Figuring Out How Stuff Works Revs My Engine

I’m deep in the research part of writing my thesis. And the best part about this is that I get to choose what I want to write about and research. I’m interested in the process of making things, fixing things, creating things, and what that means for the human condition, how it’s vital and engrained in our being. I’m stoked.

Triumph Spitfire

While I was visiting my parents, I did a lot of TV watching. Not the most academic of pursuits, but I gave myself a sort of prompt: If I’m going to watch TV, it’s going to be educational. It’s going to serve a purpose. So I watched a lot of this show called Wheeler Dealers. The premise of the show is that these two british guys buy used cars and then fix them up to turn a profit. The great part about it is that they show you how the car works, what the standard problems of a particular model are, and the wear and tear a car experiences after years of being on the road. Then they show you how to fix it. I’m fascinated by it. The amount of knowledge a mechanic has to know is astonishing. Cars are extremely intricate, mind blowing machines, essentially. We go day to day without appreciating the thousand pound labyrinth of nuts and bolts and metal and wiring that makes the transportation move. And I feel like a bad car owner for not knowing more about this thing that gets me where I’m going.

So I was on this website today called This Is Colossal, and a few posts down, what do I find but a artistic video of a Triumph Spitfire engine being disassembled and rebuilt. It kind of blew me away. And it’s backed with the sounds of Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King, which is cool. Here is the video.

I don’t have a car at the moment because my boyfriend is kind enough to let me use his when the distance is too far to walk or if the weather is crappy. And today his car is in the shop getting the ABS (antilock brake system) checked out because the little light comes on occasionally, noticeably when he turns the car sharply. The little light that tells you something is wrong, like the check engine light or the ABS light, is so important and I know I’ve taken it for granted before with cars that I’ve owned before, waiting until something serious goes wrong when I could have had it checked out much sooner and probably saved myself some money. But my boyfriend knows better, so he’s having it looked at before the possibly minor problem becomes major. You don’t want your brakes to seize up when you’re barreling down the highway at 65 mph.

I wish that I knew more about cars, about how they work and how to fix them. I also wish I had a shop or a garage to have the space to learn how to fix a car. I know how to change the oil, how to change a tire, how to change the fluids, check the dipstick. I know the basic stuff. Yet I wonder how many people don’t even know these things, how beautiful it is when a machine works properly, how much time, energy, knowledge, and care goes into an automobile or any mighty machine. It is an art form, fixing and working on things. And I want to understand the mechanics of everything better because intelligence isn’t only measured in books.


  • Sam Ligon Sam Ligon says:

    It seems like it’s getting far harder to know how a car — or anything — works, since computers have replaced so many mechanical systems. Maybe that’s why Americans don’t “believe” in science anymore, or see science as a belief system like religion. If we can’t begin to comprehend how something works — if we can’t see how it works — maybe it enters the realm of the miraculous. Though, of course, we could still have faith in the people who do understand — credible scientists and institutions. Many people do. Others look to religious or political leaders for guidance as to how things work or don’t work. That latter approach seems odd to me, like asking a philosophy student to research and develop new medicine, or a chemical engineer to explore what it means to be alive through music.

  • Katrina says:

    I could not agree with you more. If we don’t know where a thing comes from or how it’s made, we can’t give credit where credit is due–we just assume it’s there and always has been, like a miracle. And if we only believe in miracles, problems can’t get solved, solutions can’t be created, and progress is just another word that politicians throw around to win votes.

  • Cathie Smathie says:

    This is all great. And I definitely feel similar. I hate not knowing how things work or being able to fix shit, like I can feel my auto-mechanic grandfather and engineer grandfather both shaking their heads at me from the afterlife.
    When I was little I used to break open music boxes and toys to see how it did what it did. Maybe I should start that tradition back up *moves towards refrigerator with a hammer*

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