COLUMN: ‘Efficiency’ comes with a price tag

While enjoying a beer and some BS, my friend asked if I’d had the spark plugs in my truck changed recently.

While enjoying a beer and some BS, my friend asked if I’d had the spark plugs in my truck changed recently.

Curious about the reason for the question, I asked him to elaborate.

Seems his truck is nearing the 100,000 km mark, and he’d been told it was a good idea to change the plugs, and then launched into a great litany on the cost of same.

Apparently his truck, which is a few years less vintage than mine, is of the generation that came with spark plugs that fuse to the engine head, meaning, of course, that when someone attempts to change them, they invariably break, requiring extensive cost to remove the bits and re-install shiny new ones.

“It can cost up to a thousand dollars to do this,” he lamented.

“Look,” I replied, “why are you worrying about it?  My truck has the same engine (though perhaps with different plugs, I allowed) and has travelled more than 280,000 km on the original plugs.”

Replaced? I don’t even know where the plugs are, let alone had them replaced. So as long as they don’t all pack it in at once, they’ll stay there until the truck meets the bone yard.

Of course, being the inquisitors that we are, we then popped open the hoods of the respective vehicles to see exactly where the little devils were located, and how accessible they are.

Confronted with more motive technology than drives a Saturn rocket, we clearly determined it would be virtually impossible to do the job ourselves, and conceded jurisdiction of engine-gutting to the $100-plus-an-hour garage mechanics who have more ‘special tools’ than NASA.

Gone certainly, are the days when you could literally climb into the engine compartment of a truck and, armed with little more than a hammer, screwdriver and socket wrench, fix stuff yourself.

Now I will admit that all the electronic wizardry, anti-pollution stuff and fuel economy devices on newer vehicles have more than halved the consumption of fuel.

But they have also compromised the use of some of them too. Looking last week at a new diesel unit one of my sons just acquired, I noticed what appeared to be a huge ‘box’ hanging below the body just back of the passenger side front tire.

What, I wondered, was that?

Apparently new diesel engines require the addition, every 5,000 km, of five gallons of urea into the little tank; something to do with anti-pollution requirements for diesel emissions.

Great for our health perhaps, but that box hanging below the unit would certainly be cause for very careful offroading in the 4×4.

One good whack on a big rock and the tank, urea and a significant part of your bank account is gone. As the credit card commercial states – being stranded in the middle of nowhere, with no way to fix it. Priceless!

This is the effect of pollution concerns and escalating fuel prices over the past decade or so.

In the 1990s, a former truck (at nine miles to the gallon, empty or loaded) cost less to fill both tanks than it does the single very much smaller tank on my current one.

We need the efficiencies that anti-pollution and economic consumption devices provide so we can breathe easier. However, the financial aggravation to keep trucks running either with fuel or fixing almost seems to make up the cost differential.

And, no, in case you are wondering, small electric or hybrid vehicles are not an option, at least when you need to haul a load of firewood, pull a trailer full of cows or carry a camper.

markrushton@shaw.ca