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.

Published in Education
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  1. E. Kent Golding Member
    E. Kent Golding
    @EKentGolding

    Roderic (View Comment):

    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 reduced 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.

    You can buy custom tunes of the Engine Control modules that increase power,   mostly at a cost of durability.   I think the fuel economy hit is mostly when you USE that increased power.

    • #31
  2. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    WillowSpring (View Comment):
    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.

    A wise philosophy.  I didn’t do that much work on my cars, but I also drew the line at brakes.

    I also took some skydiving lessons when I was in my 20’s.  Quit after 4 jumps when they wanted me to start packing my own ‘chute.

     

    • #32
  3. cirby Inactive
    cirby
    @cirby

    The problem with the “take it to a shop because it’s complicated” is that a lot of shops aren’t much better than I am, and some are arguably worse. The little auto repair place next door (literally) from my house does an okay job in general, but they can often do very dumb things.

    I had some work done, and since they had it up on the lift, I decided to have them do an oil change while it was there.

    After a bit of driving around, I noticed a definite oil smell, and found it was leaking. Took it back, where they put it on the lift, announced it needed a new main seal, and told me was going to cost another $700++. When I asked them if they’d tightened the oil drain bolt, the guy reached up, turned it an easy half-turn, and still insisted that it was the main seal. I decided to wait and see what happened.

    It hasn’t leaked since.

    And I haven’t gone back there, either.

    • #33
  4. MichaelKennedy Inactive
    MichaelKennedy
    @MichaelKennedy

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    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.”

    That’s an old joke about industrial consultants, too.

    • #34
  5. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    E. Kent Golding (View Comment):

    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.

    The auto speakers and head units have also improved massively in quality in the last 30 years.  Gone are the tinny mono or barely-stereo AM/FM only units, gone are the unported paper cones that barely qualified as speakers.  And what qualifies as a “radio” is harder to define, what with screens and controls doing multiple functions from playing your phone’s playlist, connecting to satellite radio (whether you want it or not), running your car’s A/C, and displaying your federally-mandated backup camera screen.

    The last 3rd party head unit I put in, in my wife’s 2003 Toyota Sienna, died in under 24 months.  The OEM units have gotten better, the aftermarket ones have gotten worse.

    • #35
  6. Roderic Reagan
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    cirby (View Comment):

    The problem with the “take it to a shop because it’s complicated” is that a lot of shops aren’t much better than I am, and some are arguably worse. The little auto repair place next door (literally) from my house does an okay job in general, but they can often do very dumb things.

    I had some work done, and since they had it up on the lift, I decided to have them do an oil change while it was there.

    After a bit of driving around, I noticed a definite oil smell, and found it was leaking. Took it back, where they put it on the lift, announced it needed a new main seal, and told me was going to cost another $700++. When I asked them if they’d tightened the oil drain bolt, the guy reached up, turned it an easy half-turn, and still insisted that it was the main seal. I decided to wait and see what happened.

    It hasn’t leaked since.

    And I haven’t gone back there, either.

    All the curators of arcane knowledge, doctors, lawyers, engineers, mechanics, IT people, etc., are objects of suspicion and resentment these days.  There are a few bad ones in any group, but most are honest.

    In any case, there’s still a lot for the DIY person to do, but for much of it the days when we could figure it out ourselves are gone.  Even simple jobs have new pitfalls.  Change a battery in a car without using a memory saver and it will wipe the computer module memories and even necessitate a costly reset in some cases.  Change the oil without adhering to the requirement to quickly refill the oil and the oil pump can lose its prime in some engines resulting in disaster.  Some cars have very exacting requirements for fluids.  You can’t use just any old antifreeze or transmission fluid any more.

    Mr. O’s motto is “If I can do it, you can do it.”  Yeah, me and $20,000 or so in equipment!

    • #36
  7. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Roderic (View Comment):

    cirby (View Comment):

    The problem with the “take it to a shop because it’s complicated” is that a lot of shops aren’t much better than I am, and some are arguably worse. The little auto repair place next door (literally) from my house does an okay job in general, but they can often do very dumb things.

    I had some work done, and since they had it up on the lift, I decided to have them do an oil change while it was there.

    After a bit of driving around, I noticed a definite oil smell, and found it was leaking. Took it back, where they put it on the lift, announced it needed a new main seal, and told me was going to cost another $700++. When I asked them if they’d tightened the oil drain bolt, the guy reached up, turned it an easy half-turn, and still insisted that it was the main seal. I decided to wait and see what happened.

    It hasn’t leaked since.

    And I haven’t gone back there, either.

    All the curators of arcane knowledge, doctors, lawyers, engineers, mechanics, IT people, etc., are objects of suspicion and resentment these days. There are a few bad ones in any group, but most are honest.

    In any case, there’s still a lot for the DIY person to do, but for much of it the days when we could figure it out ourselves are gone. Even simple jobs have new pitfalls. Change a battery in a car without using a memory saver and it will wipe the computer module memories and even necessitate a costly reset in some cases. Change the oil without adhering to the requirement to quickly refill the oil and the oil pump can lose its prime in some engines resulting in disaster. Some cars have very exacting requirements for fluids. You can’t use just any old antifreeze or transmission fluid any more.

    Mr. O’s motto is “If I can do it, you can do it.” Yeah, me and $20,000 or so in equipment!

    On the battery, that’s not really true.  Non-volatile memory is everywhere now, and cheap.  You rarely even lose your radio presets at this point.  Just changed my wife’s battery in her 2015 Toyota the other day – the car seemed not to even notice.

    • #37
  8. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    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”?

    Who is we? Would that be the plural of the ultimate existential question? 

    • #38
  9. Roderic Reagan
    Roderic
    @rhfabian

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    On the battery, that’s not really true. Non-volatile memory is everywhere now, and cheap. You rarely even lose your radio presets at this point. Just changed my wife’s battery in her 2015 Toyota the other day – the car seemed not to even notice.

    I’d check the manual or ask someone who’d know before doing anything.

    • #39
  10. MISTER BITCOIN Inactive
    MISTER BITCOIN
    @MISTERBITCOIN

    Degrees do not mean intelligence.

    BS is BS in more ways than one

     

    • #40
  11. Spin Coolidge
    Spin
    @Spin

    Songwriter (View Comment):

    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”?

    Who is we? Would that be the plural of the ultimate existential question?

    No, I meant “Who’re we?”  But my parent’s always said “Who’s we?”    

    • #41
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