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<   No. 2351   2009-07-04   >

Comic #2351

1 Spanners: This is the engine room, Quercus. We'll be spending a lot of our time down here.
2 Quercus: But modern engines don't need much maintenance. Why would we need to stay here?
3 Spanners: It's either that or spend time on the bridge with Serron and the others.
4 Quercus: Ah. I see.

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Expensive vehicles need lots of maintenance. Cheap ones, not so much.

Think about how much time you need to spend maintaining a bicycle. Not really a whole lot - you'll need to replace a tyre now and then. Maybe spend 15 minutes tightening the brake cables once a year.

How much time is needed to maintain a car? It should be serviced a couple of times a year, taking several hours, and other things will need fixing or topping up every now and then.

A plane? A plane basically requires a light service after every flight, and a more thorough one several times a year.

The space shuttle... needs a comprehensive overhaul after every single flight.

There's an elegant rule of thumb that the more expensive a vehicle is, the more time is needed to keep it in working condition. Air forces generally operate under the principle that hangar time is linearly related to the cost of a plane.

The roleplaying game GURPS actually enshrined a variant of this principle in its second edition vehicle rules: Vehicle require some sort of maintenance every 20000/(square root of cost in dollars) hours. Examples of types of maintenance relevant for different types of vehicles include: scraping off barnacles, changing oil, or dismantling the engine and running computerised stress tests. If a vehicle operates continuously (such as a ship or spaceship), then it needs a number of person-hours of maintenance every day equal to 96/(number of hours). For example, a ship costing $100 million requires 48 person-hours of maintenance a day - which could be provided by a team of six or more mechanics and engineers, working three shifts a day.

It seems like an odd relationship at first, relating vehicle maintenance to price, but it works quite elegantly.

2022-08-14 Rerun commentary: On this principle, a sled made from a piece of a discarded corrugated cardboard box should last indefinitely without ever requiring repairs.

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