The Scientific Method and Automotive Repair

As soon as I began reading “The Scientific Method” in Critical Thinking, I started making connections with automotive repair. I enjoy doing my own work on my car. I enjoy it not only for the incredible amount of money I save on labor, but also because I derive satisfaction out of the process of successfully diagnosing a problem, devising ways to become completely certain of what the problem is, and then fixing it. It is pretty clear how this process is similar to the scientific method as described in the reading. The reading uses an example of a computer problem. A friend who is working on the computer is interested in finding out what caused the problem. The friend says “Isn’t it interesting to find out the exact cause of the computer’s problem?” Then it is clarified, “You want to know: What’s the quickest way to cause this problem to go away? She wants to know:What’s the primary cause of the problem?” In some sense, this is what I fear most when I take my car to someone else to get worked on. Are they simply doing what will get rid of the problem the quickest? Or cheapest? I would rather know for sure and do it myself.

The process became apparent to me during the discussion of the failure of the levees in New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina. What is causing the problem? The tentative theory was that the flood waters simply rose above the levee. “Katrina flat out overwhelmed the system.” Because a correlation of levees failing where water did not rise above them exists, a new theory was proposed. I immediately thought of a problem with my car. The steering wheel would vibrate back and forth, particularly at highway speeds. I did not want to take the car to a shop because I knew they would charge me to complete an electronic balancing and that the vibrating would just reoccur soon after because I was fairly confident that the problem was more severe than a simple tire balancing. My initial reaction was that the vibration was due to some kind of brake problem, perhaps the rotors were warped. This would only be the case, however, if the vibrating occurred during braking. And in fact the opposite occurred. I came up with a new theory that my wheel bearings needed to be repacked, their looseness was causing a subtle vibration in the wheel. The correlation here is harder to detect. Ultimately, I decided to fix the wheel bearings and hoped that the vibration would be eliminated, and it was. Perhaps not a perfect example of the scientific method, but one that demonstrates the process.


One response to “The Scientific Method and Automotive Repair

  1. Brad, I really liked how you made two good connections and examples of how thinking derived from the scientific method can be applied to everyday situations. I envy your mechanic skills, and kudos to you for solving that steering wheel problem. I also enjoyed the Hurricane Katrina example, and never knew that there were instances of levees failing where water did not rise above them.

Leave a Reply