What's The Right Way To Explain That You Have No Clue How Cars Work?

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Your eyes glaze over. Your hands get clammy. You shift your weight uncomfortably. Yes, someone is explaining how their car works and you have no idea what they're talking about.


I am often in the position where someone is talking about a part of a car that I don't understand for two reasons.

1) Friends refer to me as a "car guy," causing people to decide that they should tell me about how they got their 1978 Toyota Celica to pass CA smog testing.

2) I know absolutely nothing about how cars work.

Right now you're probably saying to yourself, "Raphael - you write for Jalopnik, surely you know how cars work!" Well, not really, which is why I get antsy when people point at some totally-normal looking tube in an engine bay and say something like,

Ha! The idiot who built this never properly flanged the inlet casing! Rookie mistake!

That's why I felt JinDenver's pain when reading a collection of tuning fails.

I love cars. But I don't know enough about the mechanical aspects for this article to mean anything to me :-(

::returns man-card::

Xenocyclus offered helpful advice.

Do what I do: nod, look pissed, and grunt.

Muttering under your breath about shoddy craftsmanship and how you don't understand how someone would do this certainly helps. Gesticulating with a cigarette or a half-drank can of Pabst adds credibility.


Of course, dozens of other readers chimed in to give wonderful, truly excellent explanations of what exactly was wrong with these poorly-tuned cars. But that's Jalopnik, and all you readers are good people who help make a great commenting community.

What do you do when you're at a friend's shop and people start discussing variable cam profiles? What's the best way to maintain your friendships in these situations? I sure could use the advice.


Photo Credit: Honda via Velarossa22


GRIVLET - Proud of Cobalt

I consider myself to be very mechanically inclined - and I think this is why I like cars so much. A car is a large system - like other large, mechanical systems it requires many components to work in harmony with one another.

I simply can not comprehend driving, say, a turbocharged car and not having the image go through my head each time I step on it that:

1) Step on gas

2) throttle body opens, allowing air into cylinders

3) Combustion

4) gasses forced through exhaust manifold into exhaust housing of turbo, spinning turbine at a crazy-high rate

5) shaft turns inlet side of turbine at the same rate, compressing cold intake air (wooshing noise) into the manifold, increasing actual compression and making moar power.

6) Inlet tubes pressurized to desired level, pressure relieves waste gate and vents off some exhaust gasses pre-turbo to limit boost levels

7) let off gas: throttle body closes, pressure builds pre-throttle body while pressure post throttle body drops: pulling vacuum which relieves the bypass valve (blow off valve) and makes the sweeeeet bov noise to prevent pressure being forced back into turbo.

I don't think I could imagine driving a car while not knowing what it is doing. I am not talking down in any way to people who do not understand the inner workings, and I am not a mechanic by trade.

I just always wonder what it would be like. I would probably be a lot better at my job if some of the space in my brain used for car knowledge was applied elsewhere!!