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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Bread crumb the second - In the car
July 26, 2010 - 6:00pm

Not too long ago, I had my car repaired. It's got about 100K miles on it and, being a GM product, the fuel sending unit failed. That's the moderately complex doohickey that both pumps fuel from the tank and tells you how much fuel remains. The "how much fuel remains" part had gone entirely bonkers (so my gas gauge needle was swinging randomly left and right), and at that mileage it made sense to replace the whole assembly even though only one little part of it had failed.

The one little part which failed was a piece of cut and shaped sheet metal about 5% as big as a regular postage stamp. On the business (sliding electrical contact) end, it was cut as if with pinking shears, so that it had three individual fingers which reached out and completed a circuit. My mechanic told me that this design had been adopted by GM in the mid-1990's, that before then the metal part had been slightly larger and significantly more solid, that before the change the thing usually lasted as long as the car, that since the change they've been failing regularly and predictably, and that 15 years later GM is still putting the same stupid parts into its cars and trucks.

So, a major American-owned (and I mean all Americans) company is apparently following a strategy of planned obsolescence. Make them cheap, plan for them to fail, then charge through the nose for the replacement parts. (Maybe it's the part manufacturer which has the planned obsolescence strategy. That doesn't make it any smarter or more sustainable. That just means that you and I probably don't hold as much preferred stock in the company.)


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