The Kids Don’t Wrench

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Working on cars has become part of America’s cultural past, like so many other things which used to define American culture. Which was, above all, a car culture. What you drove was very important and – especially for young guys – it was almost as important to know how it worked and to at least plausibly be able to work on it.

Males were expected to have a degree of mechanical competence or at least interest and if not your maleness was somewhat suspect.

That’s all gone now.

Almost no one wrenches anymore – male or female. Not unless they’re paid to. And most people have to pay someone else to wrench because more than merely wrenching is involved now.

Ay, there’s the rub.

The complexity today is much greater, obviously. It presents the same kind of barrier to entry that having to destroy 50 brand-new cars in crash tests to prove they meet Uncle’s safety standards presents a barrier to entry to any small start-up that wants to get into the business of selling cars.

Instead of simple/discrete systems – for example, fuel delivery via a mechanical fuel pump and carburetor – you now have inter-related and much more complicated synergistic systems such as direct injection – which is enmeshed with the electrical system, emissions system, ignition system. It is necessary to understand how all of these work in order to be able to diagnose and bring back to good order any of them, individually.

It’s analogous to a manual typewriter vs. a computer keyboard; or a smartphone vs. an old corded wall phone.

The former and latter can both be understood, but a mechanical device you can manipulate with your hands and take apart and handle the parts and how they go together is easier to understand – particularly for someone without any formal training. Self-teaching is more feasible.

Fewer specialized – and expensive – tools needed, too.

Think about a simple two-barrel carb vs. a modern DI system. Imagine being 15 again and having a few screwdrivers and maybe a $25 socket set. Pop the hood of the pre-computer car and you could work the throttle arm by hand, see the choke blade close. Look down the carb’s throat and observe the throttle blades opening. Actually watch the fuel squirt down the venturis.

A cable ran from the accelerator pedal to the throttle arm on the side of the carb. You could see – and immediately comprehend – that pushing down on the accelerator cable caused the cable to draw back, which pulled the throttle arm back, which caused the carb to “open up” – and the engine to rev.


What is there to see under the hood of a modern car except a plastic engine cover and underneath that, lots of plugged-in plastic things and wires? Very little actually moves – that you can see.  The throttle, for example, is controlled electronically via a throttle position sensor.  Its workings cannot be seen. And there many other sensors, besides.

Unless you are already an engineer – or have near that level of comprehension, especially of things electrical – modern cars are unapproachable, overwhelming. Too Much. So many things to understand and which must be understood to service them competently. Too many “black box” electronic things whose workings one cannot see or manipulate with one’s hands.

The tactile element is gone. Modern cars are not amenable to tinkering. Electronics either work – or not.

Forget about it. Take it to the shop.

Remember being a kid and the joy of taking mechanical things apart? Today, there are almost no purely mechanical things to take apart unless one finds something old. They are electronic things designed to be hard to open and forbidding to even try opening. Just accessing a laptop’s battery requires removal of at least a dozen surgical size mini-screws – which requires a special tool – then you have to deal with fragile components that are easily damaged if you lack expertise, etc.

Barrier to entry. The odds of breaking something expensive are pretty high. Which is why most people  . . . take it to the shop.

Think about what an ordeal it’s become to even change the battery in some new cars – which require connecting the car to a (usually proprietary) diagnostic computer. If you don’t, the car won’t run properly and may not run at all.

It was sometimes hard to work on older cars, too – but in a different way. Access was usually the issue – as in reaching the number eight spark plug on a V8 in a ’75 Caddy with AC. You had to be inventive. You learned to improvise. This was kind of fun. Maybe jack the car up and go through the fender well. But it was almost entirely mechanical; a matter of figuring out how to get at something. The understanding it part was easy enough.

It is not anymore.

Note that mechanics are as rare as cops without buzz cuts and Stormtrooper sunglasses. Instead, there are technicians – and the competent ones are not usually self-taught guys who built on native mechanical aptitude. It takes formal training in electronics and diagnostics to competently assess and service a modern car. So much training, in fact, that the competent techs are near-engineers and that presents an interesting dilemma: Why not just a little farther down the road and become an engineer?

Meanwhile, good techs earn (deservedly) as much as good engineers used to.

Because they are pretty much the only ones who have a clue about how to fix a modern car.

The rest of us just drive and hope the thing keeps running. And when it stops running, we’re as helpless, most of us, as when the computer screen goes dark or our smartphone stops working.

H.G. Wells saw it all coming.

I wish we could send it back.

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  1. Electronics simply create more things to break and then make it harder to fix. I have an old western electric 2500 telephone and repairs are a snap. The electrical schematic fits on one page and I can easily source replacement parts from BeatriceCo. I just replaced the keypad which has become very stiff to push. I would have had to replace a smartphone if even a little part breaks or shell out hundreds to fix it.

  2. Not only all that (in the article), but it is nearly impossible to get quality parts to install on your older junk.
    I have no idea what this idiotic fascination with putting electrical chips into everything is all about. It’s utterly retarded, electronics are NOT FIXABLE UNITS. (as this article laments) unless TPTB DONT WANT YOU TO FIX your own stuff. Planned obsolescence, engineered life-expectancies, etc.

    • Hi Pyra,

      Yup. I am reminded of this every time I take the Orange Barchetta (my ’76 Trans Am) out for a drive. It is almost purely a mechanical thing and it is entirely under my control.

      The moan of the secondaries opening up is, to me, like the wolves howling was to Dracula.

      What sweet music they make!

    • Electronics are just as repairable as non-electronic. It takes a different set of skills to diagnose a black box than to rebuild and tune a quadrajet, but I have both. The counter guy at the auto parts store will be just as happy to sell you a code puller as a carb kit. If you want quality parts for old vehicles, you might need to get to know your local junkyard and be willing to pull your own well-tested parts from its inventory. There is nothing idiotic about state of the art. If you can accept a computer or personal digital device to post your message, why do you resist lower tech in your car?

      • Assertions are made here. They have a point. You have a point. Each of us lives for ourselves here.

        A cubic zirconium ring in theory is just as functional as a diamond ring. Yet most women prefer diamond. Its a subjective value judgment.

        Car goys like iron and chrome. Maybe they’ll tolerate aluminum. They’re elemental snobs. If you don’t mind silicon and plastic, this is a blessing. You’re okay either way you are adaptible.

        I love the old stuff. I wouldn’t mind the new, but the surveillance aspect is a real degradation.

        Autos are devolving from vehicles of freedom kids drive to lovers lane.

        To sterile nurse ratched straight jackets on wheels. That transport you across the nwo asylum.

      • Bill, that’s a fair observation. After all, what’s so mechanical about a condenser? And those early 90’s pickups I value so much are all FI, even if it is simple. The instrument panel is electronic and so are some of the engine and brake controls. But the entire damned thing isn’t centered around the “entertainment center” like that friggin 2000 Z 71 electronic nightmare I drive now.

        I suppose it’s mostly mechanical but it’s cheapened because of it. A four wheel drive front end is still mechanical but with all types of electronic control that seems to fuck up using it as the pickup it was supposedly meant to be.

        I had to change the front bearings but they’re dry bearings running inside the entire rotor assembly with a life only partial to a inside/outside bearings that can be changed and the rotor kept for how even long it’s life might be, at least twice to six times the mileage of the dry bearing bs.

        But there’s something satisfying about having mechanical stuff in your hands. I’ve been in a conundrum for years trying to stay in my favorite hand cleaner since “pumice” has taken it’s place. Ever try cleaning parts with hand cleaner with “pumice”? Oh well, the greased bearings that won’t care for pumice too much have been replaced by dry bearings you simply throw away along with the entire assembly that holds them.

        For me, I’m offended by needing to carry a set of complete hubs(not to mention the $300 for them)as opposed to four bearings and seals to completely go through a front end. Of course a set of hubs isn’t practical to be carried, making my point again. And when the dry bearings are kaput, how far with those spindles go on that replacement hub since it’s already been ground on with the old ones?

        I could go on and on in this vein, especially since the damned transmission won’t work and neither will the transfer case without the almighty computer to tell them what to do.

        Enough for my rant. I guess what I’m saying is the best has come and gone, not necessarily performance wise but certainly as far as throwing a vehicle away.

        I bitch about the 14 mpg out of that Z compared to 18 out of my 6.5 Turbo Diesel that’s about ten times the truck the Z is but my neighbor with a brand new Chevy said the 14 looked pretty good to him compared to the 9 he got.

        It’s sorta like being obsessed with replacing your Cherry 2000 when you have a perfectly good and much tougher and REAL replacement right in front of you.

        • 8,
          My current daily driver and home is a 2003 E-150 and since Ford didn’t put the black box in until 2005, I doubt I’ll ever own another van. The integrated engine/transmission control unit makes this the best of the three vans I’ve had, better than the other two combined. Having saved up enough to replace the engine and transmission, I’m ready for the inevitable, although I’m hoping that the transmission goes first. It has the V-6 with 260,000+ miles on it, and the only deficiency is hill climbing, which is fine since it gets 17mpg overall. I love jacking with the extended warranty marketers. I usually start out with the mileage, which they usually ignore the first time. One would think that they’d give up at the model year, but I guess they are too hungry to notice. I had my second van for 14 years.

          • Good god, does anyone here work a vehicle? Everybody speaks of how many miles they have babying something but nobody mentions how they haul well more than the GVW and tow things that are illegal for their vehicle and run it out to the end of a chain time and time again and dig 4 holes when the slack is suddenly taken up trying to get something much bigger unstuck.

            My pickups generally look pretty good but they catch holy hell. 4 wheel drive isn’t the same thing for me it is for those kids on YT doing whatever it is they do. 4 WD is sometimes the difference between life and death for livestock and sometimes for me. I don’t just use it for fun. The fact is, I never use it for fun. I haven’t used 4WD for fun in decades and it is NEVER in 4WD unless it’s absolutely necessary. I feel my wallet shrinking every time I write 4WD. And yes, I am that guy who’d never set foot in a pickup again if I could avoid it. That Olds 98 Eric speaks of…..would be fine for me. Hell, old Step Child, the red Peterbilt was more comfortable than that Z 71.

            When I spend $80K for a vehicle, it won’t advertise some huge ranch in Texas.

  3. Seen that insurance company’s commercial touting it’s roadside assistance? Mom comes on and says they rescued her boy after getting a flat tire late at night. Then it cuts over to showing the big doofus not even able to identify a lug wrench. Some of this stuff comes from molly-coddled, pussified kids that people are raising these days — see Eric’s article about the Helicopter Life he posted several weeks back.

    • Hi Vince,

      Yeah, I saw that. Makes my teeth ache.

      I talk about this stuff with my buddies; all of us are baffled. What guy doesn’t know how to deal with a flat tire? Then we realize… we’re guys in our 40s and 50s. Raised in a different America. An America that no longer exists.

      • My father ran a blast furnace for Jones & Laughlin Steel back in the day before we lost him in Vietnam. I’ll never be half the guy that he was, but I still have a hard time suffering these latte’-drinking, purse-carrying sissies that I see everywhere enraptured with their d***ed telephones.

      • I know we were in trouble when I started seeing auto insurance commercials offering safe driving discounts for those who haven’t had a accident in 6 months, when I don’t get anything for 40 years of the same.

        • Those insurance companies overcharge people then reduce the overcharge some. Same with the the “accident forgiveness”. People just pay upfront for it.

    • I’ve seen that commercial, but keep in mind the media we are getting is purposely distorted and anti-independent male. They want this image, they foster it, they are aiming to bring it into being and have been working towards such ends for decades. Go all the way back to Greg Brady who couldn’t properly fix his car. Each step the ineptitude image is pushed further.

        • WTF? Just because I saw an gotdamnd commerical doesn’t mean I bought what was advertised. Maybe you’re mindless enough to do that. I can’t even tell you which company it was for.

          As to the Brady Bunch I saw it when I was child. Haven’t seen that or any other episode in over 30 years.

  4. After the FCC’s elimination of a radio station’s chief operator (engineer) in favor of the station’s license holder being legally responsible for technical compliance, which made me and uncounted others redundant, computer technology has largely done the same thing to broadcast engineers that it did to automotive mechanics. A radio station studio is now a big MP3 player, no longer having tape machines, turntables, and landline audio feeds. One now has to have an A+(+++++++++) certificate to repair, or even understand, much of what is used in the studio. With the advent of HD radio, even the transmitters are in danger of becoming mostly digital. Only the antennas and feedline will escape the digitalization of broadcasting. Fortunately, I have yet to encounter the geek who would have any idea how to replace the final or repair the circuitry that makes it work. On the other hand, shortwave broadcasting is experiencing a renaissance, and aside from programming sources, it is still all analog.

    • Bill, my Dad was chief engineer for several small stations when I was a kid. He held one of the first Master’s licenses in the state. As early as 1960, he was out of the business due to the way the FCC has started to ride herd on radio.

      • Ed,
        A Masters licence in what? The FCC granted Radiotelephone Licenses in First, Second, and Third class in the beginning, and combined the First and Seconds into the General Radiotelephone Operators License (GROL) in the mid 80s. The only good thing about it, as far as I was concerned, was that it was made a lifetime license. The Third class was turned into the Restricted Radiotelephone Operators Permit which provides privileges not included in the GROL. I can’t imagine what the FCC could have done in 1960 that they didn’t do earlier. I still miss radio, but I’d have to get at least an AS in computer science to keep up with the new studio technology. I may start my own talk show in similar fashion to how Art Bell did Coast to Coast and let the telecom carriers deal with the commission.

          • I certainly know more about everything that you think you know anything about. You wouldn’t have to be upset by making yourself look so foolish if you didn’t demonstrate your ignorant so proudly. Masters licenses are for mariners, not broadcasters.

  5. Technology gets more complicated as time goes on. Big surprise. Ever gotten behind a stinky old 70s or 80s boat. They suck. Or they blow.
    Or should we just go back to ice boxes, washboards, tube TVs (if TV at all), biplanes (if planes at all) because more people can fix them?
    For goodness sake no MRI or X-ray machines. No robotics, no drones, no PCs, no cell phones. They take specialists to run and/or maintain.
    The hell with cars. Let’s go back to horse and buggy. No downside to that.

  6. DIY maintenance has been relegated to non-engine items. Except for fluids. But there is still plenty of other stuff a DIYer can do: brakes, struts, etc. Anything without a wire or maybe just a wire or two like anti-lock brake sensors is on the plate.

        • Thanks.

          I’ve got no beef with the Homo Sapien. AKA the Same Sapiens. I wouldn’t ask another man to live his life for me no matter how collectivist.

          Let them get more and more identical until there’s no individuality left if they like, I just need them to let me be. Maybe they’ve won over all my family and friends, and the best I can do is be a good loser.

          I can still speak and mirror Same Sapien when they’re around, but they can count me out of all of their plans.

          I’m one of the SGTOW. Member of the “Species Going Their Own Way.”

  7. I’m 60 y.o. I’ve mechaniked proffessionally, in between other jobs since I started as an apprentice bike mechanic at a Royal Enfield/Yamaha/Suzuki dealer in London U.K. in 1974. In my workshop I now only work on older machines. However the aquisition of a as new 2005 BMW 4X4 Diesel meant I had to bite hte bullet and buy a diagnostic computer. Now just up the road from me is a very smart couple of guys who understand the electronics of the latest cars backwards, they can even soup up diesels and for major problems it’s easier and certainly cheaper to go to them than a main agent. However for simple oil service, ABS, airbag etc resets buying that diagnostic tool will save me many $$$$ over the life of this vehicle. However such is the rate of progress in electronics even it’s single rail electronic direct injection, let alone GPS etc Make it ‘ old ‘. Once you get your head around the diagnostics, it’s not that hard to work out that good mechanical skills have little to do with regular modern vehicle maintenance.

  8. My dad, who never paid anyone to do anything he could do himself, was a man of few words most of which were expressed in the form of coloqialisms. One of them was “Well son, you just got to be smarter than the wheel barrow”. I’ve spent most of my life trying to do just that. What I’ve learned is that engines still work by drawing air into the cylinder, mixing fuel with it and igniting the mixture. All the electronics on a modern engine just try to do this more efficiently or accurately. The fuel mileage and longevity of modern engines can be largely attributed to electronic fuel injection.

    One of the most valuable traits you have is curiosity. I’m 66 years old. I recently bought a tablet computer on Ebay. It arrived with a broken screen. The seller refunded my money and let me keep the tablet. I’ve never worked on a tablet but I watched a couple of YouTube video’s and ordered the screen. When it arrived I carefully took the tablet apart, replaced the screen and carefully put it back together. I got a tablet for the price of the replacement screen. I’ve done this for microwaves, freezers, air conditioners, flat screen TVs and power tools.

    My kids see this and they follow suit. Maybe we’re just not being role models for the next generation.

    • That’s a great attitude fifth_disciple.

      Wheelbarrows are composed of what I would could elements. It’s a simple machine with the load near the pivot (usually a wheel, unless you live up north and it’s a skate or a ski.). and the work being applied to the handles far from the pivot. As you lift the wheelbarrow, the handles move through a far greater distance than the load does.

      I don’t shop. Maybe there’s voice activated, remote control drone, Seqway style wheelbarrows you can ride behind wheelbarrows these days. I’m not that current with the post modern point click move heaven and earth world of our benevolent Silicon Valley Morpho Sapien overlords.

      I might never understand the advanced components of today’s touchless wheelbarrows and blue tooth gesture controlled shovels, but I’ll always know the underlying elements of such tools and machines.

      There are always underlying elements you can observe and master to get you through the day, no matter how complex the world becomes.

      I don’t disagree there’s a plethora of new anti-freedom components that are being installed on everything you can buy in a store. They’re even being installed in our women and children.

      Members of my own family are lost to me in a way, usually around the age of 15 or so. But I can always remember them from their younger days, when they were more a collection of natural self chosen elements, than forcefully imposed components.

      The skies are falling, and it’s an alien world out there.

      But that’s okay, there’s still a place for me where I can mostly live how I choose to. I’m confident there’s a world for all of you too. I take great comfort in all that I learn about from everyone here.

    • America has the best trash in the world!
      Replacing a .50 fuse here, a resistor there, a solenoid or a thermo-disc, can make a poor man’s day..

  9. Will be a moot issue in the near future.

    I am quite sure you will be banned from doing any “non authorized” service on the self drivers.

    Just today the ENTIRE House voted to “fast track” exemptions from safety fatwas for self driving cars.

    The whole House.

    Not a single dissenting vote.


    Not even on the grounds of federal overreach in pre-empting states from writing their own rules.

    Not. A. Single. Nay. Vote.

    House unanimously approves sweeping self-driving car measure

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House on Wednesday unanimously approved a sweeping proposal to speed the deployment of self-driving cars without human controls and bar states from blocking autonomous vehicles.

    The bill now goes to the Senate and would allow automakers to obtain exemptions to deploy up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year, a cap that would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually over three years.

    Automakers and technology companies, including General Motors Co and Alphabet Inc‘s self-driving unit Waymo, have been pushing for new federal rules making it easier to deploy self-driving technology.

    Can’t get a tax cut.

    Can’t get Obamacare repealed.

    Can’t get a waiver to disable the Takata airbag land mine in your face.

    Can’t cap debt spending.

    Can’t stop the demographic invasion.

    Can’t end the never ending and pointless wars.

    Can’t get real police reform.

    But this, oh yes, this you can get.

  10. Eric didn’t even point out that shop classes have been slowly disappearing over the last thirty years as well.

    I went to a rare high school (private) that was both a college prep program AND had a strong shop department. So there are as many mechanics as doctors in my class. But alas, a new campus is being built and as far as I know, the shop is not making the move and the program is going to end.

    • My local Technical/Community College advertised a two month basic auto maintenance course in the evenings. I called to ask the price, and they said the course was cancelled due to not enough registrations.

      • Brandonjin,
        That reminds me of what happened when I taught an electronics course for Denver Free University in the mid-70s. It started out with about a dozen students but it quickly became apparent that most of them just wanted to learn how to hook up their stereos. After about a dozen weekly classes, it got down to one sincere student who was, tearfully, having to quit the class so she could earn more money on her job, so it ended. Although I told her that I’d be happy to mentor her through her own learning process, I never heard from her again. Autodidactics have gotten less common since then.

  11. The kids do game.

    Listen to Daniel from SL as he takes us on a wild ride into Online Gaming.

    BowMaster Daniels

    These kids don’t know what to do with themselves when Daniel refuses to follow their scripts.

    It’s funny to listen to the gears in their heads spin as they try to succeed in their objective of playing a Good Game whatever that means.

    Trouble by the waterside – Daniel from SL

  12. Most of the non-wrenching is what is conditioned at school – regurgitate facts, don’t think outside of what’s taught; if you’re too active (i.e. a normal boy), put him on drugs. I busted a lot of working crap growing up trying to “fix” it (nearly burned the house down trying to fix Christmas lights without unplugging them), but the 16 year old won’t take the initiative to fix a busted toy; the four year old will be taught at home.

  13. Decades ago, some advised girls to marry either an auto mechanic, or a doctor.

    The mechanic will be able to fix anything around the house due to the knowledge gained in fixing vehicles: Plumbing, electrical, metal, paint, hydraulics, fluids, mechanical ratios and leverage, and of course the difference between a 5/16 box-end wrench and a ball-peen hammer.

    The doctor will make enough money to pay others to fix things around the house.

    She’s covered either way.

    • Being able to do things, fix things, I think has become an obsolete quality for men to attract women.
      Some women will still use implied or overt sexual promises to get things done for them, but by and large I think the desire for a man who can fix things is obsolete. It’s been reduced to short term utility, to take advantage of a man when needed. Just call someone and pay for it on credit is the standard way now.

      Even professionally I’ve seen the shift from men who can do things to those who can leverage others to get things done. Either caused or amplified by the Dilbert principle.


    Open source ECU.

    The stuff is out there, the problem is that it is illegal to modify anything made past 1975.

    It’s a little easier to stay under the radar in places that don’t have emissions tests but if some cop decides to start poking around he can declare your vehicle underivable (the “busted tail light” ticket). Most aren’t going to take the time, but I’ll bet when self-drivers reach critical mass (and speeding ticket revenue drops), they’ll be pulling over everyone to find any little problem they can.

    • so the porkers will have to get pretty creative to come up with “probable cause” to justify a warrant, without which (or your permission, which you should NEVER grant) they can’t search anywhere in the car. Besides, most coppers would fall pretty quickly under cross-ex in the trial court: officer, when and where didyou take yuor mechaincal and/or automotive electrnoics certifications? hen on WHAT basis can you call yourself an “expert” in today’s cars? On what basis do you KNOW beyond a reasonable doubt presicely which ECU this particular make, model, year, and engine specification vehicle was fittted with in this market place when sold new?
      Uhh, yer honner Ah wuz just a thinkin thet thar sensor shoulda looked lak thayut, not whut’s on tht engine.

      Officer, what is the displacement of that engine, as installed in that model car when new?

      I would now move that this officer’s testimony regarding the vehicle in questioin as equipped be stricken from the record, as this officer is NOT a qualified Subject Matter Expert in the field of automotive mechanical and electronic systems for this make and model car”.

      • “most coppers would fall pretty quickly under cross-ex in the trial court: ”

        Sounds very Perry Masonish, but just try getting into court to challenge the ticket. Such charges are administrative law offenses and the judge expedites the process to a simple procedure whereby the victim pleads and the judge decides.

        If it was possible to insist on a trial for a traffic offense, with ordinary rules of evidence, the whole revenue collection system would fail immediately. The system in place is designed to streamline revenue collection, so that a judge is the sole arbiter. Except in cases of actual criminal offenses, there’s going to be no trial at all.

        • Ed, recently had numbers relating to court cases. Of jailable offenses, fewer than 10% in Tx. get a trial by jury, the very thing this country was founded on legally.

          We lost this country long ago. Skynet isn’t a dream but reality and the war machine and it’s corporations are going all out for robotic war. Try pleading with a machine. I recall the first time I realized how unforgiving a rotating mass could be when I luckily lost a glove which could easily have been a hand. Watch that axe Eugene.

          • “Try pleading with a machine.” Try pleading with the collectivist mentality. Same result. Dead eyes. No humanity. The half-human ones might have a flicker of guilt and say: “I’m just doing my job.”, not for your benefit, but their’s.
            Call our society “Skynet” or “The Matrix”, the masses are not free thinkers or self aware. They are obedient followers, e.g., god fearing tax paying, law abiding citizens.

  15. Just about everyone earns as much or more as engineers used to because engineers still earn what they used to in nominal dollars. Just read an article a few days ago, More than 1/3 of the city of chicago’s workforce makes over 100K/yr.

    Self taught vs. schooling? Those who can’t teach themselves are pretty useless IMO. What I’ve found is that ‘kids today’ tend to pick up the software side really quick but get in way over their heads with mechanical things you or I would regard as simple.

    While I agree fewer kids do things today it’s that’s been the trend for a long time. However if you go to any appropriate auto forum you’ll find numerous “kids” doing things to their cars. Further places on the internet you’ll find more. When I was active on Mustang forums I used help them regularly. But about the only thing I follow these days are the facebook Maverick forums and there are just as many questions to answer. Answered one tonight regarding troubleshooting a problem that sounds like a choke issue on a ’73. People are just as dumbfounded how their old cars work as their newer ones.

    Motorcraft has (or had) documents on their website that describe the logic behind various codes. With that document tracing a problem for me was generally easier than what’s in my 1970s shop manuals for the same diagnostic purposes.

    • Morning, Brent!

      Even here, in rural SW Virginia, government workers earn – whoops, take – astoundingly high salaries relative to the average person. When you factor in the retirement and other bennies, they are way ahead of the rest of us. Especially with regard to “retirement” – which can be in their 50s, if they began “working” in their 20s. No more having to work at all – or they can do something else and basically have a double income.

      I should acquire a divinity degree and declare myself a priest, get a tax exemption!

      • Well, if you could elect your boss you’d vote for the guy who’s gong to give you a raise, right?

        No, not right. But I understand why this happens.

        “Any reward given to a person for voting in a particular way or for not voting can be called vote buying. Vote buying is a corrupt election practice. A vote buying bribe is that having a monetary value. The practice of vote buying is banned in United States. Vote buying is a threat to the conduct of fair elections.”

      • And yet the government drones still complain they make less. And they argue with you when you point out that it’s far from the truth. All the teachers in my school district (even first year teachers fresh out of college) make more on average then the average taxpayer in town.

        In order for private taxpayers to get even, let alone pull ahead again, would mean no raises for public employee for the next 25 years, most likely (thats how slow wage growth is and has been).

        • The saintly educational heroes are taxspenders. Many of them complete wastes of stolen money.

          You can’t say that to their face until your kids are safely out of kinderprison, but you can think it.

          • Why don’t the kids and teachers clean their own school. Maintain their own grounds, with gardens and stockyards even.

            Grow their own food, butcher their own beef and chicken. Mow their own lawns.

            Hold their own fundraisers and buy desks and books and computers with their own budgets.

            All that shit is ruinously expensive. In an over the top North Korean way. How do we not see how ridiculous all the dear teachers, and dear leaders, and dear school district fraus all are.

            We need to laugh in their face. And yell and complain until they here us in their sleep. Let them drive to their commie institutions being pelted with vegetables the way Frau Merkel is these days.

            We’ve all been put on the pill. The pill that prevents our minds from getting pregnant with thought and reason.

            Sleeping giants are waking up all over the west. Young giants are learning the truth by the millions. Generation Z isn’t having any of this.

            The torch will not be passed, but rather it will be taken to burn down all the straw men of our dear leaders.

            • From your mouth to the populace’s ears. Well, at least the 10% who will think and move the rest.
              But there is no need to pelt any politician. Just ignore them and they disappear. They are a product of society, rely on society for their existence, and cannot stand alone.

          • Yep, because Saturday night high school football (or basketball) is the highlight of the week in many a small town or suburb across our once great land.

            Pretty sad when you think about that for a minute. A game played by teenagers is what people in whole towns look forward too all week.

            In Texas, there are school districts with 75 million dollar football stadiums. No, not the whole school building, just the d*mn football stadium.

            • College style stadiums are standard in Texas high schools, sometimes they are even found in junior highs in highly affluent areas. What else would one expect in a place where football is the secondary religion, if not the first?

    • Ever use the professional Mitchell’s Manuals? Best I’ve ever seen, and their “trouble shooting trees’ are amazing. Check this. Yes, go down the left column. No, go down the right one. Until you isolate the dead critter with the final Yes/No.

  16. Man Eric – you so get it every time. Just dont get what happened about guys and cars… somehow it all changed and people like me didn’t notice. As a kid I remember dad and all guys used to love and talk about cars, and yes wrench. But somehow suddenly it stopped, and I tend to be the odd one out when I do!!! And NOBODY seems to care anymore about the joy of taking crap apart just for shits and giggles!!!!

    A question for you – WTF is the point of that damn plastic cover on engines these days!! Isn’t that what the hood is for!? Makes what could be a wonderful machine look completely impotent… like a kids toy car….. Furthermore, in this day and age of all sorts of green-ness, one would have thought pointless shit like that which adds weight without any real purpose would be the first thing to go !!!

    • Some are equipped with headless screws that defy your ability to remove it. With some needle-nose vise grips and patience, you COULD…only to have the dealer refuse to honor the warranty, should it still be in effect, or, even refuse to service the car altogether, since it’s been ‘tampered’ with. Furthermore, “unauthorized” removal of the shroud could also mean that it won’t pass the smog “inspection”, regardless of the engine performance, and you effectively have junk.

    • Thanks, Nasir!

      The cover is there for two reasons: One, to cover up the ugly engine. With a few exceptions, no attention is given to making an engine look like anything but a sump pump/appliance. Two, it serves as a sound deadener – to quiet the tap-tap-tap of direct injection…

      • Thanks – makes sense…. that said… given whats passing as “art” these days in Europe… id rather stare at an appliance….. as at least it DOES something……

        • Morning, Nasir –

          I’m with you.

          One of the reasons I love old cars – cars built before the 1980s – is that their engines were often beautiful just to look at. American V8s were once painted distinctive divisional colors and often came with chrome accents (rocker covers, etc.) and sometimes had wild-looking air cleaners/intake systems.

          You may have inspired another rant!

          • Personally I’d rather stare at some of the more spohisticated European and a few of the Japanese engines….. NOTHING beats the five or so liter Ferarri V-12 fitted to the ’67 GTB California, with its three four berrrel spread-bore carburetters nextled between the velocity stacks and the long-leg intake manifold. (nor can much of anything soothe as well as the SOUND that thing makes as it approahces it’s 7500 ROM redline under full throttle.

            then there were the inline six cylinder DOHC Jaguar engines, 1948 to about 1978. Side draft S.U. Carbuertters in various suzes and configurations on one side, black enamelled tuned split cast iron headers dumping into twin downpipes on the other. I’ve known of those built to turn 8500 and produce somewhere nesr four hundred horses when unleashed. oh, and the sound of THOSE was like nothing else ever built. Then there were the venerable Porsche two liter boxer sixes, twin cam, tuned and grouped tubular header exhaust stock (from Europe, anyway), and those lovely triple choke downdraft Weber carburetters, often also nestled under some long velocity stacks….. for the track, that piece of engineering would crank out somewhere near three hundred horsepower naturally aspirated and turn to 12,500…. blasting all that used gas out a long megaphone that could be heard at least two miles away……

            • Weber carbs , the stuff of dreams, real functional cast iron headers, an orgasm of sight, sound, smell, this stuff used to be sorta common among the purists , the mere Mortals had to make do with Rochester or Holley on the steel crank little v8 that refused to blow up.The old huge gulpers that would rip the cross shaft out of a spider gear, during the innocent little burnout.The old Hemi that could best the huge old industrial gassers, give a screaming Jimmy a twist for the money, Alas Babylon.If you find your 394 Olds breathe a whisper of appreciation into its lovely carbureted throat, lovingly caress the tri deuce 406, grab the keys to your W series 62 Chevy and head to the twilight zone, it wasn’t about who was best, they were all winners, back in the day .
              We have come a long way baby, innocence is lost, alas ,alack .

              • Back in the days when my daily driver was a formerly Bosch fuel-injected 1969 VW squareback (that couldn’t climb a hill above a mile high), I can remember the solution that the mechanics came up with was a pair of ganged Weber one barrels sitting atop the engine, covered by a wooden box built onto the engine cover. I remember having to carry a spare fuel pump to change out in about 5 minutes, when it would vapor lock on a hot day.

        • Nasir, speaking of appliances ,I have seen some Pininfarina designed custom soft drink blending machines, like the Italian Woman pleasing to the eye, hope the temper is not included.

          • They aren’t very custom, they being standard issue for fast food self-service Coke installations, complete with their hyper-concentrated syrup cartridges and their flakey software.

    • It’s there for the same reason a less-than stellar woman might wear lingerie in the bedroom: to cover up (real or imagined) faults.

      And because the marketing department usually puts a reminder of the engine type on it, it just might help the mechanic remember what type of automobile he’s working on.

      • And because the marketing department usually puts a reminder of the engine type on it

        I always figured it was so some Baby Boomer nitwit could pop the hood and brag about “it’s got a five point oooooh, maaan!” without having to actually verify the size, or explain how it works. Codpiece, essentially.

      • I always figured they were fitted to keep the proles sufficiently intimidated when they DO open the bonnet to check fluids somehow… if he can’t even SEE the blinking engine, how is he ever to entertain delusions of actually DOING something to it? And it works just like that…..

  17. I don’t think it’s as bleak as you make it out to be, Eric. I’m a computer guy, and a car guy. The electronics in my cars hold no mystery to me, they’re debuggable things, just like mechanical systems. When my car throws a check engine light, I check the codes with my cell phone ($50 reader + $20 software). If that doesn’t make the problem obvious, I start logging the engine sensors as I drive around – and when I’m done, I plot them as graphs in a spreadsheet and see where there are anomalies. For example, I got the standard emissions code of “catalyst below efficiency threshold” recently. That means that one of the O2 sensors or the catalyst is dead – which? You log the injector volume, pre/post cat O2 sensors, and it becomes clear – the pre-cat sensor was showing rich/lean correctly, and the post-cat sensor was showing the same, so it means the catalyst did nothing, I had a dead catalytic converter. I also found an air leak in my intake the same way – the O2 sensors showed too lean based on throttle butterfly position, air was getting in elsewhere.

    The biggest problem is manufacturers locking down these electronics systems, then going after you with DMCA threats if you try to reverse engineer them, but thankfully, Massachusetts has a “right to repair” law, which forces manufacturers to disclose information, and thanks to the wonders of the internet, that information leaves MA. I can always break the law and fix my own car, since I don’t give one damn about it.

    • You must be joking. How many people have your level of expertise in electronics and the related tools? It’s a tautology: everything is understandable if you understand everything. As Eric points out, you didn’t have to be formally educated or be an electronics whiz to work on old cars.

  18. All this is true, and yet we’re only one EMP or massive solar flare away from a much needed reset. Sadly, many helpless unprepared folks won’t make it for the weeks or months the water don’t run and the gizmobile won’t start to leave the driveway for a trip to the grocery store. Which will not be resupplied by late model electronically controlled diesel trucks. Some of us have been warning of this for years and they still want to bitch about the old cars we keep around. Oh well..

    • Hi Ernie,

      I have four full cords of wood stacked up and recently added a propane heater/fireplace to the Fuhrerbunker. Independent of the grid heat is where it’s at.

      I have a genie for electricity, if needed. Thinking seriously about some kind of solar/wind system for backup.

      The Trans-Am is EMP-proof. Maybe the MSD would fry, but I have a back-up distributor I could pop in, no problem.

      Two bikes that have points, no worries there, either.

      • Not sure your T/A or bikes would run. I remember a Car Talk Puzzler that Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, did years ago. After Truman nuked Japan only the diesel jeeps would run because an electromagnetic field to generate the spark for the plugs in a gas engine could not be created. Alternators/generators would be paper weights and you couldn’t run very long on the battery alone.

        Wish I’d a kept my ’81 diesel Rabbit…

        • Hi Mark,

          The older stuff might not run initially, but it’s fairly easy to get them going again assuming you have the few spare parts necessary (e.g., the distributor, if it has transistorized guts). No worries about a friend – and expensive – computer and all the rest of it.

          • I like the idea but the problem is if an EMP fries your car’s electrics, it will do the same to any electrical device you have anywhere unless it’s in a Faraday cage. That was a blunder in the latest War of the Worlds movie with Tom Cruise: the aliens crippled everything with some kind of EMP, including Cruise’s minivan, so he just ran into an auto parts store and replaced the ignition module (or whatever) and drove off. Of course every such module on the shelves would be fried as well.

            • Hi Ross,

              Yes, but – in my car – I can install an older non-electronic distributor (no module; points) and the engine will run as before. This is possible because the distributor is a discrete/stand-alone unit in an old car like mine. It isn’t integrated with anything else. No computer. The fuel system is purely mechanical, so no worries there.

              With anything modern, you’re screwed because fuel/ignition and everything else are all controlled by electronics. You could remove the PFI system, I guess – and (if one fits) bolt on an intake/carb and the engine should run. But major work is involved, as opposed to a simple drop-in fix.

              • How are you going to get fuel for all those old cars? If there is a true EMP disaster, you might make it a few weeks, but then you’re cooked too. Especially after all the vandals find out you have something that works.

                • A carb’d car can be made to run on ethanol if need be. It’s not good for it but it can be made to do so. The ethanol is easy enough to make. Yes it’s an energy loser but it gets energy from a form that can’t get you from A to B to one that can.

      • My forty year old all mechanical Mercedes Benz diesel will run….. I may have to short the glow plug relay to get it lit off. Once done. though, it will run. I suppose I COULD farraday the glow plug relay….. but even older ones don’t use a relay… driver watches the sixth glow plug on the fascia, left of the instrument cluster, until it “looks right”, then yanks one more notch on the start/fuel control knob. In a pinch an old Ford start relay would serve to control the glow plugs for first start.

        The alternators are not really electronic, except possibly for the diode rectifiers, and maybe the diode bridge/voltage regulater. Keeping a few spares on hand (none of those are expensive) stored in an all steel ammunidtio can “Farraday cage”……

  19. Eric – part of applying technology to cars , they become less fixable. An old Model-T based pickem’ up truck just like John Walton would pile the whole (c)lan in to “go to Sunday meetin’ ” (nowadays, he and Olivia would be arrested for “child abuse” and their tribe be at the tender mercies of the Nelson County, VA CPS) could be easily maintained by some old farmer with an adjustable wrench, slip-joint pliers, a hammer, and some baling wire. When I was a kid (I’m 58), old-timers griped about the mechanical complexities of “them new-fangled” cars, which included the first emission control devices with all that “plumbing”. You did need SOME training and diagnostic equipment even then to fix most late model vehicles, but a kid that had just taken auto shop (and I got my public secondary education in FL in the 1970s, which then mandated “shop” for boys and “Home Ec” for girls) could easily perform routine maintenance (oil changes, tune-ups, batteries, brakes, shocks, tires) and leave the more complicated matters to the more experienced “specialist”. But this was also an era when, if your Color Tee-Vee went out, a repairman came to your HOME and fixed it, or, if you were savvy and knew how to test and replace vacuum tubes without electrocuting yourself (every Western Auto, remember them, had a tube tester), you could keep your “boob tube” going. It was expected during the normal life of a car (about 8 years or 100K miles) that you had regular maintenance and some minor repairs (carb rebuild, starter, alternator, water pump), which most “shade tree mechanics could do on a Saturday afternoon.
    Modern cars aren’t meant to be worked on by the “unwashed”, period. Most shops have little incentive to do the once-common general repairs, as the manufacturers do not release the information, let alone the parts required. For all practical purposes, there’s precious little maintenance to do, and you can reasonbly expect 10 years and 150K miles of service. At that point, when something does go wrong, or it won’t “get by the dragon” (e.g., pass ‘Smaug’), it’s a junker, even though otherwise with availability of relatively cheap parts and necessary info, including the codes needed to turn off the engine light, or at least some improvisation, the car would still be serviceable.

    • The story gets told on my Dad, during the Depression on a rural Nevada farm, and one of his brothers decided to “fix” one of the cars that had been dragged out to behind the barn and left for some years for “dead”….. never learned what sort it ws, but it had a four cylinder engine in it. One of the boys was ten, the other eleven…. no help or supervision, and certainly no book, the two removed the engine, tore it down, loked at the pieces and decided “that one” looked different than the other three…. so they hopped on Shank’s Mare and went down to the parts store and plopped the “bad” pieces on the counter. The guy agreed, those need to be replaced. How much? About $3.50 I can have them here next week. SO.. a newly babbitted connecting rod, a couple of rings, and another couple small bits, they picked them up next week, and put the engine back togtether. They got it started, it ran OK, and the family used it for another couple of years. No one helped them, told them anything, no books, they just decided to play with it.

      • That’s an ability that’s present in all children. An understanding of matter on an intuitive level. An ability to figure out the potential forms of things using imagination and play.

        If you consider the reasoning abilities of all adults using agreed upon symbols as being attributes of being Homo Sapiens.

        Then you can distinguish the abilities of those who invent, fabricate, and wrench matter intuitively because they use agreed upon forms as being attributes of being Hylo Sapiens.

        Homo meaning same symbols that a culture agrees on that forms a common language.

        Hylo meaning matter, the sum total of all the building blocks of techniques, tools, and machines that forms a common human empowering existence.

        This is where we can live and exist. In the hylo of having a motorcycle in our house. Let the symbol mongers have their dominance of phrases that come from the mouth and the finger.

        Let the authorities of Morph, the overlords of form continue in their world dominance. Let the Morpho Sapiens decide for all the world. And the Homo Sapiens follow throughout the world.

        Always they are one generation away from extinction. For every child born into this world must be indoctrinated into this world of thought and action master, Morpho Sapiens and thought and action servant, Homo Sapiens.

        Hylo Sapiens need have no dog in their eternal fights.

        A few months back my nephew showed me his Rubiks cube. He had gotten very good at solving one side, solving all 9 squares in only a few seconds, but he wondered if there was a way to solve them all.

        I mixed it up as much as I could, and was amazed at how fast he could solve for one side. Surely he must be some kind of prodigy, yet no one is going to be satisfied with that.

        The other kids asked him if he could solve the whole thing. And he could, but only by taking pieces out and moving them. Turns out this was maybe his 5th cube. After you take them apart enough times, they stop working anymore and he had to ask my sister for a new one.

        It took me a lot longer to solve the single side, but when I did the other colors on the side we’re also matched. So I solved the 9 squares on top and the 12 squares of the first row on the sides.

        He saw this, and in an hour or so, he became freakishly fast at solving a third of the cube. Now he could get 9 on top, 12 in the first side row, and 6 on the side middle to match. He was halfway there. He could solve 27/54 squares of a rubiks cube in under a minute, and was getting faster and faster at it all the time.

        It’s great to be a Hylo Sapien, you can always communicate with kids on a mechanical spatial level. I asked him if he wanted to build his own cube, so he didn’t have to keep buying new ones, but he said no, he wanted to solve the official one. And to be really fast at it too.

        I didn’t get that part, but I went back to the matter and form at hand. The hylo and the morph and resolved to find a way to get my mind over the $10 plastic toy’s matter and form.

        I had him bring me a notebook and cooked up a homo sapien language of our own. There’s an upper, lower, front, back, left, and right side of a cube when you look at it.

        It took hours of trial and error, and pages and pages of notes written with strange words such as FURUUURRRFFF. Where F is front U is upper and R is right.

        DLDLLLLDDDFFFDDDF comes before the above cube word, but dilldill-diffdiff doesn’t sound as good as fururf, as he called the moves I discovered.

        It gets harder and harder to solve a cube because you have to rotate the six axes in ways that don’t permanently disturb the other order you’ve restored to the chaos.

        It was a full days work, and I had gotten to where I could solve the top third nine+12, the middle third 12, and the bottom 9. He quickly became twenty times faster at solving 42/54 squares far faster than I could ever hope.

        The next morning I woke up an hour before sunrise like always and grabbed the notebook and the cube. I found some sequences that would solve the bottom of the sides, but they were very long, and I often performed them incorrectly.

        But they solved the cube. It took the rest of the day, and usually I made a mistake in the long sequences, and it took forever to solve the cube. When I didn’t make a mistake it took maybe 5 or 7 minutes to solve the thing.

        My notes weren’t very organized, and I could barely solve the thing myself. It would be up to my nephew to be his own Hylo Sapien and figure out how to solve the cube on his own.

        My notes and sequences I could show him would help, but I’ve never been good at communicating with the symbol minded. They keep demanding I be an authoritative Morpho Sapien and show them the rules and the solution, but I never could.

        My nephew always got frustrated when I couldn’t understand the Mario games he made on his gaming console at a Morpho Sapien level, and there was a good chance he wasn’t going to get how it was I had somehow managed to solve his cube without being fully able to articulate it with symbols and repeatable actions.

        He seemed to get it right away. He laughed even, at how dumb and old I was, that I couldn’t keep my place in the long sequences. He gave them new names I can’t remember or follow and was talking a mile a minute while he talked in an advanced cube language I understood the basics of, but he was fluent in a way I could never be.

        The next week at school he took his cube to school and showed his teachers and kids how he could solve the entire cube in about 30 or 45 seconds. He didn’t need a notebook to refer back to like me, he was a true Hylo Sapien natural.

        I don’t know if anyone even reads this far, but I just want to record my experience with solving spatial and mechanical problems somewhere.

        Sure its not as exciting as teaching him how to wrench, but that’s not something his helicopter Mom, my sister, is ever going to want for him anyway.

        I completely agree that kids don’t wrench. But this is only in a Homo Sapien context. It has been my experience that all kids can wrench the time and space of matter itself. That they are all Hylo Sapiens with unlimited potential.

        Kids are born wrenchers. It is only the ruling Morpho Sapiens who stifle and try to kill in the crib, that ability they all initially possess.

        Many of them will be Morpho Sapiens themselves in time, with far more abilities and authorities than I’ll ever have. And that’s just fine with me. I am content being my own Hylo Sapien. Ruling over the matter and form of the universe, in my own unique way.


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