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If just about any part breaks on your 1971 Volkswagen Beetle, you could probably get a replacement from a hundred different outlets. If the black box goes out on your 1996 Lincoln Mark VIII, your car becomes little more than a giant paperweight. With the profusion of different cars and the electrical components that go in them, automakers would face an inventory nightmare if they tried to stockpile all of the necessary replacement parts. So in order to avoid that scenario, once the warranty runs out, they simply stop making the parts.

Ted Field, Sr. found out the hard way when the black box went out on his Mark VIII. Ford doesn't make the part any more -- and doesn't have to, since the warranty is finished and "the part is obsolete" -- and no aftermarket company has reverse-engineered it. That means that an 11-year-old car with 66,000 miles on it ... is also obsolete. As a customer, Field has no idea how popular -- or not -- the Mark VIII would be, and couldn't have had any idea when he bought the state-of-the-art car that he'd be scrounging for parts just a few years later (relatively speaking). We often consider the price of technology on the front end -- say, how much more will a car equipped with ABS cost? But as cars become more and more computerized, and the obsolescence of computer technology occurs in faster cycles, it will be interesting to see what kind of price we have to pay on the back end as well.

Thanks for the tip, Stedwoo!

[Source: LA Times]




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  • 35 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      I had the same experience with a 1995 Alfa 164. When the @*$#% thing jumped timing and bent all 24 valves (loooooong story), it dumped enough raw fuel into the catalyst to kill it. When we tried to find a new cat, NONE were available. This was in 2003.

      Since it's apparently illegal to put a used cat in the car, I was screwed. Luckily, my mechanic found a 'new' cat. In a wrecked car. Ummmm, yeah.

      When Alfa withdrew from the market in 1995, there are stories of truckloads of parts going to the crusher since they didn't want to store them.

      Now, contrast that with my 1972 Mercedes 280SE 4.5. I can get ANY part for it I want. I've nver even worried about it. I may PAY DEARLY for it from M-B, but they'll get it.
      • 8 Years Ago
      #15 I have the same rig. i want to get a newer one but the thing keeps on running.
      • 8 Years Ago
      LA Times is way way off. The Internet makes it almost impossible not to find parts for almost any American car produced in the past 20 years. You might not get a brand new "black box" but to say that cars are obsolete faster than ever is a stretch. Replacement parts will always be expensive especially the critical stuff. Just another "the world is ending" article to get people worried. Is this the black box? http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/Lincoln-Mark-VIII-8-Center-Computer-Message-Display_W0QQcmdZViewItemQQcategoryZ40017QQihZ009QQitemZ190114033648QQrdZ1QQsspagenameZWDVW
      • 8 Years Ago
      This article should not have been printed with out being checked by someone knowledgeable about cars.

      First a "black box" is not a part. Its called an ECM (engine control module) or PCM(powertrain (engine and transmission) control module) depending on the car.

      Second, the rebiult ECM's for that 96 lincoln are available at most auto parts stores. I just looked up my local CSK proshop (same as shucks, checker and craigen) its a part # 78-6320 ,78-6323 or 78-6326 depending on the orignal part # and is under $200.00.

      Go buy one and stop crying, I don see the point to this article since the writer has done no background work(even a call to an auto parts store).

      This article says "....as cars become more computerized". They have been more computerized for for 15 years.

      Computers came out in cars in the mid 70's in fuel injected Japanese and European cars,these would not run with out there computers working. By 1980 they had worked there way into many cars controlling carburetors and emissions systems but the car could run with out them most times(but not always good). By 85 they started having complete control of the engine(as in it would not run with out the computer). By 1990 most every car and truck sold had a completely computerized engine and with in a few years automatic transmissions were all also computer controlled.

      Air bags and ABS have always been computer controlled. If they break, you have no air bags or now you have a standard breaking system just like millions of older cars still on the roads.

      I think computers are keeping cars on the road longer. A typical car engine of 1990 had sequential fuel injection, DIS ignition and computer controlled emissions systems. Read the specs for most new cars sold in 2007 and the list will read the same.

      The technology for running a gas powered piston engine peaked a long time ago. There are only minor changes (direct cylinder fuel injection, cylinder de-activation, variable valve lift and timing) that have came out. And cylinder de-activation first came out in the 80's(but didnt work well at that time). The hybrid technology may get us some more years but the gas engine powering the car is still about the same.
      • 8 Years Ago
      HOLD THE PHONE!

      Didn't Ford offer a lifetime warranty on repairs if done at a Ford Dealership at this time? If just 1 person had the black box replaced, wouldn't they have to have at least 1 black box in inventory???

      Something doesn't seem right here....

      FWIW, My Civic Hybrid (2006) has the extended warranty...and since it uses 144 D Cells, I am sure I can find those in 8-10 years...

      Michael
      • 8 Years Ago

      I hope he can find the part at a junk yard in good condition. That is really shitty of ford.

      @#2 haha! Toyota does generally have better service, but I am usually rather uncomfortable in Toyota dealers (at least the ones here in New England. The sales people tend to be WAY too pushy for my tastes. Whenever I walk into a Saab/Volvo/BMW dealership too look at something to replace my 2001 Saab 9-5 I get treated with a lot more respect.

      They don't push to make a same day sale in the same way. They realize that buying a car is something that I might want to think about and weigh my options, not just buy one off of the lot the same day.

      That sales attitude - in addition to the fact that Toyota doesnt makea single vehicle that appeals to me - has helped me stay away from Toyota dealerships.

      (I would consider a top of the line new Camry as they have improved a lot, but alas only the base model comes with a manual. I refuse to buy any car equipped with an automatic transmission.)
      • 8 Years Ago
      When we were looking into getting our leaking sunroof on our 1990 Subaru fixed, we were told that we could get a new assembly shipped from Japan (not cheap). Apparently Fuji will make one part and keep it in a climate-controlled warehouse. Then when it goes out, they make another one. Too bad companies don't adopt this philosophy, especially the premium brands which Lincoln is a part of.

      We decided to just cover up the sunroof with plastic whenever it rained.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "5. LA Times is way way off. The Internet makes it almost impossible not to find parts for almost any American car produced in the past 20 years. You might not get a brand new "black box" but to say that cars are obsolete faster than ever is a stretch."

      How is it a stretch? Ford is the one who deemed the parts obsolete, not the writer.

      And there's a huge difference between getting a new, warrantied part from the dealer and buying of eBay, especially for electronics. And the link you posted is to the wrong part.
      Bryan
      • 8 Years Ago
      I still love that Mark VIII. Ford was on the ball with that one. Wish they would have put the neon tube tailight in the MKX too. One day I will have one of those! And a 95 SHO! In any event..with things like this happening, I mean come on, someone could easily start a business up for rare parts..imagine the money you could make!
      • 8 Years Ago
      Some of you KNUCKLE HEADS really crack me up.

      The point of this story is that a 'Consumer' can't take his/her Lincoln Mark 8 into a repair shop and expect him to be able to install a 'New Component' to replace the 'Broken Component' because the repair shop cannot order one from a reputable source.

      A repair shop isn't going to be able, with good faith tell a customer 'I can get the part from some guy on Ebay, it appears to be the right one because that is what the seller on Ebay is telling me'... and then wait for the part to show up only to find out it itself is shorted out, a clip is bent, broken, etc.

      Even if the repair shop did replace the part with something he got off of Ebay, or a Junkyard, he isn't going to be able to 'Guarantee' the job, leaving the consumer with a Car that is pretty much worthless to anyone who isn't a shade tree mechanic.

      This is why these Cars are only being bought used by guys who can spend an afternoon looking around on the Internet, or contacting numerous junk yards looking for a part that will be bought 'AS IS' in most cases, or with a Guarantee but the shade tree mechanic is still going to waste a few hours with the labor, and a few more hours running around looking for the part.

      And that leads to the point of the story... a used car that has parts that break and cannot be replaced by a dealer or aftermarket manufacturer is pretty much 'Worthless'.

      • 8 Years Ago
      Every part I've bought at Toyota/Nissan service has cost at least 1000% more than I can get at the junkyard. I don't care how great their service is if the part is more than the car is worth.

      I do wonder though, classic cars from this era in 50 years are going to be undriveable possibly. It's a shame, but keeps the car companies in business I guess.

      • 8 Years Ago
      22. This is a huge argument for setting industry standards on electronic components..

      I can see the jobbers not being able to keep their inventory on all the different electronics but even repair shops will not be able to maintain a database for the vast variety. Like PC updates , it would at least go further and keep up with the variety IF (as you said) one common starting point existed. Car manufactures should also be compelled to release their patent on the component if they no longer want to make it. "Opensource"
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