Profound Ignorance

In reading this board, one can not escape coming to the conclusion that the average car owner knows little or nothing about the maintenance, repair or operation of the vehicle they own. This profound ignorance makes todays drivers sitting ducks for all sorts of repair shop scams detailed here everyday…

Perhaps our high schools could serve us better by at least offering a semester of basic automotive theory, maintenance and repair. This knowledge would save our citizens an untold amount of money and grief as they navigate lifes twisty roads…

If people are willing to spend $20,000-$50,000 on a piece of machinery, they should at least have a basic understanding of how it functions and how to maintain it…Leaving these tasks up to others to perform results in the endless litany of sorrow detailed on this board…

Thread check…

Caddyman–I agree with you.

However, in many states, schools are going in the exact opposite direction. As a result of very frequent testing (No Child Left Behind, among other reasons), schools are piling on requirements for additional years of math, science, foreign language, and God only knows what else.

The result is that many schools have neither the funds nor the space for auto shops at this point. Obviously, vocational schools still have them, but the “typical” academic high school (at least in NJ, where I taught for almost 4 decades) has either already eliminated its auto shop or will in the very near future.

I’ll second the idea of high schools teaching PRACTICAL areas of knowledge, as well as theoretical studies. Studies in “real world” things like: job seeking, car and home buying and paying for, child care and expenses, maintaining a home and job, delving into all of the paperwork that everyday people have to contend with every day. It’s too big a body of knowledge to just leave to parents, some of whom can’t do it.

I also agree. Schooling today, for the most part, directs children to College and a career in some “professional” status. Consequently,you have a bunch of dummies asking basic questions.
I shake my head sometimes on this forum at questions like ‘how do i check my oil’

Very true, but the same can be said for most of the other technology that most folks use every day. How many people know how to replace the hard drive in their computer or perform basic repairs on their kitchen appliances, or replace a hot water heater? Can the average person install a new garage door opener, fix a leaky roof, install a ceiling fan, fix leaky plumbing, or even drain their lawn sprinklers for the winter? I know plenty of folks who wouldn’t know how to install a modern home entertainment system, or to add a cable TV connection or phone line to another room. How many folks can install a wireless computer network, or even configure a new printer without help.

I understand your point, but I would also like to see high school grads that can manage a checking account and cook their own meals. Like it or not, we now have enough specialization that very few individuals are competent in most of the technology that they depend on, and the amount of complexity is increasing. I think I know more than most folks about technology, but there is very little I can do if some computer controlled POS rental car just stops running (there’s a reason I drive a 20 year old car). Regarding auto repairs, the best thing the average person can do is find a trusted shop that will not rip them off and ask lots of questions.

I agree, but that’s not all bad. I would rather have my kids prepared for a well paying career than being able to check their oil (how many new cars even have a dip stick?). As an old guy, I would like to see everyone self-sufficent too; however, the technology is just moving too fast for that to be practical. At this point, an undergraduate engineering degree is barely adequate to cover the basics, and most of the “practical” knowledge is obsolete before they graduate anyway. The best you can do is teach students how to think and ask questions, you are preparing them for a world where checking their own oil will be the least of their challenges.

I don’t agree with schools spending time and money teaching automotive basics. Right now the public school system is shoving too many students on through who do not know what 25% of 100 is, can’t locate Montana on a U.S. map, and can’t tell the difference between a noun and verb.

If someone really, honestly, and sincerely cares about their car they will open the owners manual and read it. After that there are any number of books or websites that will guide someone through the basics.
As the head of the GM service division stated about 20 years ago; “We’ve just about given up on trying to convince anyone to read their owners manuals”.

I will also point out that many of these so-called scams and tales of woe are not that at all. Someone beats a car into the ground for 140k miles and then complains they’re being ripped off because it needs numerous, pricy repairs?
It seems like every other day someone posts on here about ripped off while providing hardly any details. Some posters are very quick to instantly say they’re being had based on near zero information.
(Examples. The recent Mazda engine problem at 60k miles or the fuel pump causing the water pump to go bad incident.)
How many times does someone whine about being taken and when presented with a few follow-up questions to clear the matter up, promptly disappear?

It is true that some people are the victims of incompetence and in some cases, outright fraud, but the vast majority of repairs are done correctly and honestly. It’s always much easier to complain that praise.
As I’ve constantly stated on this board there is always a story behind an automotive problem and very seldom is that story ever known.

Hey, I went to high school some 30 years ago. We had an auto mechanics course offered and the school had a full complement of tools, 3 bays and two lifts. Perhaps we were luckier than most. I didn’t have much money and had to learn for myself.

Regardless, there are community colleges that offer these courses for people who are motivated to pursue them. I think you’ll find the vast majority of people will lament having to pay a professional but are unwilling to invest the time and money to do anything about it. For some, it doesn’t matter, they make enough money doing what they do to pay someone to fix their car. I’ve always been the type to do some research before making any investment so I understand if I’m being treated fairly. I have no sympathy for anyone too lazy to do the same. The next argument is usually about money. To that I say, the libraries are free. You reap what you sow…

The same goes for people and computers, people and houses, people and pools / hot tubs, people and high-interest loans, etc.

It seems much more reasonable to me to teach people a little common sense when it comes to dealing with someone who may be taking a large sum of their money.

In all, I disagree with your supposition that the “average” people posting on this board are suffering from a lack of car knowledge. On the contrary, many of them are smart consumers by coming to a forum such as this and attempting to do some basic research on their car’s problems. The number of posts that I see which ask something along the lines of “How much should this cost” or “Do you think I’m getting ripped off” by FAR outweigh the number of posts which state “I’m gladly paying $3500 to have my tires rotated every other week.”

I agree with the need to know more about the car you own and its care and feeding. I don’t think it is the school system’s responsibility, however. A better way would be to have everyone going for their driver’s license or renewal pass some basic test on car knowhow.

When my wife got her license (she lived in a big city before we married and did not use a car) I arranged to have her take a course at the YWCA called “Powderpuff Mechanics”. This would be a sexist term today. The course covered all the normal maintenance concepts, and a good dose of defensive driving as well as what to do in an emergency on the road. This was one of the best investments we made. Her driving record for over 40 years is squeaky clean and she even tells men every now and then how to start a balky caburetor car.

If you go for your pilot’s license on a Cessna 185? for instance, you have to understand the maintenance of this craft before you pass. I would apply this to cars and drivers.

I disagree. Public schools have enough trouble paying for the facilities and classes they currently teach. Every school can’t provide vo-tech education opportunities, and the school system can’t fund busing all students to vo-tech high schools even once per week. Another way to handle it could be to teach basic auto classes at community colleges. Anyone who wishes to take it can pay for it.

Great discussion! I see Hellokit and Craig58 think like I do…I remember a course called “Home Economics”. It covered many of the “living skills” ignored today. Kids spend 4 years in High School. Yes, math and science come first. But most schools have 7 or 8 “periods” every day…There is PLENTY of time to slip in a little PRACTICAL knowledge about the nuts and bolts of everyday living. We have allowed the academic mind-set and political correctness to take over our schools. You would be AMAZED how quickly kids can learn if you PUSH them a little…

I was lucky to have parents who believed in keeping a car long as possible (their typical is 200k+) since I was little. My father only showed me how to rotate tires, check oil and find a trusty mechanic. That has taken me very far financially and mileage wise with vehicles driving my only two in life so far to 200k.

My wife’s father was a mechanic/used car lot owner amongst other stints. He taught his five daughters how to maintain at the minimum but last a long time. Best of all drive stick tranny but that is irrelevant to this topic. That being said they all run their cars to at least 150k if not 200k(into the ground) doing minimal but necessary maintenance.

I think it could be an add-on to driver ed but not really worth the resource in secondary school.

While I agree, I doubt if it will happen or work. Just look at all the drivers that have never even opened their owner’s manual. Even with the education, do you really think they are going to use it? Some would and I believe that a “life sciences” course would be a good thing for all schools. How about adding thinks like unclogging drains, lighting pilot lights etc.

I think that the high schools would go a long way in teaching people to read, write, calculate and, in particular, think. There have been many postings where the OP was told to check the owner’s manual. I’ve seen posting where the OP was uncertain how to calculate gasoline mileage. I’m afraid what happens today is that students are tested with multiple choice or true/false examinations, but have limited knowledge on how to apply information that they memorized.

IMHO, merely offering a course on a specific topic really doesn’t do much good. On the other hand, give one the mental tools with which to think and the person can solve many of his own problems.

Drivers ed?? Long gone in most schools.

I attended High School 1957-1960. Graduated from New Milford High School, a hick town on the Housatonic River in western Connecticut. Not only did I learn math, science, chemistry, English and history, I had time for a semester of Shop, both auto and wood. Also a semester of Mechanical Drawing. Plus plenty of study halls and Phys ed. And Spanish and drivers ed too…

So I’m not buying “we don’t have time for that anymore”. Time and money are not the problem. We just don’t have the WILL to do it and we are beginning to pay a fearsome price for our ignorance…

Caddyman–I just had another thought relative to your posting. Have you ever noticed how many people who post questions on this board cannot even spell the brand/model of the car that they are driving? (e.g.–Buick LaSabar, Subura Impressa, Ford Exployer, Olds Cutless, Toyota Camary) Or, how about the guy who asked about the “Cadillac Converter” that is part of the exhaust system on his Toyota? Or, the people who state that they have a problem with their car, but they don’t know the model year of it?

Unfortunately, all of the education in the world would not make those people aware enough to notice the nameplate on the car that they are driving, and that education would also probably not even make someone aware that the model year of their car is listed on the registration card sitting in their wallet. As to helping someone to figure out that it is a catalytic converter, rather than a “Cadillac” converter, well, maybe some education would help there.

My point is that all too many people are just so uninvolved with the car that they depend on, that nothing could cause them to apply something that they were taught in a classroom. After all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to read an Owner’s Manual, but as we see all too often, those booklets are probably still sitting in the original cellophane wrapper in most glove compartments–only to totally disappear when the car is sold or traded in.

Education is great, but I wonder how we can get someone to actually spend a little time focusing on the one utilitarian item that they depend on most for getting to work, shopping, etc. How do we change human nature? I have no answer for that question, unfortunately.

Most of us here are auto enthusiasts of some type, so it’s easy to forget that many folks don’t know/care any more about their car than their dishwasher. For those folks, they need to know when it is unsafe to drive and when to call AAA for a tow. Beyond that, they simply don’t care how the thing works. These folks do not need to be educated in the details of auto repair, they simply need to act like any other consumer who does not want to be taken advantage of and use some common sense.

If my dishwasher stops working I either call someone to have it fixed or replace it. I simply do not care enough to invest any time or effort in understanding it’s various failure modes. If the repair estimate seems too high I will ask questions, but I really just want it fixed by dinner time. To tell the truth, I have no idea what make/model of dishwasher I currently own (and I don’t care enough to walk 30 feet to find out).

“To tell the truth, I have no idea what make/model of dishwasher I currently own.”

Well, that may be true, but your investment in your dishwasher is probably only something ~ $400.–$700., and the dishwasher is something that doesn’t really require regular maintenance and is not normally a hazard to life and limb. It also isn’t something that you use every day and that you depend upon to get to work, to the doctor, to do your shopping, etc. It is designed to be something that is in the background, doing its job quietly, and ready to be repaired or replaced as is appropriate for something that only cost ~ $400.–$700.

By contrast, a car is something that we depend upon every day, can be extremely dangerous if not kept in proper condition, and is–for most people–the second largest $$ purchase that they will ever make. And yet, so many people are so totally uninvolved that they ignore maintenance, drive on bald tires, never read the Owner’s Manual, don’t know what model year their car is, and can’t even spell the name of the make and model.

Yes, education is important, but as a veteran educator I can tell you that most students just retain enough material to be able to make it through the course, without any desire for “lifetime learning”. Unless someone is motivated to learn and to retain knowledge about cars, requiring a course on basic car maintenance is likely to result in the same long-term retention of knowledge that most history courses result in–and that isn’t much retention!