Automotive and DIY: Then and now

November 6, 2014 OpenSystems Media

It was a sad day Monday to hear of the passing of Tom Magliozzi, who had been a longstanding part of the background noise of my life through Car Talk. It’s been interesting reading and hearing more about him this week, and I was surprised to hear that he was a bit of a maker and founded a proto-makerspace with his brother, Ray, in the 70s.

This week on NPR’s Fresh Air, Terry Gross explored Tom’s and Ray’s life stories, including their DIY car repair garage that set them on the road to talk cars for a living. They provided tools and help for a small fee, and the objective was for people to be able to fix their own cars, when cars were simple enough to fix yourself. In a 2001 interview, they remarked on how it attracted the weirdest bunch of people, but also the most fun and interesting – sounds like the unique bunch that are makers today.

They said the increased complexity of cars eventually decreased their accessibility to enough of the auto DIYers to turn the business into a regular repair shop where experts did the work. The trend of increasingly complex cars whose inner workings were decreasingly accessible to the average tinkerer I think mirrors the opposite trend of development boards we’ve seen more recently. These embedded boards used to be only accessible to larger corporations with lots of expensive tools and know-how, but have increasingly become more accessible to the average maker in price and complexity. Makerspaces, like Tom and Ray’s DIY garage, provide tools, help, and a community of likeminded people. All this facilitates the ability to do anything you set your mind on.Tom and Ray had the right idea, just maybe a different market and before its time.

But this also had me thinking of what DIY could be possible with the connected cars being developed today. For safety reasons manufacturers likely won’t want us tinkering with our cars, but there’s probably still plenty to do and enhance ourselves. Increasing smartphone integration and connectivity may provide to a lot of opportunities for automotive systems and enhancements made by makers.

Monique DeVoe, Managing Editor
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