Replacing one of these things is as simple as disconnecting two wires, and undoing two bolts. It’s normally a fifteen minute job, but this one took three hours because the bolts had thoroughly seized up. To get enough leverage to break them required cutting out a half inch piece of the transmission flange – not an easy thing to do given the location of the starter. So it wound up being over two and a half hours to undo the bolts, and then a fifteen minute swap out.
Bear in mind, that it didn’t take ME three hours, it took a friend of mine three hours. He offered to show me how it’s done, and then wouldn’t take no for an answer when the time scale of the project inflated. He enjoyed the challenge, and I enjoyed the camaraderie.
It was just another reminder of one of the high costs of technological specialization. The massive amounts of electronics and digital controls in modern cars precludes men from crawling under the hood and tinkering. Which in turn eliminates an excuse for bonding between and among men.
This change in American car care is grossly under-considered. Most analyses begin and end with a celebration of the increased complexity and the reduced “need” to tinker, but it would be nice to see more acknowledgement of how working on cars brings men together. Not much of a car guy myself, I’m only now beginning to appreciate the car culture, and how far it differs from the culture at large. If you’ve never entered a car parts store such as an O’Reilly’s, you might be surprised at how generous people are with their time and expertise. Random strangers will stop and ask what you’re doing, and offer helpful advice or stop and take 20 minutes out of their day to help you solve a puzzle.
As one example, the first time I had to change the tire on my Land Rover required three trips to O’Reilly’s, and the purchase of a particular kind of tire iron. The bolts on this vehicle are specifically designed to be removed only with a six point ratchet – a 12 point won’t do it. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry, neither did I nor the two guys who stopped to help me solve it. We only fixed it because each of them called two separate friends, only one of which could tell us that that 12-point ratchet we were using didn’t give us enough torque.
It took ten guys to figure that out – when was the last time ten random guys stopped to help you with anything? It doesn’t happen often, but it happens to me at the car parts store all the time. It’s a subtle sort of goodwill, transitory and random and entirely informal, but it’s an important one. It’s an acknowledgement that we are all in this together, and that we all have each other’s backs. It’s an important social glue that is passing away, and it’s a shame.
There’s an irony at work here. I firmly believe that there are forces at work doing everything they can to wage war on private car ownership. Every time the CAFE standards go up, every time another thousand dollar safety device is mandated, and every time the gasoline tax goes up, it makes it that much harder for everyday Americans to own a car. When you hear the bizarro world calls in the media for robot driven cars, shared cars, and increased public transit ridership, that’s all part of a concerted effort to reduce the freedom and independence that comes from owning your own method of transport. At least for the hoi polloi – most of those pushing this agenda make six figure incomes and know full well that they won’t be called on to give up their freedom or independence.
It’s a way of making everyone more dependent on those around them – through the blunt tool of government. And most of the people calling for these sweeping changes sleep well at night knowing that their benevolent and wise guidance will lead the nation to a better place, where everyone takes care of everyone else.
In fact, these deluded fools – many of whom have never set foot in a car parts store – simply don’t have the experience to understand how well Americans already take care of each other in a myriad of informal, everyday ways. They are blinded by their egos to the reality on the ground, and are actually destroying one of the knots that holds the fabric of this great nation together.
As for me, I’ll hang onto my pre-digital ride as long as I can. In a very real way, keeping that bucket of bolts on the road is a team effort that represents the best that America has to offer.