When Diagnosing a Car’s Issues, Don’t Forget to Start Simple
Sometimes, we can be cursed with too much knowledge.
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There’s a piece of wisdom I love, but it’s often one I forget to employ whenever some mysterious issue raises its head in one of my vehicles. The rather direct saying goes, “Start simple, stupid.” Rather than heeding that advice and Occam’s Razoring the problem, i.e. the simplest solution is often the best,” I catastrophize everything and outwardly spiral due to the vehicle’s complexity and potential fixes that’ll likely cost thousands of dollars.
It happens every single time. Was that a slight vibration in the steering column? Good god, it’s the transmission letting go. Wait, is that a little bit of oil beneath the car? Every seal has gone bad and the engine will need a full tear down. Why is the car hiccuping after my ECU flash? I’ve destroyed another engine. How long has that check engine light been illuminating the dash? The engine is gonna blow!
Those were all real worries from both myself and my colleagues at The Drive, by the way.
I’ve taken to calling this the Mechanic’s Curse in our Slack chats, as since we’ve all been wrenching on cars since we were in underoos, we’re burdened by knowledge. Knowledge of the inner workings of things and past calamitous experiences. Cursed with knowing all the ways a car, motorcycle, or whatever other vehicles are in our garage, can fail.
We’ve seen it happen and fixed it when it did.
All those issues have left us scarred, anxious, and worrying about the thousand things that could go wrong. And given the fact that we all share a love/hatred toward fixing up our own rides, I’ll bet that you all go through the same doom spiral when something goes wrong with your car, too.
But whoa, whoa, whoa. Maybe the next time you hear a noise from inside a wheel well or something doesn’t feel quite right, maybe it’s not actually the end of the world. Maybe, just maybe, it’s something simple. I know that’s a wild thing to say, but it can, and has, paid dividends within my own wrenching when I do remember that “start simple” mantra and cross off the simplest solutions first.
Is a loose fuel cap what’s throwing that CEL? Maybe you didn’t tighten the oil drain plug enough after the last oil change and it’s just slowly leaking? What if the transmission isn’t failing, but you’re actually just missing some wheel weights which is causing the vibration you feel in the front end? And when was the last time I changed the car’s battery? That’s an easy thing to test compared with thinking the new tune is destroying your engine.
What I’m trying to say is that a lot of wrenching can be spent chasing rabbits down holes when the rabbit was never even there. And it can save you a lot of time, effort, and most of all, money, to check off the easiest issues first rather than worry the sky is falling and looking up how to commit insurance fraud.
So the next time you go out into your garage or to your car parked on the street, get in, turn it on, and hear a mechanical whirring noise that freaks you out, just remember “Start simple, stupid.” That goes for you, too, Jonathon.
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