posted by Matt W on February 8th, 2012

I’m not a car guy. I know how to fix a variety of issues on cars, but never really got into cars like a lot of my friends.

The first car I bought was a diesel Volkswagen that got 50 miles to the gallon. (Side note, I find it crazy when carmakers complain about rules to improve mileage on cars when mine got 50mpg 30 years ago.) Anyway, I was able to change the oil, the glow plugs, and the starter fuse that blew out every once in a while. The first time my car wouldn’t start, I asked my dad what was wrong. He got up and walked out to the car, presumably to fix it. “Cool, mission accomplished.” (I felt like Bush on the aircraft carrier.) My dad pulled the owner’s manual out of the glove box, handed it to me and went back inside. When I came back inside and told him it was the starter fuse on the firewall (total guess on my part), he did tell me I was indeed correct. I borrowed his car, went to the auto parts store, bought the fuse, came home and replaced it. I wasn’t totally helpless.

But everyone in our day was at least a bit of a car guy. On one end of the spectrum, one of my best friends in high school totally rebuilt a California Special Mustang (and the main thing I can tell you from spending 100’s of hours “working” on it with him is the back seat was really easy to fall asleep in and it was really hard to pull tools I lost out from between the seat cushions.) On the other end, another friend of mine had a Volkswagen bus that we always had to compression start. No matter where we went, we had to park on the hill closest to the location and walk the rest of the way to our destination. If we ended up parking on a flat section of road that night, I was going to get a pretty good workout pushing it fast enough to get it started. Apparently we had no clue how to fix it, because we did this for years, but we knew enough to keep it running. Everyone knew enough to get by.

Now every child is shockingly ignorant about cars and what makes them work. None of them would have a clue if something went wrong. Some of this is because every kid drives a nice car. Not just nicer than I did when I was in school, but nicer than my car now. And they’re all self-tuning, self-regulating, etc. But some of it is because cars are so complicated, even if they wanted to learn they are almost impossible to work on.

I think it also has something to do with how we treat our kids as drivers. When I first got my permit, my dad made me change the tire on one of the cars because ”If you can’t change a tire, you shouldn’t be driving a car” that and he probably needed his tires rotated. I, on the other hand, handed my son a AAA card and his first cell phone and said “Don’t leave home without these.”

I guess it’s not all the car makers fault.


File Under Mr. Cool