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Why I learned Everything I Know About Car Repair from Car Talk

by Frank Racioppi 10 months ago in pop culture

Brothers Ray And Tom Are Timeless

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

In the short history of podcasts, there has only been one with a "third half." If that misnomer is familiar to you, it's probably because you're a fan of National Public Radio's (NPR) radio show turned podcast called Car Talk.

Car Talk ran on NPR for 35 years, from 1977 until 2012. The hosts of the show were Boston's favorite sons – Ray and Tom Magliozzi. Self-described as "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers," the Magliozzi brothers trained an entire generation and more on how to repair their vehicle or, at least, diagnose the problem so your mechanic can't make boat payments from your inflated bill.

The format was ostensibly a call-in radio show for those few not familiar with the show/podcast, where listeners called in with questions about motor vehicle maintenance and repair. Callers solicited "free" advice, describing symptoms and emulating the strange sounds of their vehicle. The Magliozzis attempted to identify the problem over the phone and give advice on how to fix it.

But Ray and Tom stood out for several reasons. First, they delighted in self-deprecatory humor, obsessively pointing out that the elitist leaders at NPR were always embarrassed to be associated with the brothers. Second, while their sincere goal was to help diagnose callers' car woes, the brothers acted more like the Marx Brothers than the Pep Boys. Tom, the older brother, was famous for his loud, sustained laugh that often devolved into a red-tailed hawk's cry. Third, the brothers' gravitational pull drew their callers into their orbit of corny jokes, brilliant wordplay, weekly puzzlers, and "Stump The Chump" challenges.

Beneath the aw-shucks banter and unpretentious banter, the brothers "held court" on the physiology, anatomy, ergonomics, and even the psychology of the automobile.

From the brothers, I learned how to diagnose a bad starter, detect if I had a sticky brake caliper, or even had a dangling heat shield under my car. After a few years of listening, I was able – like many loyal fans -- to diagnose a caller's problem before the brothers because they often began with a non-sequitur discussion of the caller's name (Kathy with a "K" or a "C"). CV, or constant-velocity, joint was my go-to answer.

Younger brother Ray had a tested method for teaching someone – typically a new driver – how to drive a stick shift or manual transmission. I used Ray's guidance to teach both my sons how to drive a stick, and within a few hours, both boys were fair and only a few days away from competency.

What also made the brothers so fascinating was their blending of auto mechanics with the laws of physics. Both brothers were M.I.T. grads and never passed up an opportunity to argue quantum mechanics and Newtonian Laws of Motion.

Finally, the brothers excelled at reductionism when diagnosing automotive problems. They insisted upon keeping it simple and even engaged in zesty disputes about overthinking solutions, often with older brother Tom quipping about Ray's complicated response, "Boguuuuuuus."

The show ended in 2012, and Tom Magliozzi died in 2014 from complications due to Alzheimer's. But the show lives on on "The Best Of Car Talk" podcast, where I immerse myself in the reruns to diagnose an automotive problem that often evinces itself by a noise best described as a cross between a "groan and squeal."

While today's automobiles are far more sophisticated than when the brothers were in their prime, I do not doubt that Ray and Tom could still "stump a few chumps" with their comprehensive knowledge of the modern automobile.

In the crazy world of politics where our present or past elected leaders seem to have more attorneys than solutions to fix this country, these "sore-losers" can hire the Magliozzi Brothers famed law firm – Dewey, Cheetham & Howe.

pop culture

Frank Racioppi

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Frank Racioppi
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