Weak Link

In my last post I promised that, in the near future, I would cogitate on planned obsolescence, or why the manufacturers of my garage door opener chose to put in a plastic drive gear that would certainly wear out long before the other components of the machine. First of all “cogitate” is not, as you might think, defined as the mental ramblings of a codger. But in this case they may be analogous.

When I was informed by Dean, the neighborhood handyman, that it was a worn out nylon gear drive that had rendered my garage door opener non-functional, my first conclusion was that this was a design flaw. It seems that this part is the weak link in the operating system of this machine. Dean knew right where to look for the problem. He said he’d already replaced them for most of the neighborhood.

What do you think would have happened if I’d called a garage door repair specialist? Would he have replaced the gear or sold me a new opener? I’m thinking new opener. Was there some design requirement that mandated the use of a nylon gear? Like functioning under specific conditions. Or did Sears specify the use of the gear so the opener would fail after 10 years instead of 20, so they could sell more units over time? Or would a more reliable (metal?) part add enough cost so that the Craftsman 1/2 hp unit couldn’t compete in the market with similar products?

You might think that I’m going to answer those questions. I’m not. I’m hoping you can. I will observe that this kind of design is part of the price we pay in the world of mass production and part of why we’ve turned into a throw away society.

What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Weak Link”

  1. “Planned Obsolescence” is not just a phrase you used but a book written some 30 years ago by Vance Packard. Very interesting book at the time, the homeowner’s bible now. Everything you buy, hope to buy, wish you could buy, or will buy is geared to break down requiring you to not repair, but purchase another item at the much inflated pricetag.

    There is not way out. LOL Good luck.

  2. I just went through a similar experience with a discontinued shop-vac (Rigid from Home Depot). The filter for my 4 year old vac was no longer available. My options, clean the filter I had with another vacuum cleaner (which I’ve been doing for a couple years) and getting a new shop vac. Fortunately, after multiple visits to multiple Home Depots… I was granted a brand new replacement shop-vac, as an even exchange. So, I ended up “satisfied” in the eyes of the Home Depot folks, but what a maze to navigate! And what a bad reason to dispose of a perfectly good vac.
    I’ve long seen the replace/repair fulcrum as one of the principal factors that determine whether profit-driven capitalism represents a positive or negative force in the big picture of civilization. It’s hard not to be cynical and suspect of corporations’ motivations at each step. Ultimately, we all pay the price and pass the messes on to our progeny.
    Maybe someday any 14 year old kid in the bario will be able to quickly fix a broken ipod or handheld gaming device with the casual familiarity of today’s most experienced micro-electronics engineer, but I doubt it. The tools required to make things tiny (and make tiny things) are simply too complicated and expensive (for now) to imagine a future in which fixing the shrinking gadgets will be more cost-effective than replacing them.

  3. Thanks Queen and Jerry for the thoughtful comments.
    AT least I have to tip my hat a bit to Sears, they had the part. They’ve always been pretty good about that.
    It’s getting hard to find shoe repair shops any more. I used to resole shoes all the time.

  4. The lure of big profits has made it increasingly impractical to build things that last. Our utilitarian (rather than aesthetic) society turns out not to be so utilitarian after all.

  5. Bad timer in the toaster oven. Cost of timer + shipping is about half the cost of replacement with me doing the labor. So it’s fix & hope something else doesn’t break or buy a new one. My understanding is that appliance engineers are very good at meeting load cycle goals. They can make it wear out when they want it to.

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