Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Remarkable Auto Repair

 

Victor Davis Hanson made an effort to explain working-class people to his colleagues who inhabit the institutions where he spends half of his life as a scholar in California’s institutions of higher learning by drawing on the experience of the other half of his life as a farmer. He recounted watching a man repair a hydraulic machine without having to look at a repair manual – the depth and detail of specific knowledge the man had at his disposal was impressive.

I used to work on cars back when they had carburetors and distributors, points to adjust and coils to replace. Cars still have coils, although I can’t recognize them anymore, but the points have joined the dinosaurs. In short, I found out that I don’t understand the cars they are making these days at all.

To figure out why headlights don’t work back in the day, for example, I’d check the headlights to see if they were burned out, check the fuse, and, if the fuse wasn’t blown, check the switch in the dashboard. Was the switch getting power? Was the switch good? Was there a short in the wire leading from the switch to the lights?

These days, if you look for a power wire going from the dashboard switch to the headlights you won’t find one. Instead, the switch is connected to a computer module that controls the functions of the dashboard. That module is connected to a computer network that may connect all the 40 or 60 other computer modules in the car together. The dash module sends a message through the network to the body module to power up the headlights when you turn the switch or if any number of other conditions arise. Fixing the headlights may become an exercise in computer network diagnostics.

And it’s the same with just about every other function in the car. Even the fuel tank has its own computer module that sends messages to the dashboard module and other modules about how much fuel is in the tank, but also handles such information as fuel tank pressure, tank venting (using another sophisticated system that didn’t use to exist), and perhaps fuel temperature.

This state of affairs allows the car to do all sorts of things that cars didn’t use to do. Using information on the car’s network, the body module will lock the doors when the car’s speed exceeds 15 miles per hour. The headlights turn on when the door is unlocked if it’s dark. The door unlocks at a touch, and so on. There are obviously a lot of advantages to this, but also disadvantages. With everything in the car connected to everything else, a bad sensor in a door handle can cause the whole car to stop working. One bad module and the car may be bricked.

There is still a role for feeler gauges, wrenches, and screwdrivers in fixing cars. A brake job is still done pretty much the same way (if you ignore the computer sensors attached to the wheel bearings). But repair work also requires the use of special-purpose diagnostic computers called scan tools and other sophisticated electronics. The first step in many car repair jobs is to use a scan tool to check the state of the car’s computer modules and see if the modules are reporting any problems. And it is not then just a matter of looking at codes and repairing what the computer says is bad. Interpreting the codes can be a challenge.

I recommend a YouTube channel called “South Main Auto” if you’d like to go deep into the weeds of auto repair as it’s done now. I’ve viewed several videos, and I’ve already lost track of the number of different electronic devices, computers, laptops, scopes, and other “tools” Mr. O, the repair guy, uses. ( How much do all these tools cost?) Mr. O at one point said that 75 percent of his time was spent in researching technical auto issues on line. And this is a one-man repair shop in a small town in upper New York State.

So, today’s car repair people have to have detailed knowledge and, as you can see from Mr. O’s demonstrations, have to be able to think systematically and logically. Just one of the guys we consider to be “uneducated” working class.

Victor Davis Hanson calls such people more like artisans than working class. I suppose so, if the artisan uses a computer-controlled pottery wheel or lathe, undergoes months of technical training, and passes an exam to become certified as a potter or furniture maker, and so on.

And it’s not just auto repair. Whether you talk about HVAC or operating earth-moving equipment the detailed and specific technical knowledge required has exploded. The gap between the people who do these jobs and the unemployed is getting to be very large. The intelligence required to become proficient in these occupations has become high.

If Democrats had deliberately sought to cut the unemployed off from any chance at on-the-job training or apprenticeship, they could not have done better than to propose a high minimum wage. The amount of time a person needs to be trained in one of these jobs is getting larger and affordable alternatives for training are few.

Perhaps just as significant, the gap between the working class and intellectual elites is shrinking intelligence-wise. Pols and pundits who huff and puff about populism might bear this in mind — they are not nearly as much smarter than working-class people as they think they are.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Roderic: And it’s not just auto repair. Whether you talk about HVAC or operating earth moving equipment the detailed and specific technical knowledge required has exploded. The gap between the people who do these jobs and the unemployed is getting to be very large.

    You should try being a poet. Talk about a mass of technical information.

    • #1
    • January 24, 2020, at 9:46 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  2. Paul Erickson Member

    You remind me of a recent auto repair nightmare. Went to my regular shop when check engine light came on. Their computer diagnosed a mixture problem. Referred me to engine shop. They had to open up the engine to replace the thingamabob that controls the mix, which in this particular car (Kia Sedona) is inside with the timing chain. Of course, replaced the water pump and timing chain (10 year old car) while they were in there.

    Next day, light on again. Car broke down and had to be towed back to engine shop. They re-fixed it.

    Next day, light on again, back to engine shop for the 3rd time. The good news this time is it wasn’t the thingamabob, but a leaking exhaust manifold.

    Next day, light on again. I went back to my regular shop, who were very apologetic and promised to help resolve. Their engine guy heard a noise, reached down and found a 2 inch gap in an intake hose. Fixed. Done. No more light.

    Cost for all the work that did not fix the problem:$3,800

    Cost for the part that did: $100.

    • #2
    • January 24, 2020, at 9:46 AM PST
    • 11 likes
  3. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):

    Cost for all the work that did not fix the problem:$3,800

    Cost for the part that did: $100.

    Old car repair joke:

    Guy goes to a mechanic because his car is running rough and keeps stalling. Mechanic inspects the car, comes back and says “It’s gonna cost you about 500 bucks to fix, this part here is broken,” and with that he reveals a broken bolt, missing its head, and quite corroded. The customer explodes, “500? For That!!?? You’re out of your mind! That’s, what, a $10.00 bolt? This is robbery.”

    “Look, son” says the mechanic with a grin. “You’re right, that’s a $10.00 bolt. $5.00 wholesale even. The other $490, though is because I know where it goes, and you don’t.”

    • #3
    • January 24, 2020, at 9:52 AM PST
    • 14 likes
  4. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Roderic: Victor Davis Hanson made an effort to explain working class people to his colleagues who inhabit the institutions where he spends half of his life as a scholar in California’s institutions of higher learning by drawing on the experience of the other half of his life as a farmer.

    There’s a run on sentence if I ever saw one before during my previous life as an English student in high school studying English. 😜

    • #4
    • January 24, 2020, at 9:59 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  5. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Roderic: Just one of the guys we consider to be “uneducated” working class

    Whose we? Got a mouse in yer pocket?

    • #5
    • January 24, 2020, at 10:02 AM PST
    • Like
  6. Roderic Coolidge
    Roderic

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):

    You remind me of a recent auto repair nightmare. Went to my regular shop when check engine light came on. Their computer diagnosed a mixture problem. Referred me to engine shop. They had to open up the engine to replace the thingamabob that controls the mix, which in this particular car (Kia Sedona) is inside with the timing chain. Of course, replaced the water pump and timing chain (10 year old car) while they were in there.

    Next day, light on again. Car broke down and had to be towed back to engine shop. They re-fixed it.

    Next day, light on again, back to engine shop for the 3rd time. The good news this time is it wasn’t the thingamabob, but a leaking exhaust manifold.

    Next day, light on again. I went back to my regular shop, who were very apologetic and promised to help resolve. Their engine guy heard a noise, reached down and found a 2 inch gap in an intake hose. Fixed. Done. No more light.

    Cost for all the work that did not fix the problem:$3,800

    Cost for the part that did: $100.

    Sometimes fixing one thing will uncover other problems. An exhaust leak and an intake leak can both cause the mixture indication to be off. I don’t know what the thingamabob was.

    • #6
    • January 24, 2020, at 10:02 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  7. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Roderic: And it’s not just auto repair. Whether you talk about HVAC or operating earth moving equipment the detailed and specific technical knowledge required has exploded.

    And, interestingly enough, it’s true in….computers too! I have worked in IT for over 25 years. Wait…let me count up…shoot next year will be 30 years. Anyway…when I first started, it was possible for one guy to know everything. He could fix the PCs, the printers, the network stuff, the servers. That’s still sort of possible, it’s just that the person will likely not be able to do it the way the guy fixing the hydraulics did it, without reference material.

    Yesterday I spend a goodly portion of my day working on a network time issue. Network time, or NTP, is the mechanism by which everything on the network keeps itself at the right time. It’s simple at first blush: my computer checks upstream for a time source, adjusts its time form there. That upstream source checks itself against an upstream source. Ultimately, a single source goes out to a public time server hosted by some party or another (generally we use the government). But the complexities of how it actually does that…we all had to go do our research, and study up before we made recommendations for a fix.

    It’s a complex world out there.

    • #7
    • January 24, 2020, at 10:08 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  8. Roderic Coolidge
    Roderic

    Spin (View Comment):

    Roderic: Just one of the guys we consider to be “uneducated” working class

    Whose we? Got a mouse in yer pocket?

    Don’t you mean “who’s we”?

    • #8
    • January 24, 2020, at 10:09 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  9. Arahant Member

    Roderic (View Comment):
    Don’t you mean “who’s we”?

    He used to drive a tank. Now he drives computers. Grammar ain’t not needed for neither one.

    • #9
    • January 24, 2020, at 10:12 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  10. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Roderic (View Comment):

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):

    [Paul’s babble reduced to a few words]

    Sometimes fixing one thing will uncover other problems. An exhaust leak and an intake leak can both cause the mixture indication to be off. I don’t know what the thingamabob was.

    And sometimes…

    I had a Honda Accord, the wipers were intermittently not coming on. I mean…not the normal intermittent. Just sometimes they’d come on, some times not. Turn off and on again, they’d work. Until one day they just quit. I did my googling and found a page that said to replace the relay. The good people at Honda put that relay under the fuse box, rendering it “non-replaceable by user”, which meant I had to get it at the dealer ($40). I unbolted the fuse panel (taking my life in my own hands apparently). Replaced the relay. No dice. Back to Google. Probably the switch says someone on the world wide web of stuff to wade through. Nicely, the guy gave a series of tests to perform with a multi-meter. Put lead here and here, move the switch this position, should get this. If any fail, replace the switch. Out I go, start to pull the panel under the steering wheel off, and I see a cable dangling with a small female plug. Right next to it…a cable with what looked like the perfect match for cables that don’t suffer from gender dysphoria. “No. That can’t be it. You DOPE!” That was it. Plugged the cables in. Wipers were right as rain, pun intended.

    • #10
    • January 24, 2020, at 10:15 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  11. Roderic Coolidge
    Roderic

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Roderic (View Comment):
    Don’t you mean “who’s we”?

    He used to drive a tank. Now he drives computers. Grammar ain’t not needed for neither one.

    He nailed me on that run on sentence so I had to shoot back.

    • #11
    • January 24, 2020, at 10:16 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  12. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Roderic (View Comment):

    Spin (View Comment):

    Roderic: Just one of the guys we consider to be “uneducated” working class

    Whose we? Got a mouse in yer pocket?

    Don’t you mean “who’s we”?

    I thought it was who’s, then I said “no it’s whose” and then I wrote it. My brain works weirdly. I think “I always confuse A for B, so if my initial thought is that it should be B, then it probably should be A.” Then I do that for a while until my initial thought is right, but then I don’t trust my initial though and so reverse it.

    I really should not be allowed out in public.

    • #12
    • January 24, 2020, at 10:19 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  13. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Roderic (View Comment):
    Don’t you mean “who’s we”?

    He used to drive a tank. Now he drives computers. Grammar ain’t not needed for neither one.

    Such jealousy.

    • #13
    • January 24, 2020, at 10:19 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  14. Arahant Member

    Roderic (View Comment):
    He nailed me on that run on sentence so I had to shoot back.

    Understood, just remember to use the big guns, since he’s armored.

    • #14
    • January 24, 2020, at 10:20 AM PST
    • 1 like
  15. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Roderic (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Roderic (View Comment):
    Don’t you mean “who’s we”?

    He used to drive a tank. Now he drives computers. Grammar ain’t not needed for neither one.

    He nailed me on that run on sentence so I had to shoot back.

    I had to read it twice…so you deserve a little punishment.

    • #15
    • January 24, 2020, at 10:20 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  16. Arahant Member

    Spin (View Comment):
    I really should not be allowed out in public.

    Luckily, the Internet is not out in public. 😉

    • #16
    • January 24, 2020, at 10:21 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  17. PHenry Member

    I used to do all my own repairs. I refuse to do anything now but brakes and lightbulbs. I just can’t afford the tool kit necessary.

    I do have a strong impulse to go out and get a pre 1980 vehicle without EFI, ABS, computer aided anything, etc, just so when the EMP hits I will still be mobile! Sure, in the old days I broke down a lot. My first car in 1974 was a ’66 Impala that cost $68 – but I could fix most issues on the side of the road with some socket wrenches and coat hangars.

    Technology is great, and I love my modern Mustang, but I feel for the young folks today who are stuck paying mechanics for the most basic stuff. I couldn’t have afforded a car back then if I had to rely on professional repairs. If it couldn’t be fixed in the parking lot with my tool kit it wasn’t going to get fixed.

    Besides, I had a whole lot of fun with it, and great satisfaction driving a car I kept on the road. Something was lost when that became beyond the average teenager’s capabilities.

    • #17
    • January 24, 2020, at 11:05 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  18. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’m in this business on the supplier / aftermarket side, so my company deals with the data complexity issue quite regularly. It’s not going to get any easier, and I have to say that’s entirely because of people doing similar things as my company, but not doing them well or to OEM specs (we pay annual licensing fees and follow OEM specs to the letter). On top of the increasing complexity of vehicle subsystems, OEMs now are increasingly encrypting the data buses that these modules use to communicate because irresponsible hacks have been piggybacking the data lines to install things like your insurance company dongles (the ones that spy on you in return for lower rates) telematics (similar, but for fleet managers), or to get vehicles to do things that they’re not supposed to do (illegal mods) or at any rate not designed to do (warranty-voiding stuff). Dealerships are increasingly having to “repair” such vehicles by, in essence, doing OS wipes and reinstalls. Where once it only took a few minutes to, say, reflash your ECM, now a dealership may have a service bay occupied for 9-10 hours reflashing, one by one, every single possible major controller on the vehicle.

    Lots of people view hacking cars today like hacking computers – the analogy, however, breaks down (see what I did there?) when the dash cluster blacks out, or the ABS fails on an icy road, or your attempt to get a little more HP by changing the ignition system instead sends a rod out the side of your block.

    • #18
    • January 24, 2020, at 11:14 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  19. Spin Coolidge
    Spin Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    PHenry (View Comment):
    I used to do all my own repairs. I refuse to do anything now but brakes and lightbulbs. I just can’t afford the tool kit necessary.

    I say leave it for the hobbyists. If you like doing it, fine. I quite doing work on my cars one Sunday afternoon when I was trying to get the old brake pads off my wife’s van. I couldn’t get them. I was getting angrier and angrier, because I knew she needed the car the next day.

    I used to work on my 4×4, but it wasn’t my daily driver. If I got frustrated I set down the tools, and walked away for a few hours or a few days.

    But now? Me working on my own vehicles is a recipe for a tool getting thrown through the garage door.

    • #19
    • January 24, 2020, at 11:15 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  20. PHenry Member

    Spin (View Comment):
    Me working on my own vehicles is a recipe for a tool getting thrown through the garage door.

    My daughter (now over 30) tells me she learned most of the bad language she knows from me when working on something, be it cars or home repair, etc. I can get quite creative in my vocabulary when I am in repair mode!

    • #20
    • January 24, 2020, at 11:20 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  21. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    Long before computer-controlled cars, entirely analog motorcycles, with relatively few parts, were already “complex.” Just reading a shop manual, if one was still available, would not guarantee a successful repair. Want to get a pre-war Indian running? You needed to be plugged into a human network of experienced mechanics, who had acquired knowledge from long experience not found in official documentation. See Shop Class as Soulcraft.

    • #21
    • January 24, 2020, at 12:17 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  22. PHCheese Member

    My son runs his own HVAC company. His problem more than finding intelligent employees is finding one’s that can pass a drug test.

    • #22
    • January 24, 2020, at 12:38 PM PST
    • 9 likes
  23. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In the land of the EMPed smartcars, the Cuban is king. 

    I’ve spent enough time around electricians in recent years to be daunted by all the federal, state, and municipal regulations involved. Perhaps one reason such basic trades are dying is because handymen must double as law clerks.

    One guy I know learned the trade from his father and has practiced over 40 years, yet he worries he won’t pass the test to get a Master license for having to remember so many things he has never needed. These days, most people carry smartphones (limitless encyclopedias), so they can look up anything they need to know without leaving the job site. 

    • #23
    • January 24, 2020, at 12:55 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  24. Roderic Coolidge
    Roderic

    PHenry (View Comment):

    I do have a strong impulse to go out and get a pre 1980 vehicle without EFI, ABS, computer aided anything, etc, just so when the EMP hits I will still be mobile! Sure, in the old days I broke down a lot. My first car in 1974 was a ’66 Impala that cost $68 – but I could fix most issues on the side of the road with some socket wrenches and coat hangars.

    Much of the stuff on cars now, i.e., oxygen sensors, GDI, EGR valves, cats, etc., is to reduce emissions and increase gas mileage at the cost of performance. Without computer control stoiciometric burning of gasoline in a car engine would not be possible. Taking all that stuff off would increase power, but the car would spew gas fumes, nitrites, etc., and the gas mileage would be horrible, that is, the status quo ante. That’s why it’s against the law to do so.

    • #24
    • January 24, 2020, at 1:01 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  25. Arahant Member

    Roderic (View Comment):
    Much of the stuff on cars now, i.e., …cats, etc., is to reduced emissions and increase gas mileage at the cost of performance.

    • #25
    • January 24, 2020, at 1:03 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  26. Tex929rr Coolidge

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Long before computer-controlled cars, entirely analog motorcycles, with relatively few parts, were already “complex.” Just reading a shop manual, if one was still available, would not guarantee a successful repair. Want to get a pre-war Indian running? You needed to be plugged into a human network of experienced mechanics, who had acquired knowledge from long experience not found in official documentation. See Shop Class as Soulcraft.

    And in general, the Internet makes huge amounts of detailed information readily available. I’ve had two odd issues with my Ford pickup, both of which were fixed by parts costing under $10 with maybe 15 minutes of work each time. I found the answers in minutes on dedicated Ford truck forums. Forums with an abundance of mechanics (Garagejournal is probably my favorite) have people who will help diagnose issues with cars, trucks, bikes, garage lifts, and any number of sometimes difficult modern devices.

    • #26
    • January 24, 2020, at 2:05 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  27. Tex929rr Coolidge

    To show an example, a sensor on top of the rear differential failed. The effect was the speedometer worked at speeds above 45mph and read 0 below that speed. The part was held on by one 8mm head bolt and then plugged into a harness. I suspect the local Ford place would have known what the issue was immediately but still charged me for an hour of shop rate labor plus the part. Instead I was out the $10 for the part and 15 minutes of my time. And now you can order parts by VIN and get them overnight.

    • #27
    • January 24, 2020, at 2:14 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  28. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    PHenry (View Comment):
    Something was lost when that became beyond the average teenager’s capabilities.

    I think this is a big problem. I got my first car when I was 15 (a long story that involved a big paper route and lots of Christmas tips). I had it for about 6 months before I could apply for a driver’s license. Instead, I drove it up and down my parent’s driveway and took parts off to see what they did. I learned a lot from doing that. My father wasn’t particularly mechanical – his idea of a full toolkit was to have both a Phillips and normal screwdriver. One day, I used his pair of pliers to remove the oil pan – when I had it almost off, it dawned on me why they called it an oil pan – I hadn’t thought to drain it.

    Anyway, I learned from that car and graduated to other cars where I could do most simple repairs and tuning. Eventually, I rebuilt an engine and in another car, rebuilt the transmission. I did anything but brakes – I figured that if the car stopped running, I would be ok, but if it wouldn’t stop, I might be in a real problem.

    With modern cars, I wouldn’t have had a chance to learn how to troubleshoot problems – and that is a problem.

    *my career has been in programming embedded systems – like the computer systems in cars and I have an adapter which allows me to tap into the error codes of both of our cars, but I just don’t want to mess with them. All the fun is gone

     

    • #28
    • January 24, 2020, at 3:20 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  29. E. Kent Golding Member

    Used to be when the radio head died on your car, you could pick a nice unit from Crutchfield, solder up an adapter harness ( with parts and directions from Crutchfield ), install it, and you would have a nicer looking, better sounding radio in your car. Newer Cars won’t let you do that — radios aren’t the standard dimension DIN chassis anymore.

    • #29
    • January 25, 2020, at 2:48 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  30. E. Kent Golding Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Roderic (View Comment):
    Much of the stuff on cars now, i.e., …cats, etc., is to reduced emissions and increase gas mileage at the cost of performance.

    Yeah, be careful of that before you crank up your car. Small animals like the warmth of engines, and do not mix well with moving parts.

    • #30
    • January 25, 2020, at 2:51 AM PST
    • 3 likes