Confounded By Cars

car engineA young married couple of my acquaintance have revealed exclusively to DriveWrite that neither of them has any idea how to change a plug on an appliance. Asking them to perform this task or indeed re-wire a mains fuse would be like handling them a screwdriver and the bits necessary to assemble the Large Hadron Collider and telling them to get on with it. Not going to happen. The thing is though, this lack of household skills is in no way unusual.

Regulations are to blame because successive governments have had no faith in the public to handle things for themselves and the ability to do these very simple jobs, that at least two people in every household could once do at a moment’s notice, has faded into the mists of time.

Once, new electrical purchases had to be augmented by a separate three-pin plug to be attached to the lead at home. These days, appliances come – and have done for a number of years – with the plugs already attached. The likelihood is that the white goods, toasters and the like have been made in foreign lands and, when they do fail, our throwaway culture tells us to bin the the faulty goods and buy some more. And so the world turns.

It’s the same with cars. Open the bonnet of an original Mini and all was straightforward. Plugs, points, oil filter, oil; job done. Most of us could routinely service our cars without issue as seen on the driveways of Britain every Saturday morning. Head gasket blown? No problem. Cars were simple mechanical units and in some ways the better for it.

It would be a brave individual who would attempt this today. Call me a conspiracy theorist but it seems to me that cars have become wilfully complex to confound owners and line the pockets manufacturers and dealers alike.

Every job requires an expensive one-function tool to complete; dire warnings are offered regarding home tinkering and so on. The result is that most drivers today wouldn’t have a clue what to do in the event of a breakdown, except, that is, to grab the phone and call for help. Obviously there are individuals out there who are capable of home mechanics but they are an increasingly rare breed. We are losing the ability to look after ourselves.

For various political and industrial reasons that, with hindsight, beggar belief we have ceased to be a manufacturing nation and become instead a nation of servers. There are exceptions fortunately: Watch Wheeler Dealers and see Mike Brewer seek out specialists who can do anything with metal or repair the most complex car part. These are the unsung heroes who carry the banner for proper engineering.

These arcane skills carry over into our niche car makers and, as you know, we do have a streamlined, modern car industry. Formula One teams are for the most part based in the UK because we still have engineers and designers of vision but for the most part the Great British public are losing the ability to make and fix things. The fault lies with our throwaway, wasteful society.

So the next time your car develops a fault, don’t just shrug and book an appointment; open the bonnet and try to find the cause. The same goes for any appliance. It could be easier than you think. Imagine the satisfaction of sitting back and thinking, ‘Blimey, I’ve just done it myself and saved a fortune’.
Geoff Maxted