The Road Warrior Didn’t Have OnStar

It is probably a very good idea to learn how to adjust and rebuild a carburetor. To set the point gap, even. Neither of which is a bad thing because it will mean the restoration of control over your car.

And your finances.

You will no longer find yourself prostrate before electronics and beholden to a dealership. No “user agreement” and no Big Brother, either. The car moves or not according to your wishes exclusively and can be maintained and serviced by you exclusively. This will be important when dealerships disappear or when your ability to pay a dealership disappears.

It may be even more important when the government decides to turn off the “connected” cars of modernity or uses their connectedness to monitor/limit how you’re allowed to drive due to the Coronavirus or some other else.

The Road Warrior didn’t have OnStar.

This only works, though, if you buy an older car—an antique car, actually.

You need one more than merely a car eligible for those black-and-white “antique” tags available in most states. It is usually the case that any car 25 years old or older (on a rolling basis) is eligible for them. But 25 years ago was 1995 and those 1995 model year cars are fully modern. They didn’t have eight airbags, of course (though most did have at least two). Still, all of them have electronic fuel injection and computer-controlled engine management systems that require “diagnostic” computers, which most people don’t have to service.

The GM models from that era also have OnStar, by the way.

You will want to focus your search on cars (and trucks) made before circa 1987, which was, more or less, the last year a new car was sold without some form of fuel injection and some form of computer control.

EFI means electronics and elaborate systems that are far less DIY-amendable than cars without fuel injection and computers.

To be truly clear — and free — you will want to look at cars made before 1980, which was around the time of the transition from purely mechanical systems to partially (then entirely) electronic ones. Some of these transition-era cars, circa 1981-1987-ish, will still have carburetors. Still, they will be electronically controlled carburetors, and these are actually even more of a pain, DIY-wise, than the early EFI systems—in part, because they’re clumsy but also finding service parts for them may be really tough.

Finding parts will soon become much tougher, as the system implodes, and it’s no longer possible to head down to NAPA or AutoZone for the part you need to keep it running.

But you’ll have everything you need to keep it running for decades if you have a car (or a motorcycle) with a purely mechanical fuel-delivery system, especially if you buy and store a rebuild kit for when the need arises.

The rebuild kit will contain the small parts such as needle and seat, float, accelerator pump, and gaskets—necessary to take a carb from old and tired to functionally good-as-new. This is something you cannot do with throw-it-away (and replace it with new) EFI, when it stops working. The rebuild kit will cost you less than $100—in return for which your carburetor will be ready for another 10-15 years of reliable service. The carburetor itself, the physical casting, can usually be rebuilt several times and, assuming you start with a good one, ought to last longer than you will, probably.

I have several vehicles cars and motorcycles with carburetors that date to the Nixon presidency. The carburetors installed when Tricky Dick was in the White House are still doing what they do. Likely, they will still be doing it 40 years from now.

Only simple tools and a basic understanding of mechanical principles are needed to keep a carbureted car operational. And not just the carburetor. The entire car, if it’s a pre-1980 car, is mostly a mechanical device, unconnected and uncontrollable except by you. The engine will never tune itself off. The steering wheel will never turn unless you turn it. The brakes slow the car down when you decide it’s time to slow down.

There are no microphones and let alone facial recognition systems. No airbags, either. It is just a car and just you.

There are few simple electronic things to deal with, such as the ignition system, headlights, and so on. But these are simple things, quickly and inexpensively maintained by you, at home.

Such a car may be very desirable to have in the months and years ahead. As the controlled demolition of the American economy proceeds and along with it, the ability of the average person to afford anything “modern” that requires specialization (tools and skills) or lots of money to keep it running.

Leaving aside the desirability of leaving Big Brother by the side of the road, at last, there is something very desirable about a return to vehicular independence. And to financial independence.

From the era of the Model T through about 1980, cars were affordable, simple things that didn’t consume a third or more of a typical American’s take-home pay to buy and which the average American could mostly fix himself and which Americans controlled, themselves.

They were also fun things, free of the stifling homogeneity imposed by the Safety Cult. For example, have a look at the Subaru BRAT I profiled recently (here). It had rear-facing jumpseats installed in the bed and was much more fun than six airbags and a back-up camera.

Going back to that might not be a bad thing at all. It might end up being one of the few good things to come out of this “crisis.”

But better get on it. Unlike modern cars, which are continually being made (well, they were being made), there are only so many 1980 and older cars still available. The price of these, unlike the cost of modern cars, is going to rise as people start buying the ones still available up.

Get one while you still can and before it’s too late.


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