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Disposable Cars?

I just had to replace a 2-year old GE washing machine with a burnt out main control board. With parts, service charges and labor, it would have cost me $450 to repair it. The same washer new is $500 at the 'Depot.

My grandmother still has the Maytag that the builder gave as a bonus when my grandparents bought their house in 1961.

All this got me to thinking: with all the electronics in cars these days - 15 years from now, will dealers still stock the ECU for my cars? The electronic HVAC control panel? The airbag module? Generally, these items aren’t repairable. Are we driving disposable cars?

Yes and no. Yes, when some computer goes 15 years from now, you could be in trouble. No, in that modern cars are lasting much longer, on average, than older (say '60s or '70s) cars. Sure, you could fix them easily, but they rusted apart. A 10 year old 1965 car was OLD, not true today.

Most cars fall into the disposable category. Some are worth keeping alive.
Many parts are available in the aftermarket now but in 15 years who knows. Car makers are only required to support a vehicle for 10 years after the date of manufacture but even that can be a bit iffy at times.

A vehicle discontinued in 2001 or having a part that was last used in that year may turn out to be a nightmare to find a part for and it sometimes requires a computerized nationwide search of other dealers backrooms before the part can be found; if at all.
Items such as electronic modules, EATC controls, etc. could very well turn out to be very difficult items to procure.

I was in an appliance/heating/A/C repair shop several months ago looking for an obscure electronic part. While waiting for the owner to get back I got to looking over some repaired washers, dryers, refrigerators, etc. and was stunned at some of the repair bills on some of these units.

Several somewhat scruffy washers were sitting there with 7-800 dollar + repair bill tags on them. One dryer had a 400 dollar bill agsinst it. Makes no sense at all to me to spend that kind of money on something that appearance wise looks to be worth 75 bucks and can be purchased new for the same amount or less.

I’m sorry to hear that you have had the same type of negative experience with a modern GE appliance that so many other consumers have experienced. Unfortunately, GE’s kitchen appliances (with the sole exception of their ranges) are now extremely trouble-prone and most people never buy them again after experiencing very early failure of expensive components.

That being said, salvage yards will continue to be a source of replacement parts for cars for many years after those models go out of production. In reality, even the worst-quality car of today is ultimately more durable than cars of yesteryear. Yes, certain parts will fail over time, but when the OEM supply is exhausted, the after-market companies will have many, if not most, of these parts available. Will they be cheap? Probably not, but if one wants to keep the old buggy running, after-market parts can usually fill the bill, and if not, then there are always salvage yards.

It really hurts me to have to throw something away that could be repaired if the parts were available at a reasonable cost. Electronic equipment has become a disposable item. My television set went out in an electrical storm a couple of years ago. There was a warning on the back that said “NO USER SERVICEABLE PARTS INSIDE”. I decided to open it up anyway rather than pay a technician $50 to come and pronounce the set dead. What I found was a fuse that had burned out. I replaced it and the set played perfectly. Consumer Reports suggests that if the repairs are going to cost half or more of the cost of a new item to just replace the item. I had the transmission go on my rototiller. I paid a shop $20 to tell me that the cost of repair would be over $300. I paid about $375 for the tiller about eight years ago. I picked the tiller up and was able to obtain a replacement transmission from Sears for a total cost of $185. I have a mulching lawnmower that I bought in 1992. It has an aluminum deck. The piston rings wore out in the engine making it difficult to start, but an excellent mosquito fogger. Even though people told me I was crazy, I bought a short block and fixed the engine. I could have purchased a cheap mower for less than the short block, but the stamped steel decks rust out after 5 years.

I remember back in the 1940’s through the mid 1960’s that the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs each had a couple of pages of rebuilt engines for automobiles. Many people seemed to be more inclined to keep their present vehicles going in those days. On the other hand, as others have said, a 1965 car was old after 10 years. I do think, however, that the mark-up on parts, particularly electronic components, need not be as high. I’ll bet that the electronic control board for your washing machine probably cost no more than $25 to manufacture and could probably be installed in half an hour or less.

Part of the reason electronic devices have become disposable is because the cost keeps coming. I have a 27" TV I bought 15 years ago that cost $800. Today I can buy a 27" flat screen HD for $500. Most electronics have come DOWN in price. Autos haven’t.

Most cars that I’ve seen it’s still cheaper to keep it running with repairs then to buy a new one. The problem is when a critical part fails that you can’t find anymore. But those cases are very rare. Pretty much ANY electronic part that fails no matter WHAT the problem is…it’s almost ALWAYS cheaper to just replace it. Just recently I had a GE microwave die on me. It was only 5 years old. I could fix it myself, but the part was $200. I bought a new LG for $250. I really don’t see that situation too much in cars.

As for GE…I’ve been very very very disappointed with GE appliances in the past 10 years. I’ll never buy one again. I also have a 60+ year old GE/Hotpoint refrigerator that I bought 30 years ago for $50 and haven’t put one dime into it. I KNOW I KNOW…I’m probably wasting more money just running it’s now where near as efficient as a new one…But I just HATE to throw something this reliable away. It’s like part of the family. I’ve had 2 refrigerators fail on me the past 25 years…and this Hotpoint frig just keeps on running. Good thing I had it around so I could keep my food from spoiling when the other frig’s failed.

“I remember back in the 1940’s through the mid 1960’s that the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs each had a couple of pages of rebuilt engines for automobiles.”

My father had a '48 Plymouth until the late '60s. My mother nicknamed it “high boy”. I remember vaguely (I was maybe 7) in the early '60s he got a rebuilt motor at Sears and a $30 paint job at Earl Scheib. I also remember how cool it was being able to see the road go by before the hole was patched in the floor. I remember my older brothers scrunching down in the back seat because they didn’t want to be seen in the old jalopy. I remember later one of my brothers getting it up to 90MPH with that new Sears motor, and how it hummed so smoothly. When the body got too rusted he gave it to a friend with a farm. He put it on stands and attached a saw blade to one of the rear hubs.

Where the heck is Craig? When I saw this topic, I thought his would be the first reply.

It really depends. If you drive a car that is very common, like a Camry or a Civic, there are so many of them on the road that there will be lots or recycled or refurbished parts for decades, even if they stop making replacement parts. If you drive a car that is rare, you might have problems finding parts sooner than the rest of us.

I hesitate to call today’s new cars “disposable” because they last so much longer than they used to. I view a car you replace after only a couple years as disposable and I view a car that lasts 200,000 miles with few problems as a keeper.

After milking the profits for the last few years, GE has put its appliance and lighting divisions up for sale. Several years ago a GE customer sent a letter to Consumer Reports. He had bought a GE wall oven and after only 8 years discovered parts were no longer available. So, you are right, avoid GE. The new owners may not even honor the warranties!

When shopping for a car, I use several criteria:

  1. The car has to be sold in significant quantity, so that parts will be readily available.

  2. The manufacturer should be in business for years to come. Skip Chrysler products, but buy Hyundai.

  3. The manufacturer has to have a quality philosophy, and is preapred to carry parts for a long time. Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Volvo and Mercedes all pledge to carry parts a long time.

  4. There is a significant after market because of the parts volume generated by high sales volumes.

  5. Cars are preferably built in North America to avoid the very high cost of imported European parts.

I disagree that we now have throw-away cars. Low end Chrysler products may approach that, but by and large, cars last a lot longer and the high volume, quality units have parts availablility for 20 years or so. No sixties car would last that long when driven 15,000 miles a year in a humid environment. A friend of my wife recently sold a 1982 Toyota Cressida for an older owner who no longer drove. Toyota assured the buyer that most parts for this excellent car were still available.

Ford had a plan to stop supplying engine parts, just change out the whole engine, complete with controls, (with trade-in for the old one) when the time comes and rebuild in the factory. The project, Jack Nasser’s idea, never got off the ground. Solar Turbines does this for industrial products. A changeout in this case is $1.4 million.

Appliances, I agree, are not very repairable, and with the high labor cost some are approaching throw-awy staus. Most low end TVs are in that class now. Maytag now is no longer the sterling company it used to be. We have the last set of reliable waher & dryer, 16 years old.

I have a 60 year old FRIGIDAIRE refrigerator that has run non-stop, other than moving and power outages, since 1965 when I acquired it. It has never failed.

We gave an old Gibson manual defrost, age unknown, but mid sixties, to our neighbors who have it in their garage as an “overflow fridge” for their beer and the Christmas turkey.

That’s old enough to be made by GM.

“Maytag now is no longer the sterling company it used to be.”

Doc–I agree that the “old” Maytag products were very good, and that their quality sank over the past ten years to a position possibly as low as that of GE appliances.

However, now that Maytag has been owned by Whirlpool for well over a year, I think that they will become a credible product again. I am a long-term very satisfied customer of Whirlpool, and I can attest that their newer products are as good as the older ones. In the interest of efficient production, my guess is that Maytags will just be rebadged Whirlpools–and that is a good thing.

That’s good news of course. The quality gap will close as Whirlpool design and production techniques are transferred. Like Kia is improving after having been bought by Hyundai!

Now you are talking about cars that I liked. My father bought his first post WW II car in 1950–it was a 1947 Dodge. I was in 4th grade at the time and I thought that the dashboards on the Chrysler products were really neat. At night, the speedometer would glow green up to 30 miles per hour. Between 30 and 50, the speedomenter was amber. Above 50, the speedometer had a red glow. The rear fenders bolted on and were easily replaced. These cars were designed to be repaired easily. The design of most cars until 1949 dated back before WW II and many people who came through the depression wanted cars that could easily be maintained and repaired.

Be glad you didn’t buy a Hastings refrigerator. Willy Loman complained about all kinds of problems with his Hastings refrigerator in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”. I don’t know if there really was such a make, but Willy would have been served well had he bought a Frigidaire. For a truly reliable refrigerator, however, the Servel gas refrigerators seemed to last forever. Only the door gaskets wore out.

The truth the poorly designed US washers (top loaders) waste water and soap and energy. A front loading machine uses 1/4 of the amount of water and half the soap. I wonder why the rest of the civilized and not so civilized world use front loaders. Also any commercial operation does too.

Top loaders belong in the scrap pile to be recycled.

Agree; my sister, who lives on a poultry farm (with a very large propane tank)had a Servel gas fridge for over 25 years. They got rid of it when my sister discovered frost-free, large fridges. It’s probably still running somewhere.

I think new regulations are phasing out top loading washers completely for the reason you mentioned.

We still own a Maytag 16 year old washwr & dryer, and since we wash with COLD water, we’ll wear them out before goin go a modern front loader set. Agree that even in developing countries where we lived, no one owned a top loader.