CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Why do the manufacturers do that?

Why do they design cars that make it very difficult and expensive to change lamps.   Back when I got my first car a burned out lamp meant I had to take a couple of dollars to the parts store and with just a couple of minutes I had a new glass lamp with no cloudy plastic and all I needed was a simple screwdriver. If I wanted better lamp, I just saved a couple of more dollars and I had e-codes.  (much better than the US standard). 

I have heard that maybe the manufacturers have found that they make more money that way, but certainly they would not do that.

It really isn’t any sort of evil scheme to make more money (its actually the dealer that would make more money, not the manufacturer)… its simply a combination of laziness and cost-savings. No manufacturer really emphasizes maintainability of their vehicles - they look for ease of assembly and low cost, not for ease of replacement.

“It really isn’t any sort of evil scheme to make more money…”

+1
Poor planning for ease of repairs is not limited to just the headlights.
Under the hood of many modern cars, it is very difficult to access many components in order to replace them.

Rather than some kind of evil conspiracy, I believe that all of these poorly-thought-out designs are the result of laziness and an attempt to save money for the manufacturer. It would probably cost them more money to design cars for both aesthetic appeal and ease of repair, so they opt for making aesthetic appeal the higher priority, as most owners won’t know about problematic repairs until the car has been bought and paid for.

+2
I bought a brand new 1979 Monza Spyder with a 350 V8. I bought it because I was building V8 Vegas at the time. I soon came to regret my decision because maintenance on the little car was hampered at every turn because of space limitations. To change out the spark plugs you needed to disconnect the motor mounts and remove the front wheels. I changed the spark plugs then sold the car to a friend of mine. Things have gone downhill from there when it comes to “ease of maintenance”.

And the current HID craze makes it worse, I guess they last longer but are $$$$$$ to replace. Halogens are fine with me.

Isn’t this thread something like an annual event for you JEM?

The headlight issue these days is basically all about styling. That’s probably in concert with concerns about aerodynamics.

Things will be designed toward sales first and cheapest assembly second. I can’t imagine that there is much planning & design ink spilled on ease of maintenance. Its not in the interests of the manufacturer.

As for evil conspiracies - thinking through them is as bad as dismissing them. Neither conspiracy nor “innocence” works. Planned obsolescence as a conscious strategy has been around for a long time. Some of that will be about changing design & styling. Some of it about issues of repair & maintenance, design life, etc. Assuming designers/manufacturers are out to get you is a little silly. Assuming they’re not is also a little silly.

@cigroller -

I still have yet to see any reasonable evidence that manufacturers ever have practiced “planned obsolescence” as many people falsely think it means - designing cars not to last more than a certain length of time/miles.

They certainly DO set a target lifespan - not a target for when the car should fall apart, but a target at which almost none should have any issues. That really isn’t a “scr** the customer” thing - but rather the targets are used to set a target under which nearly all customers will be happy, rather than targeting an extraordinarily long life at the cost of a vehicle price that no one can afford. If the manufacturers can give you a longer life at no cost, believe me, they will… and every target I’ve seen has been pretty darned high (for example - targeting 10 years / 150k miles with NO significant issues for 95% of owners)

@eraser1998

First, annual design changes were introduced specifically toward planned obsolescence. If you don’t know anything about that, its all back there in accounts of the growth of the auto industry and you can read up on it. So yes, planned obsolescence has been a conscious strategy for a very long time.

Second, everything else you said is no different from what I was saying. I didn’t mean to imply (and don’t think I did) that there is some planning of failure - as in “this car will self-desctruct in XX miles.” That is absurd. They are designed toward a reasonably happy lifetime to keep owners happy - but not toward maximum longevity. Going for maximum longevity is a dumb idea for almost anything. Having customers visit the marketplace only once is shooting yourself in the foot.

Look in many owner’s manuals for today’s cars. Transmission maintenance recommendations are terrible. That is not with the hopes that the transmissions will be destroyed. Its based on part of selling cars as “low maintenance” while having them last “long enough” - but not as long as they could.

Don’t take what I said and turn it into “evil conspiracy.” I already said that kind of stuff was silly.

@cigroller -

With regards to your first point, I absolutely agree. However, that is not how most people interpret planned obsolescence - they think that it is meant as a method to actually design cars to fall apart at a certain age. I don’t believe any company has engineers talented enough to be able to do that… that takes REAL skill :slight_smile:

I apologize for interpreting your words incorrectly - too often the term “planned obsolescence” is thrown around here like manufacturers are out to get customers, trying to get cars to fall apart…

I also agree it isn’t an evil conspiracy, but I have to disagree with laziness as the main reason for these types of problems. To stay in business manufacturers must produce cars that people want, or think they want, at a price they are willing to pay. On the list of things cars need to be salable maintenance costs are near the bottom. First there are government regulations for safety, pollution and fuel type. The car has to be safe, fuel efficient, perform well, feature laden and most importantly to the customer attractively priced. Corporate management, marketing and styling departments come up with a product idea then hand it over to the design engineers who have to figure out a way to assemble some beast of a design from sub-assemblies produced around the globe. If I recall correctly the design cycle for introducing new models used to be five or six years. Now it’s about twenty four months. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone the designs aren’t more user friendly. Then there are the consumers who often act like a kid who wants a puppy. Drooling over some concept car the manufactures are obligated to provide, the maintenance is forgotten. Few people buy cars based on repair costs. No manufacturer would stay in business long if they tried to market a car saying we left out the side curtain airbags and rock’n sound system but it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to change the headlights. If consumers did the research and stopped buying cars based on high repair costs the manufacturers would come around, but don’t hold your breath. Plenty of blame to go around.

@MTraveler -

Of course, a lot of the increased speed in design cycle is thanks to computerized methods, which also allow you to easily analyze maintainability - Vis Jack from Siemens is a good example.

Why ?
They design it from the outside , in.
First they design the look of the vehicle, THEN they figure how to make the parts to look like that as sub -assemblies beneficial to the assembly line.

Only AFTER which do they even wonder how to repair them. ( Yes, the service manuals are written AFTER production. )

“The headlight issue these days is basically all about styling.”

Partly. But other issues are important, too. Gas mileage is important, and improvements in aerodynamics start at the front of the car. Also, I find that curved head lamp covers tend to fracture less that flat ones when hit by stones. You usually can’t just buy the cover, but have to buy the whole assembly at a cost of a few hundred bucks. Last, trying to fit all those parts in a shrinking package (fuel economy again) makes reaching lamps difficult. You may recall the difficulties I had a few months ago replacing the front low beam lamps on my Accord. Now that I know how to do it, replacement won’t be a big ordeal, but it also won’t be easy. The high beams are much easier; they are easily accessed inside the engine bay just behind the radiator.

Headlights are only part of the complication problem and some of that is due to Federal regulations which dictate how things are going to be from one end to the other. My personal preference is the old 5 x 7 Halogen glass sealed beam which meets all of my criteria; good lighting, cheap, easy to install. It lacks styling on modern cars so form before function rules.

Regarding planned obsolescence, I think there’s some truth to that and it’s based on words from the horse’s mouth.
Back in the 80s while attending a Subaru school one week and listening to a lecture I heard the following. A factory rep flat stated that Subaru was going to be (not a verbatim quote but close) “obsoleting their cars every 5 or 6 years or so” and at the time also stated that they were already in the design phase of the next generation. The word “obsoleting” was theirs and I suspect that term has been used by other car makers also.

This was around the time they started their so-called Buy Back Program which consisted of removing parts from dealer shelves, destroying them with a hammer, and then consigning them to the dumpster. Whether this program still exists I have no idea but it was a bad one from a service department point of view as wrestling over parts availability was tough enough.
The dealers were paid 10% UNDER their parts cost but many dealers bought into this program to increase cash flow. A few dealers refused to go along with it and those were the smart ones in my opinion.
It’s not difficult to see the reason or this. The supply herd is thinned out, prices skyrocket, and people head to the showroom for a new car although the Subaru parts rep denied this as the reason along with stating that parts prices would not increase. He turned out to be badly mistaken or lying, go figure.

By designing cars that make it difficult to change light bulbs and do other repairs, the manufacturers are contributing to air pollution. You should be around when Triedaq attempts an automotive repair. He really turns the air blue.

Mrs. Triedaq

I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. It’s just a result of consumers prioritizing aerodynamic styling and fuel economy (thus a tightly packed engine bay) over the ease of replacing a bulb every now and then.

For what it’s worth, I do wish all cars used the feature found in my wife’s BMW, where no external wires run to the socket (for at least many of the bulbs, if not all of them). In a tight space, you just have to twist and remove the socket, without having to disconnect and reconnect any wiring.

I think that Mrs. Tridaq should set up her own account and participate more regularly. She often has very important insights to add - especially about Mr. Tridaq.

For the record, I also like the old sealed beam headlights Joe.

I have no clue whay, but some manufacturers just seem to design things in the most difficult manner possible. My daughter’s 91 and 92 Civics were an exercise in frustration and expletives, yet my '05 Scion is super easy. Just twist the socket, pull, unplug and replace the bulb, and reverse. Nothing is even in the way. At this point I’ve changed just about every lamp in the car, and they’re all super easy. Why Honda made theirs so difficult is beyond me.

Odd. My 91 CRX has the same lamp assembly as the 91 Civic. Takes me 2 minutes to replace a bulb. Wonder what’s different.

@the same mountainbike Honda wasn’t the only manufacturer that made bulb changing difficult back in the 1990s. I had a 1990 Ford Aerostar and changing the headlight bulb wasn’t easy and these were the old style sealed beam units. I had a 2006 Chevrolet Uplander and it took me half an hour to change the left front turning signal bulb. Two days later, the new bulb burned out, but at least I had the job down to 15 minutes. On a 1989 Sable that we once owned, to change the left headlight bulb, the battery had to be removed. I am now down to two tools to make all repairs–a sledge hammer and a propane torch. If I can’t beat it to pieces, I burn it up.