Gonzo: Death of the Shadetree Mechanic

Gonzo: Death of the Shadetree Mechanic

Is it fair to say that the shadetree mechanic is a thing of the past? I think so, that is if we are talking about today's modern cars that we all drive and depend on, and we are trying to get a car repaired by your next door neighbor who is "pretty good at fixing cars." But, that doesn't mean you won't see a 68 Camaro or a Model T up on blocks in some guy's garage. I think that will be there for a long, long time.

The American shadetree mechanic is now an “antique.” Years ago it wasn’t uncommon that a relative in the family was known as the “guy” to go to if you had car problems. In some instances that shade tree relative still exists. But don’t count on it being the norm these days.

Today’s cars are so complicated and so much more electronically advanced that you’re not going to be able to repair them without a lot of expensive equipment. Which, by the way, depending on the type of vehicle …. might even be as obsolete as the cars themselves.  The one thing to keep in mind is that the manufacturers ambition is to sell cars, the independent shop or in this case the “shadetree mechanic” is trying to make the car last longer. Which is counterproductive to what the manufacturer is trying to do. So it makes sense that technician has a hard time keeping up with the changes. In other words, why else would the manufacturer be so hesitant about handing out the latest greatest scanners and tools required to maintain their cars, self preservation?

This is probably the leading factor in the evolution of the shadetree mechanic. Not to say the early pioneering shadetree mechanic didn’t come up with some innovative way to repair or improve on an existing technology. He did, and that could happen even in our modern times. However, it’s not wrenches and screwdrivers anymore, it’s laptops and software.

Tuning a car with timing light was yesterday, going through a crank angle relearn procedure with a scanner is today.

Hey, that’s the times, that’s the way it is.  For me, I’m an old salt of a mechanic now, back in my younger days I would grab a dwell meter and a timing light along with my specially sized screwdrivers specifically designed to get into those tight distributor housings and carburetor’s adjustments. I would listen to the engine; let it tell me what to do. Sometimes you would have to make a little tweak or slight adjustment from the “factory” numbers to compensate for a weak cylinder or internal part wear. You might even have to adjust for altitude or octane.

There was always something to do under the hood that made the mechanic essential to be there rather than behind a computer screen. The day of the adjustable engine parameters for the sake of argument have gone into the history books. The computer has taken over and there isn’t much use for those old tools and techniques today. I still keep them in a drawer near the bottom of my tool box. 

Each year they keep getting shoved further and further back into a corner. Oh, probably someday I’ll get them out, knock the dust off of them, get all nostalgic and tell those old war stories to that young tech standing next to me. I’m sure he probably looks a lot like I did when I was his age. All that young, fresh attitude, eager to learn and wanting to know more and more about cars. He probably looks a lot like me when the old mechanic I learned the trade from pulled out his “growler” and showed me how to test generators with it. Now I am showing my age.

Let’s face it, change is a good thing. Cars will always evolve and become more and more sophisticated than they are now. Can you imagine the cars of say… 30 years from now? Customers, or should we call them “vehicle occupants” of the future still will need some sort of service performed on their mode of transportation.

The idea that cars will drive themselves is still a possibility.  Will the cars of the future run on something other than fossil fuel? Sure, why not, we’re almost there with the hydrogen systems.  Will car accidents be a thing of the past? Good luck with that one.   Could it be that the car can fix itself… maybe, maybe not, but… who’s to say… it’s all in the future… when we get there, we’ll be able to answer those questions.

My personal take on all this new fangled electronic-self driving-accident avoidance-fix it themselves vehicles is quite simple, man made them. They’ll break, they always do, nothing last forever. Even Mother Nature hasn’t grown anything that hasn’t died, so I guess the same holds true with the shadetree mechanic. Sooner or later he will pass into the history books.

Don’t give up on those wrenches to soon though… we’re not quite there yet. But, I would suggest that you keep one eye towards the future. It’s coming…

Scott “Gonzo” Weaver is the owner of Superior Auto Electric. He is the author of the book “Hey Look! I Found the Loose Nut”, that can be purchased online at Amazon.com or at  gonzostoolbox.com.

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