Meet the man who could make a mechanic out of you yet
Fancy learning how to deconstruct a Mazda MX-5 from the comfort of your sofa? 'How A Car Works' is a grease-free guide to car mechanics
Jon is a British motoring journalist and former editor-in-chief of Auto Trader and Motor1 UK.
Wondering what to do in lockdown now you’ve finished painting that Tamiya Grasshopper and assembled the Lego Technic Land Rover Defender you got for Christmas? Well, how about refreshing your mechanical knowledge from the comfort of your sofa?
Website ‘How A Car Works’ is a grease-free goldmine of information and essentially showcases - in quite forensic detail - how to take a car to pieces and then put it back together. It’s been created for those of us who enjoy geeking out on Haynes manuals or skip through multiple re-runs of Wheeler Dealers to exclusively watch Edd China’s segments in the workshop. “Even specialist TV shows are designed for broad audiences with very limited attention spans,” explains Alex Muir, creator and host of How A Car Works. “Online, you have the opportunity to offer far more technical detail and that’s what I’m going for.” With 3D CAD models and 15-hours of broadcast-quality video already compiled, we’d say that’s an understatement.
Creator and host Alex Muir has a knack of making even complex chemistry appear simple
Of course, choosing the correct donor car is make or break for a format like this. After initially considering the best-selling Toyota Corolla, Muir gave himself a good talking to and decided to go with the Mazda MX-5, or Miata to our American friends.
The MX-5 may be a used car cliché for motoring journalists and enthusiasts across every land, but spend some time behind the wheel and you’ll discover why it’s a perfectly understandable one. Front-engined, rear-wheel drive, lightweight, manual and affordable; Mazda’s simple roadster recipe has been in production for 30 years and, to this day, hasn’t been bettered. From a practical perspective, parts are plentiful, donor cars are attainable and the lack of roof even makes filming interior segments easy.
The new 'How A Car Works' studio has relocated to Trafford Park, Manchester
You’d think the number of people willing to watch 30-minute tutorials on MX-5 starter motors would be pretty low, but they’re out there. “I’m seeing lots of guys in their 30s and 40s sign up to the site, as they’re keen to work on a car project but they also want to see somebody else do it first,” Muir confesses. “I’ve also heard from people who are using these videos to support their mechanical engineering university coursework.”
It’s easy to see why. Muir is self-trained and his presentation style is both natural and logical, explaining often complex mechanics coherently, cogently and with a hint of Mancunian accent.
Key subjects are often broken down into bitesize parts, so discussing the combustion process, for example, will lead on to mechanical timing and ignition timing. With big-ticket items such as fuel injection, differentials, suspension, steering and brakes still to come, Muir expects the total amount of video content will double to 30 hours in the coming months.
A quick search on YouTube only reveals a few ‘How A Car Works’ promos as well as this brilliant stop-motion video, and that’s because the rev share model isn’t even robust enough to replenish Alex’s Nespresso capsules. To be fair, he does crank through a lot...
A web developer by trade, Muir took the decision to create his own site, host his own videos and asks interested peeps to pay a one-off fee of £20 for lifetime access. After closer inspection of what we've been spending in the weekly shop, this sounds like incredible value to us.
The Mazda MX-5 has been the archetypal 'British' sports car for 30 years
“I hope that by the end of this, people feel confident around a car and are motivated enough to change careers out of it,” he explains. Of course, the website isn't going to just idle silently when project MX-5 is complete. The 36-year old has his sights set on deconstructing a Tesla Model S and has just signed a five-year lease on a new workshop-cum-studio in the Trafford Park area of Manchester. It's a fitting location, not just because it's the childhood home of Muir but because of its long association with car manufacturing. UK production for the Ford Model T began here in 1911.
"Electric cars are definitely the future of automotive, but there's still a lot of people who don't understand them," he tells DriveTribe. "I want to be able to explain the batteries, the software and the autonomous vehicle tech.” It's a bold ambition and one we're looking forward to seeing Muir explore. But for now, we’re off to search for an MX-5 in the classifieds.