What has happened to all the gas station attendants who used to tell you your oil is low, or that your tire tread is worn?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

When I was younger, I used to go to my friendly service-station guy, Jack. He'd
shoot the breeze with me while he checked the oil, the water in the battery,
and filled the car with gas. Sometimes he'd even say "it's about time for an
oil change," or "your tread is showing wear." My question is, where does a
person go to get all the things checked that Jack used to check when I asked
him to "check under the hood"? -- Ellis

RAY: Thank you, Ellis. My brother always says that I don't know "Jack." And now
you've explained why. "Jack" doesn't exist anymore!

TOM: The answer to the practical part of your question is that your mechanic
now checks these things for you, Ellis, according to the schedule laid out in
your owner's manual.

RAY: The truth is, cars don't require as much maintenance as they did years
ago. But if you look in the back of your owner's manual, it lists the things
that DO need to be checked at 7,500 miles, 15,000 miles, 30,000 miles, etc. And
that's why we recommend that, generally speaking, people follow that schedule,
because they don't have "Jack" to rely on anymore.

TOM: So on to the more philosophical part of your question, Ellis: Why doesn't
"Jack" exist anymore? There are many reasons, of course. One of them is
specialization. Thirty or 40 years ago, engines were engines. Cars were pretty
simple and pretty similar, and what "Jack" knew could be applied to most cars
that came in to his station. Now, cars are so complicated that most mechanics
specialize in only certain cars, or certain parts or systems of cars.

RAY: So "Jack" is probably specializing in, like, Toyota electronics now. And
the reason the kid who pumps gas is no help is because he specializes in only
one thing: pumping gas!

TOM: The other reason most of us don't have a "Jack" in our lives is because
life just moves faster nowadays. And I can hear that you regret that, Ellis,
and so do I. There used to be time to shoot the breeze and look around the car.
Now nobody takes the time to chat, or more important, to listen. And it's as
true of doctors as it is of gas-station attendants.

RAY: Here's a good example of how much faster life has gotten, Ellis. On my way
home, I go by a local health and fitness club. It's a place where people who
are too busy to walk a few blocks here and there come to exercise in efficient
little bursts. And that's where "Jack" is these days after work. He's climbing
the StairMaster. But that's not enough. To be more efficient, he's listening to
"All Things Considered" on his Walkman, and reading the latest service
bulletins from Toyota at the same time. Can you imagine this guy shooting much
breeze these days?

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