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The Almighty Buck Technology

Technology Makes New Cars Too Expensive to Fix 1246

securitas writes "The CSM's Eric Evarts reports on how technology makes new cars too expensive to repair, which may lead to disposable cars. The increased use of expensive electronics, air bags and advanced, lightweight body materials are causing costs to rise. Add to it the cost of specialized training and equipment (for an aluminum-body repair shop: $200,000) or even the cost of new parts alone (xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights: $3,000 each), not to mention the knowledge base required (over 1 million pages, available only electronically vs. 100 pages 20 years ago) and a labor shortage. From the article: 'Specialist technicians need advanced reading, problem-solving, and basic electronics skills.... The best people to find are those who have worked in the IT [information technology] industry.'"
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Technology Makes New Cars Too Expensive to Fix

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2004 @11:59AM (#8905096)
    We've got plenty of resources and landfills with tons of space. These are perfect. I hope they also get less than 1 mile to the gallon, because efficiency sucks! Yeah!
    • by Hogwash McFly ( 678207 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:19PM (#8905431)
      Technology has pretty much made ordinary cars disposable nowadays anyway. My dad's friend works for quite a large Irish company that deal with, among other things, scrap. Recently they have purchased a scrapping machine worth tens of millions of pounds. It's almost cartoonesque - the crushed car cube goes in at one end and raw materials emerge from the other. Aside from the power used, it's a cyclic process with minimal wastage. The rubber, plastic, metal can be reused for whatever purpose necessary. It has to be economically viable if these companies are willing to lay out so much green for these 'car eaters'.

      The typical 'movie bad guy hideout' junk yards will be a thing of the past in a short period. Cars won't be sitting around piled up ten to the dozen or in landfills, they're going to be snapped up by entities who want the materials.

      It's also a sort of part payback to mother nature for some of the other bad shit we've been doing.

      What with China et al manufacturing all the washing machines and stuff, and with prices rising (from forty pounds per ton to over a hundred, if i have been informed correctly) the demand will increase dramatically. Hell, a lot of manhole covers are disappearing around the country in what seems to be an attempt to cash in on the metal madness.

      As far as the 'disposable car' goes, it all seems a bit of a gimmick, as current normal cars aren't exactly on the same level as toxic waste.
      • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @01:16PM (#8906326) Homepage
        Cars won't be sitting around piled up ten to the dozen or in landfills, they're going to be snapped up by entities who want the materials.

        wow you are wrong.

        those "scrap cars" are a goldmine for smart mechanics and car owners. those $3000.00 XENON HId headlamps can be bought from a junkyard out of a car that was in a nasty side impact or rear impact accident for $100-200 dollars. Computer for that Pontiac? $250.00 compared to $1500.00 at the dealer. how about simple stuff like the alarm keyfobs and electronic ID keys? the fealer quoted me $155.00 for a new key + alarm/entry keyfob. I was able to get a working keyfob + the secret proceedure to get it working at a local scrapyard for $15.00 and he was selling the key blanks for $10.00 each and had them cut at a local keyshop for $5.00

        car scrapyards are worth much more as a parts source than as ground up scrap meatal, rubber and plastic.

        In fact right now with the "down" economy.. the scrapyards with cars stacked up are making the most money and their business is booming as people are stretching their dollar every way they can.
        • by Hogwash McFly ( 678207 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @02:10PM (#8907009)
          But when you go and ask for those headlights, does the guy in the dungarees say 'Yeah, I'll just take off the ten cars that are on top of that one you want and then remove the headlights for you'? Or are the high value components already stripped as soon as the car comes in? Wouldn't it make more sense to gut a car of anything worthwhile to the junkyard owner - high value parts, rather than chuck it into a pile of other cars and sort it later? What I was trying to say was that technology has made it easier to fully dispose of cars, hence no particular need for 'disposable cars'. I wasn't trying to imply that this is an end to scrap yards as a whole.

          You want your headlights. You pick em up cheap from a big pile of headlights. You win.

          The companies interested in cheap raw materials buy everything else that is of no use to Joe Sixpack. They win

          The scrap yard owner gets both your money and money from the company looking for cheap bulk scrap. He wins

          Less junk piles up that people off the street don't want. Mother nature wins.
          • by UniverseIsADoughnut ( 170909 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @02:39PM (#8907328)
            your a bit right. Typicaly auto salvage places are two sides. You'll have your Bubba's you pull it on one side, and Freds used auto parts on the other. Cars will come in to Bubba's. There if the car has no massive value, say it's a 67 chevy nova, good for parts but no modern stuff, it will go straight to the yard. Now say a 97 Ford Taurus comes in that got rear ended real bad. The will take it in, rip the engine out, many some other sub-componets, tranny seats, glass and so forth, since these are still very common cars. Those parts going over to Freds and people come in and buy them. Typical your local garage thats fixing a car. The rest of the car will go to the yard for U-pull it use. After a period of time if it's been stripped of most that was left over time by people, then they crush them. If there wasn't much after the first strip they will just crush them. Very few yard stack cars. Those are places that are just crushing. U-pull it places lay them out and keap them sorta by brand and type, usualy put them up on old rims so you can get under them. They have limited space, so they will crush the least useful ones as time goes buy. But if say its a classic, but all stripped, but has a good body they will keap those for people looking for project cars.

            Like the poster said, cars are worth a lot in parts. Thats why you see Push Pull Drag in deals where they will give you 1000 bucks for a POS, it's worth it to them.

            These places keap prices for repair down. If you need a big part for your car like an engine or tranny this is where it comes from, or a fender or hood. When a body shop or garage goes fixing your car they will always use these parts first unless they can't find them. Insurance company price out for these parts. You wouldn't want to pay for OEM fenders or a brand new engine. Even if they say they are new it is very unlikely they are new.

            The reality of it is, if you bought a brand new car, or maybe a year old model cheap, then took it to a salvage yard, they could probably turn around and turn a profit on parting it out.

            The giant car eaters are good for stuff that is crap. But those programs also raise the cost of used parts for your car. They are mainly pushed because the car companies get emmissions credits for getting old clunkers destroyed. Not a bad thing, just has it's serious draw backs. Since if your a car collector it will be come very hard to find that car you always wanted or parts for it.

            It should be noted that in some places in Europe now car companies have to set up a EOL plan for the car that includes it's disposal, thats why those scredders are coming into play.
      • by BigBlockMopar ( 191202 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @02:18PM (#8907098) Homepage

        Aside from the power used, it's a cyclic process with minimal wastage. The rubber, plastic, metal can be reused for whatever purpose necessary. It has to be economically viable if these companies are willing to lay out so much green for these 'car eaters'.

        Wow.... Uhhh, yeah. So you've got a Honda Civic or some other piece of junk which only lasts 7 years. You crush it, transport it, shred it, smelt it, transport the ingot, re-melt for cold rolling, roll it, stamp it, weld the stampings back together, paint it, and sell it as a new car.

        Okay... Why don't you try looking up the specific heat of iron and the energy content of coal. Sit back and tell me how many tons of coal you have to burn each time you melt an equivalent quantity of iron and steel to a car.

        It's horrifically wasteful and terrible for the environment. In fact, you'd have to drive a poorly-tuned old gas guzzler for 22 years (on top of its regular lifespan) to make up the environmental damage caused by recycling it.

        Buy a good and *durable* car that is easy to work on - not some Japanese tinfoil crap. Wash it and wax it every week. Change the oil every 4,000km or three months. Keep the engine tuned up, and when it needs rings and bearings, do it. And drive the thing for as long as you can - I'm thinking 40+ years. The newer more environmentally-"friendly" cars aren't.

        My automotive stable includes a 1970 Dodge Dart with a Slant-6. Fits my 6'4" tall body comfortably, starts every morning with the legendary Chrysler gear-reduction "dive bomber" starter motor and a satisfying click-click-click of the solid lifters, gets 28MPG and blows as clean on the emissions test as a 1990-spec. And forget the $3000 HID headlights; mine are $4.99 each at Wal*Mart.

        Can't buy a new car like that these days.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2004 @03:11PM (#8907679)
          Am I seeing things? A post which talks about how Dodges are reliable, and Honda Civics only last 7 years, is marked at +5 Insightful???

          Anybody with *any* experience with Chrysler products, or Honda Civics, would moderate this as a troll, or perhaps humorous. There's a reason that Consumer Reports (among others) gives top ratings to Honda, and low-end ratings to anything Dodge. And I can assure you that Honda Civics last a *lot* longer than 7 years, and you don't even have to change the oil every 2,500 miles. Perhaps in the late 70's what you're saying is true, but now Civics are the most reliable cars on the road.

          The idea of being a car snob over a Dodge is absurd. I owned one before, and I wouldn't wish one upon my worst enemy.

        • by SnappleMaster ( 465729 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @03:40PM (#8908000)
          "Japanese tinfoil crap"

          Wow, biased much? No offense but I (and a ton of other people) would prefer to own some fine Japanese tinfoil, any day. Americans have produced some decent cars, but overall... suckage. IMHO of course.

          Honda CR-V. 5 years old, 45k miles, good as new, seriously very close to mint condition. Check the resale value if you like.

          Also, I wouldn't wax your car every week unless you're talking about automatic carwash wax. Waste of time, waste of wax.
    • by composer777 ( 175489 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:47PM (#8905915)
      Why would you blame technology where blaming market economics makes more sense? Automakers are motivated by one thing, profits, and since it's more profitable to make disposable cars, that's the direction they will go. This has little to do with technology. So, perhaps you guys should quit titling your articles, "Technology makes cars disposable" and switch to a more honest assessment of the problem, which is "Market Economics makes cars disposable". In fact, the majority of the problems in the tech industry is related to the haphazard, profit motivated nature of market economics. It's a very short term kind of thinking, where somehow it makes sense to create a bunch of junk that only last 10 years. It's what I like to refer to as innovation of garbage, where the primary motivation is create products that head for the nearest landfill as quickly as possible so that another one can be sold. In a sane society, technology would be used to minimize effort, create efficient products that last, etc., in an insane society, technology is used to create extra work (extra jobs), products that fill land fills as quickly as possible, and in general, waste everyone's time. Yay capitalism. In the long run, we will need to come up with a better system than any that are around today, otherwise, it's only going to get worse.
      • by falcon5768 ( 629591 ) <Falcon5768@comca ... t minus caffeine> on Monday April 19, 2004 @02:24PM (#8907158) Journal
        Mod this guy up!!!!!

        He's EXACTLY right, its not the cost of the tech, but what the fucking manufacturers make us pay... look at a decent new car today... A car that would have been 12,000 - 17,000 6 years ago (the Caviler which is going off the market now) NOW costs 20,000 fully loaded! Thats 3000 more for the EXACT SAME CAR FULLY LOADED 6 YEARS AGO. THAT BULL, even with market run up it should cost LESS because the cost of manufacturing has already been payed for... your talking about a frame thats over 20 years old (the J body design of the Cavi, and the Sunfire) and a body clading thats almost 10 and it costs MORE now to produce what is essencially the exacty same car if you where to look at a 96 (first year of the current body clading style) and a 2004. HELL most of the parts are interchangeable. If people started buy the cheap cars like the Aveo or the Echo's THEN the manufacturers would get it in their head that people dont want to spend 28000 on a car thats really worth 17,000 in todays market. And even they are overpriced!

  • by hyperstation ( 185147 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:01PM (#8905106)
    goes faster than your new car, handles better, has a real transmission, and is easy and cheap to work on...

    power steering is for pussies.
    • by Xzzy ( 111297 ) <> on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:12PM (#8905297) Homepage
      my '66 vw bug

      goes slower than your 84 rabbit, handles worse, has a real transmission, and is even easier and cheaper to work on.

      It's also exempt from emissions checks.

      Take these two posts, and I think the moral here is that the best option is to own the oldest car you can get your hands on.
    • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @01:47PM (#8906743) Homepage Journal
      Yup, I'm sure your 85 HP engine is faster than anything out there. I also agree that the catlike handling of P155 R13 tires is greatly underrated!
  • by MrIrwin ( 761231 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:01PM (#8905118) Journal
    Before long people will be sending thier cars to India to get them fixed ;-)
    • by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:24PM (#8905519) Journal
      Though you were joking, these kinds of jobs are exactly the kind of job that won't get outsourced. A good friend of mine owns a plumbing business and he's done very well. Like any business, if you're smart and diligent, you can do well.

      The trick is to avoid industries that are easily shipped offshore. This morning's paper had an article about drug testing going overseas because it's cheaper. At an Apple's developer's conference years ago, I saw a presentation by a radiologist that involved shipping x-rays over an ISDN line. That technology has made it possible to ship the radiologist's job overseas as well.

      It's tough to squeeze a mechanic or a plumber through a data pipe, no matter how fat the pipe.

    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:57PM (#8906056)
      A recent newspaper article talked about all the bad financial decisions people are making on cars; really long term loans (8-10 years), negative equity transactions, and so on. The car industry keeps this going because they need to keep plants running and cars selling to keep the whole machine turning, and consumers are dumb ass enough to keep paying massive lease or loan payments.

      How do we know that the next step in this consumer financial treadmill isn't "subscription cars"? When it breaks beyond a certain level, you go to the dealership, turn in your car and get into a newly refurbished one. No hassle for the dealer to figure out complicated parts or systems, just basic fluid level maintenence.

      Auto mechanics become few and far between; the use/broken/damaged cars are shipped by train/ship to $third_world where they're parted out and reassembled to be returned to dealers. The truly bad parts are either scrapped for base metals or, if modular, further disassembled for their own reassembly.

      At this point, we don't have mechanics with any more skill than the droolers at Rapid-Oil and the high value technician jobs really have been essentially outsourced to a third world country. For the US, Mexico would make more sense than India due to simple geography and the size/weight of a car; but it's not improbable that labor rates in India/China/Philipines would be low enough that transhipping cars overseas would make sense.
  • by r_glen ( 679664 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:01PM (#8905125)
    I'd rather have an older, less advanced car that I actually have a chance of fixing. Who needs all this new car technology anyways?
    • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:10PM (#8905275) Journal
      It depends if you're talking about headlights or crash protection. If I were on his jury, I'd acquit anyone arrested for stealing those goddamn headlights (what kind of safety feature is it to blind oncoming traffic?).

      But a lot of the issues raised in the article are for what are at least supposed to make you safer. If the teenager in the first paragraph had to throw away a new BMW but got to keep his legs, how expensive was that car, really? Even just in dollars and cents, a new pair of legs isn't cheap, nor is learning to use them.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:31PM (#8905613)

        If I were on his jury, I'd acquit anyone arrested for stealing those goddamn headlights (what kind of safety feature is it to blind oncoming traffic?).

        Your point still stands but it is interesting to point out that Xenon HID lamps are not that irritating to oncoming traffice if they are properly filtered and aimed.
        Its these shit ass ricers and idiot suburban wannabees that but the cheap ass aftermarket crap that aren't aimed right and are nearly unfiltered throwing an awful lot of crap in the shorter wavelengths.
        • by phriedom ( 561200 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @04:04PM (#8908305)
          I heard of a report (yes, someone actually studied this scientifically) that explained that the entire "blinding" problem of HID lamps can be entirely explained by that fact that funny colors of the HID lamps catch people's attention, and so they look at them. Don't look into the lights. If you look away from HIDs the same way you look away from halogens, then there is no problem.

          People putting obnoxious driving lights on their crappy wannaberacecars was just as bad with halogens and xenons as it now is with HIDs.
      • by aceh0 ( 646013 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:34PM (#8905692)
        I'd acquit anyone arrested for stealing those goddamn headlights (what kind of safety feature is it to blind oncoming traffic?). that's what calibration is for. halogen lights are blinding at night when they arent adjusted properly. HID has important uses like for bikes where it increases visibility during the day.
      • by dknj ( 441802 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @01:11PM (#8906258) Journal
        If I were on his jury, I'd acquit anyone arrested for stealing those goddamn headlights (what kind of safety feature is it to blind oncoming traffic?).

        When a car leaves the dealership with HID lights, it is aimed and filtered properly so it does not blind other drivers. When a car leaves the dealership and then decides to retrofit HID lights into headlight housings meant for halogen lights, then you have problems. IIRC, the housing internals has to be modified for HID lights.

    • by BWJones ( 18351 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:19PM (#8905428) Homepage Journal
      Although I am quite skilled myself in repairing/restoring older cars, I am more than happy to pay the higher costs after taking a look under the hood of a modern car. My Studebaker [] is fast and fun, but it has none of the electronics of the new cars and one can almost tear the entire thing down and rebuild it without having to consult a technical manual.

      The downside of course is that it is an older car and has none of the safety gear that modern cars have. I once lost a wheel racing (and winning) a 930 turbo (when I was younger and more impetuous) as there were no safety devices that would retain it when the axle broke. You can imagine the fear that sets in at 110MPH or so when you suddenly find yourself running along with a presumably four wheel car that now happens to have only three.

      As an aside, you might be surprised at how much an "automotive technician" who knows their stuff can make. The folks down at the Mercedes Benz dealer can truly clean up with six figure salaries. And judging from the last routine service bill on my mom's S-class, there may be more than one tech making that kind of salary there.

    • by PhotoBoy ( 684898 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:41PM (#8905818)
      One of our customers is a fairly large motor company and I was having lunch with some of their software guys last week when they told me about one of their new cars which will have over 40 special chips distributed throughout the car.

      Apparently the diagnostic kit for this car alone costs 7000! Apparently the main reason for this is not to create disposable cars (although that's something I'm sure they'd love!) but to prevent unofficial garages from being able to perform repairs, thereby essentially restricting the the owner of the car to an official garage for the lifetime of the car.

      Another off-topic thing of interest they mentioned was that the diagnostics of the car are accessed wirelessly and that these diagnostics can operate pretty much any feature in the car! I give it about a week before an exploit to unlock the car and start the engine is released... ;)
  • Its Too Easy To Fry! (Score:5, Informative)

    by nevek ( 196925 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:02PM (#8905126) Homepage
    I work as a car stereo installer, we installed a high end stereo into a new lexus, the stereo was defective and ended out shorting a circuit, for some reason the computer that was tied in with the stereo (for door chimes I think) got fried aswell., Ended up costing the shop 700$ for a replacement part.

    As these cars get more and more advanced its getting harder for doityourselfers to even attempt to modify or maintian them.
    • by Deraj DeZine ( 726641 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:07PM (#8905214)
      As these cars get more and more advanced its getting harder for doityourselfers to even attempt to modify or maintian them.

      Someone please tell my dad this. He's always trying to fix cars that are a little too complicated for anyone to figure out in a weekend. The cars slowly start to have problems more frequently until, at long last, the car stops running on the highway and I'm 20 miles from claiming my lottery ticket on my way to marrying Britney Spears. You could say I'm bitter.

    • by utahjazz ( 177190 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:25PM (#8905535)
      As these cars get more and more advanced its getting harder for doityourselfers to even attempt to modify or maintian them

      Yet, somehow it becomes easier to build/mod your own computer as they become more advanced.

      Too bad there isn't some 'Personal Car' platform.
      We currently have fairly easily customizable tires, exhaust, audio, glass, and various 'case mods'.

      What we need is user-interchangable chasis, engine, drive train, cab. That'd be cool.

  • by castleguardian ( 711240 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:02PM (#8905129)
    ...Pintos, for example. Problem with them was that they disposed of the owners too...
  • by confused one ( 671304 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:03PM (#8905151)
    This seems like a good solution. For the cost of a new car, you can have a custom done, including a modern fuel injected drivetrain.

    Another bonus: a back-yard mechanic can work on it...

    • by Xzzy ( 111297 ) <> on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:25PM (#8905534) Homepage
      Never been able to quantify it, but I've had some classic car owners claim that the pollution that their older car produces for the rest of it's useful life will still be less than the pollution created by the manufacturing process for a single modern car.

      Intuitively, that makes a bit of sense. All these modern composites and exotic metals can't be clean to work with. Though I suppose it'd be easier for a factory to contain the pollutants.

      Would be neat to see a study on it. I wonder what the current situation would look like if manufacturing was included in the pollution scale, and compared against recycling old vehicles.
      • by jhoffoss ( 73895 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:37PM (#8905744) Journal
        Also consider the amount of pollution that went into the air forty years ago to make that classic car. The process may have been simpler, but pollution control was an afterthought at best, in factories and in the cars. I won't buy the statement that it's more environmentally expensive to make and drive a zero-emissions car than it was to make and drive a '57 Belair.
        • by Unregistered ( 584479 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:41PM (#8905821)
          But the Belair already exists. The damage is done, it cant be undone.

          However, i think the best argument against worring about emissions of classics is that all the classics in the city don't produce as many pollutants as one old dump truck that is emempt from pollution laws becasue it pollutes so much.
        • by 74nova ( 737399 ) <jonnbell&gmail,com> on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:44PM (#8905876) Homepage Journal
          but that doesnt matter. the car has already been made. his point is that if he drives his classic, he wont need another car to be made for him.

          will you buy the statement that its more environmentally expensive to make and drive a (near)zero-emissions car than to not make said car and drive another that was already made 40 years ago(thus eliminating the ability to prevent its manufacturing)? if i drive older cars with new fuel injected engines, i eliminate the need for new cars to be made for me. i think thats better.

          whether the original statement that its cleaner to drive an old car than to make a new one is debateable. my point is that the cost of making the old car is irrelevant because it cant be eliminated while the cost of making a new one can.
    • As a backyard mechanic who works on both a 1998 VW Passat and a 1973 VW SuperBeetle, I'd have to say that the Passat is the easier to work with.

      All this "backyard mechanics can't fix today's cars" talk is just nonsense. Modern parts are lightweight and precision manufactured. There's no banging or clanging to get parts off, no rusted bolts, no tweaking of the carburetor and timing. There's no cables to break, and very little danger of an improperly timed engine pinging itself into oblivion.

      Cases in point: the Passat stopped firing on one cylinder. There were three things that could have caused this: a broken plug wire (it was fine), a broken plug (brand new and tested fine) or a problem with the ignition control module. Testing the ICM showed cylinder three was receiving no signal. $100 later, I had a new module which installed in about five minutes.

      When I had a similar problem with the Beetle, I had the same three possible sources (plug, wire or ignition control). However, the ignition control system, being mechanical, was far more difficult to troubleshoot. I ended up replacing pretty much everything...the distributor, the condensor, the solenoid...and even then, I spent the better half of an afternoon tweaking it.

      Of course, working on the Beetle is more FUN, because the endless possibilities of a custom and delicate relationships between components make it more satisfying.
  • by darth_MALL ( 657218 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:03PM (#8905165)
    I'm sure a portion of this trend is a ploy to keep the repairs of auto's in-house. A Ford dealership, for example, makes a LOT of money doing repairs. If they can force a clentele, its gravy money, of which a chunk goes back to the Ford headquarters. Seems like a sane progression, now that manufacture costs for these specialty components are probably WAY down for the manufacturers.
  • Recycling (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Deraj DeZine ( 726641 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:04PM (#8905167)
    Nothing to do with bikes, but are companies investigating the ability to recycle cars in a fairly efficient fashion? Is it even possible to do so? It seems that this would prevent the Grand Canyon in the US from filling up with old H2s and whatnot but still not cost a ton like repairing complex cars.

    Anyone heard anything about this?
    • Re:Recycling (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Ralph Wiggam ( 22354 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:27PM (#8905559) Homepage
      The problem with recycling cars is that they're made from too many different materials. It's easy to recycle a can or bottle because it's a pure substance. What they do with cars is put them through a shredder. It's a massive machine that rips a car into pieces the size of a quarter. The pieces are then sorted and recycled. It's not super efficient, but it's better than what they used to do. In the 70s, scrap yards would buy dead cars, pour gasoline on them and burn off the plastic parts.

  • by RCO ( 597148 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:04PM (#8905172) Journal
    I could have just taken that job as a mechanic straight out of High School and built my skills up to the point that I could be making good money in the automotive industry rather than spent all those years and all that money in college to get to the same point? I'm feeling a little depressed.
  • by drizst 'n drat ( 725458 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:04PM (#8905175)
    I remember a time when it was easy to get under the hood of your car, do tune-ups, and perform other ordinarily easy maintenance functions ... without having to take the car to a maintenance shop or forbid, a dealer! I've seen these changes occur slowly to the point where it requires special tools (and skills) just to do simple things. I don't even try anymore ... I've seen it in our shop where the technicians are sometimes baffled by problems because they can't get specs from the manufacturer. I've actually had to wait months to get replacement parts for a Ford Explorer because the car is considered too new for generic parts! Go figure. So is this any surprise?
    • by stangbat ( 690193 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:42PM (#8905841)
      A lot of car maintenance is still easy to do, perhaps even easier than before. Belts still need changed and a single serpentine belt is a godsend. Oil changes and filter changes are still the same. Changing disc brake pads is still pretty easy. Changing coolant, no big difference. And fuel injection means no more messing with carburetors and crazy vacuum hoses (thank God). If you are willing to get your hands dirty you can save a bunch of money. But as the article points out, a lot of stuff can't be "fixed" anymore.

      A lot of people look under the hood and instantly get intimidated. My view is that despite how it looks, the basic parts are still there as they have been for decades. You just have to have the desire and interest to figure it out. With that said, I do see why people often don't want to mess with it. It takes work, you get dirty, and you can get hurt.

      Tons of people open a computer case, see a complicated jumble of wires and chips, and say "I can never understand this". The average Slashdot reader thinks this stuff is easy. Same thing for cars. The bottom line is determining where you want to spend your time and efforts.

      Personally, I do as much maintenance myself as I can. I even do some major repairs, but I make sure to do research before hand and decide if I'll be opening a can of worms doing it myself. So far I have been lucky and not really bit off more than I can chew. But then again I may have a better assesment of my abilities than a lot of do it yourselfers. I save a lot of money, and it is an excuse for me to buy new tools (i.e. toys).
  • guess what (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrsev ( 664367 ) <mrsev@sp[ ] ['yma' in gap]> on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:05PM (#8905182)

    They want your money.
    They do not want you to fix it yourself.
    They want to sell you a whole new part every time!
    They do not want you to buy a part from someone else.
    They want you to get then to fix it in one of their repairshops. /rant
    • by poptones ( 653660 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:50PM (#8905953) Journal
      A friend of mine drives a '65 Chevy Nova as his weekend cruiser. He also has a '65 Mustang and two '34 Pickups he installed with modern V6 powerplants and transmissions. His one "modern" car is a ten year old Caravan.

      Lots of folks are driving around in 20-30 year old cars. Contrast with this: I recently had a 1995 Lincoln Town Car with one of those "state of the art" 4.6l modular v-8 engines go tits up. Spent a week screwing with it because I'm too cheap to pay the dealership to work on it - replaced a bunch of junkyard type parts - pip crank sensor ($20), ign module ($400 new, BTW), fuel pump, filter, etc. Nothing helped and I didn't have a compression gauge that would reach down to those spark plug holes buried deep in the heads.

      So we hauled it 50 miles to the nearest dealership and left it with them - two days and $150 later I find out "it's dead." Simple as that - the fucking thing is dead. A new engine is thousands of dollars and even repairs are incredibly expensive because of all the labor involved to remove things like cylinder heads (all those valvetrain parts are now on the heads, so you have chains and gears and high pressure oil passages through head gaskets). And the engine has, like, 30PSI compression on all the cylinders but two. Why? Don't know and it'd cost several hundred dollars just to find out how extensive the damage is. Meanwhile a USED '95 Towne Car is like $3000, which means it's cheaper to send this one to the junkyard than to fix it.

      End result? Now instead of having a ten year old car on the road after extensive repairs, it'll be a ten year old car permanently off the road. One less used automonbile in the chain to support with aftermarket parts, one less used car on the road to provide an alternative to a NEW CAR PURCHASE.

      And that's where we're going. Just like those shiny new computers that die a month after their three year warranty runs out and cost as much to fix as buying a whole new computer, we'll end up with cars that are so expensive to fix it's cheaper to buy a NEW ONE. It's not about selling "parts" - manufacturers don't make nearly as much of cataloging, shipping and reselling a $400 part as they make off selling a whole new car. It's all part of planned obsolesence - not just of cars and computers, but an attempt to make obsolete "antiquated" concepts like quality and craftsmanship. Replace art with graphic design; intellect with economics.

  • by dummkopf ( 538393 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:06PM (#8905194) Homepage
    a) If the car repair industry requires IT gues, well heck, better for us hacker and hobbyists out there!

    b) While the cars become more complex, the tools to fix them become better. Nowadays a mechanic plugs a laptop into your car and the car tells him/her "the fuel pump is 10% off, should I readjust?". 15 years ago mechanics would do something closely resembling forensics to figure out which wire was fried. This is done today in seconds.

    Clearly some complex parts are hard to repair, but instead of dumping them, export them to third world countries where they will be miracolously repaired....
    • by Zweistein_42 ( 753978 ) * on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:18PM (#8905413) Homepage
      b) is only half the truth... that laptop-wielding mechanic also won't have a clue when some actual trouble-shooting needs to be done. I've had technicians who could hear the horrible, screeching sounds coming from the engine as well as I could, but since no codes were forthcoming from the diagnostic machine, the problem "did not exist". So... some problems are easy to diagnose -- if there's a working sensor designed to detect that specific problem. Other problems are devilishly difficult as cars get so complex that it is near impossible to figure out what is causing an intermittent glitch.
  • The problem is... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AcquaCow ( 56720 ) * <acquacow @ h o> on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:06PM (#8905195) Homepage
    Newer cars are being treated like appliances rather than machines. Machines you have to maintain, appliances you replace.

    The problem with this is that cars _are_ indeed machines. People are just lazy.

    People no longer care if "that thing's got a hemi" They just want 50mpg and oil that never has to be replaced.

    It's sad.
    • by swillden ( 191260 ) * <> on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:31PM (#8905622) Homepage Journal

      Newer cars are being treated like appliances rather than machines... It's sad.

      Depends on your point of view, I suppose.

      Personally, I think it's rather impressive. Back when everyone could work on their own car, everyone *had* to work on their own car, because cars needed lots of attention on a regular basis just to keep running. Modern automobiles have gotten so reliable that people fully expect them to run for 100,000+ miles without anything more than gas, oil changes and new tires and brakes. The day when driving a car daily meant you had to be able to troubleshoot problems is gone.

      It's sad for people who enjoy working on cars in their spare time, but for everyone else, who just wants to get from point A to point B, reliably, comfortably, safely and in whatever style they prefer, it's great.

      I like not having to fiddle with my cars; it frees up time I can spend fiddling with computers, dive gear, my nifty new GPS receiver, etc.

    • by elandal ( 9242 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:43PM (#8905865) Homepage
      For me, a car is a way to get from place A to place B comfortably, economically, and in reasonable time.

      In last year I've opened the hood a few times: to add water (and some liquid stuff they sell at gas stops) to windshield cleaning thingie. If there's anything except adding fuel or the cleaning solution, the car goes to a repair shop. Well, changing tires is done in another shop as I know the people working there and know they're going to sell me good tires for reasonable price.

      I don't want to open the hood. I don't want to do any repairs. I want to move between locations comfortably, economically, when I want to (as opposed to when the busses/trains go, although I do choose the train quite often).

      For these reasons, I'm not going to buy a 20 year old "real car" but rather a new one that will work without trouble for a few years again.
  • /me hugs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by acceleriter ( 231439 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:06PM (#8905203)
    the 1990 Volvo 240 wagon, and sleeps better at night knowing that my insurance company and the police can't download my driving history from a black box, either.
  • This is too true (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bigjnsa500 ( 575392 ) <> on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:07PM (#8905223) Homepage Journal
    Just pop the hood of any new car nowadays. Almost everything is *enclosed* in plastic. It's getting to the point where dealers will have a monopoly on car repair.

    How can you fix this problem? Stop buying new cars when you car is perfectly good. Plus it will save you a few bills each month.

  • Bic Cars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thales ( 32660 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:08PM (#8905242) Homepage Journal
    I Have bought cars like a Bic Lighter for years. Get a Cheap one in the 500 to 1000 dollar price range, drive it till it breaks down and go get another one.

    With New Car payments in the 400 dollar plus range if an 800 dollar car lasts over two months (most do) you are ahead of the people driving new cars. The Champ junker I bought was a 200 dollar 1977 Caprice that lasted 3 years and still fetched 75 bucks from the scrap yard!
    • Re:Bic Cars (Score:4, Funny)

      by Pfhreakaz0id ( 82141 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:15PM (#8905363)
      a person after my own heart. I once had a nissan sentra with 270K miles when the odometer stopped, and I drove it for another year.

      Best thing was when I took it to the shop to get the breaks fixed (got a cheap break dude who would do it for $40, so why do it myself). He said "you know you head gasket is leaking oil right? you should get that fixed, but it's like $600-$800. You'll blow the engine and get stranded" (he knew I had a long commute). My response " guess it's time to get that cell phone I've been thinking about.."
  • by Craptastic Weasel ( 770572 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:08PM (#8905243)
    "We're moving closer and closer to the disposable car," says Dan Bailey, an executive vice president at Carstar, the largest auto-body repair franchise in the United States.

    Um...Am I the only one who thinks there are probably numerous reasons why this is a bad idea/statement? Disposable Car? People in other countires must love our frame of mind. If a brand new BMW (as in story) costs more to replace the air bags than the car, than somebody please, sell me a BMW sans airbags. I'll throw in a five point harness, reinforce the subframe, and sign a waiver. I think I have a rain check for a mid-life crisis around here somewhere....

    No... really... disposable car = huh? Recycled car / rethink industry as a whole = hah!
    besides, does anyone here in the IT industry really want to figure out why the 2010 Ford Festiva is having a hard time finding drivers (pun?) for it's various parts?...

  • by CatGrep ( 707480 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:09PM (#8905251)
    increased use of expensive electronics

    The use of electronics in cars was supposed to make them cheaper not more expensive. The problem isn't generally the 'expensive electronics' the problem usually is that there aren't enough trained technicians to fix electronic problems. Most mechanics are trained in, well mechanics, not electronics.

    xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights: $3,000 each

    I'm thinking this isn't a general problem. How many people are buying cars that have $6000 worth
    of headlights alone? Damn, those must be some mighty fine headlights, why not just equip the car with nightvision goggles, it would be cheaper.

    Specialist technicians need advanced reading, problem-solving, and basic electronics skills.... The best people to find are those who have worked in the IT [information technology] industry.

    I've actually been thinking that automotive electronics diagnostics & repair could be a good field to get into - it can't be outsourced and the demand is there.
  • by lukewarmfusion ( 726141 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:10PM (#8905272) Homepage Journal
    My father works for a company that produces aftermarket automotive wiring. He's noticing a lot of products that are designed to supplant this kind of individual part - by combining multiple parts, they prevent people from replacing just the part in question.

    So instead of replacing your spark plugs (~$15), you have to replace the plugs, the wiring, etc. The total cost? More than $100 for some. It's intentional - it's like soldering your CPU to your motherboard so you have to replace the whole board in order to upgrade/replace your CPU. I believe Packard Bell used to do this, and look where they are now.
  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:11PM (#8905280) Homepage
    If working, playing or otherwise surviving in the PC world has taught the Slashdot community any lessons at all, it is that the matured concept of standardized modules combined with competition can lower costs incredibly.

    Auto manufacturers can go a LONG way to lower the cost of cars and car repair by creating a variety of standardized systems. While it's true that to some extent that style and creativity would be hampered by the inclusion of modular standards for automobiles, the cost issue can be quickly and effectively addressed.

    Consider the various levels of standardization that we already enjoy. There are standardized tool sizes. There are standardized bays for electronics in the dash such as radios, CD and even DVD players. The incredibly thin margins on the still surviving PC components market proves out that making automobile components even more standard and modularized could easily address the concern over the rising cost of automotive repair.

    In many ways, if the concept were more widely addressed, a great number of matters could be addressed such as handling recalls of various components and even upgrades.

    This could open the door to smaller manufacturers to get into the third party parts business... which is exactly why the idea will probably never be realized.
  • by Pfhreakaz0id ( 82141 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:11PM (#8905281)
    I guess there must be consumer demand... Last year my wife and I were all set to purchase our first new car (we're 35 and consider cars a horrid waste of money), but we simply could not find a "base" model. Everything has power windows, locks, CD player (actually wanted that).

    God forbid you want a car that doesn't have all the crap or *GASP* not an automatic transmission (I'll take the lower gas milage and increased service problems for $800 alex!").

    Anway, when we could only find ONE manual, base moodel subaru Forester in the entire STATE and we didn't like that color, we bought a used one at an auction threw a friend for $7k less, 2 years old 28K miles (this is why I don't buy new!).
  • Not Worried (Score:4, Insightful)

    by atheos ( 192468 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:13PM (#8905332) Homepage
    Since the advent of computers & other high tech components in automobiles, people have long been predicting the same thing.
    Honestly, how many 1970 automobiles do pass on your way to work?

    Consumers buy new cars every few years regardless of the maintenance costs on their trade in cars, and people will never stop crashing their cars & filling salvage yards with plenty of recyclable parts.
    In a sense, cars have been "disposable" for many years.
    Leased vehicles are "disposed" from one class of consumers, down to another class and so on.

    This reminds me of a book I read about garbology (can't remember the title), where scientist were baffled about the low quantity of washers & dryers found in dumps. They discovered that broken appliances were exported to central and south America to be rebuilt, and that many of the appliances used there were decades old!
  • by yppiz ( 574466 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:14PM (#8905349) Homepage
    Some of the complexity of new cars also makes them much lower maintenance. For example, the engine computer on most cars replaces a system that required serious and frequent maintenance.

    This trend is also driving mechanics out of business. It used to be that a car would generate serious $$$ in terms of annual scheduled maintenance.

    So consider the plight of independent mechanics - not only does it now require the equivalent of a college degree's education to understand most cars, but it's also less rewarding because there are fewer opportunities for maintenance.

    This is a double-hit.

    --Pat /

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:14PM (#8905355)
    These guys are on crack. Auto dealers get a good deal of their profits from repairs. They aren't about to let the carmakers close off this business.

    As far as the headlight cost, a full conversion kit including ballasts, headlights and wiring harness typically costs $500. The actual lights are about $50 ea. Not $3000.

  • by kpharmer ( 452893 ) * on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:43PM (#8905857)
    sometimes old technology kicks butt. I've got a pair of 70s IH Scouts that I bought for a few thousand dollars years ago.

    They're now over 25 years old, are driven every day, and never break down (well almost).

    - initial cost was very low
    - labor is cheap & easy
    - parts are very cheap and readily available
    - most components are extra-heavy-duty, and so last hundreds of thousands of miles
    - seven passenger convertible
    - can use it to pull stumps on the weekend then commute topless during the week!
    - gets better mileage than a new truck
    - more fun to drive than most new trucks

    - no cup-holders
    - no airbags
    - no cup-holders
    - loud on the highway
    - even with extra emissions equipment, it isn't as clean or efficient as a new economy-oriented vehicle.

    And the best part? After a day of listening to vendors describe how their shiney new product has made everything we're using from 2003 so obsolete...getting into a vehicle designed in the early sixties that still outperforms many new vehicles on the road. Screw disposable, build something amazing and folks will use it for decades.
  • As a former tech... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:46PM (#8905896) Homepage Journal
    The article is wrong/unclear in a few places:
    • $10,000 for tools - that's just to get _started_. It isn't at all uncommon for an experienced mechanic to have more equity in his tools than in his house; $40,000 is not at all uncommon.
    • The "special tools" racket is nothing new. As early as 1969, Chrysler required a "special tool" for removing the distributor - it was a factory-approved ball peen hammer.
    • True, cars today have fewer user-maintainable parts, however, they last longer. Prior to fuel injection, a four cylinder engine could get about 25 miles to the gallon and would last about 85,000 to 100,000 miles. It would produce about 95 to 100 horsepower, and would have to be tuned up every 10,000 to 15,000 miles. Today, a car with a "standard" four cylinder engine averages around 35 mpg, produces 120 horsepower, can go for 100,000 miles between tuneups, and will last about 200,000 miles with good maintenance.
    • Over the course of 100,000 miles, the increase in fuel economy will save more than 1100 gallons of gas. At 1.85 per gallon, that's about $2100. Add in the cost of 6 tuneups (at $350 a piece), and now you've saved $3900.
    • Thanks to fuel injection and electronic ignition timing, a normally aspirated 4 cylinder engine can easily produce 140 brake horsepower. A turbocharged four can now easily break the 225 hp mark. Prior to this, horsepower figures like these required a V8 and abysmal fuel economy. (And note that the 400+ hp figures quoted in vintage promotional materials were actually measured at the flywheel, not the car's wheels. When the SAE adopted the new standard, V8's that had formerly been rated at 350 hp were now rated at 200.)
    • Carbureuted cars were notorious for failing to start in the winter. 25 years ago, _no one_ started their car in winter and attempted to drive off without first letting the engine warm up - most would stall. While it was possible to tune a carbureuted car for winter starts, doing so resulted in the engine running a little richer than it should, and it had to be done every season.
    • 35 years ago, the average person could understand enough about an automobile to do their own repairs, and many of them did - quite frequently, as a matter of fact. If I owned a vintage car, with my driving schedule, I'd have to:
      1. Rebuild the engine every other year.
      2. Replace the brakes every year.
      3. Pay $3300 a year more in gasoline.
      4. Tune up the car twice a year.
      5. Change the oil every five weeks. (Which hasn't changed for new vehicles...).

    The only area in which cars have not become lower maintenance is oil changes. You still need to change the oil every 3,000 miles. But aside from that, most cars today require very little maintenance compared to their simpler predecessors.

    Yes, cars are more complicated, but for the first time in history, machines with moving parts are more reliable than those without. The average PC is less reliable than the average car, and given a choice, I think most people would rather have a reliable vehicle than a simple one requiring more maintenance.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:57PM (#8906063)
    I've noticed several posters grumping about the cost of a brand new car and how it's at least a 500% markup over "cost", and how the automobile industry is just pure evil for trying to "corner the market on repairs", but let's not forget that our own industry (whether you're a "hardware person" or, like me, a "software person") is guilty of many of the same sins -- no, just because "everybody else is doing it, too!" doesn't make it "right" (I won't accept that answer from my kids any more than my Dad would've accepted it from me...) but there are some dynamics at work here that are pretty easy to see once we get past the "ouch" factor generated by an ever-increasing cost of owning transportation.

    1. Labor is expen$ive! -- There's a common misconception that modern automobiles are "mass produced on automated assembly lines", and while the current state-of-the-art assembly line is more automated (and more cool to watch) than ever, there's still a LOT of touching by human hands going on. Add to that the complication that no matter how automated an assembly plant gets they're still going to be contractually required to employ a certain number of people (whether you're a union fan or foe, you can't deny that they're the ones who really run the show) and at the same time shift more and more of their workload onto those machines/robots.
      Technology is expen$ive -- All those robots, controllers, lift-assist devices, etc. aren't cheap , plus they're not servicable by just anybody (a lot of heavy equipment sales contracts include exclusive service contracts -- where do you think the auto industry learned the trick in the first place? They're just aware that no ordinary consumer in their right mind would buy their car from someone who "held them over the barrel" on the maintenance!)
      Tech people are expen$ive -- (this is where many of us come in) all that engineering (mechanical, electrical, and computational) expertise (not just directly employed by the auto industry but also employed by their suppliers, with the costs getting passed-on to you-know-where...) comes at a price; a high and ever-increasing one.
      Doing business is expen$ive -- Government regulations, public expectations, employee relations, and a myriad of other lumps in the morass that has become business in America make for an extremely costly environment to manufacture just about anything. Let's say, for example, that the media gets ahold of the fact that your automobile company's R&D department used an "open source" CAD system to develop your latest release's state-of-the-art passive restraint system. Regardless of how you or I view "open source" software, the majority of the "unwashed masses" out there still feel more comfortable with some big company's "deep pockets" standing behind a product than a dedicated cadre of nearly fanatical enthusiasts, so voilà, instant class-action suit (and then we're not talking about the majority of the "unwashed masses" out there any more, just a carefully selected 12 of them...)

    As a result of the points above (and a good many more than can be typed here with one hand while I eat my lunch with the other), the costs for equipment, supplies, software, education, facilities, even the electricity and water for nearly any major manufacturing facility are driven up, up and UP. "Cost"?!?! Yeah.
    • by langeland ( 607444 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @01:26PM (#8906464)
      Yes, manufacturing, maintaining and selling cars is expensive. That is three issues. But you forgot to add the developing of new cars.

      We (the consumers) demand cars with ever more advanced technologies installed. Those technologies don't just appear out of the air - they are developed just like any software are developed. Development costs! The car companies have to gain profit for this development overhead - and the scheduled maintinance checks seem right on target for that.
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Monday April 19, 2004 @01:00PM (#8906111) Homepage Journal

    I am a novice mechanic who has owned and worked on (to some degree) 12 cars. Some of them I ran into the ground, some of them I sold, some of them I ran into other cars. So that was my introduction to learning how to work on cars - buying beaters. About the most complicated thing I've done so far was a head swap on a SOHC toyota motor, or at least I participated in it :P Actually, doing the oil pan on my 240SX without removing the motor was kind of an odyssey all on its own, involving dropping the cross member...

    Now, I'm in air conditioning class, have taken an auto body class and an auto paint class, and have been doing that kind of stuff for some time, and as well I have a car that I work on somewhat regularly and my girlfriend has another which I'm going to pull the transmission from soon as I get a sunny weekend. Then, I'm going to be getting a 1962 chevy pickup which is going to need a ton of work. So I know a little something about working on older cars.

    The first big thing to make it hard to work on modern cars was the ECU. Code readers came out as a result. It's true that you can't get the really cool codes out of the computer without knowing all the manufacturer-specific information, like the position of mode doors, the values of sensors, and so on. However, the documentation still tells you how to go about testing all that stuff with nothing more complicated than a DVOM. Any shop without a DVOM is no shop at all, so that's no big deal.

    Finally let us discuss the price of intensely expensive individual parts. This is a scam by the dealership to make money. However any car with $3,000 headlights (for example - The headlights on a 1991 Acura NSX are $500 each just for the reflectors is pretty much meant to be dealer-serviced-only. Basically all top end cars are meant to be serviced only by the dealer, but no automaker I'm aware of makes cars which are unfeasible to service in any old shop.

    With that said, the repair garage is on its way out. Oh sure it'll be many decades before it happens but progress is relentless. Eventually everyone will want to trade in their internal combustion monsters (except for those people doing motorsports, did you know you can run methanol in ordinary engines with minimal conversion? it's high octane, too) for fuel cell, battery-powered, flywheel-powered, or other alternative-energy source vehicles because they will be both cheaper (to operate) and more reliable. As the part count drops the vehicles become easier to repair; Eventually the dealers will end up designing the parts to be easy to replace, and just charging ridiculous amounts of money for them, and anyone who can assemble a children's toy (of course, this isn't everyone) will be able to make any kind of repairs to a car.

    Oh yeah, one last note on the computerization of cars ostensibly making it harder to troubleshoot problems with your car: Some of the cars with a screen in the dash have a diagnostic mode you can put them in (outlined in the car's manual) and you can actually use that screen for a code reader. In other words, you get the full benefit of having the code reader, without even having one. This is possible because all the little computers in the car talk to one another on the newer systems. You can see which switches, doors, etc are activated without even plugging anything in.

    You have only yourself to blame if you get some high-falutin' car with the little radar parking system and everything, and then expect it to be easy to work on, and repairs to be inexpensive. It simply doesn't work that way.

  • by Pointy_Hair ( 133077 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @01:01PM (#8906119)
    It will take a fundamental change in compensation practice in the auto repair industry to make it feasable to move from IT to automotive. I made the opposite career move in 97 (auto repair to an IT job) and haven't looked back. Don't believe the stories of six-figure technician salaries. With very few exceptions that is a myth - especially with respect to "educated," non-flat-rate work. With the current system, it's the guy that beats the clock on a book job that gets the good paycheck - and that's not the sort of work that requires a brain trust to complete. Likewise, the service dealers will literally give away diagnostic time because customers refuse to pay for it, thanks to the bogus McTuneup shops that claim to do a complete job for $59.95. Unfortunately, the only guy that usually makes good money in auto repair is the shop owner - and that's with a struggle.

    WRT to the expensive parts, you didn't actaully think all those safety features would not cost more than the old stuff? That's why an "economy" car costs what it does. It's litigation insulation that's not optional for the buyer.

    One upside = job security. If you can read above a 3rd grade level, have some mechanical aptitude and a decent set of tools, you'll never be unemployed in the auto repair industry unless you just don't want to work. Everyone wants to hire a top diagnostic guy but they're never willing to compensate appropriately. If the worse should happen and I get layed off my IT job, it's comforting to know that I can bring 10 years of experience and college education to bear on the goal of earning $15-20/hour flat-rate.
  • Are we to believe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2004 @01:07PM (#8906207)
    Mechanics are some how "less smart" than other individuals, or conversely that people in IT are some how smarter. I'm a programmer and most programmers I know have no clue what is under the hook. Ask 1000 programmers to identify the carburator, or the distributor. How many do you think know the answer to that? Better yet, give a IT guy a manual for building the transmission and engine. How many could do it by themselves correclty on the first try without screwing something up. Modern engines have thousands of parts. Building one and tuning it is not trivial or simple. It takes real talent.

    Hell, ask an IT geek to weld some steel and see how sound that weld is. Like technology getting more sophisticated will some how spell the doom of mechanics. Mechanics will change and evolve just like all the IT guys getting replaced with off-shore workers.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @01:29PM (#8906504) Homepage
    For a few years in the 1980s, cars had to have good bumpers. Vehicles had to survive a 5MPH collision with very limited damage. The auto industry fought the 5MPH no-damage bumper standard [] hard. and it was reduced to 2.5MPH and weakened in other ways under Republican administrations.

    Then came "integrated bumpers" and "bumperless cars". Those things can be totalled at very low speeds. Damages in minor collisions soared.

    Here's the Institute for Highway Safety [] on the "$3000 light replacement" issue. They write: "The Institute's continuing series of 5 mph bumper tests show that today's flimsy bumpers can result in substantial and expensive damage to vehicle lighting systems. For example, in March of this year the Institute released results of front-into-angle-barrier tests of several new models. In the tests, the housings for the headlights on both the Acura RL and Infiniti Q45 broke and had to be replaced. Largely because of the cost of the headlamp assembly, the damage to the Q45 in the angle-barrier impact totaled $2,661." That's probably the source of the "$3000" figure.

    The lack of a tough bumper standard coupled with the crashworthyness requirement means that the car's crumple zones crumple in minor collisions. Hence the big repair bills.

An elephant is a mouse with an operating system.