MY car needs an oil change. As it happens, I have three options.
First, I could take it to the dealership where they will charge a not-inconsiderable sum for a mechanic to swap out fluids and filter, and perform basic maintenance checks at the same time. They will likely come forward with a few recommendations, and certainly will catch anything that's outstanding, being (hopefully) expert in the model lineup.
Option two, I could take it to one of the numerous quick-change places that have popped up in the last few years. Here the oil will be rapidly changed by a technician, usually for cheaper than a dealership can afford to do. If lucky, I might get a cursory inspection thrown in, and then off down the road without getting my hands dirty.
But there is a third option.
While I don't have a garage, I am lucky enough to have a level driveway. I also have a full set of tools and a somewhat over-inflated sense of my own mechanical abilities. Yep, time to cheap out and Do It Myself.
It's a dying art, this automotive self-reliance. Certainly it was the norm in the time of our fathers and grandfathers. In those days, a certain intimacy with your machine was expected - reliability wasn't a no-brainer.
As I drag out the floor jack and the socket set, I'm remembering one particular story related to me by the ever-irascible Malcolm Parry. I'd written a bit on the British Motorcycle Owner's Club and their upcoming Cafe Racer display, and Mac sent me a note detailing an adventure he'd shared with his father riding a sidecar-equipped single-cylinder Ariel Westward out of the Midlands.
Three-quarters of the way through struggling up some misty Welsh mountain with one of those consonant-laden Cymric names that cannot be pronounced without producing a quarter-pint of phlegm, the Ariel spluttered to a halt. Overheated by the climb, the shellac in the magneto had melted, coating the metallic innards and putting an end to sparking.
The way Mac tells it, his father filled his pipe carefully as the motorcycle cooled in the high mountain air; I imagine the desolate stillness after the single-cylinder racket was particularly lonesome. Here they sat on some Godforsaken Snowdonian mount, and nothing between death by exposure but his father's ability to get the bloody thing going again.
A leather attache case was produced, filled with all the sorts of metal tools that would have been magic to a young boy. Carefully, the magneto was disassembled, the shellac was honed away and finely polished with emery cloth; pipe smoke trailing away over the high grass.
At last, the work was done, the engine reassembled, the kickstarter stamped, and - success! Tell me if you understand any of this: "He . . . opened the oil-control sight-glass's knurled ring a click or two, lifted the clutch lever (it and the front brake lever were hinged at the handlebars' outer ends), pushed the Burman gearbox's quadrant control into first gear, gently opened the Amal's handlebar-mounted and coaxial air and petrol levers (there were few twist-grip throttles [those days]) and away we went. . . ."
It's all Greek to me, but not that far off my own experiences with my Dad. As I flip through the toolkit to find that - invariably - everything's present and accounted for apart from the one dratted socket I need, I'm thinking of those early days spent in apprenticeship behind the trouble light, rooting around in drawers trying to find the alwayselusive 12 millimetre wrench, coming in to my mother with grubby hands and oil-stained clothes.
With the skid-plate off the Subaru, a whole world of interesting piping and wiring is exposed. Pity those who've never lain beneath their car, looking up at its mysterious and arcane inner workings. I know that's the cylinder head, and this the unequal-length exhaust header, but what's that bit do? And isn't this important-looking thing supposed to be plugged in?
Fascinating stuff, to be sure. Why then do so many manufacturers spend so much time making sure we don't go near it?
If you dare to open the hood on any modern car, in all likelihood you'll be confronted by swathes of plastic. These covers are the mechanic's bane: one more thing to be removed before you can get on with the job.
We're told that the Generation Y (or the Millennials, or whatever the appellation-du-jour is) has fallen out of love with the automobile. Kids these days just don't care about cars. They'd rather twit and faceread with their friends, and text the opposite sex rude photos and all the other things teenagers like to get up to. Why would you need a 3,000 pound monstrosity that you have to fill with fuel when you can use your phone for freedom?
Why indeed, when today's cars are more like appliances than ever? They're like iPads: technically brilliant, but indistinguishable from magic. Put in gas, listen to your specialist, push the right pedal to go and the left pedal to stop.
With the oil drained, I crack open a fresh litre and pour it carefully into the oil filler. The stream of 5W30 glints golden in the sun briefly - liquid dinosaur lifeblood.
Once upon a time, craftsmen worked for years to develop the skills necessary to produce the world's finest watches. Then, along came quartz, and a disposable mentality. Now we have complex machines, hybrid powertrains, electric-drive plug-ins, direct-injection fuel-systems, computer-driven emissions controls - you need a comp-sci degree to even think about cracking the hood.
And so, producing a grubby rag to clean my hands (or at least spread the dirt around), a heavy sigh. Both of satisfaction at a job well done, and of regret that I probably won't be able to perform even this simple task on the next car I own. Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. If you have a suggestion for a column, or would be interested in having your car club featured, please contact him at email@example.com. Follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendan_mcaleer.