The high price of our comfort

images (164)As part of plans to travel over the Easter weekend I spent part of yesterday morning waiting at my local garage to have some new tyres fitted onto my car. Whilst I was there I bumped into the mechanic who used to service my car. Although semi-retired he still works on cars 2 days a week. Sadly for both of us his workshop is now longer capable of understanding the intelligent components within the car, which is 7 years old and a relatively modest family car. We discussed matters and he left with the car he had brought in to be checked for its MOT. According to the garage, he brings some of his cars into their workshop for them to test on their systems, but his preference is to work on cars which are easy for a man who has spent 35 years fixing cars to do on the spot. Whilst few people would want to buy a 35 year old car if comfort or safety was their priority it did seem a shame that he was unable to fix our car. Further discussion with the garage revealed that they spend over £20,000 per year on software fees just to ensure that they can interrogate the engine management systems of the cars that they service. Assuming that a garage makes a profit margin of around 10% they would need to generate around £200,000 of turnover before they even had the funds to pay for the software. Well beyond the means of a one man mechanic, or even 3-4 mechanics operating together. This means that people like my semi retired car mechanic will never be replaced with someone younger coming along. He will not have the opportunity to sell his business on, nor could he ever take on an apprentice, even if he was young enough to work full time and was prepared to do so. Lots of jobs change as society itself changes and many roles have been lost over many years. However the extent to which my mechanic or even the place where I now take my car is able to operate independent of the big chains of garages owned by the major car manufacturers should be a matter of concern to all of us. Even tasks which do not require a computer to solve the problem are in the hands of the car and van designers. One of the vehicles which they help look after is a Renault commercial vehicle. It takes a solid 45 minutes to remove and replace the headlight bulb. At a Renault dealer it costs over £90 to have the lamp changed. Even my mechanic charges around £60 for the same action. The reason is that in order to remove the bulb, the battery and other components also need to be removed. It is not clear if a better design would be as safe and attractive to the driver and pedestrians as the current design is. However the cost of replacing the bulb of many other vehicles would be around a quarter of the £60 fee.


About ianchisnall

I have a passion to see public policy made accessible everyone who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as in policies on health services and strategic planning.
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3 Responses to The high price of our comfort

  1. Jimmy 1 says:

    i think this is called progress I suppose you would have been on the side of the Luddites as well !

    • ianchisnall says:

      I think progress would be to introduce the improvements in a manner where the cost of the software would be borne by the person who purchases the car, not a stealth tax which forces us into the arms of the authorised dealers (at one point the software was not even available to independents until 2 years after its release) and progress would be to make bulb replacement something that the owner of the car could achieve without taking a mechanics course. Thanks for reading the blog Jimmy.

  2. Peter Grace says:

    Ian, time and technology move on. Coach drivers move over for train drivers. Small shop keepers move over for the supermarkets and so life moves on you and I are replaced by grandchildren – complaining that it is too complicated for you, or your friend, to change a lightbulb on your car is the way life has always gone … and as for stealth tax – either way you and I will pay for the privilege of technology taking over from the person in oily overalls.
    Time for you and I to sit back, relax and smile as our children and grandchildren move in – and in a few years we can watch and listen as they complain that new technologies are making huge changes and nothing is as good as it used to be … the ‘official’ complaint of everyone over the age of 45.
    Keep smiling, keep complaining and enjoy the Easter break

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