Health, Fitness, and the Art of Car Maintenance

Image of Car Engine
Hat tip to the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig which inspired the title of this post.

I find that analogies are a very useful tool for conveying concepts and ideas, and have been using numerous car based examples verbally for years, so thought it was about time I put finger to keyboard.

Finding a Balance

When it comes to healthy living, diet, and exercise, there is a lot of talk of finding a balance.

All too often, however, people tend to gravitate towards the extremes – a life of hedonism or asceticism.

Likening this to the world of car maintenance, on the one hand we have the reckless car owner:

  • Rarely washes and never waxes
  • Leaves parked outside in all weather
  • Never checks oil or services
  • Crunches gears and rides the clutch
  • Bumps up and down curbs
  • Treats the inside like a rubbish dump

Essentially the owner has absolutely no regard for the car whatsoever, and in a short time, the car will be ready for the scrap heap.

At the other extreme, we have the obsessional car enthusiast:

  • Hand washes and waxes the car every Sunday
  • Won’t drive anywhere unless there is undercover parking
  • Changes the oil fortnightly, only using the best
  • Rarely actually drives anywhere for fear of getting a dent or scratch
  • Won’t let the family in the car in case they make a mess

Although treating the car with such kid gloves will more than likely mean it stays in pristine condition for years to come, what is the point in having a car if you don’t use it?

There needs to be some kind of happy medium – get it serviced, check the oil regularly, and don’t let it rust away, but don’t be afraid to drive it.

Once in a while put your foot down and test its limits, don’t worry about getting the odd bump and scrape that can always be knocked out and re-touched.

Stick it through the car wash, or even get it valeted, but don’t waste every Sunday afternoon meticulously hand polishing it and missing out on time that could be spent with friends and family.

Genetics and Health

When it comes to health and fitness, an area that regularly gets people confused is that of genetics – does diet and exercise really matter, or is it just a lottery based on your DNA?

In this analogy, your genetics is like your make of car – are you an VolksWagen or a Fiat?

Chances are you could be a hedonist VW owner – neglect it, abuse it, and drive like a lunatic, and yet your car will still be on the road longer than that of a careful, only drives it to the corner shop on a Sunday, full service history, Fiat owner (please don’t sue me Fiat, I’m sure that’s no longer the case with modern models, etc, etc).

This doesn’t necessarily mean that if you own a VW, however, that you can throw caution to the wind, and do whatever the heck you like. A well maintained and cared for VW will last longer, perform better, and be more pleasant to drive than one which has been used and abused.

Equally, don’t give up hope if you’re landed with a Fiat. Perhaps, statistically, you’re likely to end up on the scrap heap far sooner than your typical VW regardless of what you do, but with some astute car maintenance, using only the best oils and fuels, and regular servicing, you can probably clock the mileometer at least once!

Genetics and Performance

Are you a jeep, a sports car, an estate? Certain models are just better adapted to some tasks than others.

You can make lots of adjustments to a car to bolster its performance – change the tyres, use high performance fuels, strip it down to improve power to weight ratio, tune the suspension, change the exhaust system, the list is endless.

No matter what modifications you make, however, even the most tuned up Vauxhall Corsa, is never going to be able to compete with an Aston Martin. Equally, an Aston Martin couldn’t follow a Land Rover across country.

Again, this doesn’t mean if one finds themselves with a bog standard Corsa, one should just stick it in the garage and long for an Aston Martin. There can still be much pleasure and fun derived from eeking out every last bit of BHP from the model you have.

Physiological vs Neurological Adaptations

As highlighted in the previous section, you can improve performance in numerous ways, through physical changes to the car:

  • Strip it down to improve power to weight ratio
  • Increase the size of the fuel tank to go further with less stops
  • Improve fuel delivery system
  • Better transmission
  • Tune the suspension
  • Use high performance fuels

The list could go on and on.

These kinds of changes are analogous to physical adaptations in the human body – reducing body fat, increasing glycogen storage capacity, improving VO2 Max, building muscle and joint strength, eating better food and so on.

All of these adaptations increase the potential for performance, but do not guarantee pole position.

In the previous section, I wrote that a Vauxhall Corsa could never outperform an Aston Martin – this is not entirely true, however, as it could well depend upon who is driving. Put Lewis Hamilton in the Corsa against Maureen Rees in the Aston Martin, and the outcome might be quite different.

I talk a lot on this blog about how strength, endurance, in fact all physical abilities, have a significant skill component.

It’s all well and good having a powerful engine and the best tyres, but if you don’t have the requisite skills behind the wheel, it’s not going to do you any good.

Simply by practicing becoming a better driver, you can significantly improve performance, reduce accident rates and increase fuel efficiency – that’s without making any physical changes to the car.

Happy Driving

When it comes to your own body, you can’t change your make and model, there are no trade ins or part exchanges I’m afraid.

The truth is, however, there’s not really a great advantage of one model over another – all have their pros and cons.

With increased power comes poorer fuel efficiency, larger models might be more robust, but are harder to maneuver, and so on. The key is to accept what you’ve got, and focus on the fact it’ll get you from A to B.

There are going to be certain tasks your model will be better suited to – accelerating along a quarter mile, going off road, long distance events: this doesn’t mean that this is what you are limited to though.

While you might never be the fastest, the most powerful, or the most maneuverable, you can improve any or all of these factors with a bit of elbow grease in the garage.

You can ensure you only fill up on the best fuel, put in only the best oils, and keep all your parts well greased and moving.

Through diligent practice and mindfulness you can hone your skills to become faster, more efficient and reduce wear and tear.

And never forget, regardless of your make, model and general condition, the most important thing is to get out there on the open road, wind down the windows, turn up the music, and enjoy the ride!


Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat /

5 thoughts on “Health, Fitness, and the Art of Car Maintenance”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top