Today’s cars are more like big computers

Published 4:18 pm Tuesday, June 17, 2014

There are too many makes and models of automobiles on the road today.

Have you ever seen so many different makes and models in all your life? I cannot tell one car from another and really don’t want to even try.

Why am I saying this?

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Today, mechanics need a college degree in engineering or electronics to work on them, especially with all the computerized gadgets on them. Then you need a catalog listing just to recognize and identify all these models. Just a few days ago I passed a car parked along the interstate. I had no idea what make it was. Actually, it was a very long car and it reminded me of a hearse.

I pulled up behind it and offered help but the driver said a tow truck was on its way. I asked him what was the problem and he said “probably the computer.”

You know, I wish all cars were like they those back in the 1950s. Fords, Chevrolets, Chryslers, Buicks, Pontiacs, Mercurys, a few Studebakers and Hudsons were the main makes in those days. Most came equipped with “straight shifts,” a few with automatic transmissions, roll-down windows, and a “wind up” jack to place under the axle in the event of a flat tire. Cars were plain, solid, dependable and easy to work on. The cost of repairs then was nothing compared to today’s cost.

For me, take away all those unnecessary gadgets, because when they fail to function you pay big to get them repaired. Yet, so many people want “loaded automobiles.” They want two- or three-color paint jobs and paint designs, a “computer map” that shows them how to reach certain destinations, seats that fold into a half dozen positions, radios that turn on with the clap of a hand and, believe it or not, a TV that backseat riders can watch while riding down the highway. I wouldn’t be surprised to see personal computers added to the gadgetry list in the near future.

Again, when these items break down you can expect to “pay through the nose” to get them repaired.

Have you ever tried to put a jack under one of these newer cars? I did a couple of years ago only to discover I was jacking up my floorboard. I missed the hole the jack went into. Actually, I did not know where the hole was. And, my car was about seven years old when this happened. I had to get a 16-year-old boy to show me where to insert that jack. Had I continued pumping the jack my passenger floorboard would have ascended to the soft top lining of my interior. I am sure the floorboard would have burst wide open.

Many mechanics, who knew how to work on “old time” cars, can now no longer work on these new ones.
It is no wonder the automobile industry is having so many problems these days. Some cars cost as much as homes and mobile homes. Many cannot afford such luxuries, yet they still buy them. Some engage in payments, I am told, that spread out over 10 years.

Yes, give me those old 1950 type dependable automobiles that would go miles and miles without repairs. And, give me those “shade tree” mechanics who could get you back up and running without paying the coast of an arm or a leg. I never had one breakdown back in 1954-55 as I drove from Tuscaloosa to Atmore every weekend to my job at WATM. That dependable car was a “Fleetline” 1950 Chevrolet. Air conditioning, however, would have been a welcomed luxury. The only maintenance, other than keeping it properly oiled and greased, was making sure my recap tires were in good condition.

Going back to the 1940s, I remember a man in Perdido who bought wrecked 1939-40 model Ford hoods. He would take these hoods and weld two of them together and make canoes or boats. When properly joined the two hoods did, indeed, resemble and perform like a boat.

He apparently had a good market for these boats because he traveled throughout several surrounding counties buying up wrecked hoods. Do you suppose anyone could make a boat from hoods on today’s cars?

Oh, by the way I still don’t know the maker of that long car that broke down that day. Someone told me, based on my description, that it was probably a Chrysler product. This, of course may have been incorrect information. Perhaps, some of you could tell me.

Several years ago I wrote a column titled “Riding backwards in an ambulance.” In that piece, I tried to paint a picture of words depicting my being transported to a Mobile hospital in an ambulance.

I wrote of seeing familiar objects, homes, trees and landmarks passing away from me as I looked out the back window of the ambulance. Seeing all this pass away from me brought about a chilling feeling that only the capable EMTs could soothe. They talked to me, administered to me and one sang to me. I could not have been in more capable hands.

That column was picked from the Internet by an EMT organization in France and was published in their national EMT magazine. Naturally, I was gratified beyond words for their recognizing the column. Also, the response from that column was overwhelming.

You never know when you will be a patient like this in an ambulance or copter. I have taken three similar rides like this over the years and each time I credit those wonderful EMT members for making those trips so endurable.

Next week, we will have more news from years gone by.

You can email Lowell McGill at