It is, at first, both perplexing and intimidating.
I suspect each of us had that moment, as we stood in front of our car, wrench in hand, and asked ourselves “Is this really a good idea?”
We had two options: Either brave the uncertainty and go ahead anyway, or put the tools away and just drive it to the dealer or a shop.
Maybe it was that first tire change, or the first oil change.
Maybe it was installing an intake, or an exhaust.
No matter what the task, for the neophyte wrencher, that first step always seems so daunting. But once you take that first plunge – what a fun realm of possibilities it opens up.
Prior to taking delivery of a brand new 2013 Subaru BRZ, I was virtually illiterate when it came to turning wrenches on anything more complex than my Ikea TV cabinet. Sure, I knew how to handle simple things like topping up the engine oil and washer fluid, or replacing my wiper blades. I had even replaced the hatch struts on my previous car, a black, ratty second- (or third-) hand 2002 Celica GT 5-spd, once I tired of using a broomstick to keep the hatch propped up – But when it came to honest-to-goodness tinkering with my car’s mechanical bits, I was uninitiated.
At the time, I considered myself a car guy – I could talk about the stats, 0-60 times, lateral G numbers, and all those fun things I gleaned from my old Sport Compact Car mags and from the Internet. I even prided myself on my ability to work a car with a clutch and manual transmission, and enjoyed a spirited drive whenever the opportunity presented itself. However, I can honestly say that, until I actually got my hands dirty and started taking things apart and (hopefully) putting them back together again, my appreciation and enjoyment of these four-wheeled motorized mechanical marvels took on a whole new level. The idea that I could take this canvas that the engineers had provided, and make changes to it to improve on it (whether in a tangible or intangible sense) made my car that much more “my car.”
No longer was my BRZ simply one of many on the road - indistinguishable from all its brethren. No, my BRZ had more value to it than that, if not quantifiably so, then at least in my own eyes – simply because I had invested time, energy, sweat, and sometimes blood – into it.
I still remember the sense of satisfaction I got when I swapped to winter tires by myself for the first time. I remember my immense enjoyment when I started my car after replacing the stock airbox with a short ram intake. Or the feeling of accomplishment that I got as I crawled out from under my car after spending a couple hours on my back, installing my shifter springs and quick shifter kit.
I am convinced that my enjoyment of these little mods was increased, simply by the knowledge that they had been installed by me.
Of course, it doesn’t always go smoothly – the various hiccups add colour to the memories of each modification. I remember the moment when I dropped a vital bolt for the intake into my engine bay, out of sight and out of reach. I remember rubbing and scraping my forearms raw against the driveshaft, trying to loosen a bolt on my transmission from underneath the car.
I remember grunting and cursing as I hammered at a rusted and stuck wheel hub assembly, knowing full well that I was past the point of no return.
And I remember the taste of road salt, as I rested my axleback exhaust on my chest to catch my breath, exhausted from wrestling with the muffler hangers while lying on the cold garage floor.
Every one of these memories is a brush stroke in the masterpiece that is My Car.
And every one of these memories adds one more reason to smile: when I hear the distinct bark of the engine when I blip the throttle (I hated the sound of the car as it came from the factory, but the intake and exhaust cooperate to give it a lovely growl), or when I snap a snick-snick downshift with my shifter (augmented with the TRD quick shift kit, MTEC shifter springs, and WC Lathewerks shiftknob), or when I take it into a corner faster than I could before, because my camber bolts keep the front end from plowing into understeer.
I’m reminded of the Rifleman’s Creed, from Full Metal Jacket:
“This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.”
This is my car. There are many like it, but this one is mine.