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Was your car built to stop working?

Roadshow logo Roadshow 8/14/2018 Brian Cooley
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Have you found that a part for your relatively modern car isn't made any more, or that one of its connected services no longer connects to anything? I hear from a lot of viewers who are stuck in these situations, most recently about the Ford Vehicle Health Report, which was discontinued on Aug. 1, 2018 with a suggestion that owners can get similar advice by visiting the dealer. Very 20th century. 

Ford recently discontinued an online vehicle health report service, prompting some owners to wonder what they can do about it.]]>

I'm not sure planned obsolescence is the grand automaker conspiracy many feel it is, but tech innovation is driving something that feels a lot like it. Here are some of the backstops you have as an owner.

Why your car can't be repaired

Factory warranties This encompasses original and certified pre-owned warranty periods. You can safely assume all parts will be made for your car as long as a number of cars like it are on the road under either of these coverages. That buys you about seven to 10 years after the end of production for your model and generation of car.

Emissions warranties Federal law requires your car's emissions gear be covered two ways: It must be warrantied to pass emissions tests for the first two years or 24,000 miles, and all major components of your emissions system are covered for eight years or 80,000 miles.

Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act This well-known federal law says you are allowed to have your car fixed at any shop with correct, non-factory parts and remain in warranty. It says nothing, however, about how long the car factories must make parts available. 

Carmakers recently agreed to make dealer diagnostic tools and documentation available to independent shops, but that doesn't mean they have to make parts.

Right to repair Beginning in Massachusetts, this movement demanded carmakers offer to independent shops the same diagnostic tech and information that they offer to franchised dealers. As of the 2018 model year, carmakers have agreed to do so. Some consumers interpreted this as supporting parts availability as well, but it doesn't speak to that. 

Recalls If your car is recalled, the manufacturer must correct the issue at no cost to you for 10 years after the car's first sale date. But recalls only cover safety issues, not something like a connected service that no longer works unless it makes the car unsafe. 

The aftermarket In the end, this is where all long-term car owners wind up. A vast industry exists to make or refurbish parts for cars that have been abandoned by the manufacturer's parts pipeline. Quality can vary widely, from poorly produced parts all the way to ones that are better than new thanks to factory tooling combined with modern materials. 

Aftermarket parts have gotten a black eye for poor quality, but just as often they are excellent options when the factory leaves you high and dry.]]>

But software and electronics are odd birds because of different skills and intellectual property rules. Often these kinds of parts and modules are available salvaged from working used cars, rather than offered new. 

The future Electronics and connected services, in particular, cry out for new assurances regarding obsolescence. Rather than tell companies how long they must produce parts, France passed a law in 2014 that bans planned obsolescence, stating that no appliance or tech product may be designed to have its life "intentionally reduced from its conception, limiting its usage period for reasons of economic model." Appliances and tech products in France carry a label saying how long repair parts will be available, and the country is now considering modifications to that label to state the product's estimated lifespan, as well.

Your next car If you're about to get a new car whose appeal turns largely on its electric range, connected software and services, or driver assistance and autonomy functions, know that factory support or the state of the art may leave you behind after a few years of ownership. As about a third of buyers do today, consider a lease instead of a purchase when buying a car you value most for its tech. 

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