Let's Chat About Automotive Wrenching Knowledge Gaps

Illustration for article titled Let's Chat About Automotive Wrenching Knowledge Gaps
Photo: Bradley Brownell

Before we get started with this little garage chat [pull up a rolly stool, grab a beer from the fridge, we’re all friends here] it’s important to know that you don’t have to know how to wrench on anything to be a car enthusiast. It takes all kinds to make this community move, and I’m not going to shame anyone for paying a mechanic for repairs or upgrades. It’s also important to know that if you do wrench, you shouldn’t be expected to know how to do everything. So, let’s get started.


I started wrenching for myself out of necessity. I had a series of extremely shitty cars as a youth, and I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to keep them up. I started by doing simple things like spark plugs, air filters, and oil changes. In the meantime, I’ve done a lot of tasks at a serious difficulty level. I’ve changed a clutch in a 1986 Mustang GT on my back in a parking lot. I’ve yanked a Porsche 911 engine to change leaky valve seals in 48 hours. I’ve currently got the front suspension yoinked out of my ‘76 912E chasing down a steering shimmy and premature tire wear.

It takes a lot to intimidate me when it comes to wrenching, but there is a ton of shit that I just never learned how to do, and I’m okay with that. Here’s a list of things I don’t/won’t do.

  • Detailing
  • Carburetor tuning
  • Bodywork
  • Paintwork
  • HVAC
  • Welding
  • Fabrication
  • Alignments

And beyond that, I’m not great at diagnosing issues, particularly of the electrical variety. The other stuff I’m just plain not good at because I don’t have a very good eye for detail work, and my hands are barely functional catchers mitts tacked on to the ends of my dumb thick arms. If I tried to weld, the “stack of dimes” technique would look more like a plate of fucked up flapjacks.

I have gotten better at electrical work over the last five years or so, but I do remember my old Ford Aspire had the radiator fans hard-wired to the battery through a house lightswitch I got at Home Depot. Presumably the thermo switch died and the car overheated one day, so I bodged a fix. I’d like to say I’m better than that now, but I have the fuel pump in my 912E wired to a switch because I didn’t want to deal with the fussy aftermarket fuel pump relays.

If you really want to grow your comfort area, there’s never been a better time to be a wrenching enthusiast, honestly. No matter what car you’re working on, someone has had your problem before and has probably addressed it in a Facebook group or a YouTube video somewhere. If you want to know how to do something, the easiest way to learn is by doing it. Of course, that usually means you have the luxury of time, space, tools, and at least a little budget to make the repair. I usually have two of the four, it’s finding the other two that becomes a problem.


So, as we head into this glorious weekend, what are you going to be working on, and what kinds of projects are you comfortable avoiding altogether? I figured it would be helpful to kick off this conversation by admitting I’m not good at everything (or anything?) so it would give you an opportunity to admit what you are good at, and okay not knowing.

Let’s chat about it. 

Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.


Andrew Fails

When I went to remove my license plate this week I went through a screwdriver, a pair of vise-grips, and then a Porsche technician with a ratchet and a step drill.

That's my level of mechanical aptitude.