Modern cars are truly a wonder. Not a single day that goes by where a new model release (or even a new manufacturer entirely) pops up in the news, on TikTok or YouTube. With more elegant looks and nicer interiors than ever before, how long will it take for these new cars to become fundamentally obsolete?
We’ll be clear upfront. This isn’t actually going to tell you how long your newly purchased (and soon to be leaking) BMW will last. But it does look at some serious concerns we have with the reparability and longevity of some of the new cars on the market today.
While there is a lot of arguments to be made, the easiest example is to look at the latest infotainment systems (better known as the radio). In the last 10 years, many manufacturers have gone from small, universally sized and easily replaceable head units to integrated infotainment systems.
These sprawling displays are getting to the point now where they take up 2/3 of the dashboard and have the gauges, A/C and radio all combined in one super-ultra-widescreen-touchscreen mega-panel. While there are many arguments to the safety of having such huge displays taking up much of the viewing space, these expanses of glass are often seen as a sign of modern luxury.
However, the real problem here comes as these displays age. Even in the first era of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a lot of manufacturers were either significantly behind or neglected updates entirely for their systems. Apple or Android would send an update for their phones and somewhere between months and years later a patch would be made available for the radio.
This might seem a little nit-picky though, if a phone update caused something in the radio to not work or the phone to drop (both of these are still quite common), you’d be begging and pleading for the next radio update. Additionally, a lot of these software updates (until recently) have required you to travel to a dealership and wait for them to load into the car.
Currently, most manufacturers will only supply updates for 5–10 years so, if there ever comes a time when a manufacturer stops supplying these updates, there is a high chance that it will effect the usability of the car.
Our other big concern with many of these new media interface systems is the display itself. In many slightly older cars, even if the radio died (or a new feature came out), there was always an opportunity to just update the radio. A booming aftermarket industry exists solely to provide new head units, speakers and packages to bring a 10 year old car into the current era.
No matter how we look at it though, with slightly different screens fitted to every new Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Hyundai all controlling slightly different features, the chances of a universal aftermarket solution is quickly approaching zero.
In layman’s terms, if most manufacturers can’t keep updates rolling out and spare parts in stock for a 10 year old car today, how likely is it that these screens will be available (and reasonably priced) in another 10 years.
All in, while these screens look stunning on these new cars, once a few pixels die or the touch features fail for some reason, do we expect these cars to be economically repairable? Maybe not.