Routine Maintence Often Not Routinely Done

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Most people know it’s important to get the oil/filter in their vehicle changed at least every once-in-awhile – if they care at all about the longevity (and efficiency) of their vehicle’s engine. But there’s more to a vehicle than its engine – and there are other filters (and other fluids) that are arguably just as important – because failure to change them out at least every once-in-awhile can lead to failures and repairs that can be just as expensive as neglecting to provide your vehicle’s engine with regular fresh oil and a clean filter. For starters:

* Fuel filters –

Back in the days of carburetors, these were obvious, easily accessible and inexpensive to replace. But in a modern fuel-injected car, the fuel filter is typically not “right there” under the hood, where it’s easy to see it – and so, think about it. It is usually mounted not-so-accessibly underneath the car – or (sometimes) in the fuel tank. And modern fuel-injection fuel filters cost a bit more to replace – though the good news is they’re not (usually) exorbitantly expensive. What they do have in common with the old-style filters is they need to be replaced regularly, too – and for the same reasons. When you pump gas into your vehicle’s tank, you are also pumping in grit and other small particles that are in the fuel. This is stuff your engine does not want to eat – hence the filter. But the filter eventually fills up – it gets saturated with contaminants and can no longer filter effectively. This also creates the mechanical equivalent of atherosclerosis in your car’s “arteries” – its fuel lines. The fuel can’t easily pass through the increasingly clogged up filter. Or, crap passes through it – and into your engine – instead. These are very good reasons for replacing it, as per the recommendations in your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Every 15,000 miles is a typical interval.

Don’t neglect this important service. Just because it’s out of your sight doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on your mind.

* Cabin filtration filter –

Over the past ten years or so, cabin filtration systems have gone from being a high-end car feature to a fairly common feature. Most of the cars I’ve test-driven recently – including even economy-minded cars in the $15k range –  have them. And just like any other filter, cabin filters need to be periodically replaced, too. Failure to do so may not invite mechanical problems, but if you have allergies, you may not breathe so easily if you forget about the filter. Usually, they are easy to get at – and your owner’s manual will usually give you detailed instructions as to where to find the filter and how to remove/replace it – along with recommended changeout intervals. Keep in mind that these filters are air filters – and do the same basic job as the air filter that filters the air your engine breathes. If you do a lot of driving down dusty gravel roads – or in high-soot areas (urban areas) then, as with the other air filter, your cabin filtration filter will probably need to be checked – and changed – more often.

* Transmission fluid (and filter) –

Both manual and automatic transmissions benefit from regular fluid (or gear lube) changes and it’s critical to replace the filter (in automatics) before it gets clogged because if you don’t the hydraulic fluid that powers the transmission – and which makes your car move – won’t circulate. And then, your car won’t go. In the typical automatic, fluid is sucked through the filter and the pressurized fluid circulates through the valve body and torque converter, transferring the engine’s power to the driveshaft and ultimately, causing the drive wheels to turn. But if the filter is heavily obstructed, fluid can’t circulate – or small bits of debris aren’t caught by the filter – and now you’ve got problems. In a manual, periodically draining and replacing the lube (or ATF, as some use) will remove metal shavings and other contaminants – helping your gearbox live longer and operate more like-new than like-old. The job itself is not difficult, just messy (have a big catch pan, if you plan to DIY). And if you decide to have this service done for you, be sure to check the fluid/lube level yourself, after the work has been done – just to be sure.

As RR once said, a long time ago: Trust – but verify!

* Hose down the radiator (and AC condenser) –

At least twice a year – once in spring, once in the fall – you should get a garden hose and thoroughly wash down the exterior surfaces of your vehicle’s radiator – and also the radiator-looking thingie that is (typically) bolted right in front of the radiator. (This is your AC system condenser – and like the engine radiator, it is made of rows of tubes with very thin cooling fins.) Bugs and other road debris smack into the surface of the radiator (and condenser) as you drive, lodging in between the fins like a piece of corn between your teeth. The bug-mash can impair airflow over the cooling fins, which could lead to a hot running car – and problems that can be avoided, just by periodically washing off the small-scale roadkill. Use your thumb over the hose end to create some water pressure, but don’t use too much (as via a squirt-type hose handle), just to be on the safe side (the fins are fragile and you don’t want to damage anything).

The best part about this service is that you don’t have to get dirty, no tools are need – and, it’s absolutely free.



* Transmission filter (and fluid) –

* Crankcase breather filter –


Throw it in the Woods?


    • Well, unless the filter has an unlimited capacity – or the fuel you put in your tank is absolutely pure – I’d say they’re giving you bad advice.

      The filter may have a very long life. But not an eternal one. You could probably get away with not replacing it for several years. But eventually, it will no longer filter effectively – and then you’ve got a problem.

      Have you looked at what Toyota (not the dealer) recommends? Check your owner’s materials – there’s usually a service schedule. I’m betting it recommends the filter be changed out at “x” miles.

      Please keep us posted!

      • Thanks for the reply!

        The maintenance schedule and owner’s manual don’t mention anything about it.

        Doing some online hunting, I found some forums (not that they are gospel), which all say that newer Corollas aren’t meant to have the fuel filter replaced. I’m going to ask a local mechanic when I find one (just moved recently).

        By the way, thanks for all the great info. on this site!

        • Hi Chris,

          You bet!

          FYI: You’ve probably heard about “lifetime” (or “long life”) coolant and spark plugs and other things. The key thing is to define what is meant by “lifetime” and “long life” – and so on. Because, eventually, lubricants, coolants, filters and so on do wear out. It’s just a question of when. “Lifetime” may mean “100,000 miles” – or some such. Check the service “fine print” in your owner’s paperwork.

          My opinion: While it’s probably ok to stick with these extended service intervals – assuming light duty use – I prefer to err on the side of caution – especially if the car sees heavy duty or other hard use – on the theory that a couple gallons of coolant, or a $15 filter (etc.) is a lot less expensive than a major parts failure or premature wear associated with old parts/old lubricants/fluids/filters, etc.

  1. I resent my (wife’s. whatever. I paid for it. well, part of it. she paid 60% by taking her Silverado out in a blaze of glory) ’04 Explorer’s lack of a tranny dipstick. ‘Sealed Unit’, my ass. If I ever have the money I intend to drop a couple thou on a lift merely to spite Ford.

    I recently took it for an oil change. Something I normally do myself. The Goodyear store said they couldn’t check the fluid. Now I it can be done, my Haynes book says so, you just need a LIFT. (I’m not putting that behemoth on jack stands, starting it, and getting under it!) Yeah, I’ll be back for another oil change- NOT. I can check the tranny while doing my own oil just as easily as they can, that was the whole point of the exercise. Ptptpt. (side anecdote: whilst at Autozone caught an employee hunting under the hood of a- you guessed it- while the customer stood by. “Let me guess- tranny dipstick?” uh-huh. Not there, so sorry. It was slipping- “yup, that’s when you’re supposed to get it serviced acc’d to the owner manual. When it slips…”

    • Interesting. my use of greater-than/less-than symbols for emphasis got interpreted as tags?

      Corrections: I KNOW it can be done….

      …I can NOT check the tranny just as easily as they can…

    • Several manufacturers are doing this now – building so-called “sealed units” with no easy way to check (or change) fluid levels. It’s despicable. Because although service intervals have increased, the need to do this service still exists. What they’ve done is three-fold:

      * Push people to the stealership for service since even this routine thing is now too difficult for most people.
      * Discourage maintenance by implying no maintenance is ever needed.
      * Encourage premature failure – and thus create the need to replace/rebuild the unit. Ka-ching!

      • Pre – cisely.

        This is, like land-use zoning and war, an engineered way to soak up enough industrial output to allow manufacturing to continue on its current basis. That’s why we need a different industrial basis.

        I remember seeing a Greenpeace flyer years ago that recommended that you buy stuff you can service and repair yourself. That’s an eminently sound approach to ecology, and evinces a far better grasp of the situation than anything you hear today. Today we’d be told from similar quarters to buy stuff we can’t service or repair, in the interests of “efficiency”: the result of a concerted spin campaign, I believe, bought and paid for by industry.

      • Those reasons weren’t even on the engineer’s road map.

        1) reduce warranty cost.

        To keep warranty costs under control, eliminating as much required maintenance as possible is a good idea.

        2) reduce production cost.

        Parts are eliminated which should reduce the cost of producing the product.

        3) avoid the costs of stupid customers.

        Stupid customers can’t put windshield washer fluid in the transmission if there isn’t an opening to do it. Stupid customers rarely admit their own stupidity and badmouth the product instead.

        • 1. Warranty terms are finite, so this supports what I said earlier about reliability vs. durability.

          2. Especially if the unit-cost saving is associated with a greater capital investment this is right up the system’s alley. Making a sealed unit is likely to take the process of manufacture further away from the processes of service, repair, and modification.

          3. Ensuring threshold volume means marketing to stupid customers, also to indifferent, hostile, uninterested, oblivious, and/or callous customers.

          Of course they don’t tell engineers this. Modern engineers, good guys every last one of them, are nevertheless notoriously philosophically challenged and are therefore unlikely to question the basic concepts that prevent them seeing through this.

    • It’s another method of planned obsolescence. Chrysler after about four iterations finally got it “right” with the 62TE unit in my 2007 Pacifica. They don’t have the high failure rate that plagued Mopars since 1990 when the first abomination (41TE) called a computerized transaxle came out. Had a ’91 New Yorker 5th Avenue that I bought in 2000 off an old guy (replaced an ’89 that I’d flipped and totalled) for $3,000 with 84K miles. Thing was a cream puff, and I put a lot of miles on it over the next five years, but the transaxle gave out with about 157K. Could have just called it “good”, but I was feeling adventurous. A friend of my dad in Fresno ran a yard out of Fowler and after a few weeks managed to scrounge a used box (they were heavily in demand, he gave it to me but could have gotten five hundred for it easily). The beastie lasted another year and it blew out. Not willing to throw in the towel, I went to pick and pull and nabbed a box out of a ’93 Voyager on half-price day. So, for six hours of dirty work on an overcast day, for $45 I put in another unit. The ATF+3 and filter cost again as much. So, for less than a hundred, the car that I gave to my older son (his friends dubbed it the “shaggin wagon” for it’s very room back seat) lasted him yet another three years. We finally sold it not over any more transaxle issue but because the front struts (the self-levelling kind) were giving out and couldn’t be had for love or money. If nothing else, there’s nothing that forces automakers to carry parts for the old sleds, and there just wasn’t a practical way to repair them. The buyer new that, figuring he could just throw used tires on every year or so. From what I’ve heard, that old tank is still going…

  2. Eric, Been watching your posts about old pre-computerized cars. Until they are outlawed, they sound like the best way to go for good old fashioned, easy to work on, low cost driving fun. Watching a few old Skylark convertibles and GTOs along with some VW bugs and an old MG and a Triumph TR6. The GMs and VWs will be easier to keep on the road, but those British roadsters are sure fun. I had a couple of MGs in college. Used one for a parts car. My Mom watched me work on them all the time and she said that MG stood for “might go.” Anyway, thanks for the heads up about the old cars. It’s a real pleasure to work toward. George III

    • Fortunately there is no danger of a reemergence of large numbers of pre-computerized vehicles in our cities and suburbs today. With a rapidly growing population, the air was increasingly unhealthy forty years ago when electronics came to the rescue. Had electronic controls not become the norm, my eyes water and I choke to think about how bad air quality might be by now.

      If non-computerized vehicles became numerous they would be outlawed across the board, severely taxed, or burdened by so many restrictions and regulations that few would be driven. I don’t like it but unless we were willing to DO WHATEVER IS NECESSARY to rapidly reduce the human population by 150,000,000 people that’s likely how it would be.

      • I cannot say that I have ever experienced the effect of non-emissions-controlled vehicles first-hand, and I live in a country that has until very recently had almost zero emissions legislation. I’ve been around uncontrolled vehicles all my life: their emissions don’t cause one summarily to keel over and die.

        This is not to say that the pollutants that are controlled aren’t real pollutants; but they are all rather unstable compounds. Little bits of CO/HC/NOx deteriorate rapidly in the environment to CO2, H2O, and the various forms of the natural nitrogen cycle. It is only when they are generated at a rate that exceeds the rate at which the environment can process them that they become problematic.

        What we need is not electronic controls at gunpoint; nor do we need a human cull. What we need is less traffic.

        I am not talking in terms of restriction here, because the bottom-line actual resultant demand for mobility is due in huge measure to the peculiarities of an artificially structured context. That is, the greater part of our need to go somewhere is contingent on other needs and not on “wanderlust” or any other spontaneous desire on our part. In fact, driving is a PITA most of the time: given a choice we’d just not make the trip.

        Remove the edifice of engineered need and we’re left with spontaneous desire; and that, I submit, corresponds to something like 2-5% of current levels of vehicle traffic.

        The puritannically-inclined will advise that we try to eliminate unnecessary vehicle trips. But this is a lot of austerity and coercion for a grossly inadequate saving. I would like to see the opposite: get rid of the NECESSARY vehicle trips – the vast majority – and keep as many of the unnecessary ones as people want.

        • To have less traffic the idea of zoning must be abandoned for the most part. Zoning that says houses over here… businesses over there. When people walked this didn’t really exist as it does today. Things were much more mixed and when they weren’t the scales were small. The businesses were down the block, not on the outskirts of town in a multi-square mile stripmall hell.

      • To my mind, we reached the point of diminishing returns as regards vehicle emissions technology, probably 20 years ago. Maybe even 30. There was a huge reduction in smog-forming compounds as a result of widespread adoption of catalytic converters and then fuel injection.

        Since then, further reductions have been incremental and lately, infinitesimal. For instance, when it is announced that New Technology X will “cut tailpipe emissions by 10 percent,” which sounds very impressive, the truth is usually less spectacular. They neglect to mention that new cars are already 97 percent “clean” at the tailpipe – that is, only about 3 percent of the exhaust is other than water vapor and C02. Hence, New Technology X will actually (if taken at face value) reduce that remaining 3 percent of “bad stuff” by 10 percent. At tremendous cost, too – relative to the small gain.

        In my opinion, the better (more cost-effective) solution would be to mass-market (for everyday transportation purposes) relatively simple, much-lighter-than-current-average vehicles equipped with updated versions of something like Honda’s old CVCC engine, fed by a throttle body injector, teamed up with a modern six speed overdrive transmission or CVT. Such a vehicle, weighing about 1,800 lbs., let’s say, would not need more than a 100 hp four cylinder engine to be plenty powerful enough for most A to B driving, would be capable of 60-plus MPG, and would burn probably 40 percent less fuel than the typical current V-6 (and 3,400-plus pound) sedan or crossover. If such vehicles became mass-market vehicles, it would achieve a massive reduction in emissions output (and fuel wastage) without the need to pursue ever-more-elaborate, ever-more-expensive technological solutions in the quest for diminishing returns, tailpipe emissions-wise.

        • Bingo Eric.

          I was a Trainee and then a Mechtec from April 1961* until I retired in 1998. I experienced firsthand the transition from mechanical to electronic control of powertrains.

          It was not a good time for Mechtecs and some of us really took a financial beating. Exacerbating the beating, to avoid a warranty claim rejection electronic and electrical parts that had been turned in were often reissued to an UNKNOWING Number One Mechtec for “confirmation”. Usually such parts were responsible for an intermittent failure, the bane of the business. I once nearly got into a fistfight with a parts manager over that despicable practice.

          The most competent Mechtec was routinely given the time-consuming diagnostic nightmares to deal with while the ignorant parts changer working adjacent to him got the routine money makers. From a financial point of view, the Best got the worst jobs simply because they were the Best. So then, the Best were often financially “punished” for being the Best.

          Frankly, unless things have dramatically improved since my retirement, I would not recommend pursuing a career as a Mechtec to any young person.

          Tinsley Grey Sammons (1936 –)

          *In the spring of 1961 Gross Labor was $4.50 a flatrate hour at Brundage Motors in Jacksonville Florida. That was damned little money even then. The imported German Mechtecs received a salary of $105 weekly while the American trainees were paid $45 a week and received gradual raises as their production merited. By 1963 a switch was made from salary to commission. Hubert Brundage died a millionaire and son Jan is surely a multi-millionaire today.

          • Tinsley, $4.50 in 1961 equates to $34.98 today (per the Fed’s inflation calculator and I think it’s biased in their favor). I doubt you’ll find a reputable shop in this area that charges less than $45 an hour and the local dealerships are way higher than that. Your $45 per week trainee’s wage works out to $1.125 per hour in ’61 (I was two years old then BTW) or equates to $8.74/hr. (right at $350 a week) or about $18,200 annually nowadays. So essentially the shop took 75% of your productivity or you could say they gave you a quarter out of every dollar you produced for them. I suppose if you were frugal, did a lot of thrift store and yard sale shopping and ate mostly beans and rice you could get by $8.74 an hour. But you’d probably be living in a one bedroom apartment in the ghetto or a shitty trailer park. Wow; just think of the quality of life an existence like that would deliver. At least if you had a couple of illegitimate brats, you’d qualify for the earned income credit. What could be better than working for a slave’s wages and having the government steal from your neighbors for you to boot? Oh…I know…not working at all for the same (or more) money through WIC, EBT, subsidized housing and a welfare check. Have our ruling elite turned this into a great country or what?

  3. Eric,
    I have a 2005 VW Passat Wagon TDI. Just passed 100,000mi. I intended to have a tranny fluid and filter change but it was pointed out that it might be a 50/50 deal on whether it helps, or hurts (causes more eventual issues than it prevents…by the way, the manufacturer fluid is synthetic I’m told). I’ve heard this before with respect to other transmissions. I believe this VW’s is some sealed system (no dipstick). What do you say?

  4. Anyone know much about the 1980-81 Triumph TR-8s?
    When we were overseas working in Saudi back then, I was so tempted to get one. Reminded me of the 65 Sunbeam Tiger I had previously owned.Haven’t seen one on the road in over 25 years. Not sure if it was due to them being a typical, crappy Triumph or, if because of a low number production, most owners have them stored.

    • I don’t have any personal experience with the TR8, but I once sucked a valve racing a TR7 in my 914 (accidentally shifted from 4th to 3rd and dumped the clutch at redline). From what I can tell the 7’s were a lot like the 8’s, which means (in my limited opinion) they probably all pulled over to the side of the road between 1980 and 1990, then burned to the ground.

      The 8’s had a 3.5L V8? That must have made for some real fireworks when they exploded.

  5. Back in the 1750s, Benjamin Franklin pointed out that the less crowded the country, the lower the land prices and the higher the wages.

    • Short of thirst and famine I can imagine no greater danger to liberty, justice, and happiness than that which was depicted in SOYLENT GREEN.

      Fifty million would be a comfortable population for North America.

      A human life is a potentially precious thing but it can only become less precious with overpopulation. Earth’s resources are finite and will become increasingly scarce as population grows and consumes them.

      • Population reduction and population control means no liberty.

        The answer to population is free markets. Where people are prosperous they tend to have fewer children. If liberty, free markets, prosperity were allowed to spread across the globe the natural peak of human population would be lower. No intervention required. Population would then fall a bit and level off.

        Overpopulation is just another boogieman to justify control.

        • Rubbish. More people equals more regulation. Cities have always been more regulated than the country because there’s more chace your actions will affect someone else. Hence when the population is the same as the 1950’s then the regulation would be just as low.


          • Nothing like these weird tangential cloverite remarks.

            There is no rule that population density and control go together. It happens when people think in terms of force. Nor is there going to be higher population density with freedom. There will be lower population density because the prosperity will not only work to control population but people can then afford more space.

            Other than a few select places on the planet, each with their own reasons for being an exception to the rule, the highest population densities are the poorest areas. Because the poor cannot afford the square footage per person.

            • And (per Ned) it’s the artificial inputs of government that are to a great extent responsible for the problems associated with population that people decry. Traffic being the obvious example. The model of clustered McHomes situated not-near anything, which then means all those people commuting to and fro each day. “Tax breaks” for developers of these homes, along with the subsidized-by-the-state roads that provide access, promote false growth (because it’s not natural) very much as inflated fiat money creates false prosperity. I may rant about this at greater length… first, some coffee!

          • BrentP is, I think, closer to the truth, but see my comment below.

            Two important points here. First is that the impact of population is often overstated. Many of the world’s problems are put down to “overpopulation” while they have all kinds of aspects that people do not trouble to understand, like the influence of the politics of land access and tenure on food production, for instance.

            Second is what I said elsewhere on this post about density. I really believe that the pattern one would find among really free people is that they would tend to congregate in small but fairly dense pockets, with a lot of open space between the pockets. This is the pattern to which the vast majority of historic human settlements have gravitated, and if something departs radically from this I believe it is indicative of something else, some privilege or imbalance of power, at work.

            In other words, people don’t settle on a 80’x160′ grid with picket fences between except in a highly structured, highly regulated context.

          • The problem is communities post 1920 didn’t develop, they were planned and planned poorly. The thing I don’t understand is that the failure of planned suburban communities should have been obvious by the 1950’s, but people kept building them.

            I may not care for European politics but I do like their communities. Small, medium density villages surrounded by agricultural greenbelts. It seems like a simple idea but it didn’t catch on with Kaufman & Broad I guess.

    • You have to qualify what you mean by “crowded”: see my post above.

      I think we’re talking about keeping the absolute population of an economically/politically functional sphere quite small, but this isn’t directly or necessarily related to population density. What does relate to population density is the amount of land necessary to feed a given population, and that varies by climate. Keeping the overall numbers small also makes it easier for a city to relate to its agricultural hinterland in a meaningful way.

      But consider how people settle when they settle spontaneously and in the absence of force or privilege. They settle in clumps. They don’t spread themselves evenly over the available land. The important thing is to keep the clumps small, not to eliminate concentrations as such.

      • For me, crowded means I can’t walk to the outskirts of town with my dog and also walk to the market. I agree it isn’t the population density in the suburban living space that’s as important as the distance to the edge of town.

        Town homes or small homes on lots with three or for blocks in any direction to a market or a greenbelt might have a fairly high density in the areas people live and work but still have a feeling of low density because you can walk to get out of the high density area.

  6. I wanted to add rear differential fluid, which I change every 30k. Also for 4X4’s, the transfer case. My ’73 corvette has the original weather stripping, which means it takes on lots of moisture. An easy way to reduce moisture buildup during the winter is to perforate a bag of charcoal and leave in the car.

  7. I just hit 386,000 on my 1997 Toyo 4runner.
    I change the oil every 2K.
    Tranny fluid(with filter),fuel filter, air filter & diff fluid every 30K.
    The car runs great, at startup each morning it doesn’t knock or tick at all & it burns zero oil.
    The valve covers weep a little due to a bad seal, but no biggy.
    I should have 400,000 in about 7 months.

    • Can you imagine how many times those exhaust valves have been tortured? Surely a tribute to metallurgy.

      What about the timing chain, guides, and tensioner? Have those been changed.

    • I have a buddy at work that has a 1996 4Runner he’s been beating up for years! Has 260k on the clock. It’s just a damn excellent vehicle. Got one 2002 model myself. I did the first timing belt change at 120k! doh

      • The mid-90s appears to be the sweet spot for a lot of Japanese vehicles. My mid-late ’90s-era Nissan Frontier is also a known “good truck” that will go 300k without much babying. The Corolla from that era was also a sturdy little thing that would just go and go and go…

  8. Here’s another couple of things to change that I didn’t see mentioned:

    1. Brake fluid. I had a ’72 Torino with leaking rear brake cylinders. When I took them apart I found the bore pitted. I have changed my brake fluid and hydraulic clutch fluid ever since.

    2. Engine. Well, not on a REGULAR basis or at least not frequently. My ’72 Super Beetle swallowed a valve at 110k miles. I had been moving a lot and had neglected the valve adjustments. I am not sure what happened. When it suddenly stopped running I opened the engine compartment and there was the valve head lying on the shroud. We later found a hole in the case. A friend and I changed the engine in an afternoon and I was back on the road. I thought about keeping a spare on the shelf after that.

    That Bug was my first new car. Drove it coast to coast 3 times. It had 120K miles on it when I sold it. Thinking about looking for another one.

    • Yep. Brake fluid is hygroscopic. It picks up moisture while in the fluid reservoir. I have actually known brakes to lock after hard braking produced steam in the system. Once the steam condensed the brakes unlocked, often perplexing a Mechtec responding to a service call.

      When bleeding an aging system it is wise to short stroke the pedal in an effort to prevent scoring the seals by having them pass over a rusty area inside the cylinder.

      It should be legal to strangle anyone who reintroduces the bled fluid back into the reservoir. (Seriously, a Jethro Gibbs attention-getting gourd slap and an explanation should suffice. Begin the admonition with, “It is not in your best personal interest…”}

      • Yep – also clutch fluid – an item I should have mentioned in the article. All new cars with manual transmissions have hydraulic-assist clutches. There’s a reservoir, much like a brake master cylinder, filled with fluid – same brake fluid as in the master cylinder. It, too, degrades (and gets contaminated) over time and needs to be periodically changed out. Many people neglect this – and expensive problems ensue!

          • Yes – I do mine every 30,000 miles; some also require an additive (e.g., GM “limited slip” additive), so check before you drain/fill.

          • Ok, thanks. I am thinking for the Trans am which has 78k miles on it, since i have no idea if/when it was ever changed.
            And on my wife’s ’08 15-passenger Ford Van which is at 60k miles. We got it at 40k miles from an auction, and I have no idea about the service history on that vehicle either.
            I’ll ask my mechanic buddy to help me out.

  9. Hi,

    I absolutely agree. I treat my car like my body. The body being the very first vehicle you own. 🙂
    I also love simplicity and function. I own a Fiat 126p (p for polish) aka Maluch (baby/toddler). It’s one of the simplist cars out there. Pure function.
    When so many people have to leave their cars for days and empty their bank accounts for maintenance I drive away away the same day and pay $50-100 for the most complex problems (which are few).
    The thing is nearly as simple as a lawn mower 🙂 It sat all winter at -20 from late Nov-April (empty gas tank) and started right up with a push and clutch start. Drove around for a while to charge the bettery…dropped by my mechanic to give it a once-over and away I went.
    Todays cars are like todays jet fighters…a lot of whiz-bang
    but cost way too much, and have way too many problems.
    The other problem is the bloated nanny-state forcing needless regulation and ruining our innovation, vehicles and us.


  10. My AutoForce diagnostic equipment had a bargraph that displayed instantaneously the action of the O2 sensor. Years ago I toyed with the idea of permanently installing a similar bargraph in or on the dash of my own fuel injection equipped vehicle but never got around to it. I can imagine no less expensive and accurate way to constantly monitor how effectively an engine is burning the fuel-air mixture. It simply cannot get any better than stoichiometric.


    • Output from an O2 sensor is basically a variance in voltage, so a voltmeter will effectively do the trick. I prefer analogue gauges, and it should be simple enough to make a suitable face for a 90°-sweep voltmeter.

      • An analog meter would work but the bargraph is more seeable. It’s also kinda purty.

        Hey Gal, lookit this here bargraf. This here thang tells me when thangs r raht with muh engine performunce. Umm … here y’ahr, take uhnuthur toke.

        • TGS, the turbo crowd has been hanging O2 meters off their A pillars for some time now. I have an Autometer Fuel – Air Ratio gauge (that ties into your existing O2 sensor) laying on the bench, left over from my ’87 T-Bird TC. It’s a full sweep bar graph, but as Ned points out, it’s nothing more than a voltmeter scaled for a particular O2 sensor range. Here’s one that’s both digital and “bar-graf” that’ll really impress them thar Loozy-anna Ladies (‘course after about 7 shots of Mezcal she may need a “barf-graf” display) :

          If you ain’t stoichiometric, you ain’t $#!+! 😉

          • A lot of neat stuff has come along since I retired 12 years ago and I’m damned near a recluse. I guess if I’m going to talk about stuff I need to catch up.

            My old AutoForce along with a few $400 break out harnesses was in the shop when Katrina wiped it out. I had left the business to my son and my thousands of dollars worth of tools was lost along with his stuff.

        • The other thing is, an SU doesn’t have a choke as such. Enrichment for starting is achieved by lowering the jet relative to the needle – which is exactly how one sets the mixture, only over a wider range. What I want is a way to adjust the baseline mixture from inside the car. Having a gauge that shows mixture relative to stoichiometric would make that a useful facility to have.

  11. A simple mistake can be very costly for a Mechtec. The VW Microbus had reduction gears on the outboard end of axle tubes. This necessitated installing the ring gear on the opposite side from the side it was installed for the Beetle. I know of at least one instance – but I’m betting there were many – where the Mechtec put the ring gear on the wrong side which of course provided four reverse gears and only one forward. Just one of the traps that a wretched Mechtec can fall into.

    It was a simple oversight but it cost the poor Mechtec more than a days labor. Which of course was a big financial ouch for a fellow living from paycheck to paycheck.

    When I croak and go to hell I’ll have to tease ol’ Ernst Gottschalk about that one.

  12. Eric thanks for the post. Since I got the T/A last month I’ve: replaced the air-filter, breather filter, change oil and filter. Thanks for the reminder about the fuel filter. I don’t know much of the history of this car so I’ll change that too and hose down the radiator.
    Is there a way to tell of the AT fluid and filter need changing? Or should I just go ahead and do it to be safe?

    • The fuel filter in your car is in the carb! (Assuming it’s stock.) The hard metal line goes into the front of the carb. Screws into a larger fitting. What you want to do is first loosen the fuel line nut, then loosen/remove the larger fitting that screws into the carburetor. The filter is inside the fitting. Any auto parts store ought to have (or be able to get) a replacement.

      On the transmission fluid: Pull the dipstick and look at the fluid – and smell the fluid. It should be bright ruby red and translucent – not brown or black. If it is discolored, a changeout is indicated. If it smells burned, that’s a strong indication the transmission has overheated – and a changeout is urgently indicated.

      • Thanks for the info (again). I just found a nice step-by-step article (with pics) on how to change the fuel filter on my car, so I think I can handle that one and I found the filter at Amazon for $6 (no shipping or 6% sales tax to the idiot Governor in Annapolis).

        I’ll check the trans fluid asap, thanks.

    • Some time ago, when my 2007 Pacifica reached 60K miles, I thought, “Ok, time to flush the transaxle and change the filter”. I contacted a granny shop of good reputation. They demurred, explaining that the transaxle is a sealed unit and does not require fluid changes for at least 100K miles. There isn’t even a dipstick!

  13. Transmissions are perhaps the most overlooked maintenance item on a car. Car companies will put warning lights for oil on the dash, but none for transmissions. Due to the type of driving I do, I plan on changing mine every 70,000 miles or so. 50,000 is probably a better number, but it is simply too costly. Besides, transmission fluids have improved a lot since the good old days.

  14. Agreed. I was thinking about a simple TBI unit and maybe a simple SEFI unit without all of the oxygen sensors. You could tune that car to do just about anything.

    Cars are way too heavy and complex these days.

    On the other hand, I do drive a heavier car and love the way it soaks up the highway as opposed to a lighter car. Unfortunately, most vehicles today have the weight in all the wrong places.

    • Another way – staying with CV carbs – would be to use a computer to design a custom CV carb needle profile for one’s specific application. It would involve finding a needle that sort-of works (which is just about any needle!), fitting an O2 sensor, and doing some test driving under different conditions while the computer logs the O2 sensor data.

      Afterwards the data gets translated to a set of station diameters along the length of the needle, and you cut a needle to those specs.

      The finer the needle profile is judged, the more a CV carb approximates the behaviour of a basic EFI system. What I like about this approach is that it is physically open-source: the tune information can be retrieved by taking a micrometer to the needle; nothing is encrypted, even in the physical sense that one cannot read a chip by looking at it. And once the job is done it doesn’t matter what happens to the computer, the engine will keep running the way it should.

      Given regular maintenance, of course …

  15. Electronics wouldn’t be all that bad if the parts were standardized and the electronics were simplified. For example, if ECM’s had the same basic hardware and footprint, you could bolt one onto a Chevy as well as a Buick or Cadillac and just change the software around to properly tune the engine. If automakers used the same crank sensors, airflow sensors and whatnot, you could replace those as well. It would make replacing out of production ECU’s a bit easier.

    As it is now, there are simply too many different combinations of parts that replacing them with new fresh ones will be impossible after the car is a few years old.

    It has always been a fact of life that carmakers do not want you to keep the old cars on the road. They have just found new and innovative ways to screw the public.

    I think that it would be neat to design a generic ECU based system that can run a number of cars, removing the factory unit with a generic one. I think it can be more easily done on 1980’s or 1990’s vehicles than todays models.

    • I don’t object to useful technology, either. An example: A simple, effective, stand-alone TBI unit. Much-improved driveability and fuel efficiency relative to a carburetor – but not over-the-top expensive or complex. The cost-benefit ratio relative to a carburetor is sensible. Now, contrast that with a gas direct injection system. Incremental improvement in economy/efficiency; no noticeable improvement in driveability – massive increase in complexity and cost. Not worth doing. So why is it done? Solely in order to achieve that incremental/fractional improvement in fuel economy and emissions reduction – to placate the feds. The worst part, though, is that these minimal “improvements” could have been achieved with far less cost/complexity simply by building a lighter car. A 1,600 lb. car needs less engine than a 2,400 lb. car – and burns less fuel (which also means lower total emissions output). But ah, then you run afoul of “safety” requirements, which make 1,600 lb. cars practically impossible – and which have given us 2,800 lb. “compact” cars that need GDI to manage 30 MPG….

      • You are right. Electronically controlled TBI is simpler, cheaper, reliable, and works quite well.

        Are multi-point and direct injection systems worth the expense? What says the dynamometer and actual driving?

        Direct injection worked quite well with the DB 601 and other German engines but that was long before electronic controls. Once the British improved the carbs for their Merlin engine they seem to have worked as well as the Bosch direct injection and surely were less expensive to manufacture. (I seem to recall that the Bosch injection pump on the 1972 911 Porsche delivered fuel to the injectors at 170 psi.)

  16. I’d like to see if anything a greater need for maintenance, provided it isn’t too fiddly or too much of a PITA; enough to enable a corps of independent local mechanics to earn a good living as small-business operators.

    The shift in recent years has been from a regular-maintenance approach to a hands-off approach. New cars are no longer designed around simple maintenance, but to a predefined product life considered at the planning stage to be finite. It is the advent of electronic controls that has made this possible. Huge mileages have been reported, but I submit that this capability is subject to the mileage being achieved in a short period of extremely intensive use.

    Electronic control has been the motor industry’s holy grail: it has made it possible to have reliability without durability. Thereafter the step from a vehicle that needs no maintenance (for quite a long moment) to a vehicle that cannot be maintained (ever) is but a short one. It is magic: a disposable car that acts in the interim as if it will last forever.

    • Ned you’ve defied your namesake with this one. What an incredibly well considered and expressed opinion. Amazing!

      • Thank you, Scott.

        (Do you mean “defied” or “defined”? The original Luddites weren’t opposed to technology. In fact they were technicians and intensive users of technology. They merely insisted in no uncertain terms on technology that was of such a nature that they could engage with it – as do I, hence the username.)

      • I’ve just reread my response, and am aware that it is open to misinterpretation. I intensely dislike any electronics in a car. All my cars are wholly mechanical and, consequently, require a bit of maintenance from time to time. But had I designed them myself I’d have designed them to make maintenance as easy as possible.

        What I meant by “holy grail,” above, was “ultimate way to screw us.”

        • After reading your explanation I have to apologize; I didn’t know Ned was an engineer. I was under the popular impression he was an anti-technology person, the sort who might yell “get a horse!” when a model T went by on the street.

          I responded to your second explanation, then read the first. I stand with my compliment even though it may have been misinformed.

          • The fictitious Ned Ludd (or King Ludd) would have lamented Henry’s decision to go from a flat timber firewall first to a rolled-tinwork structure and then to an assembly of steel pressings; two decisions whose merit might be questionable in terms of cost savings in light of concomitant capital investment, but which make perfect sense in light of the sort of labour politics going on at the Ford plants at the time.

            Henry Ford was a knot of contradictions, which made him human and somewhat redeems him: he wanted farmers to be able to fix a Model T as easily as possible, but he did not want his employees to be able to make a Model T except in his own factory. One can have one or the other, but not both.

            But Ned wouldn’t have objected to the T as such – once he’d spent a few hours studying the mechanism.

    • Ned,

      I love your line, “reliability without durability.” Excellent!

      The other day I was working on a Morris Minor owned by friends of ours. It would not start after a few weeks of sitting idle. A few simple diagnostic checks revealed a stuck/clogged need/seat in the fuel bowl (which was not getting any fuel). It took maybe five minutes and a screwdriver to find and fix the problem. I find this sort of thing very satisfying. Not just the “easy to fix” part, either. I am a fan of approachable, cost-effective technology. The Morris may need some fiddling with every now and then, but it will not bankrupt the fiddler. And it can be fiddled with almost forever, too. Unlike the modern car, which has a definite (and finite) service life before its myriad over-engineered systems begin to fail and it becomes cost (or otherwise) prohibitive to keep the car on the road.

      • Eric, it so happens that I own a Morris Minor! And I am very much alive to the elegance of the constant-vacuum carburettor, an abandoned technology which deserves a new application of creativity – but which will not receive it while the State is what it is.

        • These are neat little buggies, aren’t they? My friends (the owners) bought theirs from a Morris nut who brought them here – to this very rural corner of SW Virginia – from Scotland! He still has the blue convertible; my friends bought the two-door hardtop from him – chocolate brown on the outside with red interior. It’s a hoot to toodle around in this right-hand-drive curiosity … few people here have ever seen one before!

          • If you ever need to explain to someone what the difference is between handling and roadholding, point to the Minor. It is unbelievable how the same car can have excellent handling and almost zero roadholding. It can be misbehaving much of the time, but because one viscerally feels at every moment exactly how it is misbehaving one can actually hustle the thing along quite briskly.

    • “. . . reliability without durability . . . ”

      Are you sure about durability? It seems to me that with improved lubricants and fuel, closer manufacturing tolerances and Electronic Power train Management, durability has improved remarkably.

      The most important thing that I learned regarding problem diagnoses is to not look for a high tech solution to a no tech problem. Doing so is likely the greatest waste of time in the business.

      In real estate it is Location, Location, Location.

      With car and light utility vehicle problem diagnosing it is Basics, Basics, Basics.


      • Durability indeed. Think of what causes cars to be scrapped in the real world. Most of the time it’s collision damage. The rest of the time it’s cost of repairs exceeding market value, and that has a lot to do with factors like electrical glitches. That is why I say that those incredible mileages usually happen in a short period of time, under extremely intensive use.

        Pre-electronic, one wouldn’t scrap a car for want of piston rings; not unless there was a lot more wrong with it.

        But none of this is to say that advances in lubricants etc. are not real: imagine how long a simple, easily-maintainable car receiving regular maintenance while being used sparingly might not last using modern lubricants?

        • We have some friends who own a circa 2001 Volvo wagon. It still looks new, but it’s nearing the end of its economically viable service life at appx. 200k, because minor and major problems are beginning to crop up and the cost to repair these things is already approaching the value of the car itself. And, key point: It’s much harder (expensive) to just gimp it along, because in my state (VA), the annual “safety” inspection includes the requirement that the “check engine” and “SRS” (air bag) lights come on – and then go off – at start-up. If the system throws a code – the light comes on – and if the light comes on, the car fails “safety” and you can’t renew your registration – and so, can’t legally drive the car.

          • Even when kept indoors and never driven they still age. Not even the best and most expensive test facilities can precisely duplicate aging.


            • True!

              But, you can slow it down (aging). The single most effective way being – do not let it get wet! Moisture is the enemy. That an sunlight (in re paint and rubber). I keep my Pontiac in a heated garage and it has not been rained on in 20-plus years. Still has most of its original paint and while it has scratches and dings here and there, it still looks very nice for almost 40 years old.

        • In the early 1960s a VW Beetle cost less than 1700 bucks. You could remove, overhaul and reinstall the engine with a new clutch with about $200 worth of parts.

          When it aged and the body trashed out it could be converted to a dune buggy and driven to destruction. I was with Fred Tomlinson when he drove his dune buggy into blue gumbo mud just south of Fernandina Florida. We could not drag it free. So, standing scrotum deep in the blue muck with the battery’s amps unpleasanty tickling us, using nothing but a bayonet, a monkey wrench, a pair of pliers, and a screwdriver we removed the engine and the front torsion bar tubes and rolled the chassis and transmission to hard ground. Watched by a horde of harmless claw wielding fiddler crabs we then reinstalled everything and drove happily away on Hwy A1A without brakes in very light traffic.

          That was 46 years ago. Today, dune buggies are no longer allowed there simply because there are too many people. Even if we could have driven away we would not have gone a mile before being stopped by lawmen and ticked while waiting for the tow truck to take the vehicle hostage. Fred might also have had to blow and then been jailed for DWI,no seatbelts and no inspection sticker*.


          *I think Florida finally came to its senses and repealed the stupid Inspection Sticker law. Louisiana still enforces this unlawful source of revenue.

          • Yup!

            And that $1,700 in today’s inflated funny money is just barely $11,000. This will buy you a new Nissan Versa 1.6 (the least expensive new car on the market). However, the cost to maintain the Versa is considerably higher – and of course, beyond the skill (and tool) set of the average person. And while the Versa is a solid little appliance, it doesn’t even approach the charm of an old Beetle.

          • We still build dune buggies up here. Instead of a regular license we put ORV stickers on them. As long as you stay out of town with them you never have a problem. My last one got trashed when my buddy let his dumbass girlfriend drive it. She rolled it really bad on a dirt road. The roll bar held up fine and her harness held her in fine. So luckily she was fine. The problem was that when she was walking back it caught on fire. I’m guessing the battery sparked and caught the gas on fire.

          • Eric, thank you for your economic accuracy and honesty. I detest professional economists with their bullshit explanations of economic matters.

            A popular expression when I was in the Military was: If you don’t have the answer, just blind them with bullshit.

            One of the first things I heard at an AA meeting 22 years ago was, “Keep it Simple.”

            I did, and I’m still alive and sober after dumping a mind full of psychobabble that night. And I never try to blind anyone with bullshit because I never need to.

            I’ve never had to dump econobabble simply because I instinctively knew it was bullshit from the very beginning.

      • Ned’s right.

        People can (and do) rack up impressive mileage totals in late-model “modern” cars. But a point is reached – around 15 years and 200k – after which the cost to repair/replace components starts to become cost-prohibitive and the car reaches the end of its economically viable service life. In other words, it can still be repaired, but the cost of the repair relative to the value of the car is just too much.

        I have written about this – specifically, about the effect on the old car hobby. It is now frozen in time – the cutoff date being circa early 1980s, right about the time that cars became computer-controlled and PFI began to become commonplace. Virtually no one is restoring cars from the early ’80s-forward. Preservation, sure. Modification – yup. But I have to see even one restoration to stock of a car such as a 1985 IROC-Z Camaro. Why? These cars were produced in large numbers and were immensely popular in their time. There is no rational reason why the generation that grew up with those cars would be less interested in restoring them than their parents’ generation was interested in restoring 1950s and 1960s stuff… except for one reason: It’s too difficult – or too expensive. Imagine trying to rebuild to stock just the ABS braking system in a “modern” car. It would probably cost more to acquire the parts than it would cost me to completely rebuild the entire V-8 in my Trans-Am. How about the TPI fuel injection, its computer, the wiring harnesses? Can you imagine what such a project might involve?

        So, what happens is: People drive these late-model cars for a good long while, then throw ’em away. Older (pre-modern) cars could be rebuilt almost indefinitely – and economically. My Trans-Am, for example. It is almost 40 years old, still running (and looking) good… and when it is no longer running good, rebuilding the entire drivetrain is no big deal, either from a difficulty standpoint or a cost standpoint. The engine, for instance: A set of oversized pistons perhaps, new rings and bearings, oil pump, gaskets… maybe $500 in parts and another couple hundred for light machine work. Do the whole engine – I mean, oil pan to air cleaner, ready to run – for about $2,000. Price a rebuilt/remanufactured or crate engine for a 2010 Mustang… no, wait. Just price the PFI “top end” stuff…

        • Would a 1983 300D turbo-diesel (4 sale: $1,500) be worth considering for restoring? It has about 207k miles.

          • Carefully examine everything made of rubber, especially everything exposed to the weather.

            In my opinion, in order to make an old car “like it was on the showroom floor” it would have to be disassembled down to the last nut, bolt, and washer. Everything . . . and I mean EVERYTHING that shows wear and aging would have to be redone or replaced with a new part. All paint and primer would have to be removed and new primer and paint applied.


            Very few private sector individuals can afford to do things as thoroughly as the Smithsonian folks.

            The Warbirds restoration people do some fantastic work and that done by STORMBIRDS is truly remarkable. Could you imagine buzzing an airshow with your Me-262, then landing before the crowd and exiting the aircraft in your dashing WWII Luftwaffe Uniform adorned with with a Ritterkreuz while casually clamping down on unlit cigar like Adolf Galland.

            • I, too, am partial to WWII-era Luftwaffe birds. The 262 was such a malevolently elegant machine – and so technology forward relative to the stuff in the US and British inventory as to be truly startling. Then there’s the Horten 229 – two or three generations ahead of its time. Almost supersonic and stealthy, too. A potential game-changer, like the 262 but even more so.


              And the up-sized version of the 229: The Horten XXIII Amerikabomber. Designed – and this is very interesting, indeed – to carry an atomic bomb to NYC. A source at Los Alamos is reported to have said of the uranium bomb dropped on Japan: “It was of German provenance.” Germany had tremendous uranium resources; we, few. Interesting.

              Also see: Sanger antipodal bomber


        • The old classics were allowed to die an economically not suitible to repair stage. I remember it. The saving grace for old muscle was the late 1980s price bubble. It caused many to become economically viable if not to fix then to hold on to and not scrap. An early 80s car currently is worth very little for a good one. Even if the car cost as much to set right as you’ve put into your 70s car people will pass and get the good one because it’s cheaper.

          The cars that need things are most economically viable to the people who will customize.

          The modern systems aren’t all that difficult, they don’t require full replacement, and they rarely fail. But shops don’t fix things the cheapest way by and large. They replace more because they don’t want someone coming back. They get a bad rep that way. The garage prices for the older cars made them economically unviable back in the day too. If it didn’t they would still be in daily service and be around in large numbers. Only in places like Cuba where not fixing the old car meant not having a car did they keep getting fixed.

          BTW, price a push rod crate motor? They aren’t cheap either long block to long block.

        • Eric, the Nurflugel had to wait for dependable flight control technology to really do its thing.

          I’m glad Jack Northrop lived to see the B-2.

          And thanx for the links. The Krauts had their faults but being unable to design and manufacture the world’s best looking uniforms was certainly one of them.

          Seems the only German who was never unable to look good in one was Der Dicke (The Fat One) which was none other than Herman Goering. Hitler should have retired that fool after the Battle of Britain. Having failed to do so, he should have had him shot for saying that he could supply the Sixth Army by air at Stalingrad. But then, the Stalingrad debacle surely lay at the feet of Hitler Himself.

          And Von Paulus. That Aristocrat Asshole lived well and claimed that the German POWs were being treated well after the surrender, while all but 5,000 men of Sixth Army were miserably dying in captivity.

          • DAMMIT!

            The Krauts had their faults but being unable to design and manufacture the world’s best looking uniforms was certainly [NOT] one of them.

          • Ja!

            An irony of geschichte: Had Walther Wever not died, pre-war, the Luftwaffe likely would have had an UralBomber – long-range strategic bomber – in service by the time of Barbarossa. (See here:

            Der Dicke’s greatest failure was bragging that he could reduce the Dunkirk pocket by air. Had Guderian been given leave to proceed, the entire BEF could have been captured – and the strong likelihood is that such a catastrophe would have toppled Churchill and led to a peace treaty. Then, Germany would have had a free hand to hurl everything at the Soviet Union. And had that been handled a bit more rationally… well…

            Another tidbit for those interested: Among the great Luftwaffe pilots of WWII was a fellow names Hans Ulrich Rudel. It is said that his insights led to the development of the A-10 Warthog. Some German pilots racked up hundreds of aerial victories. The last one still living, Gunther Rall, died only recently. These were some impressive flyers!

          • Not only were they impressive and brave, they were gentlemen.

            Germans per se are my blood cousins and I will always love and respect them.

            For me, in the final analysis race transcends nationality.

            A feeling of brotherhood generated by mutual fear and suffering is dissipated as quickly as it began when the fear and suffering no longer exist.

            The evil committed by governments is not necessarily a refection of what the individual citizens of one nation feel for the citizens of another nation.

            Governments distance certain persons from personal responsibility for their crimes. Therein lies a great moral flaw that is inherent in government, A flaw that has cost the lives of countless innocents.

          • Eric – the Germans didn’t necessarily blunder by not pressing the attack to wipe out the BEF at Dunkirk. They were faced with several issues:

            1) The RAF could operate from airfields in Kent only 100 kilometers distant while the Luftwaffe was still operating from east of the Rhine, some 350 kilometers distant. Both Air Forces were hampered by inclement weather. “Fatso” Goring should have known better than to boast to Hitler what his Luftwaffe could do.
            2) It was actually Von Rundstedt that gave the halt order. Hitler merely approved it some six hours later.
            3) The BEF had launched a counter-attack at Arras only three days earlier which had even the vaunted Rommel wetting his pants. There was still most of the French First Army, some 100,000 men, holding out at Lille only twenty miles to the southeast. The Germans were understandably wary of marching into a trap.
            4) The German had almost two-thirds of their tanks out of action, more due to breakdowns than enemy action. They needed to rest their men and refit their vehicles for the final assault into metropolitan France (which initially proved to be hard slogging, contrary to the stereotypical depiction of the French as effete cowards)

    • Yup – And realize that everyone involved in the auto industry and the corporate-state Fascism of Amerika – Political Terrorists, MBA-Psychopaths, Counterfeiting Banksters, UAW Parasites, Etc – Are Keynesian.

      Planned obsolescence is what these violent amoral scumbag Keynesians do.

      • To paraphrase the mythical Jesus speaking from the cross I say:

        Big Daddy in Heaven, God Damn them all, for they know very well what they are doing.


  17. When I read the title to this article I thought it was going to be an in-depth look at how some mechanics and quick-lube type workers rip you off and break shit.

    After reading some of the comments here lately, a number of times this week I’ve thought about the many ways others have described how they do so. I wonder if a lot of it is a broken-window-fallacy-kind-of-job-security action they do?

    Once, I basically got in an argument with a mechanic about over filling the oil. He said it was just fine to do so. I couldn’t believe he was uttering such. (Duh, he replaced oil gaskets.) And I once thought that kind of encounter was rare. I obviously expect too much of my fellow mankind.

    Another thing I’ve stopped doing is going through those drive through car washes where the guys get inside and wipe it down.
    Somehow, I can’t figure out how, they managed to break the mounts for the boot that goes over my shifter knob. They must’ve been trying?

    I made the mistake of letting them do a full detail once on my SUV. They must have leaned on ladders against the side to do the top because they left small dents on both sides,… which I didn’t notice until six months later. The bastards.

    All that was an ugly learning experience.

    • Part of that, I think, is the dissipation of competence and accountability – which is a function of many synergies, as I see it, from the corporate anonymity of chain stores to the general dumbing-down of society. Some insight that may provide perspective: We moved to a very small town from a very big town. In the small town, a mechanic or business that screws people is not going to be in business for very long. Word gets out, people stay away. But in the big town, there are so many “fish” that a corrupt/incompetent businessman will always find new victims. Word takes longer to spread – and it’s easily drowned out in the general din.

      I’m a Jefferson man as regards my attitude toward population density: Once it gets beyond a certain critical mass, truly representative government becomes difficult, if not impossible and accountability (including moral hazard in the marketplace) much diminished. This is not an argument for population control. It’s a defense of human-scale social and economic interactions.

      • Absolutely.

        Population density is a funny concept, though. I have a professional interest in urban design, where it is common to qualify concepts related to population density in quite a lot of detail, because it can very easily mean a lot of different things. For instance popular objections to high population densities are often really objections to high population-to-accommodation ratios (several families sharing a single room, etc.) I mention this purely as an example: but it does illustrate the importance of the scale at which one is considering the density.

        I think the point you make is most important at the local-district sort of level, i.e. about a 5- to 25-mile radius, as that would allow a variety of densities at a finer (e.g. neighbourhood, street-block) grain, and with it all the advantages of small pockets of much higher density – while avoiding the disadvantages of a relatively high density over a coarser grain.

        I suggest that the typical western “zoned” city represents the worst possible density: high enough to ensure functional connectivity over a huge population, but much too low to allow any part to achieve the sort of functional autonomy that might come with a primarily foot-based economy.

        • Ned, I can’t agree more with your observation that so called “zoned” plans are terrible. I’ve rarely seen one that worked.

          I guess you just can’t plan a village, which in my opinion is the ideal suburban environment. Somewhere around 5000 people within walking or biking distance of everything, surrounded by agricultural land.

          There was an architect back in the 70’s named Paolo Soleri who I thought had some good ideas. “Cities in the Image of Man” was a book he wrote. I’m not a city guy myself but if I lived in one I think I’d like to have Paolo do the zoning plan.

          • Sometimes Google works against you. I just looked up old Paolo, doesn’t look like he’s doing so well nowadays. Sigh.

          • Soleri’s “arcology” concept has found greater currency in contemporary science fiction that in architecture. I must say that I see a fundamental contradiction in it: building a significant indoor ecosystem is huge infrastructure development and is all to likely to sprout a huge bureaucracy to keep it running in practice. The intention was good, but it somehow got overthought – and that in the presence of the avant-garde architectural thinking of that time, which was all about huge insect-like walking cities, the whole “plug-in cities” thing.

            I wonder if Soleri has moved on from the arcology concept.

      • I agree.
        I’ve always been a City guy: Liverpool to London to New York but then the bailout to the Poconos.
        Here I’ve found:
        A Body guy who quoted me $150 for a ding and charged me $50: it didn’t take so long as he’d thought.
        A Lawyer who shaved my head for free because I admired the great job she’d done on her husband
        A landscaper who did a bunch of work “while we’re here” for free. Who do you think we’re going to call next time?

        You get that a lot from the government, don’t you?

        Big Cities are always big government.

        • Yup.

          As I wrassle with the question – “How do we get our liberty back – and maintain it?” – I find myself inexorably confronting the density issue. Not necessarily population – density. Too many people in too small an area. (How many people, exactly, is too many, being another question.)

          It seems to me almost every problem that we bemoan here either goes away or is greatly ameliorated when society is scaled down to a certain level. When there’s enough physical space between people, friction is naturally reduced. There is less frustration with one’s fellow man – which has the effect of vitiating one of the main drivers of government and takers-away of liberty: There ought to be a law! People who know one another, even just vaguely, also tend to be friendlier. There is accountability – politically and economically. Moral hazard is operative.

          But, how do we scale down?

          That seems to me to be the $64,000 question…

          • I’ve looked at a number of scenarios. Engineering dense pockets is easy enough: they’ll happen by themselves in the absence of planning restrictions. Somewhat trickier is reconverting low-density suburban housing to viable, bona-fide, working farmland. What is needed is for the produce-value of land to exceed the status-value derived from “location, location, location.”

            The obvious first thing is to ensure that there is a solid surplus of small-scale commercial/light-industrial accommodation in the “pocket” areas, to collapse the “business rights” premium and all the concomitant mechanisms that currently tend to undermine the residential amenity of economically-active urban areas. The resulting land value dynamics could be quite interesting – and hopefully bring about a drop in suburban land value without that being to the detriment of current suburban landowners.

            • Some of that is going on in my rural county; there’s a growing “eat local” movement – and many people (including us) now operate small-scale farms. I very much enjoy the lifestyle and the numerous advantages it confers.

              Hey, PS: Our friends’ Morris Minor appears to have an electric issue (of course!). No low beams; only one high beam – passenger side- works. Tail-lights come on when headlight low beam toggle is engaged. I haven’t yet begun to troubleshoot it – but am hoping it’s something simple and accessible such as the driver’s side wiring/plug (that’s the side that hasn’t got low or high beams; headlamp is new – so I know that’s not the problem).

    • Being a competent Mechtec is more involved than any trade that I know of. I’m convinced that no other Bluecollar trades or Whitecollar professions require such a variety of knowledge, experience, and conscientious application. Having to think and analyze from an unpleasant, even painful head down position while both your arms are buried in a job up to your biceps and the blood is pounding in you gourd because the rest of you is elevated is difficult at best. All this in an environment where the ambient temperature can climb to 120 F. and you are often unable to wipe the stinging sweat from your eyes because both hands and arms are occupied

      For the Mechtec it is not an easy nor is it a particularly profitable life. Little wonder that the trade rarely attracts a saint or a genius.

      But all this notwithstanding, there is no acceptable excuse for doing a half-assed job. The customer deserves what he pays for and should not be punished for someone’s incompetence or dishonesty.

      When I left the Air Force in 1960 and returned home to Jacksonville, Florida I quickly discovered that there were no job openings for Automatic Tracking Radar Specialists. I had to take what work I could get and when I saw a Volkswagen dealer’s ad for Inspection Team Trainees I went for it having no idea what it was all about.


      BTW when something requires five fasteners and you try to get by with four, usually you will soon discover why five were needed.

      • All the more reason to put stuff where one can get to it. It’s very good on the Minor, considering it’s a unibody: all right there in front of you, except for the master cylinder, which lives inside a structural member under the floor. But the same Sir Alec designed the (original, real) Mini so that you can’t set the timing without the back of the grille taking the skin off your knuckles. It’s easy enough to take the grille off, though, except on the van and pick-up, where it’s welded in …

        (My cousin restored a Mini van. My cousin is a big guy. Luckily Sir Alec was already dead by the time my cousin restored his van.)

        That’s another abandoned technology: the separate frame, done right. The Triumph Herald wants a fresh look: being a modern car in the early ’60s it was actually very original for being designed around a separate frame, with a flip-front giving the most beautiful service access. It’d have been brilliant with a DeDion axle instead of its swing-axles.

        • So far, the Minor has been very enjoyable to service. Checking the float/needle and seat, for instance, involved (as you know) unscrewing three bolts plainly visible and then just lifting off the top. No fuel spill, even! Compared with working on the Quadrajet in my old Pontiac, it is almost idiot-proof!

  18. As a retired professional I wish I had a dollar for every time a vehicle had to be towed because of nothing more than a clogged fuel filter. And I’d also like to have another buck for every misdiagnosis involving a fuel filter.

    I suspect that, depending on the location of the filter, fuel filter replacement is one of the most deliberately overlooked or “sniped” jobs in the service industry. When I was a shop foreman I would tell my Mechtecs to treat maintenance and repair as though the vehicle would be regularly driven through the worst part of town at night by their wife, mother or daughter. In cities like New Orleans, if you work in the CBD you ain’t gonna get there without driving thru the worst part of town cause the CBD is surrounded by it.

    I once replaced a fuel filter in a mid-engine 914 and discovered that there were two inline fuel filters beneath the vehicle. I’m still scratching my gourd over that one. Why would a Mectec simply cut the hose and install a second filter rather than simply replace the original?

    Admittedly, it is is a bit of a hassle but the difficulty that a clogged filter can cause is well worth the effort and expense. An occluded filter can also cause premature wear in an expensive fuel pump. (If you’re lucky you can hear the pump whine before dying.)

    Uh, unless you want a qasoline eye and armpit wash don’t forget to relieve the line pressure before replacing the filter.


    • “Why would a Mectec simply cut the hose and install a second filter rather than simply replace the original?”

      That’s easy enough to figure out. The old one wasn’t working but there was plenty of room to install another one. Why bother taking out the busted one? Just more work…


      • The fuel still had to pass thru the old filter and the replacement filter as well. It makes no sense other than for the Mectec to be able to say with a straight face, “Yes I installed a new filter.”

        Or perhaps at some time during the life of the vehicle someone figured two filters filtered better than one.

        In New Orleans, a male homosexual is often referred to as a “fruit” in local jargon. The 914 was seemingly so popular among gays that the local Mectecs began referring to the 914 as the “fruit car” perhaps additionally because so many were yellow and there was room for only two people.

        In my opinion the 914 was a piece of crap.


          • Very often these days I find myself liking a car’s parts more than I like the car itself. The 928 had a lot of parts I could find a use for, not least of which the V8 – though without the Medusa head on top of it. Four 48IDAs? Would four 2″ SUs on a common plenum be just too weird on this engine?

            But the transaxle, too: I’ve begun championing the “divorced” gearbox as I champion the CV carb. Clutches ought to be maintainable without pulling the engine or the gearbox.

            There’s a blog post in this, soon I hope.

            • I do, too – but have steered clear for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. I also like the looks of Eyetalian motorsickles – but I stick with the Japanese stuff because (a) it rarely needs anything and (b) when it does, it’s usually affordable!

          • I’m not sure a person who owns a 79 TA can legally buy a 928. You may be required to go through some sort of re-education process involving electrodes and high voltage.

            • ’76!

              Last year for the 455! Last year for the single round headlights (and shovelnose front end). Last year for the pleated (vs. flat) hood). Last year for the polycast Honeycomb wheels!

              Nothing against the ’79s…. just defending the honor of my ’76!

          • Eric you have my apologies. ’76. I will etch that in my dyslexic brain.

            So, I think you and Tinsley really need to be looking at buying a 1980 Renault 17 Coupe. Now *that’s* a car! Imagine a Macpherson Strut that has no top to it! Pure genius in French engineering and patent avoidance!

            Only problem was the thing killed a whole bunch of people when they tried replacing the shocks 🙂

            • What I really lust after is a low-rent exotic – a Jensen Interceptor (I know, god help me) and a DeTomaso Pantera. I have driven a Pantera and the experience is not to be missed. That big Ford V-8 right behind you, the four barrel sucking wind inches from your head…. evil-handling, horrible mannered bastard… but I regard it as four-wheeled kin to the Kawasaki triple two stroke.

        • Tinsley, you’re about to piss me off. The 914 was a great car; cheap, light, fast and easy to work on if you understood its secret.

          You *do* know the secret of working on a 914 don’t you? You remove the car from the engine. Most folks try to do it backwards 🙂

        • A Jensen Interceptor!! Are you mad man! I have to admit they’re cool but they were made in England for God’s sake!

          I had a friend that bought a Jag XJ-S then tore out all the Lucas electronics and replaced them with AC Delco. After that, the car actually worked.

          • I know – but they just have a quality that appeals to me. The idea of a genteel Brit car with a hulking 440 under its hood… the interiors are gorgeous (to me) and the Chrysler mechanicals are easy to work on. But then, there’s the body….

          • Believe it or not my very own Mother feels exactly the same way about both the Jensen and the XJ-S I spoke of earlier. She wants one in Burgundy (the XJ-S). Something about a 12 cylinder British muscle car that must be compelling.

            She and my late Father argued between the two for years before deciding on the Jag. We were living in England at the time, in Farnborough, home of the Royal Aircraft Establishment. That could have something to do with the fixation for huge engines as well.

          • LUCAS, the god of darkness.
            I had a friend who owned a 60 something Jag and would drive to his house on the coast of Mississippi on Friday afternoons. He would close his business early on Friday so he didn’t have to drive the Jag in the dark.

            First car I ever owned was a 914 2.0. The car never gave me any trouble and it was fun as hell to drive in empty parking lots. 60 mph 90 degree turns…wow, what fun.

    • One of the best things about old VW’s is that anyone can change the fuel filter in about ten seconds flat. Even someone who would never consider changing their own oil knows how to do it. When I was dating my future wife she was driving an old green bug. It died on the highway and to my shock she didn’t bat an eye and changed it herself.

      I have a soft spot for old VW’s. They are just fun.

      Did you own the book?

      How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot. That book is almost as much of a classic as the cars themselves.

      • I had one of those VW “Idiot Books” back in the ’70s and followed its instructions to do a bunch of stuff to a VW I had, including rebuilding the engine. I enjoyed learning from that book and I give it credit for me having a better understanding of cars, although I don’t do much any more of working on them myself – too lazy/not enough time.

  19. I have not changed my tranny filter on my 4Runner since I purchased it. It had 70k on it when I got it, now it’s at 130k. I have drained the trans earl a few times though. Have the filter, just too lazy. I made a monster swing set today. Dropped mucho dinero on lumber, carriage bolt/nuts, extremely heavy duty brackets and chain, commercial grade swings, trapeze, and all sorts of junk. I don’t even want to tally the total cost. Anyhow, it’s done and all the kid wants to do is swing on a rope I tied to the center! Shit, I could have tied that rope to a tree and saved a few hundred bucks!

    • Dom similar experience here. I built a tree-fort with swings and slide, heavy lumber, big-ass nuts and bolts etc…As an afterthought I picked up 100 feet of good rope and stopped at a local tire shop and got a free old tire from them. Hung that from a huge tree near the fort/swing contraption. Kids use the tire-swing ALL the time and the fort and swings somewhat. That was 12 years ago. I’ve actually had to replace the rope twice now because they use it so much. I added a second tire swing to another tree a few years ago. Even the older kids still enjoy it. We had a 21st B-day party last month for my oldest son and college-age kids were on the tire swing from dinner time until past midnight.
      I’m sure the tire swing wouldn’t pass the Safety Nazis standards, but its damn good fun.

  20. Nice!…Especially cleaning the radiator…Hardly anyone does that.

    The lubrication systems do have a bypass mechanism if/when the filters get clogged…However, filters work at their optimum when they are close to clogged and just before bypass.

    A lot of people change the oil and filter in their new cars early thinking they are doing the engine a favor…Don’t do this. Most factory oil has high molybdenum and BN (boron nitride) that bond to the micro scratches in engines during break-in.

    Cabin filtration systems are a wonderful thing! These make me NOT want to own a 1968 VW Beetle 🙂

    RR was wrong…Collectivism/Socialism/Democrazy turn people into corrupt lying, stupid, and bratty psychopaths and parasites as it advances…Never Trust, Always Verify. Or in Soviet Russia – Trust Verifies You!

    • And here I was thinking an older VW Bug sounds even better, less maintenance. I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been feeling like I’m getting maintenanced out, so many things to maintain.

      • The nice thing about old stuff is that the maintenance, while needed more often, is usually very simple and also very inexpensive. As an example, the old Beetle has one fan belt that is easily changed or adjusted (tensioned) with a crescent wrench and five minutes. You don’t even have to jack up the car to change the oil. Spray the carb with cleaner every once in awhile, make a few easy adjustments – simple (and free, other than the $4 can of carb cleaner). Etc.

        With such a vehicle, you never have to worry about spending $800 for an ABS pump or $1,500 for a tune-up.


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