Automotive Repair Blog: Tips, Facts, and Fixes


A recent article on boldly proclaims “Modern Drivers Are Clueless About Their Cars”. It’s kind of a valid point – the statistics bear out that most drivers can’t perform basic maintenance on their cars, or even know how their cars work. The better question is, who cares? Well, besides my dad.

My father grew up with the generation that wouldn’t dream of taking their car to a shop unless it was still under warranty. Before I got my drivers license, I was required to pass a stringent test of ‘essential’ skills more rigorous than anything the DMV could possibly have dreamt up. And now, years later, I’m here to say “Dad, you were wrong!” These skills are as outdated as being able to shoe your own horse, and next time someone insists that you absolutely need to know them, you can point them here to show them just how wrong they are.

  1. Drive A Stick: People older than 30 love to tell you about how they learned to drive on a stick shift and hadn’t even seen an automatic until the left college. Which makes sense – as late as 1980, one in three cars sold in the US had a manual transmission. Manuals were cheaper, got better gas mileage, and were faster, not to mention more reliable.
  2. Why It’s Useless: Only about 6.5% of new cars come with a stick shift. Advances in technology have erased every single advantage of the manual transmission. And things are getting worse for the gearshift – even Formula 1 cars now use auto-shifting dual-clutch transmission, and electric cars have no gearbox whatsoever, making the stick shift entirely obsolete. Automatic cars are faster on the track, easier to drive, break down less often, and require far less maintenance.

  3. Change The Oil: There was a time when being able to change your oil was a sign of manhood. That time ended roughly about the same time that cave paintings went out of style. According to a study, 58% of drivers don’t know how to add oil to their car, and 63% don’t know how to check their oil level.

    Why It’s Useless: Largely because it’s cheaper to pay someone to do it for you. Between the cost of motor oil, the time getting everything ready, and the cost of disposing the oil (a cost that didn’t exist when your dad learned to drive!), it’s usually cheaper to go to a shop. Given that, why would anyone want to lie under their filthy car getting burned by hot dripping oil on a Sunday afternoon? Plus, many cars are either integrating an automatic oil change indicator that’s more accurate than your old man with a dipstick ever was, and recommended oil change intervals are growing – many higher end cars now recommend it only every 10,000 miles.

  4. Wax Their Car: I remember long, hot weekend days of being forced to wash and wax the family car. It was a time intensive, laborious process. I hated it, but my dad insisted I learn how to do it, because it was part of proper automobile maintenance.

    Why It’s Useless: Technology has rendered the hand wax completely obsolete. Spray waxes at automatic car washes are much better at getting a good protective coating on your paint job than even Mr. Miagi. On top of that, paint technology has come a long way. The paint and finish on new cars is completely different now than it was even 20-30 years ago, and requires far less protection to stay looking factory-new for years. In fact, on many higher end cars, a hand polish can actually damage the paint instead of protecting it.

  5. Diagnose Engine Issues: If your dad was anything like mine, he claimed to be able to tell exactly what was causing every single noise, smell, hiccup, and jolt in the family car. Which was fine, except he insisted on explaining every one to us in minute detail in the hopes that we would learn how to self-diagnose every possible thing that could go wrong. If there was so much as a slight tremor, we would drive around the block for hours trying to pinpoint it.

    Why It’s Useless: For the same reason that trying to diagnose a supercomputer by trying to figure out what’s going “ping”. Modern cars are completely computerized, with intricate systems that overlap and interrelate in ways pre-1994 cars never even dreamed of. Oh, and they also have a handy diagnostics port that pretty much tells you exactly what went wrong, when it went wrong, and what to do about it. Basically, plugging in a diagnostic tool will give you better information in seconds than an entire day of trial and error used to.

  6. Pump Your Own Gas: 1% of drivers say they have no idea how to pump their own gas. This is supposed to be shocking, because how can you even drive if you can’t pump your own gas?

    Why It’s Useless: Ok, unless you live in one of the few states where pumping your own gas isn’t allowed, like New Jersey, this isn’t quite useless yet. But it will be soon. Some experts estimate that within a decade, most cars on the road will be all-electric. And since pretty much everyone knows how to plug in their smartphone, the whole “gas pumping problem” will go away on its own.