Are Cars Designed to Fail At A Certain Point?

I still remember the first time having my big wheel, and all the flashy, attractive car components surrounding. It is a wonderful feeling and we drivers want it to last forever. However, do car manufacturers make much profit if they sell beautiful, long lasting car products? That’s right, they want these parts to be broken soon. There is a legendary question in the car industry that remains unsolved for centuries: “Are cars designed to fail at a certain point?” And it is not unreasonable. 

To be more specific, car manufacturers disguise planned obsolescence by using various tricks. Many drivers must feel frustrated at least one time because the dealership’s service shops no longer have the car part you need. Even though this sounds normal since manufacturers cannot keep making unusual components for old vehicles. However, basic and popular car items that are used in various models, should be available for a decent amount of time. 

The manufacturers also encourage car owners by creating many upgrades in equipment and appearance. Even though their cars are working wonderfully, the automakers still whisper that they are old cars, with old paint colors, dull looking headlights.

With this action, car owners can understand the message that car dealerships are trying to send: You should buy a whole new car. So what is planned obsolescence? And how does it affect the automobile industry?

Planned Obsolescence


Planned obsolescence is a unique strategy of designing a product with a limited lifespan. By doing this, the part will become old and obsolete after a specific time. This strategy is very well-known in industrial economics and design. When mentioning obsoleting, it can either be unfashionable or broken down by normal standards. Whatever it is, car manufacturers thought through with it. With carefully executed and designed, they reduce the time between repeat product purchases and therefore, increase long-term sales.

Planned Obsolescence is a famous trick (Source: Unsplash)

To be fair, you can see planned obsolescence everywhere, from computers, smartphones to the fashion industry. The fashion designers are the one determining whether your clothes are out of fashion or not, and it is the same story with the automotive industry. To be more specific, they understand what will happen to your vehicle in the next 40 thousand-mile service from the time they sell the brand new car to you. And without a doubt, a great new update is awaiting. This strategy never fails.


In 1924, Alfred P.Sloan Jr., the president of General Motors, wanted to change the annual design for his company’s cars manufactured. He aimed to encourage buyers and consumers to buy new replacement parts every year and called it the dynamic obsolescence. However, critics and car owners knew about the planned obsolescence, and this was the beginning of it.

The planned obsolescence worked perfectly for the company, and in the automotive industry. Mr Sloan created the dominant force for other companies to follow. Eventually, smaller automakers would be eliminated since they cannot maintain the expense of yearly redesigns, leaving only strong companies. 

Types of Planned Obsolescence in Vehicle Industry

Over one hundred years, car manufacturers have mastered their skills of instilling planned obsolescence in their vehicles. This is a hard task due to the rising level of competitors, newer engineering skills, better innovations. Automakers must be able to design more cleverly. It should be just enough for hiding the obvious strategies against expert drivers. So what types of planned obsolescence do they usually do? Here are two of them:

Make Spare Components Rare

In order to suggest car owners to change their car, automakers can make the spare parts really rare. It is quite normal for vehicle owners to drive to the dealership for simple repair and be told the part they want is no longer in stock. So drivers must choose between hunting limited car components, or buying a new car. Either ways, automakers will have the benefits.   

Making Spare Components Rare is a good trick in automobile industry (Source: Unsplash)

Restyling Many Times

This strategy works so well that every car brand is using it. Every year, there is a new model presented with all of their amazing features. Then a few months later, they redesign the same car with a better interior, better features, better look, and even stronger engine. And this is how the manufacturers manipulate the buyer: The consumers will think that their car is now old and no longer fashionable. This creates a desire, a need to own the newer model. 

Are Cars Designed to Fail at a Certain Point?

As being said, planned obsolescence is just designed to be undesirable and unfashionable compared to the latest product. It does not mean your vehicle is designed to break down. Car manufacturers create automobile components and parts that have a certain usable life. So when they are old, drivers can just replace them with new ones, and the cars will continue to run. 

The material, on the other hand, is the matter. To be more specific, rubber, plastic, metal cannot last forever. And drivers can replace them when their time has come. For that reason, planned obsolescence is not that bad, since it encourages improvement and innovation. Not to mention, planned obsolescence also improves the styling of the automotive industry. 

How To Prevent Planned Obsolescence

Without a doubt, the planned obsolescence strategy drives us nuts. However, experts have their own trick to prevent this from happening to themselves. And believe us, it is simple. 

Before buying, customers must do the research themselves, as well as logically consider whether the newer features or components are worth the change. With careful research, drivers can avoid planned obsolescence, and live a happy life with their current choices.