New technologies are rendering certain traditional garage skills obsolete. For example, you don’t need to replace spark plugs and wires nearly as often as in previous years, so the skill isn’t as common as it used to be. In the near future, we may see car maintenance as we know it disappear, especially if electric-powered vehicles take over.
In the meantime, many components of modern gas-powered cars feature longer maintenance intervals than ever before, and some parts have either changed significantly in how they are serviced or disappeared altogether. Here we’ll discuss some of the garage skills that are becoming more uncommon as new technological advancements redefine what vehicle maintenance looks like.
1. Distributor Replacement and Timing
Modern cars do not have a distributor, which is responsible for switching the coil on and off to create a spark in the cylinder of an engine. Instead, the ignition is set off by toothed timing wheels rotating with the crankshaft. If you have an older car, you’ll need a timing light to set the distributor timing. This part was mostly phased out by the 2000s though, so there’s a good chance you won’t encounter many of these.
Diesel engines and electric cars do not have spark plugs and wires. Gas engines do, but the maintenance intervals are much longer than they were during the last century. An annual tune-up used to include swapping out the spark plugs, but now most plugs last at least 60,000 miles, and in some cases they last 100,000 miles.
Whenever you change your plugs, you’ll also change your spark plug wires, but with the need for frequent swaps substantially reduced, you may not even keep your vehicle long enough to require this kind of maintenance.
3. Carburetor Cleaning and Adjustment
Cars with this component, which is responsible for supplying the cylinders with a proper air-fuel mixture, could be quite finicky if they get too cold or are improperly maintained. However, the days of placing a flat-head screwdriver in a carburetor to adjust the fuel-air mixture are long gone. Instead, fuel injection systems ensure an accurate blend for quick starts and optimal power and efficiency.
You do need to replace the fuel filters for modern cars from time to time. In this case, modern equipment adds new components but also makes for a more reliable experience overall.
4. Manual Window Mechanism and Door Lock Repairs
Many DIYers can replace a window regulator or pull apart a door panel to fix a locking mechanism — bonus points for lifting the glass out without breaking it. But today’s cars remove nearly every manual part in favor of electronics to control the power windows, locks, and the trunk or liftgate. About the only thing commonly left unelectrified these days is the fuel door, but even that is often spring-activated, and it rarely presents a problem.
5. Plugging a Tire
If you run over a nail, screw or some other sharp object, there’s a good chance one of your tires will lose air and require a repair. Tire plug kits can handle the problem and get you back on the road in under 15 minutes, but an increasing number of cars now comes with run-flat tires as well. These tires are designed to mitigate the chance of failure in the event of a puncture, thanks to their reinforced sidewalls. With run-flats the vehicle can keep moving, typically at speeds of up to 50 mph and for no more than 50 miles.
The downside of these tires is that, in many situations, a damaged tire cannot be repaired. Instead, you’ll have to replace it. In effect, the convenience of driving with run-flat tires at least ensures that you can travel to your nearest garage for a costly replacement.
New components and systems mean some of the work we used to do on our cars is best left to a professional at your local NAPA AutoCare. But don’t throw your Haynes repair manual away yet, as there are still many repairs you can handle yourself. From more involved jobs, like changing your brake pads, to the simple task of topping off your oil, a little confidence and a quick web search can often go a long way in keeping your vehicle on the road.
Check out all the tools and equipment available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on important garage skills, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.