Is the average person terrified of their car?

Vaguely inspired by this thread, but also drawing on a lot of first-hand anecdotes and some personal experience.

It seems that many people act absolutely irrationally around computers. They’re unable to even begin to troubleshoot or explore or even provide something approaching helpful assistance when something goes wrong. This isn’t just ignorance. This is blind animal terror: People have said things to the effect they think something will literally explode if they press the wrong button, and from the way they act I doubt they were joking.

I understand that computers are complex and advanced machines. But so are cars, and I’ve never seen anyone act quite so stupid about automobiles as they do about computers. They might abuse them and do superstitious little things like put magnets on them, but they never think they’ll explode in the course of normal usage.

This can’t just be a generation thing anymore. Adults in their mid-20s grew up around personal computers just like they grew up around cars. (Yes, that does make you old. OLD!) They certainly are no less fearful of computers than anyone else. So what gives? Am I wrong about people not being afraid of cars?

Dunno about afraid, but people are just as clueless about cars. You know how people don’t read messages boxes on the computer? “Something popped up, no I didn’t read it, I just clicked on it because I wanted it to go AWAY!”

They do the same with their car when it tries to tell them what’s wrong - they put a bit of tape over the light on the dashboard so they won’t have to see the little light. “I don’t care what’s wrong with my car, I want the light to go AWAY! Wahhh!!!”

(All, or almost all, cars made since 1996 use the same OBDII bus and codes, and most chain auto parts stores will print it out for you for free)

Cars are far more reliable and foolproof than computers (though that’s not saying much, of course). It takes a lot of neglect and misuse to render a car inoperable. It’s much easier to screw up a computer to a point where it doesn’t behave the way it used to.

I’ve had two cars that caught fire. Two! Who’s to say that they wouldn’t blow up?

Also, they have the power to strand you somewhere, and they know it.

Finally, my husband and I were discussing the fact that we’re getting a [confetti] tax return [/confetti]. The car heard us, and moments later the Check Engine light came on and it died.

So while I wouldn’t say terrified, we look at our cars with a certain amount of trepidation.

The engine quite on my car one morning while I was driving down the highway (4am). It just quit. At the same time my dash lights went off. I was back on the road in 15 minutes. Wasn’t hard to figure out and repair.

I’m not, but my cars were built in 1984, 1972, 1964, and 1958. The 1984 Toyota 4Runner is a little more intimidating because there are lots of things on it that I’m unsure of or could not fix. However, when it was running weird, I actually successfully guessed/diagnosed the transmission problems to my personal independent mechanic after the Toyota dealer wanted $600 just to tear it apart to try to figure it out.

I damn near bought a new Honda Fit because the transmission replacement was approaching the value of the 4Runner. There’s not a thing I could fix on a Fit, but then, I’ll bet it would run 200,000 miles without giving me much of a problem. I’d kind of fear it though if it started making weird noises.

One difference between computers and cars is the mechanical nature of the latter. Gears meshing? Got it. Gas exploding? Got it (and cool!). Springs…ummm…springing? Got it.

Boolean logic? Not so much. Bits, nibbles, bytes, and words? Even less so. But even at the component level: DDR, VGA, IDE, USB? Yeah, whatever…just make it Facebook.

It seems to me that being able to physically grasp something’s parts makes it much easier for most people to understand than things that largely consist of only mental constructs.

Apples and oranges.

Sitting at the computer with no tools whatsoever, just the normal operating devices (mouse, keyboard), one can do things (e.g., mess with the registry) that will essentially ruin the computer. There is no equivalent way to ruin a car so easily.

So you’re right, people are not afraid of accidentally destroying their cars the way they are of accidentally destroying their computers. And with good reason.

Working on cars isn’t like it used to by (what is?). My first car was a 70s era Oldsmobile. I could open the hood and look at the engine and often figure it out just by that gizmo is disconnected from that other gizmo. Newer engines seem more complicated to me.

I’m somewhat afraid of computers, solely because I’ve often run into inexplicable dead-ends / mini-catastrophies while using it, incabable of going on under pressure. Nothing like that ever happens on the freeway. Other times I’ve accidentally hit a button that will change the way the screen looks like and functions - no idea how I got there or how to get out, because I don’t even know what to call the thing that changed. Occasionally my computer has crashed without a warning, deleting a spur-of-the-moment, thousand-word essay in the making etc. As I sit at the computer I know things can quickly go very wrong, literally by just pressing a button, and I can do nothing about it. Makes my blood pressure rise just a little, every time.

True, with a mouse and keyboard, you can do the equivalent of a frame off restoration. Strip the computer down to nothing, and rebuild it, all without leaving your chair.

Folks have also had the experience of computers doing completely bizarre things by accidentally bumping the mouse or hitting the wrong button. Hitting yes could be like saying yes to ripping out your passenger seat and replacing it with a billboard. “Yep, I see why you can’t carry as many people anymore, looks like adware… gonna have to load some tools into your trunk to uninstall that baby.”

I certainly wouldn’t attempt any kind of troubleshooting or repairs to my car. If something’s wrong with it, step 1 is to take it to the mechanic and ask them to fix it. OK, maybe if the check engine light is on I could tighten the gas cap a couple more clicks, but that’s about it.

I would attempt software fixes to my computer, but hardware-wise my skills stop at making sure everything is plugged in.

Dude, you have no idea. Opening a car hood used to scare the shit out of me. I thought that sticking my hand underneath to lift it up would result in belts sawing my finger off or the engine cooking them like sausages. And when I got over that phase, refilling windshield wiper fluid would almost make me weep with fear because I figured the pressure buildup would explode the moment I took off the lid, liquidating my face and forever blinding me. Then I had to jumpstart once, and the very thought of connecting those teeny-weeny cables to huge, man-killing batteries littered with all sorts of WARNING!!! RISK OF DECAPITATION AND ARMAGEDDON! stickers… my friend and I just gave each other that “oh shit” look like a herd of stampeding rabid bears were coming our way armed with flaming acidic chainsaws… and then they sparked… uggggggggggggh. :frowning:

:hugs his soft, squishy blue screen of death:

I’m pretty sure mine would still do that. Plus I might forget how to raise the hood and be humiliated. I had the one-hour oil change place handle the windshield wiper fluid. I would have no idea where to put it. There aren’t nice little labels that say “Windshield wiper fluid goes in here” (are there?).

I call AAA for this. They come out and do it, no risk of decapitation or electrocution for me. I don’t like to be close to things that are sparking. Philadelphia would be a nice safe distance.

My computer is nice. It doesn’t emit dangerous sparks or require me to pour fluids into it.

Well, I’ve seen people ruin cars by not changing the oil for years or by ignoring the overheating warnings. They didn’t do anything overt, just didn’t do the maintenance.

Somewhat of a hijack, but if you think people are terrified of repairing their cars, perhaps they should be terrified of DRIVING them.

I recommend Tom Vanderbilt’s book Traffic. Fascinating stuff. One of his early points in the book is that we are paradoxically too safe in our cars-- or, at least, we feel too safe. The bubble that protects us also insulates us from valuable information about the risks we take while driving, the speed we’re going, etc. Making ourselves more comfortable on the road increases the risk of lazy or even bad driving.

That’s why I drive with the windows down, navigate using the Force, and calculate speed using the number of death screams per minute.

Which is ironic, in that your car actually CAN explode.

But really, here’s a relevant, if old, joke: If Microsoft Made Cars.

As the joke implies, it’s probably not the machine that scares people, but the behavior of the software, and that nervousness is not unwarranted, given the history of some software.


Just driving down the road, turn your steering wheel sharply to one side. You’ll wreck the car and whatever ends up in front of it (and maybe yourself). Requires no tools, and is significantly easier to do than going to the registry.

True enough, but I interpreted the OP to be talking about fear of the technology and relating to the device, rather than what one could do with the device.