Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Mark asks: I just caught your column about John Deere and “unrepairability – but am wondering about repairing the older stuff you mention. I’m 27 and have never worked on an old vehicle. They are as inscrutable to people my age as the new stuff is frustrating to older people your age.
My reply: I suppose that’s true! However, there is a big – and objective – difference. While the older stuff may be unfamiliar to you, you could make yourself familiar with it for (essentially) free. It is not necessary to buy a bevy of expensive diagnostic tools. A basic tools set – sockets, wrenches, screwdrivers and so on – is sufficient to perform most maintenance and repair on the older stuff (the stuff that’s mostly mechanical, with electrical stuff limited to the ignition system).
Mechanical systems are generally amenable to rebuilding (for next to nothing) while electronic systems generally work until they don’t and then have to be replaced – often for a great deal more than next-to-nothing. I’l give you a specific example:
A carburetor is a mechanical thing that can be rebuilt several times to “good as new” for less than $100. And the carburetor is essentially the whole fuel delivery system (the fuel pump and lines comprising the rest of the system). So, you can rebuild an older car’s entire fuel delivery system for about $100.
The carb can be adjusted with a few simple non-electronic tools, such as screwdrivers. No specialized knowledge or equipment needed.
A port-fuel system has an injector for each cylinder, a fuel rail, multiple sensors – and so on. All tied to a computer. It cannot be rebuilt – and you need specialized diagnostic equipment to figure out what’s wrong with it. And when something does go wrong, it usually means it’s time to replace the component. A modern car’s PFI system consists of multiple components which together can easily involve $1,000-plus in parts replacement costs.
The above example is generally applicable to the old vs. the new. A person willing to read a repair manual and with the patience to proceed slowly and carefully can, using basic hand tools, perform almost all necessary maintenance himself – on an older vehicle – while even a person with mechanical (and electrical) aptitude requires expensive diagnostic tools – and expensive electronic parts – to service the new stuff. That’s assuming the “codes” and so on aren’t locked-up and accessible only by the dealer!
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