Here Are The Dumbest Car Questions I Asked On Yahoo Answers As An Awkward Teenager

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Oh boy. Get ready for some awkwardness, for I just rediscovered my old Yahoo Answers account, and it is overrun with supremely ignorant questions about cars, and embarrassing queries about balding and muscle gain (and also uses of the term “swole.”) To anyone who reads this: I am sorry.

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Born in the early 1990s, I had the misfortune of having access to internet messaging boards just as I came into my awkward teenage years. What this means is that, instead of writing my weird thoughts in some kind of journal that I would later lose, or just not writing thoughts down at all, much of my teenage angst has been preserved in the annals of the internet for all to see until the end of time. I’m not thrilled about it.

But while a younger me would keep what I’m about to show you to myself to avoid embarrassment, the reality is that I’ve been writing for an audience of five to ten million monthly readers; to do so for five years as I have requires forfeiture of any and all shame. So let’s just get into this.

One of my first questions, I think written when I was a 17-year-old high school junior, asks about how to get water out of an engine’s cylinders. My brothers and I had apparently just taken our 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee through a deep mud pit on Ft. Leavenworth’s Missouri River floodplain.

The post reveals that I had no clue how to remove spark plugs — an incredibly simple operation, especially for someone as experienced as I am today. But hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right?:

Illustration for article titled Here Are The Dumbest Car Questions I Asked On Yahoo Answers As An Awkward Teenager
Screenshot: David Tracy

Then I have a follow-up question in which I refer to evaporated water as “smoke” and not steam, though the real tragedy here is this sentence:

Also, i took the sparkplug wires out. Do they need to go in the right sequence. aka: does the right wire need to go to the right cylinder or is a spark a spark?

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“Is a spark a spark?” — that has got to be the second-dumbest thing I’ve read all day (the first is coming in a moment). No! A spark is not a spark! Seriously, 17-year-old David, do you really think that putting the wire that produces a spark at the end of cylinder one’s compression stroke onto cylinder number two which is very much not at the end of its compression stroke is going to work out? Do you really think you can just shoot some fuel and air into a cylinder, just fire a spark at any given moment, and the engine will run?

This is just sad.

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That’s not how it works, young DT. Ignition timing is incredibly important. Someday, when you’re in your late 20s trying to nurse a fleet of Jeeps back to life in suburban Detroit, you’ll actually have to use a timing light to set ignition timing all on your own. You’ll be ensuring that the spark occurs precisely at the right moment, roughly eight crankshaft degrees before the top dead center at idle. Oh, you don’t know what any of that means? That’s not surprising. You are ignorant, after all.

But fear not, you’ll spend the next decade of your life living your automotive dreams and learning a lot, though I must warn you: Don’t dive in too deep — you don’t need 12 cars! Resist!

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Moving on, let’s have a look at my next display of cretinism:

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In the post above, I get really upset after my mechanic doubts my Jeep’s off-road capabilities, telling me he thinks his 2005 F-150 can beat the Jeep on rough terrain. He calls my Jeep an “urban assault vehicle,” and that apparently ground my gears. (I do stand by everything I wrote here, though. A Jeep is better in most off-road conditions than a full-size truck).

After my post, things got heated in the comments (and a little racist), with a user named slp absolutely ripping into Jeeps:

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“A Cherokee is not a very good off road vehicle,” the person wrote, sending a sharp dagger into the chest of my 17-year-old self sitting in front of a cathode ray tube monitor hooked to a Pentium 4 desktop computer. slp then went on to doubt a story that I had apparently written (but that I cannot find) about how my 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee had pulled a Ford F-150 and a big tow-truck out of mud holes. (This is actually a true story).

“I have spent many a day playing with 4x4s in the mud...and all the Cherokees and Comanches were not even a contest for a full size truck,” the person continued, twisting the aforementioned dagger into my completely hairless chest. To ridicule a Jeep Cherokee is one thing, but leave the Comanche out of this! It is the greatest mid-size pickup of all time!

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With the exception of the person doubting my claim that the aforementioned tow truck weighed 19 tons (that does seem a bit high, in retrospect), the rest of their post is filled with factual inaccuracies about how Jeep used Chevy motors and Ford axles, and there’s some misguided discussion about the benefit of independent suspension versus solid axles. The fact that I spent my childhood arguing with random folks on the internet about how capable my Jeep (technically my parents’ Jeep) was off-road is troublesome. Though it explains a lot.

As a Jeep fanboy, I was apparently incapable of understanding how anyone could have a problem with Jeeps. In fact, I literally wrote a post stating as much. “Why are there Jeep haters?” I asked, pensively:

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Here’s a post in which I ask why I’m not seeing spark from my brother’s motorcycle engine. “I took my sparkplug out of the combustion chamber...I can’t see the spark. But there is electricity going to it...So, why aren’t I seeing the spark?” I type, likely through an interpreter, as there’s no way I knew how to speak English, much less operate a keyboard, given the stupidity of what I was asking.

First, it’s a bit odd to say I took a spark plug “out of the combustion chamber.” Sure, the tip of the plug does sit in the chamber, but generally, one takes a spark plug out of a cylinder head, since that’s where the threads are. Also, you’ve got to ground a spark plug, or you won’t see spark no matter how much you crank that motor!

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Here’s my teenage self showing that I had absolutely no idea how overdrive works on a ZJ-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee. I thought overdrive was a completely separate gear set, rather than simply a tall fourth gear in the transmission. If I had shame, I’d say it was embarrassing how uninformed I was:

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I also wrote a lot of words describing why, from a vehicle dynamics standpoint, it made sense to put the better pair of tires on the rear of my vehicle, rather than on the front as suggested by the poster mounted on the wall of Walmart’s tire installation shop:

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Here’s me wasting my youth hoping that others will validate my complete obsession with Chrysler products. The Viper ACR must be a better handler than the ZR1—I was certain:

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In this next post, young me asks Yahoo Answers users about a $500 Jeep Grand Wagoneer that I was planning to check out. After typing the question, my brother and I drove to Kansas City, and had a close look at the Jeep. It seemed great, though it had a huge hole in the frame near the gas tank mounting location. Today, I absolutely should have bought it, used my $100 Harbor Freight welder to stitch that rail up, and made a $4,000 profit in just a few hours:

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I wrote this next post during my second semester in college. I was looking for a car to use to take my car club to events. One vehicle that struck my fancy was a 1985 Ford F-150:

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I remember it like it was yesterday. Owned by a mechanic, the truck was borderline mint; the brown paint was shiny; the body had no scratches, dents, or rust holes; the 351 Windsor V8 engine sounded beautiful; and the bench seat dripped with soul.

I wanted the truck, but I had no clue how to fix the steam (or should I say “smoke”) coming from the exhaust pipe. The mechanic told me the issue was leaky valve cover gaskets; today I know that this couldn’t possibly have been right. Valve covers don’t leak into combustion chambers, after all.

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Still, even if I had to replace a head gasket, $1,500 for a mint 1985 Ford F-150 was a steal.

Shortly after telling me he’d fix the issue and then sell the car to me for $1,500, the mechanic sold the truck. It was for the better anyway, because lord knows that my first car was always meant to be a Jeep. I bought a 1992 in September of 2010, at the age of 19.

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I remember how scared I was after buying the thing for $1,400. I didn’t know why the oil gauge moved so much when I revved the engine (this is normal). I didn’t know why the exhaust made a strange sound (there was a small leak; no big deal), and I had no clue why there was so much oil in the air filter (the crankcase ventilation tube was clogged). I was terrified, but as I began teaching myself how to fix the Jeep, my confidence grew. I still own that Jeep to this day (but with a new engine, since I blew the old one up).

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If you were wondering when you’d see the post that will get me canceled, your wait is officially over. “Is it uncool to ride an automatic motorcycle? Is it geared toward women?” I ask in the post above. Wow.

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Why did I imply that a motorcycle marketed toward women must necessarily be uncool? And why did I even think Honda wanted its Hondamatic to appeal specifically women? As the ad below shows, the company was actually fairly progressive about this kind of thing during the Hondamatic era.

I never thought I’d be able to say that the dumbest thing I’ve read on the internet all day was written by me. But here we are.

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Now that I’m canceled, I may as well show the really embarrassing teenage insecurity-stuff. Oh boy, here’s one that I think I wrote in college, shortly after my high school girlfriend and I broke up, and I started working out to ease the struggle:

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As silly as it is that I somehow found it relevant to tell internet strangers that I planned to consume a Clif bar every morning, and as bad as my understanding of nutrition was at the time, I can’t argue with results. Just a short time after I wrote that question, I’d gained 14 pounds of muscle, and took to Yahoo Answers for more wisdom on how to improve my physique:

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I like how I have an exclamation after “help?” As if flattening my abs was a really pressing matter. And the “I’m already pretty swole, to be honest”? Between me using that phrase, and especially not understanding the concept of spark timing, it’s no wonder my high school girlfriend told me to pound sand. “I’m looking for a man who understands concepts like spark advancement and dwell,” she probably told her friends at the time. “David doesn’t even know why he can’t swap spark plug wires between spark plugs. It’s just sad.” I can’t say I blame her.

Here’s another embarrassing one:

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What a classic post that is. A teen worried about holding onto his hair, asking random folks on the internet if changing shampoos will gain him a few more precious years enjoying a scalp covered in thin straws of keratin. Why did I have to put “A LOT” in all caps? Did I think folks would be impressed by my hair volume?

That said, I was absolutely right to suspect that I would soon lose my hair, because I’m 29 now, and what was once the Amazon Rain Forest covered in vegetation is now the Mojave Desert, occupied by a tumbleweed or two. Still, looking back, I don’t understand why I cared.

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It’s funny because, as silly as some of these posts seem, they really just describe a young man growing into his body, and trying to understand how to accomplish his dreams. I declare at age 14 in the forum post above that I want to work for Chrysler, and in the Yahoo Answers thread above that, I ask how I can become a car journalist. By age 20, I was working for Chrysler, and by 24 I was working for the biggest car enthusiast publication on earth.

It’s amazing how the immature child version of yourself can sometimes make the biggest decisions of your life.

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It’s also amazing how quickly you can go from being totally ignorant about cars, to capable of fixing damn near anything on four wheels. And that’s the main takeaway from all of this, I think: If you’re insecure about your car knowledge — particularly as it relates to vehicle repair — don’t be. Look at how little I knew a mere decade ago. All I did was buy a junky Jeep Cherokee in college, and maintain it, and I became so much more confident — some might say overconfident.

Sr. Tech Editor, Jalopnik. Owner of far too many Jeeps (Including a Jeep Comanche). Follow my instagram (@davidntracy). Always interested in hearing from engineers—email me.

DISCUSSION

whodeybuckeye
whodeybuckeye

I have now lost all respect for you after reading this article. Not because of any of the questions you asked as a kid trying to learn about cars, any kid that wants to learn about cars deserves respect for carrying the hobby forward.

I just can’t respect a car enthusiast who didn’t buy their first car until they were 19. Any true gearhead has a vehicle by the time the are old enough to drive. I remember working on a neighbor’s farm at 14 to save every cent to buy a car before I turned 16. I bought my Cougar a week after my 15th birthday and spent every weekend with my dad to get it running before I turned 16.

Somehow I always imagined you were wrenching on a rusted out Jeep in junior high to have it ready by the time you got your license.