The first: supply chains.
For most of the history of the car industry, a car factory was the centre of a large industrial park, consisting of smaller companies, all of which produced different parts of the car (they would also produce other things, which is why Morris Motors had, for a while, a line in spinoff refrigerators). From about the seventies onwards, when the development of cheap container shipping and increasingly good tracking systems started to enable global markets, these industrial parks gradually shrank and died, as the companies producing different parts of the car were sourced in different parts of the world (one of the fun things at the car factory was when we’d occasionally get some weird Brazilian insect, bewildered from its journey, clinging to a component).
So, these days most of the car is built somewhere else. I just assembled it.
The second: how assembly lines work.
Which is sort of a more sophisticated and ergonomic version of the famous sequence from the Charlie Chaplin film Modern Times. No, we’re not assembling the same widget over and over mindlessly. However, it means that I’ve got a pretty limited range of understanding of how to build a car outside of testing the electrical system and sticking in the indicator lights.
So, unless you want me to stick in the indicator lights, and you happen to have an electrical systems testing unit handy, I’m not much good to you.
The third: computers.
These days, so much of a car is computerised that actual mechanics often can’t fix a car, and need to send out for components or direct you to a specialist. So what hope do I have?
This doesn’t mean the experience wasn’t useful in terms of understanding the basic ways cars work; sheer demystification means I can at least hold useful conversations with my mechanic about what’s wrong with my Smart. And I learned a lot due to having bought a Mini Classic which was legally old enough to drive itself as my first car: it required constant maintenance just to keep on the right side of roadworthy, which teaches one good oil-changing habits and how to clean rust off electrical points with industrial vinegar.
But it does mean that anything I learned about fixing cars, I generally didn’t learn on the assembly line.