Remembering the Service Station - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Remembering the Service Station

We have gas stations now.

We used to have service stations.

These were places where you could buy gas and repairs. They had bays and racks and mechanics on hand to fix whatever was wrong with your car.

Today, they have racks of soda and candy bars.

If you can believe it, service stations — when they existed — offered . . . service.  When you rolled up to the pump, a pump jockey — sometimes in uniform — would come out to offer to pump your gas for you and also check the tires and the oil.

For free.

Today, there might be an air pump off in an inconvenient part of the parking lot that will work  . . . if you feed it quarters. You pump your own gas — often while having to listen to some obnoxious infomercial at the pump, which doesn’t give you the option to turn it off.

Back in the day — it was a long time ago but the memory lingers — service stations would give away things like drinking glass sets emblazoned with the company logo and other such to reward customers for their patronage. If you were a kid in those days, you looked forward to a fill-up much as today’s kids look forward to whatever they’re going to get in their Happy Meal at McDonald’s (along with the juvenile diabetes).

There was also leaded gas — premium and regular — both 100 percent gas, not 90 or 85 percent gas, and 10-15 percent ethanol alcohol. Which doesn’t smell good, like the old stuff did.

There was also diesel. Real diesel, with all the sulfur — and the good smells.

Oil came in cans — which were messy when you tried to open them with a punch-funnel, to pour them — but they had a charming look when stacked in pyramids beside the pumps, emblazoned with the logo of their manufacturer.

People collect these, today. No one collects the plastic jugs oil comes in, today.

Service stations were places people often went for a spring and fall tune-up. This regular service consisted of minor adjustments to the choke — a metal flap-door that snapped shut atop the carburetor when the engine was cold, to assist engine start by restricting airflow to richen up the mixture (of air and fuel; more fuel, less air). This had to be done mechanically, with screwdrivers and such. By someone who had mastered the art of turning them, just so.

Other elements of the tune-up included checking and adjusting the ignition timing, cleaning, and setting the points, and — of course! — the annual spark plug clean/gap/replace. Fan belts were also replaced and coolant flushed. Much of this wasn’t technically beyond the ken of a teenager willing to learn and under the supervision of someone older, who already knew.

Service stations were thus a fine place for a kid looking to learn how to perform such rites to master such arts. Many kids of that long-ago time worked part-time/weekends at service stations, earning, and learning.

A good service station could do practically any service a dealership could, often more conveniently and for less money. Some had machine shops in back, where engine blocks could be bored and cylinder heads honed. The best of them had an old pro back there who was a master at his craft and renowned for it.

This was possible because in those days service could be performed on an equal footing with a dealer since the only prerequisites were having the skills and the tools. One of the reasons service stations no longer serve much besides slushees — usually self-service, too — is because no one but the dealer can service the cars because no one other than the dealer has the codes.

Or can interpret them.

Service now is less about turning wrenches than “pulling” these codes — which can only be “pulled” by a diagnostic machine that only the authorized dealer has or which only the authorized dealership can afford.

Dealerships don’t have part-time teenagers on hand to “pull” the codes. They have technicians — and charge, accordingly.

It’s a good thing most modern cars rarely need service, beyond the basics — such as oil and filter changes, brake jobs and tire rotations.

Well, for a while.

But when they do need it, those services are increasingly available only at the store where you bought the car.

No free glasses included. 

Eric Peters
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