As I mentioned, there's WAY too many variables. Businesses know the cost of having people run the checkout counters. That doesn't change during busy periods or when business is slow. They simply try to cut costs by having fewer people working during slow times. Every repair shop owner knows all about having ten mechanics, and some days they have to turn away business because they're booked solid, and some days we clean the shop because there's no cars to work on. These are cases where professionals can t know all the variables for their businesses, at least until they sit down and do the books after the fact.
There's no conspiracy to hide costs from you. The UPS basketball team knows what it takes to keep their trucks on the road, but then when the cost of fuel goes up, they add on a surcharge because they couldn't plan for that variable. Airlines adjust their ticket prices all the time to account for those variables. Even my former boss at a tv repair shop had every cost associated with running the service van calculated down to the last penny, but that was AFTER the repair costs were known. How can you say your cost is going to be a certain amount when you don't even know yet what is going to break? A lot of business owners budget a certain amount for unexpected repairs, and when that amount gets exceeded multiple times, they figure it's time to dump that vehicle and buy a new one.
I've never heard of anyone in any business having a formula or time specification for each individual part. When I started at the Chrysler dealership in 1990, speaking of your light bulbs, every '87 - 90 Caravan that came in needed at least one front running light, and often all four. The common expression in the parts department was "how many bulbs do you want with that oil and filter"? Well, my '88 Grand Caravan came from there, and I just noticed last week, for the first time after 25 1/2 years, two of my bulbs were burned out. NONE of those bulbs lasted more than a couple of years, but mine did. So how would you rate their life expectancy, and are they going to burn out sooner or not depending on the vehicle's use?
How would you rate the tires' life? I run mine almost until you can see the air inside, and I never get stuck in snow. Normal people would replace them 15,000 miles before I do. You can make your own cost of ownership by how long you're willing to put up with a rattle, ineffective wiper blades, or a water leak.
A lot of the things you eluded to started with customers' expectations and demands. In the '60s, when typical highway speeds increased, we got more noise from wind turbulence over wiper blades. That was normal and people accepted it because, after all, we were in a metal box going down the road, and that made noise. Eventually some engineer figured out people would pay extra for a complicated wiper system that hid the arms under the rear edge of the hood. Today people refuse to accept the fact they're outdoors when they're in their cars. They demand their butts be roasted, she must have a heater set at two degrees warmer than on his side, the head lights have to turn on automatically because we re too stupid to do that ourselves. We treat our cars like another room of our houses, not like it s a personal transportation device that takes us from one place to another.
All of these toys and gimmicks add to the number of things that break down. I don t care if an insane engineer feels compelled to make my doors lock by themselves at 15 mph, as long as I can still lock and unlock them myself when the computer gives up. I m smart. I know how to push the lock button. Does your car have a built-in anti-theft system? From what I ve read here, they are real effective at preventing owners from driving their own cars. How would you add that variable to your list of calculations when you have to make your deliveries by walking because your car engine won t run?
Now we re hearing about GM cars that self-lock the doors with the engine running, ... After the driver got out and closed the door. That s another product of a not-too-bright engineer, but you re the one who pays the price for it. How about a Corvette with no door lock key cylinders, just a proximity sensor in the remote hand unit. If the car s battery runs down, how do you get in to remove the back seat to change the battery or open the hood? Answer: Which window do you want me to break? Do you include that repair cost in the cost of using the car for work?
I realize I m getting off track, but I hope you see my point that there s so many things you can t foresee. To get back to those individual parts, the redesigned 96 Caravan disaster had linkages in the sliding doors that can best be described as being held together with magic. When the magic wore off, a linkage would pop off, and depending on which one, you might not get the door open from the inside or outside. We were waiting for the first lawsuit after a crash involving fire and little kids stuck in the back. In all the years of building cars and trucks, when have you ever heard of a rash of lock linkages falling apart? They also had plastic lock motors that broke and jammed up so you couldn t move the lock. That never happened before either. In both cases it was to make the vehicles lighter for better fuel mileage. This is what our politicians overlook all the time; the law of unintended consequences. People demand more fuel-efficient vehicles, then whine when plastic parts are over-stressed and break.
I hear you re observation that light bulbs could last forever, and I ve had similar arguments for years, but at what cost? Twenty years ago who would have paid ten bucks for a light bulb that would last 36 years, but today we do for an LED bulb. Sure we can build a car that gets 50 mpg, but how many of us are willing to pay the much higher price for that technology? Just because we can do it doesn t mean people will buy it. Chrysler had the Horizon Miser in the late 70s that got 54 mpg and had a ton more power than a wimpy Prius. No one bought them because they wanted the bigger engine. The environmentalists have that smug attitude they re saving the planet by driving a hybrid, but they can t be bothered to think about the costs associated with mining those raw materials, and the high cost of refining and using them in the manufacturing process.
My grump is all the unnecessary use of computers in today s cars, and as a result, I refuse to own one. I m all for an Engine Computer, an Air Bag Computer, and an Anti-lock Brake Computer, but do we really need a computer to control power windows, wipers, and the heating system? All those systems worked just fine for decades without computers. I m surprised no one has hung a computer onto a wheel barrow yet!
In the 60s, Maytag built washers and dryers that lasted so long, I still have a pair. Today people buy the lowest price they can find and the manufacturers respond by giving us what we want. A new washer falls apart before it s unloaded off the delivery truck, and we accept that as normal. So can we build better? Of course we can, but who would buy it? Spark plugs used to be stretched to last 30,000 miles. Today they easily last over 100,000 miles, and we read here every week about someone not understanding what a misfire is and why it causes their car to shake. Spark plug manufacturers are still selling spark plugs, but you won t find them for 75 cents anymore.
Remember too that in the 60s and 70s, engines never lasted 400,000 miles like many do today, unless they were rebuilt twice. In the 40s engines needed a valve job every 15,000 miles. Today many need a new timing belt at 100,000 miles, but that is considered a maintenance item, not a major repair. We never needed a new cylinder head gasket at 50,000 miles, but we also never got 300 horsepower out of a little four-cylinder engine. It s a trade-off between cost and life expectancy. You and I would be willing to pay for a product that had a reputation of long life, but we can t find them anymore. It s not that they can t be profitable like you said. It s because they won t sell enough of them when there s the cheap alternatives available.
Even the taxi owners you mentioned don t have a formula for determining repair costs. Their ball joints take just as much hammering as on all cars and trucks, except for the people who drive in Indiana where they never learned about Huge gaping sink hole ahead signs for on their highways. (I went through there a couple of months ago and had to rearrange my kidneys a few times). I still can t believe I didn t blow a tire or break a tire belt. If you hear a rattle due to a sloppy ball joint, Ford owners know to have them replaced immediately. For the rest of us, how long can you put up with the noise and poor handling. Since this will happen to all cars sooner or later, do you blame that on using it for work? One of my ball joints is still original at 264,000 miles, and the other was replaced for the first time less than 20,000 miles ago. Chevy Blazers in the 90s used to eat upper ball joints and need new ones every two years. The 80s Ford Escort, which we called killer cars , often needed ball joints and tie rod ends in as little as 15,000 miles until the aftermarket industry came up with vastly-improved parts. How would you put a life expectancy on those parts when there s such a wide range? And just because my ball joint is still okay after 25 years, the typical ball joint might last half that long on identical minivans.
To close this story, let me refer again to my boss at the tv repair shop. One year he spent a day and a half, (business was slow), trying to determine whether he should put exhaust, brakes, and tires on the old van, trade it for a new one before the end of the year, after the first of next year, lease it, buy it, etc. After all those hours it came down to an even wash no matter which route he went, except that his old van got 17 mpg and the new one was rated at 18 mpg. Based on that one variable he traded for the new one, then figured out it was getting 16 mpg on a good day. All that calculating and time was wasted. To add to the insult, the new van was in the shop three times as often as the old one, and he was so frustrated that it became one of the many things he considered when he decided to retire early. He sold that pile before it went out of warranty.
I m sorry for getting so wrapped up in this reply. You already know about the fixed costs. For most business owners, car repair costs are just another business expense, and the more they can reduce expenses, the more profit they make. That profit gets applied to the future in the form of business expansion, pay raises, equipment upgrades, and things like that. Here again though, those things are pursued after those costs have been incurred and are known. What you re looking for is a formula or a list to tell you which parts are going to fail at a specific mileage, but there is nothing like that, and I doubt any business allocates dollars that way. There s just too many variables to allow for planning that way.
Friday, November 14th, 2014 AT 11:36 AM