Blame it on the Chips?

Used cars are supposed to go down in value. Last month, their value increased by more than 10 percent – something that has never happened before.

Supposedly because there is a shortage of new cars – because there is a shortage of semiconductor “chips,” the linchpin of all the electronics in new cars.

But what if it isn’t the “chips” but the electronics  that are causing people to shy away from new cars in favor of less electronic used ones?

They have electronics too, of course – assuming they’re newer than the late 1970s, when cars began to transition from being mechanical things with the only electronic thing (other than the radio and lights, etc.) being the ignition system.

But not as much.

They beep and flash and generally pester less. Their engines stay on at red lights – and only shut off when you turn the key to off. Which you can get replaced at a hardware store for $5 rather than $150, at the dealer.

The farther back you go, the less likely the car is to have “advanced” driver “assistance” electronics, such as Lane Keep Assist and Automated Emergency Braking. While the car press gives the impression everyone just craves such “assistance,” I – a member of the car press – have never in my entire career had so many people tell me they loathe being parented by their cars.

And the only way to avoid that is to avoid new cars.

It is possible many are doing so for just that reason, and irrespective of any chip shortages. This could be the real reason for the surge in value of used cars – of which there is a finite supply.

There is more to this story, too – as regards the chips and the electronics they govern.

Particularly as regards cell phone-emulating all-digital gauge clusters and “infotainment” screens, which are becoming almost as common in new cars as air conditioning and power windows are in used cars. A lot of people don’t want to drive a cell phone, in part because they know that a $30,000 cell phone is just as disposable as their $35 Wal-Mart cell phone.

They are cluing in to the not-publicized-much fact that when one of these flat-screen gauge cluster/tablet-emulating LCD touchscreens goes dark, the owner’s wallet goes empty.

Depending on the make/model, a replacement gauge cluster/LCD touchscreen can cost as much as it used to cost to replace a transmission – and the cost to replace a new car’s transmission can cost as much as used car, itself.

A modern automatic transmission – which is the type of transmission almost all new cars come with exclusively – is also electronic. And so, disposable. You don’t fix a cell phone. Or a modern electronic automatic. You toss it.

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