Horrible, consumer-unfriendly designs are nothing new out of Detroit or any other international center of automotive design 'excellence'.
I bought a used 1997 Plymouth (Dodge/Chrysler) Grand Voyager... it had its flukes, but didn't seem bad... at first... As the repairs were required, I quickly found out what a money pit it was... I loved how it required both US/Imperial(/SAE?) standard and Metric/ISO socket sizes... I once went to change out the oil pan gasket and found that of the screws holding the oil pan on, one of them was above a motor mount on the bottom of the engine, without clearance to access it, even from the side with an open-end wrench. The previous owner must have found this out, too, since someone had tried running a bead of sealant around the edge of the oil pan when the gasket had leaked previously. Another time the water pump needed to be replaced. In order to do that, I thought I might get away with simply removing the serpentine belt then a few bolts... however, I quickly discovered that the actual pump was behind a thick iron/steel plate mounted to the block and a motor mount, behind the serpentine belt. I had to lift the engine and use a second set of jack stands to support it while I removed the pulley off the drive shaft so I could remove this plate... while I was there, I decided to change out the timing belt as well since I didn't want to make a habit of this. It ran okay for about another year before the transmission went out... after replacing it with a dealer factory rebuilt, it ran for another year or two before electrical/starter problems arose... after replacing the battery and starter and the plugs, it ran fine for a few weeks, then died... I finally isolated it to the distributor, and was told that the distributor ran for about $1200 and had been discontinued... I found rebuilts and replacements at auto parts stores for about $400, but eventually decided that it wasn't worth it and donated it to charity (vowing never to buy another Chrysler product)... it was auctioned off for less than $300, which was less than the value of the Goodyear Eagles on it.
However, in fairness, before the van, we had a 1997 Dodge Intrepid... I actually liked that car (despite the dual socket set requirements and a problem with a driver's automatic window malfunction when it got wet one evening). While living in the North Houston metro area, in the morning I was trying to cross about 6 (8?) lanes of sporadic heavy traffic on FM 1960 near I-45... I sped across the street and started to make a turn but took it too fast... At the corner was a woman (alone) in a Daewoo (I didn't know they made cars too, having known them to make machine tools). The front driver's side corner bumper hit their driver's side front bumper... their bumper (and whole front end) collapsed... the hood was popped up, the bumper to the wheel well was crushed... it had good crumple zones since the driver was unhurt... I had braked and I estimated that my actual speed was probably down to 15 mph at impact... The damage to the Intrepid was a small dent in the plastic fender (which popped out with a good smack with a rubber faced mallet) and the flimsy/cheap headlight mounting/alignment frame had broke (but the headlight was okay). However, a few weeks later the car was stolen, and the insurance money (for replacement value, minus deductible) was used to purchase the aforementioned van.
Some of these stories remind me of a recent fixit odyssey with our 1995 VW Jetta. When the driver's side front door latch broke, it took several days while we diagnosed the problem and then several more days while we figured out a solution.
My husband had to remove the interior knobs, the door panel, the inner handle assembly, a speaker and its wiring, the inner plastic lining, and even the window glass, though he took the shortcut of leaving the glass frame assembly in place and working around it. For the latch proper, we had to detach mechanical, electric and air-pump powered security devices, and we had to determine a method for preventing the alarm system from going off during all this disassembly (one that usually required four hands). The air-pump switch assembly controlling the other door locks was obviously a later addition. And let's not mention the delicate process of removing and replacing the mechanical lock assembly.
Most of this hassle was caused by the fact that the available replacement latch carried none of the auxiliary security items.
Although Volkswagen probably couldn't have made the door's innards much more accessible, once my husband got inside the door, we discovered that what had originally been a simple design had been added on to again and again until it was ridiculously complex. Apparently, it hadn't occurred to anyone at Volkswagen that a) such repairs would ever be needed, and/or b) that the whole thing should have been redesigned to accommodate all of this new hardware, including considering its function when disassembled. For instance, it would have been nice to be able to disarm the alarm system first to prevent if from going off while working on the door, and it would also have been nice to be able to disassemble the airlocks last, so the car could be safely parked in front of our garage-less house. As it was, we wired the door shut every night with a coathanger and parked the car with that side facing the house.
A tangential, but related, aspect is not things that aren't repairable, but things that are half-broken yet impossible to fix. For example, I had a light-sender box hidden in the truck of a 1988 Toyota Camry, which I was driving up until a few years ago. The box was some kind of interface sitting in the middle of the brake circuit. Problem was, the copper contacts were all half-burned out from 15 years of use. So every other day I'd get a dashboard indication that my lights were out. I knew that meant I had to go into the trunk, pull the side panel out (not hard; it was some kind of plastic board) and jiggle the interface box back into operation.
I knew an elderly lady who owned a mid-70s Cutlass Supreme and some how had cracked her rear brake light plastic lens. I thought I'd do her a favor and replace it for her, went down to the local dealer and got the lens for about $10. Then the fun began, you couldn't get at the brake light assembly from inside the trunk, you had to remove the nice big bumper to get at the mounting screws. Fortunately, a yard handyman was there to help because it was a two man job to get that bumper off, one to hold it up while the other one got under the car and removed the bolts.
At least changing the lens was fairly easy once the bumper was off but it took both of us to get the bumper back on again.
I own a 1974 Gran Torino and changing any of the lamps, front or back, is pretty easy and straight forward, so are the spark plugs. I don't see any valid excuse for doing it any other way except to please the money grubbing pencil necks and the bottom line.
I've heard plenty complaining from the mechanics who have to work on these design nightmares and they don't seem to like it much more than the customers. Who wants to have to take apart whole sections of a car to do simple maintenance like changing spark plugs or lamps?
@PGDION: The life of the bulb is a good point. My car (2005 Beetle) had problems with bulbs (brake lights and directionals, too) going out, then coming back. Sometimes a little tap to the lens makes them come back on, sometimes it didn't, then it was back to the dealer. Doesn't seem to matter where the replacement bulbs came from, they don't last.
The right directional blinks really fast when the headlights are on, normal when they are off?!?
I had a '71 Bug that I fixed absolutely everything on myself. This new one is a huge disappointment.
Service writers and mechanics at the dealer knows this. There is a book rate and the actual rate. You are charged the book rate, but mechanics knows all the short cuts to do it faster. Like the one poster who said you can get to the bulb from the top. Probably that is what mechanics do, but you are still charged the book rate.
In my design job, with the current economic environment, schedule and cost is #1. Ease of maintenance is nice to have. If it does not affect the bottom line, it does not get done. Don't meet schedule and cost, and you are out the door.
I think consumer report or some other magazine should concentrate on replacement part cost, ease of maintenance as well as reliability. If nobody shine a light on it, consumers are not going to get it. Consumer report's reliability index probably did more to advance automotive engineering than any other technology advance. I would never buy a car without looking at that. Very very accurate.
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