April 19, 2004
The Politics of Repair

Slashdot linked up this Christian-Science Monitor article about how cars are "too expensive" to repair and we are sliding down a slope toward the "disposable car".

A more critical reader will quickly note the primary source for the article, an insurance industry-funded data warehouse, is not what you'd call an objective observer. Further, most of the cars cited, various BMWs, Jaguars, and Acuras, are far from commonplace on even aristocratic roadways in America.

In my own opinion, this is little more than a subtle attempt by the insurance industry to justify higher profit margins in this era of one-time-use safety. Remember folks, these were the people who foisted the 5-mph "it's-a-bumper-no-it's-a-battering-ram" bumper concept on all of us, trying to convince everyone it made them "safer". Also note the items they complain the most about, airbags, are the things that actually do save lives. In the particular case of the BMW in the article, I'd be grateful the car saved my son's life, because it would allow me to kill him myself!

And as far as the complexity of automobiles requiring elaborate equipment and highly educated technicians, well, you get what you pay for. My 71 Alfa Romeo Spider, a high-strung high-performance semi-exotic sports car from the very end of the non-computerized age, requires regular and involved maintenance every six thousand miles or so just to keep it running. Even "normal" sedans from the 60s and 70s required relatively comprehensive "tune-ups" to stay in tip-top running condition. Sure, you could do it yourself, but you had to do it all the time. And, to be blunt, most people didn't.

The comparison with our 2001 PT Cruiser is instructive. Truly major maintenance is required only at thirty thousand mile intervals, and even then the list of things "fixed" is amazingly short. A technician with an associate degree may be required to work on it if it breaks, but if it only needs fixing every four years who cares?

Posted by scott at April 19, 2004 12:44 PM

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