A predetermined lifetime?

Everyone who loves their car, hopes to keep it on the road for many years. Truth is that we may have no influence on that.

Photo: Ebay.com

Photo: Ebay.com

The speedometer on our teenager car has started to fade out. With a little help from my son I have now ordered a new speedometer on Ebay. Our old Civic DX was one of America’s best-selling cars. There must be hundreds of DIY-videos on YouTube showing how to fix anything, – like that tiny, little circuit board behind the speedometer clock, – the one that no longer works.

It’s “electronic”, – but not hi-tech. All you need is a 5 € test lamp and a bit of curiosity to troubleshoot. I can well imagine that it is an electronic component that failed, and not a mechanical one – such as the small sprocket buzzing around in the gearbox, providing data to the speedometer. What would happen if I had put my laptop PC from the late 90s inside the car at all time. Would it still work today?

Hardly.

A salesman at Audi told me that if the electronics in a modern car shortcuts, it will cost more than 15 000 € to replace. I know a guy who had a Volvo V70 with a computer problem in the transmission. The entire transmission was replaced with a reconditioned one at 7,000 €. Fortunately, it was a warranty for my friend. I wondered: Why did they choose to replace the entire unit and not just the electronic parts? I think that is because electronic components are integrated with mechanical parts, and not just a bunch of circuit boards.

My point is: What would happen to the V70 today? After all, it is a 2005 model with a market value of about 8,000 €. Would it pay to fix it today? It is definitely not a DIY job based on YouTube videos. I think a shiny good-looking V70 could well end its days on the top of a scrap yard, while many of its old ancestors, like the 240 and the 260, still would be on the road.

The automotive industry has long realized how vulnerable new cars are. Therefore it appears to have evolved a practice to let faults in vulnerable components – such as the electronic systems – be covered by the warranty, even years after it has expired. I know that VW dealers forward the costs to Germany or Mexico. I have had the pleasure to get things fixed on my Passats after the warranty has expired. I have heard that Toyota has similar agreements with their factories.

But no warranty covers defects on 10 year old cars.

As a consequence, I think the lifetimes of modern cars pretty much are left in the hands of the automotive industry. Imagine that you have left your car at the garage because of an engine fault lamp, and you’re told that your car’s software unfortunately has expired.

-Sorry, we no longer support version 1.0, and your car is not compatible with the next version …

Think about the latest generation of electric cars loaded with advanced software. I have been told that if you buy a second-hand Nissan Leaf, you must ensure that you get the brilliant version 2 and not the old version. Version 1 can be a bit crappy and does not in any way measure up to the latest version. It’s almost like mobile phones. When you need a new version, you might as well buy a new phone. Volvo advertises that they will upgrade your car’s onboard software for free, while it is in for service. They’ve even named their service “2.0”. That’s fine. My dealer charges me 200 € for that. But should it ever be necessary to do a complete upgrade, you might have to replace electronic components all over the car. The 15,000 € estimate from the Audi-man might well become reality.

I hope new vehicles can be recycled

2015 Nissan Leaf

2015 Nissan Leaf

1996 Honda Civic DX

1996 Honda Civic DX

2005 Volvo V70 Wagon

2005 Volvo V70 Wagon

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