New cars can be insufferably naggy assisting when you didn’t ask for it. For example, they turn themselves off when not appropriate. But some things about them are okay, and fair is fair. Let’s acknowledge the good as well as the bad.
The good includes things like heated (and even massaging) seats, which are easy to get used to and hard to give up when the press car has to go back to the fleet. I then go back to driving my almost-20-year-old truck that hasn’t got them.
There are some other things, too. You may be surprised to know they have to do with maintenance—the thing that everyone knows was easier back in the day.
Right? Not necessarily.
Let’s start with oil and filter changes—especially the filter part, which is becoming easier to get at and remove. Sometimes, without even needing tools. Many new cars have their oil filters mounted topside rather than the underside, or (worse) hanging off the side of the engine in an almost-impossible-to-reach place that requires such mechanical Pilates as jacking up the car’s body so that you can reach your hand through the fender well to get at the thing.
For just this reason, even a simple oil change was often quite difficult for people not young enough or flexible enough or stubborn enough to perform the Pilates or who lacked a floor jack and other needful tools such as long extensions and special filter sockets.
It also made a mess—itself a deterrent. Oil all over the floor and all over the engine, too, where it would then cook-off after the work was done—providing a kind of industrial air freshener (or fouler) depending on how much or not you enjoyed the smell of burning oil. It also sometimes burned you as it poured all over the place.
Well, after 100-something years, they finally figured out a better way—mounting the oil filter where you can reach it, right there on top of the engine. Or directly underneath, where it can be reached by hand and even removed without a tool—if it wasn’t installed over-tight by the last person who did an oil (and filter) change.
Some have a sizeable hex-type head you can use with an adjustable crescent wrench. Easy! The filter itself is more and more inside the housing, too. Instead of tossing away the whole thing, you only need to replace the inside thing—the filter element.
Another thing that’s a lot easier almost across the board, irrespective of make/model, is belt-changing and adjusting. Instead of dealing with individual belts, one for each accessory with usually at least three (AC, alternator, power steering), you have just the serpentine belt, which drives them all, requiring no adjustment.
You slip the old belt off by relieving the tension on the tensioner/idler pulley, which can usually be done with a socket or a crescent wrench. Slip the new belt on, and it’s that easy. The hardest thing is keeping track of how it goes around all the pulleys, so take a picture before removing the old one and then letting the tensioner fall back into place.
It self-adjusts automatically.
No awkward prying on brackets and pulleys or individually/manually turning in/out adjustment screws until you get it just right for each belt.
And nothing is easier than not having to do things at all, like changing spark plugs, for instance. Or at least, not once a year or even once every several years as used to be the drill. It is now general for spark plugs to not need changing for 75,000 or even 100,000 miles, which means you probably won’t need to change them more than once or twice over the life of the car.
You will never have to adjust the choke because cars haven’t had them since the early ‘90s. The modern car’s fuel system is almost entirely maintenance-free. The main thing that needs changing once in a while is the fuel filter, a PITAS, because it’s often located inside the fuel tank. But that is counterbalanced by its occasionally as opposed to the regularity of carburetor cleaning/choke/adjustment and the general fiddling, which used to be the drill.
So while there’s certainly plenty to complain about new cars, there are also some things to be grateful for in the end.
As the stoic philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius put it, ‘balance in all things.’
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
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Here are some additional writings from the NMA on the auto tech for new cars: