Is There a Future for the DIY Mechanic?

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By Courtney Evans

City Car TrailsAs I was catching up on some overdue reading of one of my many car magazines, I came across a very interesting article.  This article discussed the future of the automobile with regards to vehicle autonomy.  Essentially, different vehicle systems that do the thinking for you.  So, what does all this mean to someone who likes to work on his/her own cars?  I’ll get to that shortly.

Some of these technologies are already present and you could buy a vehicle with an autonomous system today!  You have automated cruise control, parking-assist,  and lane-departure warning systems.   Cross-traffic warning systems, cars that can brake and accelerate during traffic jams, and car-to-car technologies will soon be coming to a vehicle near you. They are currently testing cars
that can basically drive themselves.  With you in the back seat!

Here’s a quick list what some manufactures are working on according to Automobile Magazine (Jan. 2014):

BMW AG-  Will be launching a traffic-jam assist system in Europe while working on a two-year joint venture with Continental through the end of 2014

Chrysler Group-  Has a forward-collision warning that activates the brakes when needed and has active cruise control in some models

Ford Motor Company- Has offered automated-parking-assist for years and plans to offer traffic-jam-assist within five years

General Motors-  Cadillac’s has Super Cruise that will allow hands-free driving under some conditions.  Should arrive in 2017.

Honda Motor Company-  Currently researching vehicle-to-pedestrian communication that simultaneously warns the driver of a pedestrian entering a crosswalk while alerting the pedestrian by smart phone.

Nissan Motor Company-  Is planning commercially viable autonomous drive in several models in 2020.

Volkswagen Group-  Expects full autonomy in ten to fifteen years in some of its brands.

Whew!  That sure is a lot to grasp.  I’m not sure whether to cheer or throw tomatoes.  I like driving.  I like everything about it.  Call me crazy.

One of the biggest problems with all these new systems is that it creates legal landmines for the manufactures, owners, and pedestrians.  In the event of an accident, who is at fault?  Is it the computer?  How about the driver?  Or is the manufacturer’s fault for designing a faulty system.  The legal system has to catch up with the technology.

All this technology points to more computers and computer-controlled systems.  It means that problems in most of these systems will have to be diagnosed by dealer-only computers.  Most independent shops won’t be able to afford these very expensive diagnostic computers and therefore will direct you to the dealer.

Need a new battery?  Go to the dealer.  Really?  Yes, you read that correctly.  Some high end vehicles have so many computer systems that the new battery has to be “introduced” or “acclimated” properly to the vehicle.  Unfortunately, this is not a future problem.  This is today!

What does this mean for the do-it-yourself mechanic?  The person who wants to maintain his/her own vehicle while saving money?  Honestly, I don’t think all this technology will eliminate all the things that you can fix yourself, though I do think it does spell more frustration.

Since I tend to be optimistic in my assertions, I do think they’ll be plenty for you to fix on your own.  Here’s my list for the bastion of the do-it-yourself mechanic.

1.  As long as engines run on oil or some type of synthetic lubricant, you’ll still be able to change it.
2.  As long as the engine remains an internal combustion engine, you’ll be able to change your air filter.
3.  Engines will always create heat necessitating cooling so you’ll be able to change your coolant.
4.  Engines will continue to use belts for accessories for some time to come, so changing a belt will be a necessity.
5.  Brakes will use pads or some other media.  They will use them up, so you’ll always need to change out the friction material.
6.  Transmissions will continue to use fluids for lubrication so changing out the fluid will continue.
7.  As long as the engine remains a gasoline internal combustion engine, changing spark plugs will still be necessary.
8.  You will still be able to use some type of computer or scanning tool to “talk” to your vehicle so that it can tell you what’s wrong.

There are many other things that will require maintenance of some kind.  Some of the new systems will even create new opportunities for you to do your own repairs.  Repairs on systems that don’t exist today.

So the future of the DIY mechanic is not so bleak after all.  Here’s to an exciting future of cars, bikes, and trucks, though  I still prefer to do my own driving.

“Technology of the Year, Autonomy” Automobile Magazine Jan. 2014. Print

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