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Products Made to Fail and Break

They just don’t make things like they used to – intentionally! If products lasted for years, then we wouldn’t have to replace them and manufacturers wouldn’t make as much money. Thus, starting in the 1950s and 1960s, manufacturers consciously decided to make products that were designed to fail and break.

If you haven’t heard of this conspiracy to rip your hard-earned dollars out of your pocket over and over again, that may be because business gave it a fancy name. The term “Planned Obsolescence” refers to the practice of intentionally designing goods to fail and break after a set time period of “acceptable life” once purchased.

Instead of being dismissed as a lousy idea and a way to cheat consumers, is it any surprise that it was embraced by businesses everywhere? You’ll see it most often in the following products:

Printer Inks:  The amount of ink left in your printer is measured by a microchip, which shuts off printing when levels are below a certain amount. Not when the ink is gone – just when it’s below where manufacturers want it. And God help you if you want to print black and white when the cyan or yellow are low – it’s not allowed! Manufacturers make more money from ink purchases than from the printers themselves, so they installed the microchips to keep the revenues flowing.

Cars:  The new model year is barely different from the previous year, but every year car makers rush something new to the market. As a result, it is increasingly difficult to find older car parts. Manufacturers don’t want to provide spare parts – they want you to buy a new car. Thank goodness the Internet helps you fight back by letting you source parts from all over the country and even the world – otherwise your local dealer would have you right where he wants you when your current car breaks down.

Consumer Electronics:  Apple once got sued for designing its batteries to fail just after the warranty expired. They don’t do that anymore, but the market as a whole seems intent on making your computer, laptop, cell phone, and mp3 player obsolete as soon as possible. Batteries die, operating systems won’t support new programs, and replacement parts for “vintage” electronics stop being manufactured. But “new and improved” often isn’t any better – the new smart phones are notoriously bad at actually making phone calls, just to give one example. It’s better to try and patch your old system for as long as you can!

Clothes:  Clothing doesn’t hold together like it once did thanks to the rise of “fast fashion” retailing. Basically, the idea is to find the new hot look and get it into stores as fast as possible using the cheapest materials and labor available. The item is made to last as long as the fad – and no longer. Ripped seams, pulled threads, disappearing buttons, and worn-through fibers are all hallmarks of this trend. Being handy with a needle is one way to fight back, and so is buying vintage clothing – the old stuff was made with care and designed to last a lot longer!

Nylons:  The original nylon was used for parachutes by the military in WWII. Try to imagine jumping out of a plane armed only with a few pairs of LEGGS or Hanes hosiery sewn together. The original pantyhose and nylon makers quickly figured out that hose that lasted forever wasn’t profitable – so they made it weaker and more easily torn to keep the sales flowing.

There are so many more products out there designed to wear out and break down. With effort, you can avoid them or work around their flaws, but it’s no joke that manufacturers are after your wallet. What tricks have you found to outsmart them and their made-to-break goods?

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