Who took the passion out of mechanics?
Let me preface this by saying that in no way am I, or have I ever been a grease monkey. I just don’t have the aptitude for it. I can swap out parts and work under close supervision but that is the extent of my adventures into car mechanics. Having said that I absolutely understand the love and passion people have for tinkering with their classic cars and bikes. Spending hours adjusting parts to get it to work, or even sound, just right. I have been the owner of an H reg Volkswagen Beetle that makes you want to lift the lid and fiddle to your hearts content, but those days are long gone. Long gone for me, and it seems even the most die hard of car mechanics.
My story begins here. Just over a year ago we, as a family, succumbed to the hell that is the MPV. We got rid of our failing Renault Scenic (in metallic Shrek Green, fact fans) and ‘upgraded’ to a Vauxhall Zafira from a secondhand Vauxhall dealer in Gravesend. Now we could fit most of the neighbourhood’s children in the rear 5 seats of the car and could fully participate in the daily pilgrimage that is the school run. Job done, for a while at least. Earlier this year the car started to stall intermittently while doing mainly motorway driving, which was a little worrying. We got the car looked at and were advised to swap out parts etc… but the problem persisted until one day over the summer the car gave out at Apex Corner (large intersection on the way into central London from Harrow) and I called out the nice man from the RAC. He was a happy chappy who proceeded to wire the car up to a diagnostic computer to see if the car could tell him what was wrong and while he was doing this we began to talk about cars and his story unfolded.
The mechanic, who we’ll call Dave, for no other reason than it’s a good solid name and I can’t remember his real name, told me about how he got into being a mechanic through his love of cars. He’d always had a classic and he knew engines inside and out and this had served him well building his own business. But lately all of this knowledge and experience of the combustion engine had failed him. Cars don’t need trained mechanics anymore, well not to work through problems and diagnose them. What cars need now is computers. Expensive and not altogether accurate computers. So what did our friend do? Dave became an RAC man. The reason for this was that the RAC would provide him with a van full of the latest gadgets that he could learn to use. He’d still be able to use his skills to swap out parts and get people moving and he’d be able to work 9-5 hours. But that wasn’t the best thing. The best thing was that his job (not his passion) would be able to pay for his passion (not his job) for tinkering, building and repairing cars, proper cars, ones with no ECUs and no need for diagnostic tools.
I have no doubt that this is not an isolated tale, and if you speak to your own RAC or AA man when you next breakdown you’ll probably hear a similar story. I was happy that Dave’s career hadn’t ended in despair and that he’d found a way to keep his passion alive. My own mechanic, who I’ve had since I started driving at the tender age of 18, tells a similar story. Roger, we’ll call him that because, well, it’s his name, is what they call a mobile mechanic. He’s good for MOTs and services and solving simple problems but as time has gone by he’s become more reluctant to attempt to fix the car. He hasn’t invested in any technical automotive wizardry and why would he, he’s nearing the end of his career and this stuff is expensive, but slowly his reluctance will no doubt lose him work. I would say that his passion for what he does is slowly ebbing away too because as a mechanic he is no longer able to do what he loves… and neither can my local garage. It’s the same old story; you take the car in with a seemingly obvious problem and they aren’t able to give you any idea what it might be until it’s been put on the diagnostic. That’ll be £80 for he pleasure sir, even if it comes back with no error numbers. And if there are no error numbers does it mean there isn’t a problem? Well that confuses them even more. Cue more head scratching.
To cut a long story short, the car still isn’t fixed. It went to a specialist diagnostic centre who told be the software might need and upgrade or the ECU might need to be rebuilt. Either way it’s going to leave a nasty hole in my pocket. I can’t believe these guys have a passion for what they do either.
Being a fan of photography I see a growing trend for re-engaging with the passion. Like our friend Dave, people are finding a way to make their day job pay for their indulgence in some classic skills. While everything is going digital including my cameras, photo storage and even picture frames, I, and many others, are experiencing a renaissance in film and old cameras. This allows us to go back to basics and relearn those skills that are slowly disappearing through the the likes of Photoshop and digital cameras. While new technology has it’s place in modern business the passion for me really does lie in making images good before you click the shutter and not so much afterwards. The same can probably be said for the mechanics too, listening to the sound of the engine, looking (they call it a visual check these days) and trying to use their years of experience help them to solve these mechanical problems without the aide of a diagnostic computer.
My scooter doesn’t have an on board computer and Claude, the scooter mechanic, can talk for hours about tweaking, fiddling and repairing. He’s still got passion and dirt under his nails, and he loves it!
UPDATE: Diagnostic and software upgrade repairs car apparently. Long test drive required!