The electronics, HVAC controls, and all seem to be more of a pain, likely due to increased complexity and more to go wrong. The one thing is that it doesn’t seem like modern cars are made to take ABUSE like cars of the past. I guess this is because of lighter materials and tighter tolerances. An old car without emissions sensors could probably run fine burning a quart of oil every 100 miles or so but a modern car wouldn’t run like this long. Sensors would foul and something would give up inside the engine.

My dad says he in no way misses the cars of the era he grew up in. He will be the first one to tell you that a modern car is hands down a better option and that he thinks people taking long trips down Route 66 and all in an old car are stupid. He said tire blowouts used to be common, blown hoses used to be common, among other things. He said cars would just overheat under load even with nothing wrong if put to the test. There would be rust holes showing through in less than 5 years.

Basically cars seem to be the one consumer product not going completely disposable these days from what it seems. I mean you can’t buy a vacuum or many other small appliance type products that aren’t throwaway unless you go to a store that specializes in such equipment. My parents will go to a small appliance store each time rather than the big box retailer. They compare the specs and the warranty and going with the small appliance store product that costs more is a no brainer. With me, buying a cheap computer that is almost a sealed unit and intended to be thrown away and not repaired is a dumb idea.

I remember someone telling me about a certain model of car where the automatic transmission was sealed and not serviceable even for fluid changes. The fluid lasted the life of the car or at least the transmission. I think this was some type of Chevy Cavalier but not sure. Back at this time it was likely a 100,000 mile car so that might have been just fine. Again, it was made to be disposable.

I seem to also recall a certain model of Chrysler engine that went into the Neons and such having non-replaceable main bearings. Again, this wasn’t an expensive car and people were probably unlikely to care about rebuilding the engines.


#11

The higher the cost of labor to make it and the difficulty in finding and paying for someone to fix it… the more throwaway things will become.

It is expensive to hire and pay people. An assembler that gets $12 an hour costs at least $20 and hour in real costs. Employer matching contributions to SS and Medicare, mandated health benefits, unemployment insurance and workman’'s comp and maybe a contribution to a 401K PLUS the administrative costs to administer, records keep and accounting. Not to mention whatever floorspace needed for locker rooms, break rooms, parking lots, tools for the employee, safety gear and disposibles. That $25,000 a year employee costs at least $42K. And he likely only brings home $19.5K depending on where he lives. And those costs have just gone up and up over the years,

Now find a trained service person maybe making $45K and costing the employer $75K/yr that you charge $90/hr for retail. Tough to justify and hour or 2 fixing a wiper motor that you can by new for $125.


#12

Most of the plastic fuel tanks nowadays blatantly have the recycling triangle symbol . . . with the number inside the triangle

So not only is the tank recyclable, but you even know what KIND of plastic it is

What would the trash guy say if you actually DID put your old plastic fuel tank in the blue container . . . or on top of it


#13

Agreed, Shadowfax. Many of us remember when cars came with five-digit odometers because almost none of them made it to 100,000 miles. I have a 2009 Hyundai Accent with 98,000 miles and it has needed almost nothing and still runs like new–and this was basically the cheapest car you could buy when it was new. The dependability and durability of modern cars is nothing short of astounding.


#14

I wouldn’t classify it as blatant, but the intrusion of computer-electronics technology into cars makes it more difficult to keep them on a road for a really long time, at least in their stock configuration. It’s not uncommon at all to see an air cooled 1960’s VW Beetle on the road here in San Jose in near-stock configuration. The engine and carb and transmission might have been rebuilt a half-dozen times of course over the years. But still the original configuration. But I doubt that’ll be possible for 1990’s Corolla’s and Civics 30 years hence, not b/c of drivetrain problems, but b/c when the engine computer coughs its last breath, sourcing a replacement might prove impossible. It’ll be possible to just replace the engine of course, if you don’t mind a non-stock configuration.


#15

Aftermarket computers are available. DIYAutotune makes completely configurable computers that can run anything from a 2 cylinder to a 12 cylinder engine, NA supercharged or whatever you want. It is do-able. But if you want “stock” why bother. Your basic 90’s Corolla will run 300,000 miles and wear-out parts are readily available. No different than an air cooled VW. High production volumes will keep parts available for decades to come.

Now my wife’s Saab is another matter. That car may someday get an ECU transplant. Who knows?


#16

I agree that common cars such as a Civic, Accord, Corolla, Camry, and the like will have parts around a very long time. Something like a Saab might be a different story. I also agree that a basic Kia and Hyundai are much better than basic cars of years past. Another bonus is that they no longer include timing belts on many cars. I am sure these were unpopular because so many people neglected the change interval and trashed an otherwise perfectly good engine. Most cheap cars like the Nissan Versa, Mitsubishi Mirage, Chevy Spark, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, and the like use timing chains these days. I had the oil fill cap off the Mirage when my GF first got her’s and she was asking what the thing that looked like a bicycle chain was. I told her that was the timing chain. Her old car had a timing belt and was an interference engine. It was well past the change interval so I insisted on changing this soon after we started dating. She thought this was the worst idea to have a part that could fail like this and ruin the engine. This just pissed her off and not having one on her replacement car was at the top of the list. The timing belt actually didn’t kill her old car. It was the head gasket or related.


#17

The good news about those 90’s Hondas is that the ECUs almost never die. The other good news is that this was the era when the ECU was the ECU. The cars did not have 52 computers scattered throughout. Air conditioning was handled by a lever hooked up to a cable, not a body control module. Brakes were handled by a vacuum-assist system and the closest thing to a computer on them was the fluid level sensor in the master cylinder reservoir.

The last good news, if you can call it that, is that a lot of kids drive them, which means a lot of them get wrecked, which means there are a lot of ECUs available for $25 a pop at junkyards.

Not that I begrudge my Acura’s automatic climate control (which even tracks the position of the sun and adjusts each side’s blower power accordingly! That’s amazing!) or ABS system – but I’m under no illusions that those systems will be trouble-free for the entire viable life of the car.

Of course, the tradeoff as mentioned above is that the Acura is already well past what used to be considered a stunning lifespan for a car, and so if stuff starts breaking… Well, not too long ago the entire car would be junk by now, so I’m still ahead of the game compared to what my parents/grandparents drove.


#18

I believe that all new/newer cars are made to be disposable,one small accident and the insurance company totals it because all those sensors and electronic gizmos cost a fortune.Plus they are made with so much plastic and fiberglass that they are designed to fall apart in an accident in order to absorb some of the impact.
Anything that you have to finance for 5 years shouldnt be made to be disposable.when it comes to cars the older the better,you can do a lot of repairs on an older car for a lot less than the price of a new car. Just think of how much you could repair your old car with $30,000, you could buy a brand new engine and have it installed in your old car every year for 10 years with $30,000.obviously you wouldnt do that but that just puts the high cost of new cars in perspective.
I firmly believe it`s always cheaper to repair an older car than it is to get rid of it and buy a new one.


#19

Cars do not ‘fall apart in an accident’ - they have crumple zones to absorb the crash. I’d MUCH rather have that, then ME absorb the crash!


#20

While the simple, completely mechanical cars of the 60’s and earlier were easy to fix, they required fixing a lot. There was a thing called a tune-up. Remember that? Points, plugs, carb adjustment, etc., every year or two. Sure you and I could do it in the driveway, but my Mom sure couldn’t, and it was a pain in the butt to her and cost real money, too.

And those cars did pollute! A lot. Some of us remember what they used to call air in the Los Angeles area in the 60’s. I’m sure one mid 60’s car, well tuned and well maintained today pollutes more than 100 new cars. It’s supposed to be nearly impossible to kill yourself with carbon monoxide these days because cars produce so little of it, and the gasses coming out of the exhaust have less particles of dirt than the air going into the air cleaner.

I love fiddling around with old engines and getting them to run well. I still do it often. But for getting people from one place to another new cars are so much better it’s like they are a different thing altogether.