Cars and Their Enemy, Blissful Ignorance

So, to the lovely readers of rCars, I have something to get off of my mind that’s been bugging me for the better part of a week. Call this a rant, or whatever you wish.

I’m tired of people not knowing even the simplest basics of how a car works or how to take care of it besides filling the tank up with gas. It is one of the most practical inventions of the 20th century, but people still don’t know what they’re looking at under the hood, if they can even figure out how to pull the latch to open it.

This is a disappointment.

A conversation I had the other day with one of my decent friends was about what I planned to do to my car. He then started talking to me about his 2003 W211 Mercedes E320. Not a bad car, if you ask me; decent luxury sedan. I ask him what engine it has to test his knowledge and he honestly had no clue. I did a bit of Google-fu, and quickly found out it was a 3.2 liter V6.

Not a bad engine for the time, 218 horsepower. But he didn’t even know he had a V6 in his car. After I told him this fact, he guffawed. He thought he had some kind of special engine in his car, but nope, it was just an average V6. All I needed to do to find out what engine it had was to ask him what the number on the back was, which is the most obvious statement of engine size and drivetrain choice in European cars. This is a scenario I am all too familiar with, people either not knowing or not caring about anything that has to do with their cars.

Before this, I was talking to a friend of mine about her car in the parking lot of my school. It’s a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, with the venerable 4.0 Litre AMC inline-six, and it was in great shape, and she got a decent deal for it.

I asked to check the fluids for her, since I thought it would be a nice gesture. I asked her to pop the hood, but she didn’t know how. I show her where the latch was, then I ran her right hand under the gap between the grille and the hood itself and feel for the latch. She opens it and puts the prop up after I tell her where that was.

I pulled a napkin out of my backpack (allergies suck) and I grabbed the dipstick and pulled it out. After she freaks about how I will break her new truck, I mention I am checking the oil which comes out a nasty shade of black, like it has gone 10 thousand miles on one oil change. When I told her the oil might need to be changed soon she told me she would get her dad to do it, since she is afraid of hurting her new investment, fine. I get the thinking, but this is a person who didn’t know how to open her own hood 5 minutes earlier.

I have run into this about….. too many times to count even in the past month alone. People either play stupid about cars or just legitimately don’t care enough to know what their basic needs are. Change the oil every several thousand miles, make sure your tires are inflated, the simple rules of owning a car and making sure it does not crash or die on you during operation. Do you like having a car that runs? I do too. This plague of ignorance starts in high school, which is when people start driving. I walk through the lot of about 700 cars or so, and I spot a few cool ones. A Fox-Body Mustang, an FR-S, a 1.8 Miata. The vast majority of the lot is either 5-year old luxury cars that were gifted to kids when the car was paid off or general late-1990s to mid-2000s mediocrity. Mind you, the mediocrity isn’t bad, it’s just what you would normally see. Ford Tauruses, Dodge Neons, Durangos, Chevrolet Avalanches, etc. General, average cars. And a solid 20 percent of them had tires that were running low on air, some as low as 20 pounds per square inch, when the average required amount is 30-36.

I would like to say it is not entirely the kids’ faults. Yes, it’s the owner not really taking care of their cars… but what about outside factors that come into play with car knowledge? I have a copy of the 2016 Georgia Driver’s Handbook, July 2016 revision sitting right here on my desk. There’s no addendum or section that even mentions car maintenance. It goes into extreme depth about how to make a right turn, but not how to occasionally check your oil or air up your tires, which help you continue driving on the roads of Georgia, there is nothing. And from what I have heard, the whole country is like this. The attitude of the modern world about car maintenance is astonishingly distant, aloof if you will. I say it is mostly the owner’s fault, but when they are not even taught about how to care for a car, what can you expect other than for things to go wrong.

The common exclamation I hear is, “Oh, I’ll just take it to the shop.” But I don’t even hear that phrase enough. On a more personal note, even my own mother ignores the lights on the dash saying, “Hey, I need to get fixed sometime... Please check me into the shop so I can get fixed?”, or “Hey, my transmission is jerking because of my bad design, please try to fix me NOW, or I WILL blow up!” And can you guess what happened? That dark blue 2000 Saturn LS2’s transmission gave up the ghost. It will not physically roll anymore. I can accredit this one mishap as bad design because it is well documented with these cars, but the warning signs were still there to prevent it from happening.

Even before the transmission went, my mom has had tunnel vision about anything relating to cars. I was sitting in the passenger’s seat minding my own business when the car starts to shimmy and shake from the front end. My mom just casually mentions, “Oh, it’s been doing that for a while, I don’t know what’s wrong.” Once we got home, I grabbed my tire pressure gauge and checked her tires. All were extremely low. Lowest tire was 14 PSI, highest was 19. But the recommended pressures for the Saturn were about 33PSI. I told her, “We are going to QT to air your tires up now, I don’t want you to wreck. It’s possibly causing that shake we got at 75..."

Lo and behold, after adding air to the tires, the shake is gone, and the car rides smoother and is more responsive to steering inputs. Common sense isn’t it. But even my own mother was oblivious to her car needing something as simple as air in the tires.

I’m just tired of this kind of thing happening so often. Right now, I’m replacing my timing belt because it snapped and if I show what I did to any one of my friends outside of the car world, they would ask what a timing belt is and what it does. I’m thankful for them at least asking questions. I’m lucky my car has a non-interference engine. But I just don’t want anyone’s piston to meet a valve.

Do you know what a piston and a valve are? I know you do. They don’t. I’m pushing right now for all readers at this moment in time, to talk to their friends and teach them the basics of car care. Modern engineered cars can take tolerate some slack in their maintenance schedules, but not much. I just don’t like seeing cars either sold or sent to the junkyard just because someone didn’t change their oil or didn’t check their belts. I don’t like to see this hands-off approach to car care, since every time I go to Pull-A-Part to get some parts for my car, I see newer and newer cars in there. Not wrecked, just quit running, which is mostly attributed to maintenance.

Please, take a look in your owner’s manual. Have you even opened it? No? Read it cover to cover. If you have, please still do. There’s always something to learn about how to drive and take care of your car. It’s not an appliance, even if you do treat it like one. I want you to know how long it takes between oil changes and if your tires are at the right pressure. If not for me, for everyone else out there on the roads with you.