Parts repair

I recently had an experience which was not in any way special. You have probably had the same experience yourself. I had to pay a small fortune to replace a tiny rubber part on a Ford Ranger.

It was something called a canister vent valve, part of the smog system. It consists of a solenoid that pushes on a little rubber diaphragm to open or close an opening which allows engine vapors to feed back into the fuel system and be combusted, instead of going into the air. Thus the smog connection. The valve was sticking open so the Check Engine Light came on and it cost me $600 to find it, remove half the engine to get to it and then to buy a new part.

My conversations with the mechanic lead me to believe that the difficulty of getting to the part is purposeful, to foil those occasional drivers who delight in disabling their smog controls between smog inspections. This crazy work around by the engine designers, if it is true, sounds insane. We car owners pay out millions of dollars just because of a cat and mouse game that we are not even part of. But let that part go.

What concerned me more, was the part itself. People have been making solenoids for over a hundred years. They are simple and usually foolproof. They have a shaft which can get stuck if it passes through a tight, lubricated tube, especially if corrosion occurs. In such cases, the shaft, once it is exposed, can be cleaned and oiled and is as good as new. Solenoids also have an electromagnet which can burn out. After a hundred years of design experience, this shouldn’t happen. It didn’t in my case.

The prime candidate for a problem, as always, is the rubber part. It is well known that rubber seals and diaphragms, in contact with air and strange fluids, are going to have a limited life. How many lawn mower carburetors have I had to rebuild by replacing the rubber parts?

But this vent canister makes no recognition of that fact. The entire unit is hermetically sealed. It contains one single diaphragm with a known, short life. I was able to see it all only by destroying the shell of the whole unit. Plastic parts click tightly into place, after which the locks are concealed.

Understand please, that there is nothing whatever special about this little tale. There are ten thousand similarly designed parts throughout the commercial and industrial world, though cars, with all their regulations, are probably some of the worst offenders. My interest in this part is that it is perfectly typical of thousands of others.

It would be very easy to redesign this part so that it could be easily disassembled, the 75 cent diaphragm replaced and the unit closed up again. Good as new! But no, that would not allow Ford to charge $200 for a $10 part. Or a 75 cent diaphragm.

The part, consisting of a solenoid working perfectly and some custom-made shells and covers all had to be thrown away. A mechanic had to labor for three hours to make the swap. And we had to wait for three days for the overpriced part. Yes this cost me a lot of money that I didn’t have but the focus here is on Zero Waste. Lousy design led to a waste of resources. The worst waste, as usual, is not even the part itself but the mechanic who uses up a whole raft of resources as he works for three hours and myself who uses up extra resources as I temporize my mobility for three days without my usual vehicle.

The recyclers would probably say that the copper in the solenoid could be smashed, cut, melted and recycled and all is well with the world. No, they are dead wrong. Their solution doesn’t even come close. Multiply the waste of labor and human effort by a trillion and you can form some estimate of the worldwide waste engendered by the greed of car companies as they wallow in the delusion that more and plentiful resources will always be coming so waste has no consequences.

Just one more story of greed and needless waste in a city that never sleeps.


We grew up with it. We accept it. We think it’s normal. But it’s not. It’s insane!

Here’s a gag video that includes car crushing as its first gag. Enjoy! Some of the gags are funny. Then come back here to discuss it. CLICK FOR CAR GAGS

The worst part, as I see it, is that none of the participants see anything strange in the fact that one, all the different parts of a car are destroyed without any reuse (other than possibly melting them all together) and two, that this insanely wasteful operation is so common that THERE EXISTS A HUGE, SPECIALLY DESIGNED, MOBILE CRUSHER TO DO THE TERRIBLE DEED!

How much does such a crusher cost. I don’t know but it’s a small fortune you can believe. In order to amortize its use over many applications, it must be used to crush thousands of cars. THE INSANITY MOUNTS TO THE SKIES!!!

And if you try to do some simple research on ways to reuse the parts of automobiles, they will tell you there is no money left for that. Waste is admired, worshipped and tithed in this insane society. Spit on reuse!


It isn’t often we get a designer of cars telling it like it is, like we knew it had to be, but here is a report from a designer of a super aerodynamic car (New York to California on ten gallons of ethanol) explaining that if you even mention long life to designers you are treated like …. well here it is, from Urbee-EfficientCar

“I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to come to that realization, or even an environmentalist. But as a designer, I felt that responsibility.

If what you work on gets replicated at quite a large number, then that should be done well.

I was disturbed by all this defining of sustainability, so I just started to articulate what I thought it was.

 . . . I absolutely started to think that long life plays such a huge role in this sustainability.

The life of products has to start to increase dramatically.

That’s a little different than what I read in the literature. You mention long life, and it’s like a leper walked into the room.

Yet I am convinced that that’s what has to happen.”



There is a brighter light shining in Britain. The Trent Motors company has been growing slowly for the past fifty years or more. Their goal is to disassemble hundreds of cars every day, check and certify the parts such as the engines, the dashboard, the batteries, the wheels, the transmission etc. All the parts are removed, cleaned, labeled and placed into cardboard boxes on high pallet racks, ready for sale. They work a lot with Ebay which has a thriving used car parts sale campaign. Read about their work at Trent Motors.

Perhaps you think that is the end of the line. Here is a company which is reusing every part of a car that they can. But let’s think more deeply. They are not part of an organic system in which every design decision fosters the ease of their reuse. On the contrary, every design decision ignores their ability to reuse parts. The designs are partly for functional improvement but very much for superficial customer loyalty and brand identification. New models come out every year. It is virtually impossible to keep up with all the changes in parts. The one part that is grievously absent is DESIGN FOR REUSE.  The people at Trent call their work “recycling” and this is prescient because it is not a Zero Waste story. To conform to Zero Waste theory, the original design would need to limit itself, at least, to standardization, modularization and enhanced repairability and disassembly. The design would be for as long a life as could be designed in, making use of fundamental simplifications.  So Trent is opening up a window on a Zero Waste approach but has no control over the initial design. At least not yet!


Would you like to watch a video about the ways that repair is disgustingly made difficult or illegal? Click here: Video about repair policies on Youtube. 

And this is about how electronic gadgets are purposely made to have fixed batteries that cannot be replaced when they die. And this article:

On a more positive note, there are people everywhere who are determined, despite the obstacles thrown in their way, to foster repair. Here are some:

Note: Put the word repair, or appliance, into a Youtube search, or a Google type search, and you will find dozens more of videos and websites devoted to repair. There are a fair number of websites ready to provide appliance parts for refrigerators, toasters, microwaves, stoves and much more.

One designer who has been the focus of much discussion of repair is called Gay Gordon-Byrne. She has a TED presentation and many articles such as this.

Here is some artwork from parts with a question for you.

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