Open Road

The Evolution of the weekend gearhead

So it is Saturday morning and I walk into the garage. I see my car sitting in the corner and right next to it sits a pile of parts I picked up during the week. It's that time finally. Time for the oil change. Now if you are anything like me, an oil change also means it's time to pull out the spark plugs, check the gaps, pull out the air filter, pull off the valve cover and make sure everything is in order, bleed the brakes, flush the radiator, and countless other little tasks. I look forward to these days.

There is something very relaxing and calming about a day of just hearing your tools click, smelling the fluids, and just having the feeling of doing something with your hands. I don't get much of that working in finance, so these moments are sort of like mini-vacations. Of course a lot of this "relaxing" time is spent fighting stubborn bolts, trying to fit seemingly massive tools into tiny crevices, and copious amounts of swearing.

Recently I started thinking more about how my Saturdays are going to look in the next few years. We live in times where innovations in the auto industry are on an exponential growth curve. I mean cars don't even have dipsticks anymore! I never thought I would live in a world where pressing a button on the dash to check the oil level was normal. I like to check what my spark plugs look like every few thousand miles (I know they are rated for something like 50K to 100K miles, but I must stress that I am for the most part a crazy person). With my old 1990 Dakota, that job would take about five minutes, but with my Infiniti these days it could take five times that amount. Nowadays I find myself fighting the work of a brilliant engineer at Nissan who perfectly packaged up the VQ35 that is in my car. And I don't say brilliant sarcastically. The chassis is engineered so well. I mean all of that optimal packaging really creates the dynamic driving experience that gives you goose bumps. Of course that now also means I have to go on an "adventure" under the hood to find the plugs. Even when I want to change the oil, I have to take off an endless amount of hardware that holds the underbody in place, just to get to the filter. Forget for a minute that I put the underbody there in the first place, we'll just ignore that part. I guess I am not complaining, just more reason for me to stay in the garage.

So that drastic change between the old truck and the new(er) car shows how far we have come in terms of engineering capability. I am not even going to go into the ECU arena. Back when I upgraded from my '97 Civic to an '06 Si, it took me a while to get used to the fact that I couldn't just simply get under the hood, find the throttle body, and give it some gas. It was a learning curve, but for me it was a welcomed one. I love learning the new technologies that keep the auto industry relevant. My little '06 FG2 got more horsepower out of 2.0 liters than Chrysler got out of 5.2 liters in 1990. Yeah I know, comparing a truck to a little coupe is not apples to apples, but you get the point (see KA20 torque curve). The other side to that now is that my weekends are starting to get a little complicated. Simple jobs are turning into activities of engineering marvel. I now have tools in my garage that would look like something out of a sci-fi movie to someone 30 years ago. This evolution of the auto industry in turn has fueled the evolution of my mechanical skills, simply by necessity. Don't get me wrong, I am not some genius mechanic. There have been plenty of times where I get the "YouTube" confidence to attack a particularly involved job, only to find myself on the floor of my garage sitting in a pile of parts wishing I could turn back time. I can still hold my own under the hood though.

I look forward to what the next few years bring me, and inevitably teach me. I've already started practicing for the days when tuning up your car will just mean pulling out the battery and plugging it in. Maybe instead of changing spark plugs, I'll be pulling out D-cell batteries and checking them with one of those old battery testers. Who knows. Stupid comments aside, I think my weekends are going to get more interesting. My garage will start looking a little different. As long as I can still get out on the road and go on epic apex-finding journeys, it will be quite alright with me.

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