To explain the entire technological history of the car would be quite difficult; therefore, a focus on car repair will give a limited scope in which the causes of technological evolution can be explored. Technological change has created the car as we know it today, but the question is why? Through what circumstances has the car gone from a simple steam powered cart to the computerized, GPS located vehicles that we know today?
One aspect central to the study of technological change is control. The industry concerned with repairing vehicles has always had some level of control over the repair of cars. At the same time, there has always been the tinkerer and do-it-yourselfer. Car engines have been an object of fascination since their inception, and they were originally much less technically complex, giving the everyday person the potential to learn the craft of automotive repair.
Different movements in the technological evolution of the automobile have involved a movement toward complexity and the locking out of the everyday car owner from the process of maintenance and repair. Vehicle repair is becoming more about specialized knowledge and access to software than the tinkerer, who has become relegated to the status of “consumer”. Why has this trend affected different aspects of vehicle design? The answer is complicated; it involves everything from simplifying controls to meet consumer demand to the emergence of digital technology.
One trend in the evolution of the car is the simplification of controls, even at the expense of making the internal mechanisms more complex. Cars that were previously started via a crank mechanism were followed by cars that could be started from the inside. Currently, cars are made to start at the push of a button. However, the starting mechanism itself, from the transition from crank to button, has itself become more mechanically complex. This has an effect on car repair, necessitating ever more specialized technical knowledge of car repair workers.
Another trend affecting the body of knowledge of car repair workers is the increasing encroachment of computers into cars. Cars are increasingly software powered. This is part of the larger technological trend of digitization. Mechanical and analog processes are substituted by digital solutions whenever possible.
Car repair has become just as much about software as it has about hardware. Much of this software is proprietary, meaning that it is designed so that only licensed dealers have the knowledge and ability to repair it. The problem this causes is that people can no longer work on their own vehicles, and in fact, doing so would break laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that makes it illegal to tamper with or modify proprietary software.
As repair becomes more and more specialized, requiring more technically skilled and trained workers, it will become more important for automobile repair shops to be licensed by car companies and dealership repair will likely grow in its control over the process of repair. The digitalization of cars and their control will likely continue as technology further develops.