Tag Archives: automobile repair

Beep…Beep…Beep

The once seemingly timeless art of an “average Joe” being able to repair his own vehicle has been lost. Even those who are mechanically inclined have been stymied by the car industry’s continued rapid advancements in technology. Anyone who knows me, or who has had the honor of reading some of my prior blogs, knows I am (ahem) an enormous fan of (ahem) technology. Not! Today, there are far less components under the hood of an automobile requiring a mechanics prowess and many more needing a computer programmer’s expertise instead. This is because the majority of items, found in newer model vehicles, are run by inserted computer chips. The percentage of computer dependency, for repairing automobiles, is only going to increase with each and every year from now on. How is a “grease monkey” supposed to fix a car’s computer problems with only the tools of his trade, such as a screwdriver or a socket wrench, at his disposal?

I am in no way mechanically inclined although I have taken on certain endeavors here and there over the years. At times I have been somewhat successful but usually not so much. Before starting any project I’m painfully aware the chances for the job being adequately completed is a crap shoot. Even the simplest of manly tasks, like changing the oil in my car, almost assuredly ends in disaster by project’s end. Usually, I’d either accidentally strip a bolt or carelessly place my head in the oil pan full of warm oil I had just drained. Some people are just plain better at working with their hands than others. I apparently am not one of them. There came a point in my life when I realized a man must know his limitations, so now I try to avoid as many manly tasks as possible that may require even the slightest hint of mechanical skills.

I have not attempted to repair an automobile for a very long time, so I suppose I shouldn’t be too upset about the current “lost art” situation. However, it does bother me to see yet another job (and the livelihood of some people) put out to pasture because of today’s technology. Whether I want to repair a vehicle myself or choose to let someone else do it is now a moot point. I simply am no longer afforded the opportunity to fix it myself. Many “old school” mechanics aren’t able to fix the newer cars as well since automobile repair of the past hardly resembles automobile repair of the present. A choice has once again been taken out of our hands due to society’s never-ending quest for advanced technology. Just because something is available does not necessarily make it desirable.

I have no use for most of the electronic features that increasingly are listed as “standard” on many of today’s newer model vehicles. All I really need in my car is a cd player and I’m all set for the open road. Purportedly, in the very near future every single automobile will be equipped with blind-spot monitoring, a lane departure system, and a forward collision warning system. This is in addition to the parking sensors already so prevalent in most newer cars. Essentially, the new safety technology means that when one automobile “thinks” another automobile is getting too close for comfort then it will alert the driver of the possible danger by either flashing lights, sounding an alarm, or both. Typically, the alarm is a basic beep…beep…beep sound.

It does not matter whether an intruding vehicle is in front, in back , or on either side of a car equipped with the aforementioned technology because it will warn the driver regardless. In some instances the automobile may “decide” to take over for the driver, by braking or even turning the steering wheel, in an attempt to prevent a possible accident. I’m all for safety but this just seems like overkill to me. I would think operating a motor vehicle that has “a mind of its own,” in addition to the warning lights and the beep…beep…beep, could be more of a danger to the driver than anything else that may or may not be happening on the road. I am certain I would be annoyed sitting behind the wheel of a car equipped with this type of technology, and that would not be good for anyone.

I know how I would feel only because my mother-in-law has a Ford Escape equipped with a rear-mounted camera, and she lets my wife and I borrow it whenever we’re back in Iowa to visit family. Normally, there is an abundance of snowfall, or at least some intermittent snow flurries, during our Christmas visits. The camera’s sensors are very sensitive to any sort of motion, regardless of how significant the activity is, occurring behind the compact SUV. Therefore, many times when backing out of my mother-in-law’s garage, and out into the winter elements, we have the unfortunate pleasure of hearing beep…beep…beep. In actuality, the intended safety feature is warning us of the non-threating flurries outside. What a great system. Almost every time we leave her house the beep…beep…beep catches me off guard and sometimes even startles me a bit.

Once we’re out and about, usually making a daily run to the coffee shop or grabbing some lunch, I eventually forget about the incessant “beeps.” That is until it’s time to leave the establishment, and then I’m instantly reminded of the irritating sound as I begin backing out of the parking space. The rear-mounted camera, intended to sense trouble, alerts us again and again of the “hazardous” flurries behind the Escape. Beep…beep…beep. It seems as though the entire time we are in Iowa that is all we ever hear when putting my mother-in-law’s SUV in reverse. Since I’m easily annoyed by a few “beeps” then I can only imagine how I’m going to feel when all of the other predicted advancements in technology finally come to fruition. When even more lights are flashing, more alarms are sounding, and my automobile is trying to steer and brake for me, I’m quite certain the beep…beep…beep sounds will ultimately wear me down. I think I might have to start looking into public transportation to keep from going insane.


Not My Father’s Son

My father, for as far back as I can remember, was always working on some sort of project around the house. I can recall him fixing leaky faucets and running toilets on several occasions. My father replacing broken vacuum cleaner bands and frayed toaster chords was a common sight during my childhood as well. His motto was most-likely, “Why pay someone to do something if you can do it yourself?” In fact, I’m pretty sure I actually heard him say those exact words a time or two. Apparently, my father was willing to attempt just about any handyman project imaginable, many times learning as he went along, so he could save his family of six a little bit of money. He probably enjoyed working on his vehicles most of all. What father wouldn’t mind spending some time in the garage with four active children occupying his house?

My father failed at passing down his automobile repair knowledge to his eldest son, but I assure you it wasn’t for his lack of trying. After I had reached a certain age he began insisting that I accompany him out to the garage and “help” him work on his car. The first couple of times weren’t so bad, but holding a flashlight while my father did everything else was not sufficient enough for keeping my interest. I’m not saying I should have been allowed to do more because I am well aware I wasn’t even that good at holding the flashlight. It’s quite possible when my father finally realized I was not going to be the family’s next mechanically inclined prodigy that he then placed all of his remaining hope in my younger brother. That certainly did not bode well for him because still to this day I am a mechanical genius compared to my brother.

If truth be told, I think the main reason I did not follow in my father’s footsteps was due to my lack of enthusiasm. It simply wasn’t easy for me to get excited about the probability of scraping a knuckle or jamming a finger as I had seen my father do on numerous occasions. The thought of getting my hands dirty wasn’t all that appealing either; however, it was an entirely different matter whenever my grandpa from Missouri came to town. He usually had something amiss, going on underneath his Chrysler’s hood, that he wanted my father to address, and I always hoped to be included in the action. My father had learned most of his mechanical expertise from his father, so I’m not sure why he needed his son’s advice. Maybe the student had become the master, or maybe my grandpa was just looking for some cheap labor. Quite possibly though it may have been my grandpa’s attempt at bonding with his eldest son during his visits. The reason did not matter one iota to me as long as my wish for partaking in the ritual, of men congregating around an ailing vehicle and shooting the breeze, came true.

I can recall one particular Sunday morning, shortly before heading off to church, when my grandpa, my father, and I were experiencing the manly tradition firsthand. The gathering was surely a sight to behold: three generations of McCleary “men” tinkering on one gold car, conveniently parked in the driveway, for all of the neighbors to see. Well, actually my father was doing all of the tinkering. My grandpa was sipping on a hot cup of coffee, and I was just standing there pretending to know what the heck was going on although I wasn’t fooling anyone. All three of us knew that I knew absolutely nothing about the workings of an automobile. My father went inside the house, for only a few seconds, but that’s all it ever took for my grandpa to get me in some sort of trouble.

Before my father had left the scene something had fallen through the gaps, between the Chrysler’s engine and whatever else is under a car’s hood, and my grandpa decided now would be the ideal time for me to retrieve the dropped object. I can’t remember what had fallen through the cracks and was lying underneath the vehicle. I don’t know if it was a nut, a bolt, a screwdriver, or a wrench. It may have been a Johnson rod for as much as I know about cars, but that’s really beside the point. My grandpa had made a request, and as his eldest grandson (and young admirer) I did not want to disappoint. However, I was well aware that I should not honor his request, so I reluctantly said, “I can’t.” The Missouri farmer responded with, “sure you can,” and that’s all I needed: some encouraging words from my grandpa, and nothing else I could possibly have been told beforehand seemed to matter.

In no time flat I found myself lying face down on the dirty pavement. I began inching forward on my belly (military style), under the vehicle, to recover the seemingly all-important object. At the precise moment I could feel the “Johnson rod,” with the tips of my fingers, I heard my father yelling at me to get out from underneath my grandpa’s car. Busted! I could already tell from the tone of my father’s voice I was in trouble, but I wasn’t sure what the punishment was going to be; therefore, I hurriedly scooched myself backwards, out and up from underneath the vehicle, because I didn’t want to expose my buttocks for any longer than I had to in case a spanking was what he had in mind this time. I was donning my Sunday best and was old enough to know better than to crawl between the grimy automobile and the dirty pavement when wearing them. In addition, my father most-likely had warned me not to get my church clothes grubby prior to congregating around the Chrysler. My father may not have been successful at passing down his handyman and automobile repair expertise to the next generation, but both he and his father were very successful at leaving me with some special memories.