The ‘90s/early 2000s was the last time messing with cars was a common thing among teens and 20s. These were the “ricers” and “tuners” – kids who worked on mostly Japanese stuff, especially Honda Civics and their higher-brow Acura cousins, which came with the hotter engines . . . from the factory.
The signature Ricer mod was a loud exhaust with a disproportionately huge muffler. Some put whistles in the pipe to mimic the sound of a turbo spooling up. This was Gen Y’s version of Gen X’s flipping the air cleaner lid over so that you could hear the four barrel moan when the secondaries opened.
But you don’t hear the buzzsaw sound of a tweaked out Civic or Integra much anymore.
The ricers have . . . retired. And no one has taken their place.
Yes, there are still some kids who mess with cars. But it’s not common anymore. Most gatherings of the car cognoscenti are populated by those long out of high school – and often well into middle age.
Several reasons come to mind.
The main one is – probably – lack of suitable raw material. Gen Y (which was in high school and college, the prime car-centric years, during the ’90s) was the last generation that had abundant, easy access to viable used cars.
Cars they could afford to buy on a teenager’s budget – and cars they could wrench on, without master mechanic skills and tools.
These have largely disappeared, because new cars have become orders of magnitude more complex since the early 2000s, with systems beyond the ken (and finances) of most current high school/college-aged kids. Drive-by-wire, direct injection . . . more app than automobile.
When these cars hit the used car market – or by the time they are teenager affordable – they are usually in an advanced state of deterioration. But that is not the real problem.
Thirty or 40 years go, a basket case car could be rehabbed, upgraded or at least made driveable with cheap used parts from the junkyard – but junkyards have become scarce and most cars built since the turn of the century have proprietary/integrated systems specific to that particular make/model/year that can’t be mixed and matched and made to work. Late model cars often require catastrophically expensive factory parts and hugely expensive diagnostic equipment – just to decrypt what might be ailing them.
The used Hondas of the ’80s and ’90s favored by the Ricers were favored for the same reason the used Chevys, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Fords and Mopars of the ’60s and ’70s were favored by the Gen Xers who preceded them.
They were easily tunable. Parts interchanged.
One could swap out a junkyard ’98 Integra’s high-revving VTEC four and slip it into a serviceable Civic’s body as easily – just about – as a Gen X’er back in ’86 could drop a cammed-out and stroked 383 small block Chevy into a ’78 Camaro.
That’s much harder to do today – and not just because it’s harder to do.
It is also harder to get away with doing it.
For one thing, areas that didn’t used to have smog check now do. And they check more than just the emissions. They plug the car into a computer- and that computer is plugged into Uncle’s computer – and that computer knows everything about the car. If the OBD system emits an unorthodox code, especially one indicating “tampering,” such as putting a different year engine in the car, the car not only fails, it is blacklisted. No registration, new or renewed – until the “tampering” is undone, regardless of cost.
The car becomes useless, even if it runs.
And they know if you’re running it regardless.
The DMV is everywhere – and so are ALPRs – automated license plate readers. Pass by one and the eye of Sauron is upon you. It probably won’t be long before they automatically send the Hut! Hut! Hutters! to your home for so much as a seatbelt “violation.”
And there’s insurance. It is both confiscatory (even for non-hot-rodded cars) and very hard to get away with not having – even if you never so much as splash mud on another car.
The late ’80s/early-mid ’90s Civics and Integras (and others) had no air bags, or maybe two. Didn’t have ultra fragile (because ultra-thin) body panels, as late-model cars do. These are extremely vulnerable to expensive damage. The air bags – cars built since the early 2000s have at least four, usually – are literally time bombs built into the car, physically as well as financially.
If two go off in a ten-year-old car, the odds are it’s a goner – totaled rather than fixed. Even if it runs just fine. You’re not allowed to drive it with any federally required saaaaaaaaaaafety system not operating.
So even serviceable older cars get thrown away after mechanically fixable wrecks, because fixing the air bags costs more than the car is worth.
This, in turn has caused insurance costs to skyrocket to ludicrous extremes.
Teens have always paid more but now it’s at the point that they can’t pay at all.
The average monthly premium for al 16-year-old who has never wrecked anything or received a single jaywalking ticket is $250/month. Work that out. Assuming a minimum wage gig ($7.25/hour federal) that’s about 35 hours of work – almost a full week of full-time work – just to pay the insurance. Most high school kids work part-time, and few kids want to work at all if almost everything they earn goes to the insurance mafia.
Even if they are willing, it doesn’t leave much for custom exhaust, whees and tires, etc. If the kid gets a single speeding ticket, his premium will likely go to $300 or more a month. Even if he wanted to keep on driving, he couldn’t afford to.
But perhaps the biggest reason for the crash of car culture is that the system keeps the rising generation out of cars until they are practically adults, by which time they view cars not as freedom machines but as debt albatrosses and appliances.
In most states, there’s an agonizing series of bureaucratic hurdles which must be traversed (none having anything to do with learning how to drive; rather, they involve water torture browbeating about saaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety – which has become synonymous with Mindlessly Obey All Rules and Never Exercise Independent Judgment) before the larval driver may even get a license to drive.
And then it is hugely restricted until the kid is 18. For example he may not drive with other teens in the car, especially after dark. This is like going to the beach to look at the water.
So the kids game and text. They are ready for the automated electric car of The Future.
And the Ricers are no more.
. . .
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