The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

14 December 2007

I can't keep up

What I remember most about the old muscle-car era wasn't the muscle, exactly. I mean, I had a Chevy Nova, but it wasn't an SS. Hell, it wasn't even an S. But it had a certain charm, based on the fact that you could pop the hood and identify just about every single part without trying hard; this was the era, as some auto scribe (possibly Patrick Bedard) once said, "when tires had been made fat enough to work, but before Star Wars ate the carburetor."

I was reading a Nissan-oriented message board last night when I came across a phrase I'd never seen before: "electronically-controlled engine mount." Say what? And does Gwendolyn have these things? I poked around a bit, and yes, she does:

The electronically controlled engine mounts take the advantage of fluid technology a step further than normal liquid-filled engine mounts. A 2-chamber mount works in conjunction with the engine's Engine Control Module (ECM) to vary the volume of fluid in the mount, based on engine rpm. It does this by opening or closing a valve between two chambers inside the engine mount. At low rpm, the volume of fluid is increased to provide maximum damping. At higher rpm the volume is decreased, providing the firmness needed for optimum feedback to the driver.

Now when I was a kid, an engine mount was made out of solid rubber, with just enough steel to bolt it down. It never occurred to me that they'd fill them with liquid, let alone control that liquid with computer-controlled, electrically-powered valves. Geez, it was just last year I figured out what a dual-runner intake manifold was. (I have one of those too.)

This is not to say that I'd like to go back to those halcyon days of yesteryear, exactly; I'm not at all unhappy with having 200-plus horsepower and 20-plus miles per gallon, and brakes work a lot better now than they used to. But I've had to resign myself to the fact that I can't fix much of anything on this darn car.

Posted at 9:45 AM to Driver's Seat

I feel your pain, Chaz. Thirty years ago I did most of my own maintenance, but not a chance today. It's all too specialized and integrated. When a part was just a part and could be replaced, that was one thing, but with all the interconnectedness of these things now, we really do need to leave it to the specialists, I guess. Sigh!

Posted by: Kirk at 10:39 AM on 14 December 2007

I run an old (1962) Land Rover. There's about nothing on it that a few screwdrivers, half a dozen spanners, and a big hammer can't fix.
In those days an engineer's idea of a joke was to use a selection of thread forms...
Like the whitworth threads on the gearbox.
The carburettor responds well to being shouted at.
The heater, ah the heater. More a matter of faith than proof.
My friend has a shiny new supermodern Land Rover Discovery III.
Open it up. No engine in there at all. Just something that looks like a plastic suitcase. No smoke, no busy clattering of pushrods and rockers... Just a faint, well behaved hum. No user intervention is sought or permitted.
It communicates not by sound and vibration, as a real engine does, but by flashing alerts and text messages.
When something goes wrong, no nine-sixteenths bsf wrench is going to intimidate it, no, a brightly lit operating theatre, with multi-core microprocessors will be needed. Nanobots will dive its all-synthetic fluid depths and perform molecular repairs.....
NAH! The dealer will say... "The diagnostics say the quantum thrimbobulator suffered a surge, beyond permissible levels, so it shut down the thirpwackling circuits until a new unit is fitted.
Oh yes, the thrimbobulator? well it's only a tiny thing.... yes.... it controls the rear near-side footwell lighting dimmer.But it's not available separately. We'll have to fit a whole new engine and transmission unit. And strip the seats out to get to the wiring.... No, you can't bypass it, it's connected into the all-wheel-drive management system, No, not this week, there's a difficulty in getting them... cost?
Well we have a very good price on the new model of your car, you might like to think of renewing...

Posted by: soubriquet at 5:38 AM on 15 December 2007

Like Kirk, I used to do all my own maintenance. No more. I can hardly find the oil dipstick on my Outback. Open the hood and I'm faced with a top view of a Klingon Battle Cruiser. First they started using tools we didn't have, like Torx screw drivers. When we got those, they put things where you had to have their custom tools with a proper bend here and an exact angle there.

Then they added the computer diagnostics so that nothing could be done by the average Joe on weekends. Now we're forced to go where they have the computer with the right connector and pay $119.95 per hour for the privilege of having it mated to our vehicle.

Next the engine compartment will be hermetically sealed, with voiding of warranty and penalty of public humiliation if jimmied open.

Posted by: Winston at 6:57 AM on 15 December 2007

Volvo showed a concept car with a sealed engine compartment at Geneva in 2004. It's coming.

Posted by: CGHill at 10:26 AM on 15 December 2007