Go pop the hood on the car nearest you. Go ahead. I'll wait.

What did you see? Chances are it was a bunch of plastic panels unless you drive something that's more than two decades old. Especially in recent years, there's been a move to insulate the driver from the mechanical aspects of the vehicle. Insulation, plastic panels, and hidden mechanics make the car quiet and help the driver forget about those pesky parts that are always breaking.

The problem is that, by hiding all of the parts that make a car work, the engineers have effectively made cars into an unsolvable enigma for most drivers. Most people no longer understand how their car manages to shuttle them from place to place. Thanks to plastic panels many people now just assume their cars are powered by magic rather than small, contained explosions.

The fact is that engines are amazingly complex now and the average person shouldn't work on them, but without a healthy respect for what they do,there can be no respect for how they work and how they should be maintained. This has led to a crisis in car maintenance that is especially obvious in my home state of Florida.

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The Great State of Florida has no mandatory state vehicle inspections (Get 'yer laws of my car!). That means there are no emissions or safety requirements outside of what the National Highway Safety Administration requires. This is great in many ways for people who maintain their car and don't have to deal with unnecessary expenses and hasslesof getting their car certified, but it is also causing a huge problem. I have yet to take a drive, no matter how short, where I do not see a car with bald tires, shattered windshields, or smoke pouring out of it. Yesterday, I saw a car with its bumper literally hanging off and scraping along the ground. The worst part is that the drive seemed oblivious to the shower of sparks he was flinging at the drivers behind him.

Now, I'm not advocating for a mandatory vehicle inspection because they still allow many dangerous cars back on the road. What I am advocating for is a mandatory vehicle maintenance course that is taught during a student's driving lessons. This would be easy to implement as one of the most important things you can do to ensure vehicle safety is to visually check your vehicle regularly, so it can be taught before taking a drive with the instructor. You don't even need to pull those plastic panels out. Teaching young drivers to visually check their tires, body, and fluids regularly could help prevent many unnecessary delays and accidents.

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The problem is that most people still view their car as a sort of magic carpet that shuttles them from place to place without any demands or concerns rather than a complicated set of mechanical systems working in tandem to harness exploding dinosaurs into forward movement. If you can teach young drivers to respect and care for their vehicles, you will decrease the likelihood of negligence or abuse of vehicles that you share the road with as well as driving home the point of how dangerous and complicated a car is. A healthy respect for how a car works is one of the most important things a young driver (and quite a few older ones here in Florida) can learn. Don't take the panels away, but make sure you demystify what is underneath of them.