While walking the pavements of the inner city the other day I started looking down, and came to the conclusion that the automobile manufacturing business came close to getting it right, but just came up a little short.

Close to getting things sealed.

Things like engines and radiators and all sorts of tanks and reservoirs.

Today of course it is very different as the very latest automobiles are built to very high production standards ... at least one hopes so.

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But then I guess the manufacturers have been saying that of their merchandise since day one ... since the first single-cylinder four-wheeler exploded.

There has been a lot of evolution though, but even evolution can't completely seal the concept of ageing.

Engines work hard and hot, and some just wear away earlier than others.

Or their seals do.

And hey, as the human chassis ages it can be susceptible to leakage as well but let's not go there for now.

So there I was, wandering along and catching glimpse after glimpse of the evidence of automotive ageing as I took in the empty parking spaces.

For at the front end of the spaces, and there were no exceptions whatsoever, there were smudges of old and dried liquids.

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Of mainly oily liquids but I daresay the occasional drop of glycol and brake fluid had also joined the grubby patch party the tarseal was staging ... in every parking space.

Go check it out, if you have nothing better to do.

There are no stains at the back ends of the parking spaces, they are all up the front end, where the engine bays of many thousands of cars and vans and things have settled above.

Which must make Volkswagen feel pretty good given a lot of their popular little brutes were rear-engined.

Funny what you notice when you look down.

You notice what time does to engines ... and tarseal.

But hey, there once was a time when you just took an oil leak on the chin, as well as the driveway for that matter.

The first car I bought was a Humber 90 and it had, shall we say, a few issues.

Like not holding water in the radiator terribly well, and dropping little spots of oil on the driveway after a bit of a run.

To the point that like many folk did in the '70s, and earlier times of course, I placed an old worn sheet of carpet down on the part of the garage floor below where the brute's engine bay would reside for the night.

It was a very oily carpet, put it that way.

Occasionally, while walking the pavements and noting the stains of automobile history in each and every parking space, I get a pang of nostalgia.

"I wonder if the Humber had been here one day?"

I also occasionally think the same thoughts about the car we eventually "upgraded" to ... a Vauxhall Viva.

It too was a very staunch supporter of the global oil industry and despite blowing up just outside Auckland in 1983 (I still have one of the pistons which has a valve-driven hole in its crown) it was a very loyal car.

We parked it up town several times through the years so I am sure that amid the stained parking runways lies evidence it's heart also once beat there ... and leaked there.

It did its best to look after us, but after the second engine dissolved two years later we swerved to the east and bought a Mitsubishi ... which I dubbed "Zero".

It too has now long gone.

I also get to thinking about the days I was learning to drive ... in mum and dad's Morris Minor.

It too spent time in town in the early '70s, so I daresay it too still has a faint place up there upon the great artwork of parking spaces titled "The Evolution of the Automobile Gasket and Sealing Systems".

For the automobilia romanticist, those smears and smudges collected through several decades (unless they reseal the roadway) all have a story to tell.

A story about how the oil industry was such an important part of life.

As were the manufacturers of those funnel things you needed to aim the stuff down into the waiting sump ... and shredded seals.

They are not cause for concern ... although it would be a different thing if you happened to spot these greasy artworks under where airliner engines parked up.

So, to be on the safe side, next time you're at the airport, just keep looking up.