When you self-identify as a hack, that means you’re proud of it, and Rob Siegel is proud of being a hack. He even has rules for what makes “a good kludge,” which he delineates in his book, Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic. Rob Siegel, you see, isn’t just a backyard wrench-twirler. His column, The Hack Mechanic, has been a fixture in the BMW Car Club of America’s official magazine, Roundel, for decades. Now, Bentley Publishers has given Siegel a wider platform for musing about cars, while really not talking as much about cars as you’d think.
Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic bills itself as “a memoir with actual useful stuff” – an apt description. It’s not a how-to manual for fixing your car, and it may be more helpful keeping your life in balance than it is with carburetor balancing. That’s no bad thing, and Siegel himself explains how classic manuals like John Muir’s How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive and books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Shop Class as Soulcraft serve more like manuals for self-discovery than fix-it books.
The tone and Zen-seeking flavor of those books makes Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic an easy read that often makes you chuckle (because you’ve been there) or marvel at the clever solution to a potential landmine of a repair (“cascading failure” is Siegel’s apt descriptor). Talking about the process of auto repair not from the “put-tab-B-into-slot-A” perspective, but from the “stand back and look at the big picture” point of view that the book takes is due, in part, to the author’s day job as an engineer. It’s good advice, and it’s why the book has appeal beyond fans of Neue Klasse Roundies.
The actual useful stuff is exactly that, especially the section that covers tools and shop procedures. Knowing the right kind of equipment to buy, where to spend the money, and where you can find bargains is key to getting the job done in an at least somewhat enjoyable fashion, and that’s all well-covered by the book. Another nugget of gold is a detailed section of repairing air conditioning systems, because without AC, your summer enjoyment season with a car lasts about five weeks until it’s too sweltering to use, forcing you back to your Corolla. And nobody wants that.
Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic is a book that will feel right at home next to your spiral-bound How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, and it’s written with a breezy, conversational tone that lets you get to know the author even if you haven’t been reading Roundel for 25 years. It’s less a car manual than it is a how-to guide for living with this particular addiction, from buying to keeping to selling cars that entertain you, and that’s why it’s a worthwhile addition to your library.
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Review: Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic