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Progress, Innovation, and Automobiles

Bench Racing

by Ryan King

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Today, things change at a fast pace.

In the world of car culture, it's easy to think it's still 1965, or 1985, or whenever your car interests hold your attention. It's easy to wonder why the people in the rest of today's world are running around like a bunch of hyperactive headless chickens.

The reality is, that they aren't. They're just living. Sometimes — okay, often times — not well, and, although differently, their not well is not any worse than the average car person's not well.

In the rest of the world outside of car culture, things are changing — and the primary vehicle of that change is education.

I know it's not normal for car people to look at a modern car and go "that innovation is awesome," because, for some reason, we've adhered to a world view of "it's this way, it's always been this way, it will (should) always be this way." Or, another way of looking at it is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The truth is, progress and innovation are making huge strides in the rest of the world, and it's about time we saw our world from that perspective.

Yes, I love my '66 Mustang, but I also see the incredible advances made in my '07 Cobalt. No, I don't agree with, or like, a lot of the features in modern automobiles, but that isn't the fault of the technology — that's a design choice made by the designer(s) — I'm just not looking to drive my living room or an infotainment system. I want to drive my very car-like, car. By that, I mean, I still enjoy a very elemental car experience — one which has a very thin veil between myself, the car, and the raw elements of nature.

Another thing that isn't a fault of the technology is that cars are now too complicated for the average car person to work on. That's the fault of the car person. Basically, it's the average car person that needs to be more educated, to keep up with the advancing technology. Technology that is now creating 600 horsepower cars. Cars that, honestly, couldn't even be produced back in the '60s. That kind of power was in the purview of race-only cars, in engines that couldn't hold together for any real length of time, much less be reliable. Today, modern technology makes that possible.

I know the old attitude, I used to carry much of it. I've also become educated and I know that the technology isn't scary in the least, and in fact, new cars don't run that much differently than the old ones. Modern tech literally does what a carburetor and points distributor used to do, just with greater control, reliability, and durability. Once you grasp real diagnostic principles, you see that they are even diagnosed the same way, the code reader is just another tool, another window, into what's going on with the car — it doesn't replace diagnosis.

The problem is, most people who worked on cars in the past, thought that being a part replacer was being a mechanic, when in reality, the bulk of a mechanic's job lies within the realm of diagnosis, not part replacement — so, really, shade-tree mechanics, and a lot of "professional" mechanics, were never really mechanics. They were parts replacers with minimal understanding of very crude technology.

That sounds harsh, but the truth can feel that way when it illuminates a shortcoming, the ego has a tough time taking that kind of criticism, but I don't mean it as criticism, I mean it as a wake-up call. You don't have to live under the shade of a tree, you can come out into the light, learn, and not be afraid of these new, fuel injected bad-asses. Cuz, trust me, my '07 Cobalt, can put most factory Muscle Cars back on their trailers with half an engine, and front wheel drive. And that's a real eye-opener.


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