Restoration for the Mechanic
Electrical issues on today’s cars have certainly taken
center stage. Mechanical issues are still there too, but
it’s not uncommon to have a mechanical problem be
diagnosed, monitored, or calibrated by some electronic
means. You just can’t get away from the electrical
if you’re in the automotive repair business these days.
It’s taken over just about every facet of the automobile.
Today’s mechanics have become something entirely
different from the stereotypical mechanic from just a
few decades ago. It’s not that long ago when the
electrical section of the repair manuals were just a
chapter or two, today… its volumes and volumes of
schematics and diagnostic procedures. I’m old enough
to remember when points and condensers were still
the norm, and I’ve watched the industry go from
electronic ignition to today’s electronic jungle of wires
and processors. We’ve definitely come a long way with
Even though I work on all these newfangled electrical wizardry systems on the modern car, deep down I’m still the kid who got a kick out of tearing down an old junker and putting it back together. Now, I’m surrounded by modules, proximity keys, and sensors. Occasionally it’s kind of nice just to step away from the computer and just turn a wrench or two. I look forward to those simpler kinds of jobs, the ones that need a craftsman’s touch and not a box of transistors and capacitors to figure out what to do. Back to a time when a driver was more mechanical involved in the process of operating the vehicle. Heating vents with levers and cables, or a hand choke that needed just the right touch to get it started. No electronics, no service light, just the essentials. (For you younger techs, I’m referring to the days when you actually had to unlock a door with a key.)
I still marvel at the ingenuity and engineering of those times. I guess it’s one of the reasons why I like going to old car and steam engine shows so much. It’s all about the mechanics for me. Electronics are great, but to see the early mechanical devices that were commonplace a century ago still amazes me. How they figured it out, and how they made it work is shear brilliance. (If you ever get a chance to study some of those early mechanical systems, you might be surprised how things were accomplished prior to the computer age. It’s quite fascinating… well at least to me it is.)
It’s great to be able to step back once in a while and just be a mechanic. Back when things were rebuilt and not just replaced with new. There’s a certain satisfaction in taking a broken mechanical device and making it functional again. It’s those jobs that after you’ve wrestled the components into place, and everything is finished you realize that you’re covered in grease, but for some reason you’ve got this big smile on your face. It’s the look of accomplishment, a smile of pride in a job well done.
And while you’re cleaning up the tools, you look over at the finished project still smiling, knowing you’re done and can move onto the next project. It just doesn’t compare to finishing up on a modern car when the last thing to do is watch that blue line steadily move across the computer screen, waiting for it to say “Task completed”.
Not that I’m putting down the modern car, no far from it. It’s just nice to take a break once in a while from the technical mumbo-jumbo and just be a mechanic for a change. Even though it’s pretty awesome to solve a difficult electrical issue, it’s hard to beat a good old fashion mechanical repair. For me, when a restoration project shows up at the shop I get a chance to turn off the laptop and open the toolbox. These restoration jobs are just as much for the customer as they are for me. It’s a restoration of some of my old almost forgotten mechanical abilities. (Yea, I still got it…)
We put a lot of trust in the modern electronics, something the engineers and designers of those automobiles from a few decades ago never even though of. Their own ingenuity and craftsmanship kept them going. Components were built to be repaired not replaced. I think it’s safe to say that a car from 50 years ago is more likely to start and run in another 50 years but I seriously doubt a car from today would have the same luck. There again, it might be something a technician/mechanic of that era might figure out how to do by then. Me I’ll still stick with being a mechanic/technician … I still like the physical repair aspect of the job.
The future of electronics in today’s cars is constantly changing; sometimes we notice the changes while other times you can’t physically see them. Sometimes all it takes is a little R&R on an old jalopy just to make me remember how far we’ve come. In the meantime, the latest restoration job is done so it’s time to go for a test drive.
I’ll get back to the laptop and the modern car world just as soon as I get all the tools cleaned up… it might take a bit though … I’m still admiring the restoration job and I’ve got some more smilin’ to do.