Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Things That Chap My Ass About Auto Maintenance

You know what makes me laugh?

Flying cars.

You know, those flying cars we were supposed to have up here in the futuristic George Jetson 21st Century?

Can you imagine?

No, really, can you just imagine the astronomical death toll? The shear complete carnage? Flying cars would make the human race extinct more surely than any giant asteroid impact or nuclear winter or universal healthcare program or ancient Mayan prophecy.

Invent flying cars and I give humanity two months, tops. That’s what happened to the dinosaurs. Flying cars.

Seriously, look at the idiots you share the road with – now give these simpletons wings and three dimensions to maneuver in. That’s right, these are the same mouth breathing dolts who can’t manage a 4-way stop or understand the basic concept of “left lane fast, right lane slow.” These are the same morons who watch porn and surf the internet while behind the wheel of a 20-ton tractor trailer rig doing 70 down the highway. These are the same Viagra fueled hard-ons in their giant chrome crusted pickup trucks that so desperately crave the attention and envy of people they don’t know who are impressed by the manufacturer of car parts ( It’s Got a HEMI! Seriously, like I give a fuck who made your transmission – get out of the way, Jackass) – Yeah, let’s give these people flying Hummers. Try to picture a 70 foot long levitating Winnebago with a blue haired driver from Whatthefuckinton, Oklahoma, in the driver’s seat squinting out the top of his bifocals through the steering wheel at a map flapping madly in the breeze with a midget poodle dog in his lap barking wildly at the birds and the clouds - how come science fiction never managed to see that coming? Just imagine a sky full of flying cars swooping through the air – and every single dumbass piloting with one knee as they chat on the phone and thumb away at their texting keyboards, screaming at their kids in the backseat while in the throes of Sky Rage.

Oh yes, yes, sign me up for that.

Hell, can you imagine the rain of cigarette butts, Starbuck’s cups, and Taco Bell wrappers falling in a continuous sleet from the sky? And you thought pigeon poop was bad. Speaking of which, wait till a couple of geese get sucked into the grill of these flying Buicks. Screw floating cities, we’ll probably need to start living in underground bunkers like the giant WWII submarine pens the Nazis built with the 12 foot thick roofs of ferrocrete and re-bar – at least until bats and birds and flying bunnies and those goofs who like to shoot at passing commuters become extinct.

And, boy, think you’re nervous now, letting your teenaged kids borrow the car? Imagine if it could fly too (imagine the insurance…).

Go ahead, breath into the paper bag. I’ll wait – I’ve got a teenager too.

Now, if a sky full of drunk, stupid, reckless, suicidal jackasses on cell phones in flying cars isn’t enough for you, add this little detail: those flying cars would be built by the same drooling ass-picking booger eating auto manufacturers that make the car you drive on the ground today. Think about that for a minute. The difference is that when your ride breaks down now it doesn’t fall 30,000 feet in a blazing column of smoke and screaming death like a gut-shot B-24 going in over 1944 Berlin. And that’s exactly what would happen – because auto manufacturers, and specifically the engineers who design cars, have got to be the dumbest bunch of sadistically twisted chimp brained chowderheads who have ever existed. Every wonder what happened to those strange social miscreants you went to grade school with? The ones who took auto-shop and only auto-shop all the way through high school and went to Vocab in the summer? Some of those folks tortured small helpless animals and grew up to be cannibal serial killers or Phys-Ed teachers – the rest went to work for GM.

I swear (a lot), have you looked under the hood of a modern car? I mean really looked?

Who designs shit like that?

What is all that stuff? It ain’t engine so what the hell does it do? And there’s more weird stuff under the car.

I can name every single component of an LM2500 Navy Aegis cruiser gas turbine main power plant – and there isn’t one damned thing in that engine room that isn’t completely necessary (well, except for the Lieutenants, they’re usually pretty worthless but they come with the boat, what can you do, right?). I can take a Delta industrial lathe completely apart and put it back together again. Hell, I can field strip an M1911A1 Government Model .45, naming each part and putting it back to together again in under a minute. Blindfolded. But, I don’t recognize half the crap packed Swiss watch-like into the compartment under the hood of my GMC. What is that thing? The flux capacitor? A frappichino machine? The fuel injection system? I swear to the forlorn chrome plated bulbous nosed ghost of Edsel Ford, would it kill these bastards to label shit?

Nobody really knows what any of that stuff does nowadays. Used to be you could ask your dad, or pretty much any guy with a greasy shirt and a SKOAL cap, and he’d say something confident and automechanicky sounding like, “Well, it’s either fuel or fire. Pop the hood, let’s take a look… Oh, hell, there’s your problem! Broken fan belt. You don’t need a new one, we can make one with some old pantyhose and duct tape.” In the old days, it was always the fan belt (and oddly enough your dad always had old pantyhose around the shop…er, never mind). You know how many cars my old man fixed with a soup can, spit, and a steady stream of colorful Navy cursing? Nowadays? Nobody knows anything. Ask a certified auto repairman or ask a redneck shade tree mechanic what that expensive sounding clicking noise is and the first thing he says is, “Wow! That’s weird, man. Never seen that before. Well, it could be any number of things. Could be the ratzerfratzer valveanoodle, or the fuel velociraptor output overflow sensor under-voltage, or it might be your floor mats, there’s just no way to tell – we’ll have to plug it into the computer…” You know what “Plug it into the computer” means? $400. To start. It’s like that scene in The Empire Strikes Back where the Millennium Falcon keeps making that waaaaaah waaaah waaaaaaaaaaah VW Beetle noise and won’t go to lightspeed. “Chewie, take the Professor here in the back and plug him into the hyperdrive.”

Why in the hell didn’t the Falcon just speak English?

You know what language my truck speaks? Check Engine Light. $40,000 bucks and the only thing it can do when it’s sick is turn on the Check Engine Light? That’s it? It can tell me my gas mileage over time to the tenth of a gallon. I mean it can do complex math, but it can’t tell me what’s wrong? It can tell me when to change the oil. Hell, it’s got On-Star, if I press a button my truck can talk to some hottie in outer space! My wife’s car has GPS, that fucking thing never shuts up, turn left turn left turn left turn left oh god turn left. Not only that, but it can speak multiple languages and even in different accents – we like to get our directions from the British chick when we go for fish and chips (it just seems more authentic). But something goes bad and the only thing the vehicle can do is turn on a yellow light. Bing! Well thanks Detroit. That’s helpful. It’s like asking a sick four year old where it hurts. Everywhere! Ralph! My $300 Blackberry speaks English, why doesn’t my $30,000 Mustang? You have to buy another computer to talk to the computer in the truck to convert yellow Check Engine Light into Trouble Code. Then you have to look Trouble Code up on the internet. Ooooooh, Check Engine Light means P0303 which finally translates as Cyclinder 3 Misfire. That clears it right up. Yeah. Flying cars. Bah, I’d be happy if the goddamned truck just told me the #3 fuel injector was clogged in plain English – not that I’d recognize a fuel injector in all that mess. Is this it? Snap! Whoops I hope we didn’t need that.

In the old days you could pretty much fix anything by doing nothing more than wiggling some wires. Wiggle wiggle. Try it now! Vrrrooom! Good! Don’t even think about doing that now. Seriously, they act like you’re jiggling the cord to Granny’s life-support machine. Holy Shit! What are you doing? You’re wiggling wires? Fuck! Stop it, you’re not even grounded man, you’ll fry the chip! Damn, dude, where’d you get your degree, Whatthefuckinton Community College?

My dad could completely rebuild an entire Ford Big Block in a Sunday afternoon and the only tools he ever needed were a 9/16” socket wrench, a case of beer, and Howard Cosell on the transistor radio. Period. Hand me a wrench! What size? Whaduhya mean, what size? What are you, a girl? Nine sixteenth, dumbass. What size? Hell, just my luck, you’ll probably grow up to be a ballerina. Hand me another beer, Nancy. My dad could probably have fixed the Apollo 13 spaceship enroute to the moon with nothing more than a 9/16” socket wrench and a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon. Nothing on my truck is 9/16. Nothing. Every single fitting requires some weird special tool, a different special tool. I got this thing for removing fuel line couplings that scares the shit out of me. It looks like something a gynecologist would use, I keep wanting to tell the truck, “Scoot down, scoot down…you’re going to feel some pinching…”

Even if you have the correct tool, and you probably don’t, you have to be a humpbacked left-handed four-armed double-jointed midget circus contortionist with infrared vision, seven fingered hands like boneless chickens, forearms like Popeye, and the ability to metabolize a mouth full of brake fluid in order to get the damned thing into the proper position. It helps if you can swear for twenty minutes without repeating yourself. Auto engineers consider it a design failure if you can a) get both hands on the tool at the same time, or b) can touch the wrench and see the fitting at the same time.

Auto manufacturers have been building the internal combustion engine for over one hundred years. Consider this: where’s the oil filter? One hundred goddamned years, folks, and this is the best they can do. It’s not like they don’t know you have to change the fucking oil. But for one hundred years the oil filter has been a metal can screwed onto some inaccessible part of the engine that can not be removed without pouring motor oil all over your face and the garage floor. One hundred years and this is the best design they can come up with?

Flying cars?

When pigs fly, folks, when pigs fly.

If you need me, I’ll be in the garage.


  1. Computers, Jim. Computers and pollution reduction equipment.

    Also, don't forget the "Check Vehicle Soon" light. Which is not the same as the "Check Engine Soon" light.

    "It's worse than that, he's dead, Jim!"

  2. Oh, shit, does this post cause me to agree with you.

    My first car was a VW Beetle, and I could repair and rebuild any damn system of that car. I've helped rebuild engines and transmissions and have helped any and all aspects from engine bearings to masking tape for paint finish.

    That said, we're at a weird point with our inherited '96 Volvo wagon. To repair or buy something else used.

  3. OMG, my sides hurt. Glad my neighbor is still out of town, she would have thought I was having some kind of seizure.

    In high school I dated a guy that put a Porsche engine in a VW Bug. Just to see if it could be done. It could, and that little bug could outrun anything on the road, including most late '60-early 70's muscle cars. Was pretty funny, the light would change, we’d be half a block away and the other cars would still be sitting at the light with their jaws on the pavement. That was date night many weekends at one point, my best friend & I watching the two boyfriends work to retool that engine.

    More recently, I’m a huge fan of the Car Talk guys. I love it when someone calls about an older car. The first thing they tell the caller is go find an old shade-tree mechanic with a couple of teeth missing and perma-grease under his nails and get him to diagnose the problem. Newer cars they just tell ‘em to take it to the dealer and let them plug it into some fancy-schmancy computerized diagnostic prognosticator.

    Personally, I used to be really good at fixing the butterfly valve when it got stuck on my ’69 Camaro…kept a pencil in the console just for that purpose.

  4. In my 29th century SF, most cars and autoflyers are automated -- eliminate the talking voice of the GPS directions and let it talk to Traffic Control and drive it for you.

    And no, Microsoft did not write the software. They're out of business -- long gone.

    Dr. Phil

  5. Ow - face hurts - hihihihihihi The poodle in the Winnie...

    I started off with a dead 1955 M38A1 Jeep that my dad had lying around - literally took it completely apart and put it back together again just to see how and to get it running - drove it through most of my high school days. Good times...

    The guts of the Cherokee or the Toy pickup aren't so bad, but it sure isn't just the four wrenches and two screwdrivers I needed back when.

    Sorry about the injectile dysfunction - I hate it when they get clogged up and rattley.

    cractmon - what the guy said when he saw the engine block

  6. And get off my lawn, you hyperactive little shit!

    nomaterw = the part in your Mustang that just went belly-up.

  7. Hell yeah, the EPA may have done a lot of good over the years but this one they have to answer for. Start with emission controls and then layer on forty-five levels of related crap and you have the modern engine. You'd think it would be possible to design an engine that was clean and efficient as built. But no, it makes so much sense to just take noisy and smelly and cover it all up in electronic saran wrap. My first car was an old Morris, I knew nothing about cars but I managed to fix almost everything that went wrong with it, at least until the big end went. These days I lift the hood and feel like calling a plumber.

    larech - my favourite french car...

  8. That, sir, was the most well rounded rant I've seen in more than 25 years on the internet.

    Yes, 25 years; since well before WWW was anything more than an acronym used by the Boy Scouts.

    Well done.

  9. The car industry has not one single reason to make it easier for you or independent mechanics to use the onboard computer to identify the issue causing the car to 'clunk-whirrrrr.' If they did that, they wouldn't make nearly as much money fixing their screw-ups that haven't yet been turned into large factory recalls.

  10. Flying cars, and a paperless society. Still waiting.

  11. @ WendyB_09

    That car was called a Thunder Beetle and when ever one showed up in N Illinois circa 1964, the State fuzz towed in something that could catch one.

    @ Karl - 1952 Desoto with the 4 speed semi-automatic transmission with tip toe clutch. Moved up to a 57 Desoto Firedom with the 396 Hemi.

    Cars were fun then.

  12. Thanks Warner, I never knew that rebuild had a name.

    Thunder Beetle...that fits. The owner loved blowing the doors off Mustangs and Camaros. And was it loud while doing it, if you were in the Bug it sounded like you were going to take off!

  13. Oh ohhhhhhh! [/Sam Kinison] dude, don’t get me started. I like my jeep, when I need to change the sparkplugs (about once a year or so) there they are, all lined up down the length of the block. I'm a big guy, I just reach in with my sears craftsman sparkplug socket on an extension and out/in they go (if I was smaller, I would just climb up into the engine well and sit on the fender). I changed the 100k plugs on a friend’s newer model mustang a while back. OMFG. If I had met one of those accursed engineers at that point, it would have been bloody and violent, here, disconnect each coil, ok, now take off the fuel rail and regulators, oh, and this thing (what “this”? I haven’t got a clue and I’ve been rebuilding engines off and once since 1985 and I had no idea what “this” was, other than it was made of plastic). It took two days, two fucking days to change out eight sparkplugs, and nothing special about those, look almost exactly like the damned plugs in my jeep, WTF is up with that?

  14. When I was 17, my best friend got a 1964 Willys Jeep as a hand-me-down (via father and 3 older brothers). One day we were out in the middle of nowhere when the clutch cable snapped. Luckily, there was some twine and super-glue in the back, so we were able to repair it well enough to drive it home. And then, he figured it was holding up fine, so he didn't actually replace the cable for another 3 or 4 months.

    BTW, I think you're complaining a little too much. Sure, those old cars were easier to fix, but did they have cup holders? I think not!

  15. A friend of mine recently had the 'Check engine' problem. The solution- a new gas cap!

    dintem- what a sledgehammer would do to those flying cars.

  16. Sure the old cars were easier to repair, but you can't say they were safer.

    Last year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted a crash test between a '59 Bel Air and an '09 Chevy Malibu. The Malibu driver would have walked away, while the Bel Air driver would have died instantly. Check it out:

    More info about the test here:

    Sorry, but I'd much rather drive any modern car than those old death-traps.

  17. Don, you make a valid point but I think you're missing the biggest reason to drive a modern car - Heated Leather Seats and DTS Dolby Digital Surround Sound.

    Just saying. ;)

    1. You can always retro fit them, the lights have gone out!!! No the haven't you've just hooked my underpants over my head, OOOWWWWWWWW!

  18. Jim, I know you know what the answer to the "talking to computers" part of your rant is.


    Now wouldn't you rather have a "check engine" light? :)

  19. ROFLMAO. ThePinkThing keeps asking me "what's so funny?" and she isn't taking the "some things are funny only to grown-ups answer".

    Hahahaheeeheeha ::snort:: ::cough::

    sumerig = that 20-ton rig heading right towards you

  20. Jim, I think you're missing something else that Don left out (in a Steely Dan voice) "eFFFMMMM!"

    Also, I want to thank you. I've been trying to solve the dilemma of what an NCO would say to a younger sailor who lost their shit in public and my several Air Force cursing lines just never did sound right to the ears. While reading your rant it came to me,

    "'I don't care if he called you a syphilitic camel-humper from Whatthefuckinstan. You,' he poked me in the chest to emphasis each word, 'don't pull this crap.'"

    You, sir, are my muse.

  21. LOL @ Whatthefuckington.

    I love it.

  22. Dude, I am so loving this post.

    First, I've always wanted to hear someone curse for 20 minutes without repeating themselves, since I consider myself deficient in that regard.

    2 favorite cars:

    1) '63 Valiant station wagon, robin's egg blue, push button tranny, slant 6...and turbocharged by my dad. Talk about a sleeper! I got it once a week to drive across the valley to youth symphony rehearsal and enjoyed drag racing at the stop lights. My father, an old San Fernando Valley street drag racer, warned me off that activity, telling me of all the bogus things the police could bust me for ("Inciting a race." "Exhibition of speed".) Didn't stop me!

    2) '63 VW Baja Bug. Pull up a stool behind it and just reach in to do the work (timing, valve adjustment, plugs, points, etc.) Though it leaked like a sieve, and had no real heat or defrost, it was just the thing for driving on sidewalks. And it was so light I could push start it all by myself!

  23. USAF Wench - My first car is still my favorite.

    '69 Chevy Camaro, big block 365 stock engine, electic blue with spoiler, white interior and white vinyl roof. Was not an RS or SS and could blow the doors off anything in town. We got it used for a song, found out later during some front end work it had been in a front end crash at some point.

    But it ran, oh, yeah, that baby ran!! The normal stock engine was a 350, Chevy only put the 365 in about 500 cars.

    I happily ran that sucker into the ground. When I traded it in there was more stop leak in the transmission than transmission fluid. But the engine still ran.

    Of course, in the school of wish I'd known that, I found out a few years later it would have been worth more parked until I could restore it than I got in trade.


    I was amused to see the new 2010 Camaro's body style and cockpit group are vintage '69.

  24. WendyB..

    My first car was a $400 '63 (I'm noting a trend here) Mercury Comet station wagon (aka "The Tuna Boat".) It started to beat out the rear oil seal (got, that transmission oil stank when it hit the exhaust pipe!) like they were pancakes, the whole exhaust system had the consistency of toilet paper (I was an impoverished student), and it ran on about 4.75 cylinders when it went down in battle with a Cadillac.

    I came out from a ham radio board meeting, only to find my car halfway on the damn sidewalk, and a fire engine washing the gas off the street. A LOL with a Caddy smacked it hard enough to bend the frame. She was able to drive away after reporting.

    Those Comets are rare as hell now, and I wish I had it around to tinker with.

    It had other endearing traits, like when the linkage failed, leaving me with only 2nd and 3rd gear.

  25. Anybody else finding car chicks incredibly hawt? Yes?

  26. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  27. Oh. Em. Gee. Funniest thing I've read since the bit about the demon squirrel and the Valkyrie motorcycle. My first car was '67 Volvo. Taught me to wear seat belts, that car did.

    The last vehicle that I could work on was a Datsun P'up. Rebuilt the brakes in a parking lot, rebuilt the carb on the dinner table.

    I later owned a Rabbit, but it was a California vehicle with a bunch of mysterious emission-control garbage under the hood.

    Now, I don't even change my own oil anymore.

  28. Currently have a mini-van that I named "Buckley" (see John Ringo - "We are going to die you know.") It has more beeps, bells, and alarms than your average hospital intensive ward. "Yes, Buckley, I know the door is open." "I also know you are low on gas." "I changed your oil last week, you can stop asking now." (Because I can figure out how to change my van's oil, but can't figure out how to tell it that I did it. Probably requires Buckley having sexual intercourse with R2D2.) "Shut up, Buckley." It never tells you anything that is actually useful. I know people who have taken black electrical tape and put it over the check engine light spot on the dash just so they don't have to look at it. Because they know what will happen if they try to get it fixed. They will be handed a bill for $1509.23, and three miles later the check engine light will pop back on.

  29. Okay Jim, no one else mentioned this, but how can you know the favorite line of a gynecologist .... “Scoot down, scoot down..." Did your wife contribute this part?

    ...and my most favorite line of this post:
    "I swear (a lot), have you looked under the hood of a modern car?"

  30. I have a 2003 Buick LeSabre. The first time the battery died of old age, I opened the hood, looked inside...and couldn't find the battery. Back in the 80's I watched friends completely strip and restore a 1968 Firebird. I got to the point where I could answer the quiz in Popular Mechanics. Skip forward 30 years and sure I've forgotten most of it, but I can't identify the battery in the engine compartment? I pulled out the manual. Guess where the battery is in the LeSabre. Go on, guess. Under the back seat of the 4-door sedan. What. The. Hell?!

  31. Ms. Cats- why not? That's where you'll find it in an old VW Bug. I was all kinds of confused to discover that!

  32. Hey ease up on the engineers there. Most of that stuff under the hood is mandated by the gubbermint and bunny huggers to make the thing green. If you actually asked an engineer for a green car, that's what you'd get. Green. Well maybe 'Prairie Grass' or 'New England Leaf' because there's Marketing to keep happy too, but when the Feds were running you down it'd say green on their screen.

    Oh and don't ever touch the air con again until you apologise about the profusion of pipes.

    1. If I made a joke about engineers not recognizing humor, would it go over your head?

      As to air conditioning, I live in Alaska. I think I'll reserve the apology for now. // Jim

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