After tens of thousands of hours of practice, concert pianists tend to develop such an affinity for their instrument that they’re often able to detect when the piano goes out of tune by only a handful of cents (the unit of measurement for octaves).
A highly competent mechanic can detect slight variances in a vehicle’s performance to know that something is going wrong, wearing out, or will soon need to be maintained. In the same way that most people aren’t concert pianists, most people aren’t auto mechanics, and these subtleties are frequently overlooked.
“But I drive my car every day,” one might object. “I don’t have to be a mechanic because I drive it so often that I’ll know when something goes wrong.”
This makes sense, but in practice is rarely the case—think back over your driving days and consider how many times you had to have a repair done because you didn’t notice something that perhaps you should have (brake pads are a common culprit).
The reason this happens, and possibly one of the primary reasons many drivers have to pay for repairs that could have been prevented, is because as we drive our cars we adapt with them. Normal wear and tear on the vehicle accumulates, but it tends to do so slowly.
Let’s take a moment to examine some vehicle components that tend to wear out without the driver noticing immediately:
Example #1 – Adapting to Brakes
Since the changes we’ve been discussing are so slow, happening over the course of weeks and months, we don’t notice them. Brake pads are a great example. When you have brand new brake pads, pushing down the brake pedal is soft and easy. As the brake pads wear down, the driver has to push his or her foot down harder and harder, but it happens so slowly that they don’t tend to notice.
If the brake pads wear down far enough, it can cause damage to the braking system which might require new parts to repair. For example, if the brake pads wear down far enough, the caliper piston will be ground down. The brake rotors will also disintegrate, and that’s when things start to get dangerous for the driver and others on the road. Repairing this kind of damage is usually much more expensive than simply having your brakes serviced.
Example #2 – Adapting to Power Steering
Power steering in a vehicle can slowly start to “go out.” Steering will slowly become more and more difficult, with the driver needing to turn harder or experiencing small jerks while turning. But as we’ve learned, this degradation in performance doesn’t all happen overnight, so many drivers don’t notice because they’ve adapted to steering being more difficult than it should be.
Often, the fix is sometimes as simple as replacing the power steering fluid, since over time contaminants will accumulate. However, if left unchecked, the seals in the power steering system can become brittle. Regular power steering maintenance is almost always more affordable than letting the problems go on, since this could lead to further damage of the components.
If We Adapt to Our Vehicle as We Drive, What’s the Solution?
Today we only examine two possible examples of driver adaptation that could lead to problems. Other examples might include tire performance or issues with the transmission. Since it can be difficult to detect problems that accrue slowly over time, the best solution is to stick to your regular maintenance schedule as precisely as possible. If you purchased your car from a dealership, you probably already have a maintenance schedule. If not, speak to your local mechanic to come up with a new schedule. Prevention is the best cure, even for the problems we can’t immediately detect.