Traditionally, we think that boys on farms learn to run tractors and fix things at an early age. After school or on Saturday, the sure place to find a farm boy would be under the hood. I grew up in the suburbs, but my father, maybe out of an ambition to teach his sons to basic skills of auto-mechanics, or may because it cost less, taught me to change the oil and filter, drain and refill the radiator, change spark plugs, and rotate tires. Quite frankly, I had other ambitions and am happy to employ someone with mechanical skills to do those tasks for me. Recently, I heard a few stories about auto-mechanics that got me thinking.
First, a friend recently purchased a new car. She told me that this car does not have a key. Rather, she uses the electronic gizmo that you use to automatically lock/unlock the car to start it. Furthermore, the car does the parallel parking for you. Hmmm. Then another friend told a story about part of the electronics going out on her car. She could not roll down her windows. Try to approach a toll both, drive a little too far forward, then get out of your car to pay the toll because your window will not roll down. That kind of makes for a scene. Then on NPR, Frank Deford, on his weekly sport analysis piece talked about a study that NASCAR did to try to figure out why younger generations were not as enthusiastic about attending the races as their fathers. NASCAR’s surveyors returned with the demographic news: their fathers were under the hood during their teens; their sons are on FB. Their fathers understood all the engineering that made those cars whiz around the track and roar. Their son’s just pull up the replay clip of the big crash or last lap between checking out YouTube clips.
Is the demise of American’s love of automobiles because I have more money than interest in mechanical things, or because teens are in social networks? Lets back up a bit. We have three vehicles. Looking under the hood of our 1991 Ford Ranger, I can find most of the parts that I could do something about: check the oil, coolant level, master cylinder for the brakes, air filters, spark plugs. Sit in the cab and you can turn this crank on the door and WOW! the windows roll down. Push this button and the doors lock. Pull it up to unlock them. Look at the dash board gauges, and notice that they all have little pointers, and the odometer has wheels with little numbers that count by rolling. What is missing? Electronics.
Step over to our 2004 Subaru Legacy. Well, I can still find most of the basic engine parts. I even changed the battery myself last year. Sit in the cab, and without putting in the key can you see anything on the dashboard? No. Can you roll down the windows? No. The car’s computers has you captive. Do I know where those computer elements are or what to do about them? No.
Look under the hood of our 2005 Honda Civic Hybred. Huh? What’s that. Need I say more? Now our most recent car is 7 years old. It does not even have GPS, hands-free phone interlink to the Smart Phone that we do not have, rear view video technology, or most of the other standard packages for cars on the lot today.
My hypothesis is that all these wonders of technology make being under the hood nearly impossible without advanced training. The other day a co-worker asked about an engine light that came on while she was driving. She was looking in the owner’s manual, but could not figure out what this light meant. I told her “That’s the light that tells you that you don’t know what to do and have to have someone at the dealership turn it off for you.”
Do you like to get under the hood? What do you do when the electronics go on the blink?
(P.S. Don’t ask if this phenomenon applies to health care…)