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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Repair or Replace
Just make sure all your friends and family are out of the car, or that you've made backup friends and family at home.
Title text: Just make sure all your friends and family are out of the car, or that you've made backup friends and family at home.

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a REPA#IR^ED DEVICE - Please change this comment when editing this page. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

This comic compares the repair of cars with that of computers or other similar electronic devices, where the question Repair of Replace? much more often comes up than for cars, hence the title of the comic, and the humor derived.

Cueball is in his car. He says that there is a weird sound and asks if the car mechanic Hairy will take a look. Hairy asks him to open the car's hood, exposing the engine, to further identify the cause of the problem. Cueball then says that his hood latch, the lever used to open the hood, is also broken. The solution, according to Hairy, is then to "replace" the car and go and get a new car.

In reality, fixing the catch on the hood is a simple task for a skilled mechanic and would not justify writing-off the car. When a car is malfunctioning, the usual response is to attempt to repair it. A car is designed so that many of the parts can be replaced or adjusted.

By contrast, when a computer or electronic device is malfunctioning, it is often judged to be difficult to repair, and the usual action is to purchase a new device. It is generally possible to replace each part of a desktop or laptop computer, but harder to do so for more integrated devices such as tablets, and almost impossible to repair individual components with faulty or damaged integrated circuits.

Even where replacing a component is relatively easy (needing little more than a set of screwdrivers), the cost of replacement parts can be a significant proportion of the cost of a completely new device, particularly where a user is not technically confident and pays a repair shop to fit new components. Also, the length of the technology "upgrade cycle" - typically around 3-5 years - is roughly the mean failure time of a device's components, users may already be considering a new purchase when their device starts to deteriorate.

It would be extremely inefficient for a car dealership or mechanic to simply "replace" a car when there is a problem with it (although many insurers will provide a temporary replacement "courtesy car" while the car is being repaired). Likewise, Randall asserts that it is also inefficient for electronic devices to be thrown away at the first sign of a problem, and not repaired.

The title text refers to data stored on a computer or electronic device. Before replacing the device, it is recommended to remove and/or backup all your personal files, so that you have future access to them. Randall likens this to having your friends and family exit the vehicle or making backup friends and family before the vehicle is thrown away. (Perhaps, it would be smart to have ones enemies in the car so that they are thrown away with it.)

The economics

Cars are much more expensive than computers or other electronic devices, and become obsolete less quickly. The point at which it becomes cheaper to purchase a new computer or phone rather than repair an old one comes much more quickly.

Also, although the comic implies that replaced electronics are destroyed (like a car pushed into a pit), sometimes they are sent off to be repaired or refurbished elsewhere. This provides a better experience for the customer (they get a working device right away instead of waiting for repair) and is more efficient for the company (a consolidated repair facility can have the experience and equipment to repair a device much more quickly than at a retail location). This assumes that the customer asked the manufacturer for a replacement, and did not throw it away themselves before purchasing a new one.

Transcript

[Cueball is sitting in a car parked to the left of Hairy, who thus stands in front of it while pointing behind him towards a big black hole.]
Cueball: My engine's making a weird noise. Can you take a look?
Hairy: Sure, just pop the hood.
Cueball: Oh, the hood latch is also broken.
Hairy: OK, just pull up to that big pit and push the car in. We'll go get a new one.
[Caption below the frame:]
I'm sure the economics make sense, but it still freaks me out how quick companies are to replace computing devices instead of trying to fix them.


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