Wot I Think: Car Mechanic Simulator 2014

By Tim Stone on July 15th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

Here in the UK we have an annual ritual called the MOT test. Once a year, owners of automobiles over three years old, report to their local garages to have their holiday plans torpedoed, food budgets slashed and Christmases ruined. The oil-smeared cutpurses doing the torpedoing, slashing, and ruining are called ‘car mechanics’. This is their game.

In Car Mechanic Simulator 2014 (Currently £15 on Steam and £13 on GamersGate) you spend your days trying to work out why Mr S’s saloon coughs and splutters on cold mornings, why Mrs D’s 4WD leaves puddles of mysterious fluid on her drive, and why young Master H’s hot hatch makes a sound like a dying narwhal when cornering. Forget the much-abused nine-letter word on the title screen, this is actually a detective game. You’re Sherlock Holmes with a socket set, and, surprisingly, most of the time the sleuthing absorbs like sand on a workshop floor.

One of the reasons CMS2014 works well is its Polish developer, Red Dot, refuses to patronise. Unlike 90% of the European titles emblazoned with the ‘Simulator’ box boast this one doesn’t treat you like an unusually slow-witted sack of turnips. Though automobile innards are simplified (There’s little detail to electrics, no full engine or gearbox strip downs, and, strangely, no acknowledgement that cars can develop carburettor and radiator faults) solving the 96 mechanical conundrums that constitute the pair of included campaigns requires plenty of stimulating head scratching and satisfying spanner twiddling.

The tasks start simple – an oil change here, a brake pad installation there. It’s fifteen minutes or so before you realise you’re pausing to peruse that thin? fat? Haynes Manual in your temporal cortex, the one titled “How Cars Work”.

Hmm, this chap’s elderly estate won’t start. I guess I should begin by examining the battery. If that turns out to be fine I suppose it makes sense to move onto the starter motor, ignition module, and plugs. Nothing amiss there? Possibly a fuel problem then… CMS2014 won’t turn you into a genuine grease monkey, but it does force you to consider what’s going on behind those scuffed alloys and that sculpted bodywork, and practise fault-finding methods rooted in reality.

Fault readers, diagnostic suites, and decidedly dull test drives play a part in the triage, but the most useful in-game tool for identifying troublesome components is the Mark I eyeball. Raise the bonnet, or the entire car with the aid of a hydraulic lift, and you’re ready to start scrutinising. Part heavily discoloured? It probably needs replacing. Sometimes you’ll need to detach something to properly examine a suspicious component.

As the campaign progresses, problems become more complex, solutions more elusive. The introduction of 4WD vehicles and V6 engines ups the workload considerably. While a gearbox or clutch change in a small frontwheel-drive hatchback is relatively straightforward, in a 4×4 there are axle differentials and drive shafts to be disconnected. On some jobs you can almost hear the devs’ giggling off-stage when you switch to the task sheet, confident a problem has been solved, and find the confirmatory ticks nowhere to be seen. Occasionally it’s simply a case of an overlooked filler cap in your pocket; more often than not, it’s an indication you’ve jumped to premature conclusions and must put off that teabreak for at least another ten minutes.

As the job numbers climb, guidance from punters tends to get less helpful too. The “Replace my shocks.” and “I need a new exhaust.” make way for “I hear a loud clatter when accelerating or braking. Help!” and “My car seems to be losing power! Sort it out, please.” Customers aren’t named or depicted but their tales of woe, and the state of their conveyances, tell their own stories.

There is an economic angle to the engineering, but frankly it’s pretty low key and underdeveloped. Certain components can be refurbished at your workbench (a single-click process), others purchased second-hand from breakers’ yards. As soon as I realised I could prosper without messing around with used or reconditioned parts, I promptly forgot about economising. If Red Dot had modelled competing businesses, things might have been different. The fact that unscrupulous garagistas can surreptitiously cannibalise a client’s car, replacing nearly new components with more heavily worn components, opens up intriguing criminal possibilities, but again, why bother when making a profit through honest toil is so easy?

Released some time ago, CMS2014 seems relatively free of unintended gremlins. The closest things to irritants are a camera that occasionally auto-zooms unhelpfully, and a system for dismantling/attaching bits that sometimes means a clearly visible component can’t be manipulated from a particular work position (you access cars from seven fixed positions). Oh, a few of the component hotspots are a tad tiny too.

Generously proportioned (I’m ten hours in and have only just unlocked the random-faults ‘endless’ mode) surprisingly varied (there are over 100 different fallible components on the larger vehicles) and quietly educational, this game won’t thrill or amaze you, but it may make you feel useful and clever. It may also give you the (misplaced?) confidence to sidestep those boilersuited wallet-ravagers in your local garage and take on a few car repair jobs yourself.

I’ll certainly pick up Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 if and when it arrives. With luck it will include a few of the following additional features:

  • Fumbled bolts. Car maintenance just isn’t car maintenance if you can’t drop fiddly components into inaccessible crannies.
  • Workplace injuries. It’s staggering just how many sharp edges car designers manage to squeeze into the average engine compartment.
  • The opportunity to rifle through a customer’s glove box, critique their music collection, and pilfer coins from their parking money stash.
  • The opportunity to decorate your garage with tasteful vintage tyre calendars and ads.

  • Specific real-world vehicles. At present the sim features eight different fictional vehicle types. They’re all interesting to work on, but the magic of meddling with recognisable marques – a magic palpable in another oil-stained Stone favourite, World of Guns: Gun Disassembly  - just isn’t there. If I was Red Dot I’d be energetically investigating the possibility of high-quality DLC based around iconic steeds like the Willys Jeep, Land Rover, Mini Cooper, and Tiger Tank.
  • Fragile, over-elaborate spare wheel storage mechanisms. Seriously, whichever Gallic genius thought it was a good idea to incorporate a handcranked spare wheel winch in the Peugeot 307 needs to be hung, drawn, shot, and then made to untangle a tangled Peugeot 307 spare wheel winch in a blizzard at night on the hard shoulder of the M3.
  • MOT-hungry games critics that whimper, dissolve into tears, then writhe on the floor when you tell them just how much work needs to be done to make their antediluvian jalopy street legal.

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39 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    Trust your mechanic to mend your car
    Bring it in to his garage
    He tightens and loosens a few spare parts
    One thing’s fixed another falls apart

    • NailBombed says:

      ….And the rich eat YOU! *punk surf guitar of doom* DK’s are the best.

  2. FurryLippedSquid says:

    I had the shock of my life a few months ago. A no work needed MOT. On a 15 year old car.

    http://31.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lph564blDz1qk06zvo1_500.jpg

    • Perjoss says:

      Merc or BMW?

    • Premium User Badge

      JB says:

      I drive a Ford from 1984, last 4 MOTs have all been passes. Some advisories, but no more than 2 or 3 a year. Nice.

      Speaking as someone who does their own mechanic-ing, this is so very, very true: “Car maintenance just isn’t car maintenance if you can’t drop fiddly components into inaccessible crannies.”

      • FurryLippedSquid says:

        Yeah, but you probably take care of yours. I don’t.

        Needless to say next year’s will be horrific. £500+.

  3. Pich says:

    This is nice and all, but where’s my Gearhead Garage sequel?

  4. Arithon says:

    Far too clean and well lit. No grease, no stacks of worn tyres, no random patches of spray paint, no oil patches on the floor, no Unipart topless-model calendar on the wall? Not a realistic simulator then….

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      The “do you want to take the broken part we replaced with you” checkbox on the form seems pretty true-to-life, though. Yes, of course I want those perished anti-roll bar bushes, such an item is exactly what I need.

      • Universal Quitter says:

        Isn’t that basically the only way you can hold them accountable for running up a bill?

  5. fluffy_thedestroyer says:

    this sounds like the perfect learning tool for that guy or women who constantly says “I don’t know how that works” 20 times each line when you ask them whats going on.

  6. BooleanBob says:

    This is just about the last website I expected to visit that would (further) make me feel inadequate about my lack of car expertise.

  7. SRTie4k says:

    I found the part about “a gearbox or clutch change in a small frontwheel-drive hatchback is relatively straightforward” to be laughable, at least in real life.

    Having owned several FWD cars, and now owning a 4WD Jeep Wrangler, the Wrangler is far and away the easier vehicle to work on. Trying to drop the tranny in a car with a transverse engine is a huge pain in the butt, while doing the same thing in a longitudinal engine is easy as pie, 4WD or not.

    I suppose the type of person that plays a game like Car Mechanic Simulator would never be the wiser, but for us gearheads (or you Petrolheads in the UK), it seems kind of silly.

  8. Gotem says:

    Once a year? here we now have it twice a year and can only use the car 5 days each week if it is older than 10 years

    • Alfy says:

      What? Where do you live???

      • Gotem says:

        Mexico City, that new law was just anounced in june and aproved and put in practice in July,
        It was supossed to be only for 15 year old cars, but theer are many cars as recent as 7 years old falling in that category, one has to pay a fee to have the car re-certified so it will be allowed to be used 5 times a week plus 2 saturdays each month.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    If only I could remove a bolt by clicking on it and holding for a second in real life too. Instead of the monkeywrench slipping over and over, causing me to bang my knuckles against a sharp & dirty surface.

  10. LionsPhil says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t pick up on the level of simulationing detail as was commented upon the first time this showed up.

  11. grimdanfango says:

    …owners of automobiles over three years old, report to their local garages…
    …and to add salt to the wound, those child automobile owners aren’t even allowed to drive them until they’re 17!

  12. Drake Sigar says:

    Is it possible for someone who still thinks cars are mechanical beasts powered by witchcraft, to play this game?

  13. Jerppa says:

    Does it allow the new kid do all the work and let me have a cigarette and a cup of coffee?

  14. Bostec says:

    Is there any difference between World of guns: Guns Disassembly on Steam and Gun Disassembly 2?

    • Tim Stone says:

      The models, GUI, and free weapon selection look basically the same, but Gun Disassembly 2 doesn’t come with the unlock tree structure and firing range available in the Steam version. Link updated!

  15. Michael Fogg says:

    Told my girl I had to forget her
    Rather buy me a new carburettor

  16. Solidstate89 says:

    We have annual mechanical inspections here in the U.S. as well, it just isn’t universal. It amazes and shocks me, but not every state requires regular car inspections.

    It’s kind of frightening actually.

  17. therighttoarmbears says:

    I really, seriously, verily, truly, actually do not want to turn this into a Political Debate On The Internet (I am largely agnostic of USA vs The Rest Of The World stuff, as well as the whole Yes Government! vs No Government! thing), but would like to point out that this seems like a thing that is fascinatingly different from my experience. I lived in Texas for a while, where they have mandatory vehicle inspections (I live in a state that doesn’t now), but the mandatory inspections actually had the opposite effect in my experience there. The mechanics seemed to have a vested interest in passing you and everybody else who came through the door, or else they would get a reputation and no one would come to them for inspections. And they’d therefore forgo the steady stream of people who came for $50 (or whatever it was) inspections that only took 20 minutes. I tended to go to the smaller mechanics, so it may have been different at dealerships, which in my American experience would happily steal your body parts from your still-living body if they could find a way to do it legally. There’s probably some sort of governmental or societal or cultural reason for the difference you describe between my personal experience and yours (the mechanics vs the populace thing) , but I don’t know what it is, and I wonder!

    • Tim Stone says:

      At times the British MOT test system can feel like a work generation scheme for private garages, but I can’t think of a better alternative. Having a network of government-run inspection centres that would assess and repair using state-regulated prices? Massively expensive to run, and – with the current fetish for target-driven performance – probably just as vulnerable to abuse.

      In my experience most garages are pretty efficient/fair. You’re always free to leave and re-test elsewhere, which is – I suppose – the ultimate safeguard against dodgy practices.

      Soft-touch MOT centres seem very thin on the ground in my neck-of-the-woods. I imagine most garages are scared of losing their MOT test centre status to a covert inspector so tend to keep their noses clean.

  18. felixduc says:

    Land Rover repair would be its own Standalone..

    • celticdr says:

      I used to work for JLR and the amount of Land Rover faults that were down to idiot owners adding multiple non-genuine parts to their Disco 4s or Defenders was astonishing – this of course is apart from the older Discos and Range Rovers which were quite frankly crap.

  19. sinister agent says:

    I worked with mechanics once.

    They keep TERRIBLE records. Like, thor’s-flappy-tits-how-are-you-still-in-business bad.

  20. El Mariachi says:

    no acknowledgement that cars can develop carburettor […] faults

    Since no regular production passenger car has come with a carburetor since about 1992, this is not too surprising.

    • Tim Stone says:

      66.6666% of the cars I’ve owned have had carburettors!

      (But, yes, I am stupendously old/impoverished so Fair Point.)

  21. Premium User Badge

    strangeloup says:

    I hope the 2015 edition has a button you can press after determining the problem to suck air through your teeth, sigh, and announce “Oooh, it’s gonna cost ya…”