Planned Obsolescence

This drives me nuts, and caught a good example of it square in the chops today.

I own a 1999 Toyota Camry that has been a good car, not excessive to maintain, though I have replaced the timing belt and all four struts at not insignificant cost. That’s OK, those things wear out, and I expect to replace them.

But the things that torque my jars, are the little things that don’t need to wear out, but are intentionally designed to do just that. Today’s case in point; the gear shift cable. I backed out of a parking spot, and suddenly, I could not change gear. The shifter (an automatic) was completely disconnected, and I was stuck in park halfway out of my parking space.*

A good Samaritan with more mechanical knowledge than I popped the hood and located the connector between the gear shift cable and the lever on the transmission. It was broken. Why? Because it is made of plastic. That’s right; the cable is made of steel, the transmission lever is made of steel, but the #%@&! connector that links them is made of fucking plastic!

Now this did not happen by accident. These parts are engineered and tested to destruction a thousand times before they go into cars, so the designers know exactly how long they will last. So it is no oversight that something which gets pushed and pulled dozens of times per day and subjected to significant mechanical stress was made of plastic that will fail. Intentionally.

So I call up the dealer to see if I can replaced the $%#@&! plastic connector and be on my way. But NOOOoooooo!! you cannot just replace the connector, you have to replace the whole furshlugginer cable assembly, from the gear shift handle next to the driver’s seat all the way to the lever on the side of the transmission. Parts cost? $183 Labor? $210 Knowledge that you have intentionally and with forethought screwed someone out of $400 unnecessarily? Priceless.

Same thing happened to my FORD Crown Victoria. Well, not exactly the same, I lost Park and everything shifted up one gear because the shifter cable went out. Took two minutes for the diagnosis, four days for the part to come in and $180 for part and labor.

Sorry, I’m a Ford man.

SSG Schwartz

You should go to a non-dealership shop, just so Toyota doesn’t benefit from it at all. (Which people could very well do all the time, which makes me wonder why they bother - they don’t necessarily get any money from it, just ticked off folks. Or maybe it’s just from selling more of the replacement part…?)

So what’s the footnote…?

You know what sucks even more? I guarantee they threw out thousands of them over the years at the plastics plant, due to start ups, run ends, and other reasons.

You know what happens when a small visual flaw happens on a thousand professional grade spatulas. Employees have a life time supply of professional spatulas.

I had a very similar experience with my 2001 Saturn. The cable wasn’t broken, but it no longer worked! I managed to find the manual override (so glad I keep the owner’s manual in the glove compartment) and get it to the dealership. 2 hours and $380 later, it’s just fine. :mad:

My favorite(?) instance of planned obsolescence is the mechanical timer clock on many older ovens. After inspecting a number of them, I decided it HAS to be planned, since every clock failed in exactlly te same way. There is a large-ish steel gear about 1/16th" thick that turns against a very small brass gear which is about 1/4" thick. It takes roughly two years for the steel gear to wear the teeth completely off of the brass gear in a 1/16th" wide band. At which time, the clock stops keeping time, even though most of the parts in the clock are STILL MOVING! Worthless piece of crap that costs ~$150 to replace.

I don’t think this is “planned obsolescence”, it’s just crappy design.


I agree with you with 100% That stuff really pisses me off. I bought a Lowes tractor and the damn thing had a plastic ball gear that was exposed for the steering! One bump and it breaks.

Stuff that is built to last can be very expensive. The Lowes tractor was $1,200. The Kubota I replaced it with that should outlive me was $15,000.

I have no regrets buying the latter.

I disagree. It is inconceivable to me that a steel cable could be joined to a steel lever by a plastic part unless it was intentional.

sigh - the part is not obsolete - you need to replace it with the same part.

No. It’s got to be planned obsolescence. It’s actually good design, too from the automakers’ standpoint.

From that, they want to make a car that will last through warranty without small pain in the ass repairs, but at the same time they want to keep the car as cheap to manufacture as possible both so that they have a profit margin, and a competitive pricing structure. Also, is the consideration that any failure needs to be a safe failure and not a catastrophic one.

If the hub that holds the wheels on fails at 31,000 miles and the wheels come off, they can get sued for manufacturing a dangerously defective car, so they engineer that part as strongly as they can and even design it so that when that part does fail the wheel doesn’t fall off, but instead the bearings grind, or what have you. They spend a lot of money to make it last so long and fail safe.

So, those parts that when they fail will not cause an accident or kill people they manufacture and engineer to much less dedicated degree.

They could make the joiner out of titanium. They could make it a double joiner so that if one element failed the other would still hold it. That might make it a $20 part instead of a 2 cent part.

Then too, they don’t make any more money out of cars that don’t ever need new parts, and they don’t make much money out of a 2 cent part. So, they design the part so that it can’t simply be replaced by itself, but so that it is part of a larger assembly that needs to be purchased as a whole. Therefore, when the 2 cent part fails you have to buy a whole $40 assembly, and they make money off of you.

That this is a fact, can be seen pretty clearly. Next time something gets fixed, ask for the old part. Generally, what you will see is that there is a well manufactured assembly with one cheap piece in it. That piece breaks and you need a whole new one.

This makes sense from a profit standpoint but that’s not how it got started. Occasionally you have assemblies that when they fail have catastrophic consequences. If you can’t engineer around those consequences you put in a weaker part that is designed to fail prior to the catastrophic failure necessitating a replacement. Brakes are made this way for good reason.

But, they do it lots of other ways to make money and save money.

If you read the OP, you’ll see that part doesn’t come buy itself. It comes attached to a larger assembly.

The term “Planned Obsolescence” is not limited to parts which are no longer made. It also includes parts which are designed to fail after a predetermined life.

Sounds like it’s time for a quick trip to the salvage yard. Certainly there’s one parked out there just waiting to donate a little piece of plastic to save you 400 bucks

I’m not an engineer but I would say that if it joined metal to metal it would wear out twice as fast. As a matter of fact every shifter cable and clutch cable I’ve sold for a modern vehicle is made in this way. You could always take the part to a machine shop and have them cast one out of metal.

The plastic connector is swaged to the cable, so you cannot swap a salvaged part. I’m sure they thought of that as well.

I quote parts to the automotive industry all the time. It’s not planned obsolescence. It’s bottom line dollars. Profit at time of car sale, pure and simple.

I quote capacitors and resistors. Some of this stuff is under a dollar for a thousand parts. Yet the automotive customers will beat us up over cost savings on even that. If they are willing to spend time and effort to reduce cost on a part that costs $0.0008 each, how much effort do you think they will put into replacing a metal connector with a plastic one?

I seriously doubt if Toyota really cares about the profit from selling you a cable for an 8yr old car. They just aren’t going to sell that many of them. But if they can save a few cents on every original cable, when they assemble the car, THAT is where the big money is.

Oh, I agree, it is not the cable they are profiting on. But they are knowingly using a part that is designed to fail. If they could get a car made entirely out of plastic to last 75,000 miles, I am sure they would crunch the numbers and determine that they could sell enough of them to make a profit. Caveat emptor, and all that.

It’s designed to fail? Besides your car having a part break, do we have some more evidence that it is designed to fail? Parts fail all the time, even on the most robust of automobiles.

sigh It’s not "designed to fail (anything will fail after enough cycles). Your complaint is that it is insufficiently robust, and likely so because it was selected to reduce the bottom-line cost of a new car over using a metal cable. (I’m taking your statement at face value but I actually suspect that it was made from Kevlar or some kind of aramid fiber, not “plastic”.) At any rate, this isn’t “planned obsolecence”, which is intentionally designing a product in such a way that it fails, forcing you to dispose of it and purchase a new one; this is just mechanical failure from alleged bad design, a material flaw, or just plain bad luck at being at the tail end of a statistical distribution.

In the Sixties and Seveties, American car companies specifically planned an operational lifetime for vehicle powertrains, such that it was more cost-effective to just buy a new car every three or four years than to drive one and repair it. That’s planned obsolescence. British car makers, on the other hand, just built renownedly shitty cars. That’s bad design. The Japanese, on the gripping hand, cleaned up by building cars that were cheap, fuel efficient, had a minimum of gloss and bells, and kept running into six digits.

Bad design != planned obsolescene


And wait till you get the bill for a custom, one-off fab job! :smiley: You’ll howl like a cat with Terpintine on its asshole!