When I was 4 years old, I found a spare key to my mother’s old Rambler. I thought,”Wow, I think I will go drive the car!” I crept outside in the bright summer sun and got behind the wheel. I put the key in the ignition, nothing happened. I patted the dash, and tried to push the key into its slot further. Nada. I did not understand. I saw my mother put the key in that slot thing, and the engine would start up and the car would start moving. I was sure I had just broken her car. I quickly got out, and put the spare key back where I had found it. A few days later a tow truck came and took the Rambler away. I knew it was all my fault. I broke my mother’s car.
Since then, I have learned that cars don’t automatically drive themselves, and it takes more than inserting the ignition key car to damage a vehicle. But just like my other machines, beyond basic maintenance, I don’t know how to repair a car when some something is amiss. And, that’s fine, car engines, components and on board computers that monitor the systems in our vehicle’s are pretty complicated. Some of us have a knack with a wrench, most of us don’t. To maintain and repair our own vehicles we would need quite a bit of training as well as specific and specialized equipment. Most of us can handle an oil change, but it is a messy business, and you have to deposit your used motor oil in a specific area, so it does not cause environmental damage. You need a few tools, and a willingness to get greasy while muttering a few nasty words. It is really more convenient for a lot of us to have it done at our local auto shop. And, it is really not that expensive. I got in the habit of having a yearly maintenance check, just to make sure my car was doing everything it should, and up to spec. Even with good maintenance, however, cars will break down. It is the nature of a vehicle, for items to fail from time to time, in spite of everything we do to try and prevent that from happening.
As technology has continued to progress, the machines that use technology have gotten more complicated to repair. It is hard enough to fix an iphone when it malfunctions, much less a car. That’s why we need and appreciate the people who study and specialize in repairing our mechanical and electronic machines, because unless we are in the repair professions ourselves, it is not something that can usually be undertaken successfully by consulting Wikipedia or trying to figure it out. No matter how long you stare at your clacking, smoky engine, if you don’t have a grounding in mechanics, the problem will not manifest itself to you. It is really ok to not know how to repair your vehicle when it breaks down, or even understand what is wrong with it. Most of us don’t.
You might have a ford truck, and a Honda accord. One vehicle is domestic, the other is an import. You can not use the same tools on both vehicles. A lot of imports are actually manufactured in the US, but their components are built with metric system standards. If you have a domestic vehicle, the tools are not uniform to the components used on an import. Your ¾ bolt wrench will not work well on a metric bolt. The same holds true for parts for our Subaru’s, Honda;s and Volkswagens. A Chevy or Ford manifold will most likely not fit the required specs for our import vehicles. Some specialty cars, like Jaguars and Mercedes Benz, have extremely specialized systems and options. If your on board computer goes down, pretty much only an import car service with the knowledge and tools of manufacture and repair can fix the problem.
In Colorado, the road tough AWD and four wheel drive Subaru’s and Jeep’s are quite popular. We really appreciate the perk of being able to drive through snow, and ice, as well as on rough unpaved terrain. But again, if something goes wrong with your 2 or 4 wheel drive, it is not the same as repairing a standard drive vehicle.
Not only are cars a lot more complicated than they were prior to the computer age, they are more specialized. We need both domestic and import car service for our vehicles.
Not knowing how to repair your vehicles on your own does not mean you are not self-sufficient and capable. If you’re a guy, not knowing how to repair a broken axle or leaking radiator does not invalidate your man card. It only means you do not have years of training in the industry. Vehicles are so technical and complex, that specific skills and knowledge are required to repair them. Most of us don’t have those skills, and that is fine. We all need to be glad that our local auto shop does!