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Top 10 Products That Are DESIGNED to FAIL

VO: Rebecca Brayton

Script written by Michael Wynands.

There are many planned obsolescence products on the market today – meaning, these products are built NOT to last. From cars to lightbulbs to textbooks to pantyhose, there are countless shameless examples of consumer items being engineered to fail. WatchMojo counts down ten products designed with planned obsolescence in mind.

Special thanks to our user MikeyP for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top%2010%20Things%20Built%20With%20Planned%20Obsolescence%20In%20Mind


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Script written by Michael Wynands.

Top 10 Products That Are DESIGNED to FAIL

They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to… and that’s intentional. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Products Designed To Fail.

For this list, we’re looking at products that best embody the concept of planned obsolescence. Using a variety of methods, companies deliberately shorten the lifespan of their own products… forcing consumers to become repeat customers earlier than necessary. The end result? Greater profit for the company... at the consumer’s expense.

#10: Refrigerators

In 2016, the Queen of England’s late mother’s refrigerator celebrated its 62nd birthday. That setup might sound like a bad joke, but just ask yourself– can you think of a household appliance you’ve personally encountered that’s made it past 60? How about 50? 40? ... 30? The average refrigerator lifespan is now estimated at 13 to 17 years, with compact refrigerators rarely making it past the age of 12. The Queen’s mum’s fridge, a General Motors Frigidaire, with its 6 inch-thick doors and mechanical parts– was built to last. The modern fridge is certainly more energy efficient, but comes cheaply assembled. Modern appliances, made of plastic and electronic parts, are delicate when compared to their post-WWII predecessors.

#9: Video Games

Not all examples of planned obsolescence involve shoddy construction. The video game industry, like many other purveyors of electronics, prefers to employ systematic obsolescence to keep the money coming. By releasing new consoles without backwards compatibility, and forcing gamers to purchase the latest console in order to play the newest titles, old titles and consoles are rendered at least partially obsolete. The advent of downloadable content has also resulted in products with deliberately limited long-term playability, encouraging players to purchase DLC if they wish to keep things interesting. Do sports-based franchises need to release a new installment every year? No! Intentionally limiting innovation to save features for future installments, developers include just enough improvements with each release to generate interest.

#8: Pantyhose / Tights

One night out can be enough to ruin a pair of pantyhose. The lightest snag can tear those brand new stockings. Even when treated with the utmost care, nylons quickly begin to develop runs. There doesn’t seem to be any way around it… women who wear pantyhose are always replacing them. But pantyhose aren’t inherently delicate apparel. In the early 20th century, women wore essentially indestructible ones. But if you sell a woman enough pantyhose to get through the week, and they last forever... you quickly run out of clients. Nylon stockings were strong enough to tow a car, until Dupont, the company that invented them, had their scientists rework the concept to rip, run, and wear out more quickly.

#7: Textbooks

If your high school used 30-year-old textbooks, chances are you weren’t getting the most up-to-date education. That being said, the frequency with which new editions of textbooks are released, particularly at the university level, has little to do with ensuring that you get current information. More often than not, the author has no interest in revising their work, but is required to do so. Why? Because new editions are the only way for publishers to promote continued sales! Otherwise, students would just purchase secondhand copies. Yes, it’s important to keep textbooks up to date, but the study of physics, geology, or... Ancient Greece isn’t changing drastically enough to justify a new edition at the current rate... roughly every 3.5 years.

#6: Light Bulbs

“The Light Bulb Conspiracy” is a 2010 documentary that sheds some much-needed light on the issue of planned obsolescence. Although it covered the economic theory in various forms, it’s named after one of the earliest known examples: the light bulb. There’s a light bulb in Livermore, California that has been “on” since 1901. Known as the Centennial Light, it’s proof of the potential of light bulbs, and the artificially shortened lifespan that has been forced upon them. The Phoebus cartel formed in 1924 to standardize the life expectancy of light bulbs at 1000 hours. At that time, many brands already offered 2500-hour models– for less than the cartel’s price. Light bulbs weren’t the only ones getting screwed.

#5: Televisions

Are there still TV repairmen out there? It certainly used to be a profession. When TVs first made their way into living rooms across the nation, they were a serious investment, and they were expected to last. When they did finally break, you didn’t just throw them to the curb and buy a new one – you had them repaired. The buttons on old tube TVs didn’t fall off and pixels didn’t suddenly die. However, the modern TV is cheaply made, and isn’t designed to be repaired. Repairs on modern flat screens typically cost more than a replacement. But considering most people buy a bigger, better flat screen every few years, companies have little motivation to design durable models.

#4: Cars

Alfred P. Sloan is often credited for pioneering “planned obsolescence,” or at least, being the first to implement it on a large-scale. As the head of General Motors in the 1920s, Sloan faced a dilemma - how do you get people to buy new cars when they already have one? His answer? The model/year system. Cars don’t need technological improvements to justify the release of a new model - they just need a facelift. The 1923 Chevrolet is considered to be among the first car models to feature little more than cosmetic changes. It was the same old car underneath, but thanks to “style obsolescence,” the new model was more desirable, and the previous one - seemingly “old” by comparison.

#3: Printers

Many ink cartridges have a smart chip, which is designed to inform the printer when it’s low. Convenient, right? But... these smart chips have a habit of being overeager, declaring themselves empty when they’ve only used 75% of their ink. Worse, some printer models contain a literal kill-switch, which stops all functionality after a certain amount of use. According to the manufacturers, this “safety feature” automatically locks the printer after it has been used enough to potentially fill the “waste ink reservoir.” Servicing the printer is usually more expensive than buying a new one. Upon further investigation, the reservoirs are often far from full or even EMPTY. It’s an artificially shortened lifespan via programmed obsolescence - at its most obvious.

#2: Computers

Computer technology is constantly improving - so much so that people are only too happy to upgrade regularly. But manufacturers aren’t happy to trust in innovation to drive sales. Systemic obsolescence, via system upgrades and new must-have software, is a much more reliable method of forcing new purchases. Your old laptop works perfectly, but you can’t install the new Adobe because your OS is too old. So... you try to upgrade the OS, but whoops... your machine’s hardware isn’t compatible. All of a sudden you need a new computer. But chances are, that new OS would’ve made your machine sluggish anyways. And before you get out the pitchforks, it’s not just Apple: various PC makers have been criticized for using cheaper parts to ensure a shorter lifespan.

#1: Phones

What’s nearly as expensive as a computer but breaks twice as often? Your beloved smartphone! Most people don’t go anywhere without it, and likely feel pretty lost the moment it dies. Smartphone makers are well aware of just how attached you’ve become, and they make sure to capitalize on that obsession from every possible angle. Software updates cripple old models. Phones are often designed to inhibit third-party repairs, ensuring that what’s broken… can’t be fixed– thanks to proprietary screws and excessive gluing. In-house repairs are also prohibitively expensive. Style obsolescence in the form of a new model every year ensures that fashionability plays its part too. Smartphones… the quicker and worse they make ‘em, the richer they get.

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