Imagine if you had to use a scan tool to figure out why your toilet won’t stop running. You don’t have to do that, of course, because it’s a purely mechanical device and so there’s nothing to scan but much you can see. The float might be stuck, for instance. So you jiggle it free and the toilet stops running.
Cars used to be like this, too – before they became moving computers on the road to becoming mobile devices that require apps as well as scans.
My Orange Barchetta – and the reference is now serious, as a Motor Law seems right around the corner – is one of these relics from that better, vanished time.
At least, in a number of ways and certainly for the average person. How shall we count these ways? Let’s begin with the fact – and so inarguable – that it used to take just three or maybe four years, at most, to pay off the typical new car loan. As opposed to twice that long now. The new cars take longer to pay off because they are much fancier, which is just fine – if you can afford them. Many people cannot – as evidenced by the fact that the length of the average new car loan is now twice as long (or longer) than it was.
It is also a fact that new cars last longer, which compensates for the higher cost. But this can also be viewed from another angle, that one being new cars could be both longer-lasting and only take three or four years to pay off. They might even take less time to pay off given that manufacturing costs today are lower than they were back in the day (with the exception of manufacturing electric cars). But they cost more because practically everything that was optional when the typical car took three years to pay off is now standard, which means you have to pay extra for it.
Whether power windows, locks, air conditioning, automatic transmissions and so on are better isn’t the issue. It’s that you don’t have much choice – and that is inarguably worse.
It is very true – a fact – that modern, computer-controlled cars require almost no periodic adjustments, as pre-computerized cars like my Orange Barchetta do. But when the Barchetta needs an adjustment it is usually easy to do, requiring few (if any) specialized tools.
A for-instance is the engine’s idle speed.
If it is too high (or too low) all that’s needed is a flat-bladed screwdriver to adjust it lower (or higher) or however you prefer, the latter in italics because you are not allowed to alter it – if the car’s idle is controlled by a computer. If you could change it more to your liking, it might affect something else and that could cause cascading computer problems.
Anyhow, all I have to do to get the old Pontiac’s idle to go up or down is turn a screw on the side of the carburetor in – or out – and that’s it. My computer-controlled Nissan pick-up is another matter. It lately has had a fluctuating idle – it goes up and it goes down. There is no screw to turn. There are impenetrable sensors that must be “diagnosed.” Several of them. These are networked together and feed “data” to the computer that controls the idle – and much else beside. It all has to be groovy together and if anything isn’t, the thing won’t work as it should.
It rarely gives trouble and so rarely needs attention. But when it does, the attention it needs is more involved (and often more expensive).
It ultimately comes down to which you’d rather have – which would be fine if we had the choice. It is not like the transition – to use that word – from almost all horse-and-buggy to almost-all-horseless carriages, which took place by individual consent, writ large. There were no mandates or regulations – i.e., decrees from the government – that horseless carriages replace the horse-and-buggy. And the fact was the few who still wanted a horse-and-buggy weren’t barred from keeping or using theirs.
What’s happened this time is a very different kind of transition. It is an unnatural one, like the ones we keep being force-fed images of and stories about, even to the extent of marketing them on the sides of beer cans.
You used to hear about laisses faire as regards capitalism, which meant (in French) let it (the market) alone. You don’t hear it much, anymore – because that kind of capitalism has been a dead letter for decades. The Orange Barchetta sits quietly in the garage, a relic from that better, vanished time.
A reminder that it did exist – that helps me remember.
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