The practice of opening the hood at every fuel stop used to be routine. With an oil-soaked rag in hand, the worker reached over and pulled out the hot metal dipstick, and after a quick cleaning swipe, the dipstick was plunged back into its tube and pushed down into the sump of scalding oil. Withdrawn again, a tell-tale black film in the middle of the scored lines marked the oil level very accurately.

Today, many late model vehicles are running sans oil dipstick. Electronic oil level senders have replaced the metal rod – to the bafflement and frustration of the few remaining hands-on enthusiasts everywhere.

In an effort to find out who exactly is responsible for the dipstick-abolishing movement, Autoblog contacted Audi, BMW and Porsche – three respected German automakers who have embraced the technology for several years. All three gave us the same answer. Contrary to Internet rumors, the elimination of an inexpensive metal rod is not a cost-cutting measure, nor is it an environmental issue (word on the web said each check of a dipstick introduced ounces of polluting dirty oil into the ecosystem).

Quite frankly, the automakers point out that we simply don't need dipsticks anymore. Why? Because owners don't use them. While they don't specifically say it, those who engineer and assemble our new cars (and guarantee new vehicle warranties) are much more comfortable knowing that a silicon chip is monitoring the oil level – not a consumer who hasn't checked tire pressures (or even opened the hood) since the last time the Vikings won the Super Bowl.

Today's comatose driver expects everything to be automated – and it is. Look no further than the myriad of digitized warning lights on the dashboard when the key is turned (um... make that the start button). Don't blame the automakers for the disappearance of the dipstick – blame the public at large.

Photo by Michael Harley / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.