There are already a million places on the internet where you can type simple car maintenance questions and get a bunch of teenagers telling you some random nonsense that they have no reason to know the answer to (Yahoo!Answers anyone?)

If we fill up the private beta with questions like

  • How do I remove a dent from my car
  • How often should I change my oil
  • Should I use the brakes or low gear on downhills

this site will drive away people with real knowledge of auto mechanics--the exact population we need to make a great site.

For those of you who wandered in here from Stack Overflow, think about what would have happened if Stack Overflow filled up with people asking how to get on The Facebook and "My Internet Is Broken". The programmers would have fled and the site would have been useless.

mechanics.stackexchange.com is a site for people who repair vehicles. It's not Car Talk and it's not Yahoo Answers. Don't ask questions here (especially during the private beta) that will scare away the real experts who will make this a great, professional resource.

I would go so far as to say, don't even ask questions about "your" car. Ask questions about a "1996 Honda Civic with 75,000 miles in good shape that has had the engine rebuilt."

EDIT: I should be clear that everyone is welcome on the site, but the intent is to make a site with high-level questions, not simple, basic questions that are already answered in a million places on the Internet. You don't have to be a professional auto-mechanic to participate, but you do have to be committed to learning more and the subject matter should be limited to non-introductory questions.

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so what you're saying is that during beta, we should be asking 'Server Fault' style questions, and only after that we'll be allowed 'Super User'? –  Benjol Mar 9 '11 at 7:15
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"It's not Car Talk and it's not Yahoo Answers." No, it supersedes them. It obsoletes the Maintenance & Repairs section of Yahoo Answers, by answering the same type of questions in a much better way. –  endolith May 21 '12 at 23:17

5 Answers 5

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Ok, this makes sense and explains why some questions were closed :-)

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I did stumble over from StackOverflow. I think this site is a great idea, because I'm a programmer and I don't go a day without hopping on StackOverflow. That is because of it's quality. I'm not however a professional mechanic; so I think I'll deactivate my "mechanics" account, with kind intent. Though, I do have a comment, you guys should link to CarTalk , it's a great site for amateurs like myself and surely for people who come to this site (those you want to steer in the right direction). Maybe prompt people when they're logging in with their OpenID ? –  user155 Mar 11 '11 at 13:45

So, after waiting quite a few months for the site to open on the premise that it is for

mechanics and DIY enthusiast owners of cars, trucks, and motorcycles.

You now want to take advantage of our patience and long term commitment and change the site to something that will actually exclude nearly every one of us who have got it this far? What a great idea and thanks.

This also explains your extremely heavy handed moderating and comments.

If you wanted this site to be exclusively for professionals why was it not made clear from day one of the proposal, instead of misleading us?

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+1 - I'm far from being a professional mechanic myself, but very much interested in DIY maintenance and repair topics. This was the reason I joined the proposal, and I'd be very disappointed if the scope got narrowed down in the way it seems to be going. –  Iszi Mar 8 '11 at 6:43
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I think that the implication is that the professional comes first, to make for a robust, survivable site, and the DIY comes later. –  Kzqai Mar 8 '11 at 16:06
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Not at all. DIY enthusiasts are welcome. But if you let the beta fill up with questions from people who are asking how to change their own oil, you will drive away the serious mechanics, DIY enthusiasts, and gearheads that it will take to make this a great site. Remember... a site full of experts WILL attract DIY enthusiasts, but a site full of needy minivan owners asking whether they really need to rotate their tires and then, worse, attempting to ANSWER that question will drive away anyone serious enough to be able to answer the interesting, non-vapid questions. –  Joel Spolsky Mar 8 '11 at 16:46
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Just to clarify, what Joel is saying is the DIY questions should wait until the site is more established. Think about the Stack Overflow question again. If you went to a site with a bunch of people asking what a class is, or what public means, or why you can't divide by zero, would you, a professional programmer, be encouraged to ask questions there? –  jmort253 Mar 9 '11 at 3:08
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@John - A better analogy for you would be Server Fault since you're a System Admin. Would you respect me as an IT professional if I asked you what grep was, or what sudo was used for, or why my system was wiped after typing rm -rf? I am 100% sure you wouldn't hire me, much less ask me a question about how to configure a load-balanced database server with replication and raid-0 on a Dell PowerEdge 400SC. I don't even know if I said that last part right ;) If you have a bunch of me's running around on your IT Expert site, it will drive away the people like you who are experts. –  jmort253 Mar 9 '11 at 3:15
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@John - However, 6 months from now, I can ask you a totally n00b IT question on your now expert IT Site. I might get laughed at, but I'll get my answer from seasoned pro's. Conversely, a pro can post a difficult, expert level question and not feel like he or she is surrounded by amateurs. Hope this helps you see the point of the private beta :) –  jmort253 Mar 9 '11 at 3:17
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@John, if you're still listening, it's 3 months later and I'm taking up your cause. –  Bob Cross Jun 3 '11 at 1:07

The tone of this directive still annoys me.

The core reality is that most of the enthusiasm for this site is going to come from the educated amateurs, shadetree mechanics and grassroots motorsports enthusiasts. Check out the GRM forum: they bin up their topics rather loosely but you won't find a bunch of people screeching CLOSE! after a question from someone trying to solve a car problem on their own (AKA DIY).

For example, the three samples listed are a few words away from being very helpful to me personally (original in italics):

  1. How do I remove a dent from my car's aluminum hood without damaging the fire-retardant material? It's possibly a different procedure from a steel hood,.
  2. How often should I change my oil in my rear differential if I drive in low traction conditions on a regular basis?
  3. Should I use the brakes or low gear on downhills given that I'm concerned about overheating the oil in the differentials?

Constructing rhetorical examples of bad questions in advance of their arrival is a waste of time. We'll know those when we see them and, hopefully, tune them for utility rather than slamming the door on legitimate inquiry.

EDIT: responding to Jeff's points in the comments.

These two phrases summarize the fundamental disconnect:

  1. theoretically real mechanics
  2. the blind leading the blind

Seriously? How can either of those come across as anything other than insulting? In Jeff's terms, I'm either not "real" or I'm one of the "blind."

Let's consider some fundamentals related to this community and to StackOverflow:

  1. Programming is easy: there's typing, compilation and running. Didn't work? Then repeat the previous steps. The whole programming paradigm is very accessible for the casual amateur. Digging into a motor vehicle is different: the procedures are generally laid out in advance but every situation is different (e.g., rust, wear, intended application, etc.).

  2. Programming is common: the accessibility of programming drives its popularity. However, many people driving cars would never consider opening their hood to check their oil, much less change their oil. If someone like that is willing to learn, I'm happy to answer their question about what size socket they'll need for their drain plug.

  3. Most software is not life-critical: almost no one you are ever going to meet will ever work on real-time, safety-critical software. On the other hand, everyone driving a car is operating a system that can easily kill not only themselves but plenty of people around them. More knowledge for more drivers is a good thing.

Given the above, I don't think the StackOverflow reflex to close basic questions that actually do contain useful information applies. If a question is too general, get more detail. If the language isn't clear, improve it until it is.

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I think the spirit of it is to start with a high bar to attract the "right" crowd. Once you have a core of truly knowledgable users -- aka theoretically real mechanics -- you can sustain some newbies. But if you are overrun with newbies from day one, it is the blind leading the blind. –  Jeff Atwood Jun 2 '11 at 10:44
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@Jeff, response is in the answer. –  Bob Cross Jun 2 '11 at 13:50
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I think you are misreading the scope of what @Joel is addressing. He's NOT saying that ONLY experts can ask questions. Nobody's checking your credentials at the door; Everyone is welcome. His suggestion is that we should stick to "expert-level questions" while the site is forming. To attract experts, you need a site where people are asking interesting and challenging questions to that level of users. A site where experts are answering our questions will be very useful to us amateur-level users. But experts will NOT use a site that starts out top-heavy with beginner questions. –  Robert Cartaino Jun 3 '11 at 14:20
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The only point being made here is that we should save our beginner-level questions until this site has established itself as a place that is also interesting for experts. When an expert arrives at this site for the first time, you want them to say "Wow, this is the place for me!" -- blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/07/… –  Robert Cartaino Jun 3 '11 at 14:20

There are already a million places on the internet where you can type simple car maintenance questions and get a bunch of teenagers telling you some random nonsense that they have no reason to know the answer to (Yahoo!Answers anyone?)

This is exactly the problem that Stack Exchange was designed to solve:

After someone asks a question, members of the community propose answers. Others vote on those answers. Very quickly, the answers with the most votes rise to the top. You don’t have to read through a lot of discussion to find the best answer. [unlike all the auto repair forums filled with pointless arguments and garbage]

Like topics on Wikipedia, questions and answers on Stack Exchange can be edited. If someone writes the beginning of a great answer, someone else can embellish it and make it even better. [even if a dumb teenager's erroneous answer is mistakenly thought to be true by a few people, this can later be corrected, unlike Yahoo, where the wrong answer is set in stone forever]

All questions on Stack Exchange are expected to be objective and have concrete answers; we’re not a place for conversation, opinions, or socializing. We also expect questions to represent real problems, not just imponderables, hypotheticals, or requests for opinions.

If you restrict this site to only professional questions answerable by professionals, it will quickly die from disuse and be closed forever.

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I get the feeling that we're pulling out of the hole that we went into in March. That could be just general optimism but there are more and more user names that I don't recognize. –  Bob Cross Jun 20 '11 at 2:21
    
Checking in a month later, there are definite upward trends. area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/1321/… Questions per day are up as are total users and visits per day. On the other hand, I think it's interesting the the original proposer of the site (Randolpho) hasn't been interested. –  Bob Cross Jul 27 '11 at 12:39
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Right on. I'm tired of searching enthusiast sites where there are 63 different threads on any specific problem. Each one of them having some key piece of information or insight buried in them. –  Mark Johnson May 21 '12 at 4:38

I agree that:

mechanics.stackexchange.com is a site for people who repair vehicles.

If you're going to define professional as "somebody who repairs vehicles for a living", though, I think that's the wrong contributor to chase. That kind of professional is not likely to come here as part of their day job. They don't have time to ask a question and wait for answers when they've got a vehicle up on a lift in the shop. I'm not saying they're not going to look things up on the Internet, just that they're not likely to ask for help and wait for a response. Maybe they'll answer questions on their own time, but my gut feeling is that while may IT folk will sit in front of a computer for their day job and go home and sit in front of a computer in the evening for fun, that sort of thing doesn't happen as much amongst professional mechanics.

Instead of "somebody who repairs vehicles for a living", I think we want "somebody who repairs vehicles". An enthusiast for Make X, Model Y, Year Z who works on their own vehicle. Who rarely, if ever, takes it to a shop for anything. Who, when faced with a good description of a common problem, will tell you exactly what's wrong and what the fix is. Maybe they make their living as a mechanic. If they don't, though, I think their input is just as valuable as somebody who does.

I don't think you actually meant "somebody who repairs vehicles for a living", though. I think you really just wanted to keep the crap questions to a minimum and "professional" was a poor choice of words.

I'm over a year late to the party, but there is my two cents.

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You might be a few bars late but you're singing the same song. –  Bob Cross May 30 '12 at 3:00

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