Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Car Machinations

I took my 1998 Oldsmobile Achieva to JiffyLube this morning. Mine was the only car in the shop, so I didn't have to wait long for the service folks to come with explanations. Having any work done on my automobile is always an experience for me. I'm woefully ignorant of automotive matters. I do not know how a car is put together, and I barely understand how to open the hood, pop the trunk, or fill the car with gas. When most of my friends were learning to drive, I was practicing the skillful art of getting someone else to drive me wherever I had to go. So, when I need to stand in front of the Jiffy technician, I am, understandably, nervous. He begins to rattle off various parts of cars, and I find myself quickly overwhelmed. I do not know which valves do what, which fluids are important where or in what quantities, and I certainly don't know if the prices listed for the variety of services are fair.

This has led me to wonder about the other technologies that I use that I know nothing about. I find that I am remarkably ignorant of most of my machines. I don't know much about how my computer works, or my television, or my mobile phone. I know how to use all of these devices. I would, in fact, consider myself well-versed in their various applications. This ignorance of mine, I'm fairly certain, isn't limited to me. I doubt if most of us know how our machines work. And what does that say about us? What does it mean that we use devices every day that we don't have any idea how they function? I don't think this spells doom for the human race. Many a science fiction author has toyed with the idea that our ignorance of machines will one day destroy us. I'm not convinced. Most of us don't even know how our own bodies work (I point to the chi-wielding faith healers as a prime example), and we get around just fine. Still, I am disconcerted by my own lack of knowledge, and I think I should spend some time learning about how my machines work.

Does anyone know a good primer in learning about a car's operation? I'm looking for something brief and articulate. I'll move on to my computer and my mobile phone next.   


  1. I took what used to be called "Auto 1" in high school - it was renamed "Power, Transportation and Energy 1" instead so Mr. Goss could talk about more things under the course's heading. I highly recommend some amount of hands-on (or at least eyes-on) dealings with cars and engines if you can swing it. A similar introductory course is often available to adults.

    Howstuffworks.com has some excellent automotive articles with animated diagrams. That's not a primer, but if there's a particular system or component you're curious about it's an excellent resource.

  2. I wish I had the time for a basic course, but I will have to content myself with some sort of shorter primer. I'm more interested, as you've touched on, learning about specific car functions. I want to be able to answer with some knowledge when the car repairman tells me that I need some system flushed, or some part replaced because it has fouled up something else. I'm so terribly ignorant about my car's mechanics that at this point the repair people could fleece me.