Every now and again I find answers which "prescribe" solutions without any kind of qualification or justification. I find that the acceptability of such answers depends on the question at hand.

Here are some examples:

Some of my ideas for what qualifies an answer that is essentially a prescription:

  • prior relevant experience
    • similar symptoms
    • similar operational circumstances (weather, driving patterns)
    • similar vehicles/vehicle sub-systems

Could we think about formalizing what qualifies an answer as an acceptable "prescription"?

I would like to eventually link this post or transcribe the ideas collected to the FAQ in Mechanics Meta.

  • 3
    I was so hoping my answers wouldn't be in your list. *Phew!
    – Paramone
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 8:31
  • I take issue with the international understanding of your terminology. synonyms: dictatorial, authoritarian, tyrannical, despotic; diagnostic might be clearer, if less obvious. Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 16:02
  • yes. prescriptive doesn't mean 'like a prescription' in UK English. Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 16:07
  • @SeanHoulihane I see. I'm not sure "diagnostic" does it though, let me see if I can reword it
    – Zaid
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 16:08

3 Answers 3


If we default to down-voting the advice of others, simply because we haven't experienced it, we've lowered ourselves to the level of most other sites.

We should not down-vote, or remove, unless it's bad advice, in that it directly causes harm I.E.: "Pour 2 gallons of water in your oil fill tube and red-line your engine for 2 weeks."

The unfortunate thing is that we have individuals of varying levels of skill and experience doing the best they can to help someone with just a text based explanation. Often times the best answers are to simply talk about absolute basics.

"Is it plugged in?" should not be down-voted.

Another concept we should consider is that if a diagnostic tool costs X and the probable part costs many times over X, we should not be labeled whipping boys if we suggest it. Everyone loves to pick a extremist view on stuff like Fuel System Cleaner. When you start suggesting that someone replace their cats simply because they got a fresh P0420, You're more malicious than the "Run some premium through it" guy.

To remain on topic; Requesting that someone change their ECU could be considered an extreme without having first exhausting other diag options... But how are we going to balance that? We can only balance the fact that people should provide everyone with respect.

We can debate whether or not an expensive part is a solution, but why should we waste time arguing? In keeping with the "prohibit rudeness and/or maliciousness" we should make comments additive any time there is a concern that further diag should be attempted before defaulting to simply replacing a part.

I realize I am new here, so I suppose I have no say... But I feel it's important to stand up for those folks that sacrifice their time to be here and help others. Again, unless they are providing malicious advice, we should not be removing their comments/answers etc.

Those answers may help someone else who ends up here and has a slightly different issue but with linguistically similar symptom(s). Burying them because we have differing opinions is foolish.

I've left other similar sites before due to this rampant elitism, and complete lack of respect for users... I'd hate to have to leave this one, as well.

We all have some level of experience, and skill, which can prove helpful... If we start moderating people simply because we don't like the way they provide that information free of charge, with good intention, then this will be nothing more than a hive-minded group of individuals that assume that every problem can only be solved the way they deem it solvable, regardless if their solution is valid given the specific circumstances.

I feel that first-hand experience of an issue is highly valuable, especially when it comes from individuals who have experience solving highly complex issues with relatively basic solutions. Veteran Dealer Techs tend to have this level of acute experience and skill, and when they comment on other sites, they're often insulted, given that it seems oversimplified and/or irrelevant.

It is in my humble request that we do not devolve into a community of down-voters and hive-mentalists who only up-vote answers that we've seen favored, over and over again.

Thank you for your time.

  • 5
    Great answer from a "new guy". Matches most of what I think. Welcome to the site. There's usually a few people in the chat room if you have questions about the site or random stuff.
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 19:13
  • 1
    I agree, although I don't think that's quite what zaid was suggesting - the answers be linked to were people saying things like "it's the ECU, replace it" - we don't tend to like those sort of answers as they don't give useful details - whereas an answer that said "I had similar symptoms and it turned out to be the ECU because X and y had happened" is much more useful as it explains why the poster is suggesting it. Differing opinions are very welcome here!
    – Nick C Mod
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 22:33
  • 1
    Please don't let the "new" factor slow you down! There are a lot of great suggestions here. Commented Mar 26, 2018 at 17:57
  • Is it plugged in should be down voted if it is all there is to the answer. Doling out the things to check doesn't help anyone really solve a problem. Instead I find it better, since Stack isn't usually interactive, to give a series of things to check or try and what the results should be so the questor can at least do a meaningful update to their original question. Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 22:19

Along the lines of @Sean Houlihane - doesn't the Darwinian natural selection process drive the quality of the answers, including justifications/background even if it's a thin but "good" or "valid" answer?

Does this interpretive process (voting/comments) really need to be formalized against a set of guidelines?

I'm thinking that most of the voting and forum-modding comes from vetted experts, who not only have immense specific knowledge, but also a keen sense of how answers need to be expressed, the level of content, and whether the answer is so thorough as to have "legacy" potential.

I'd hate to discourage the rare-occasion poster of "Replace your ECU, I'll bet it has evidence of moisture intrusion." simply because it's not a fleshy grand treatise of an answer. There's an empirical value in such answers, even if not ideal. Answers that are provided for free - which leaves little room for pressuring for details from the rare-occasion poster which has no skin in the game, other than an attempt to help. You can lead those horses to a FAQ, but you can't make them read.

Crap remains crap. I would hope the cream rises. Without a lot of stirring efforts.

  • I agree that voting helps separate the fantastic from the craptastic. The trouble is that we need loads more voting on the site for it to work.
    – Zaid
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 6:55
  • While your suggestion of "Replace your ECU, ..." to me is one of those craptastic answers. If you have knowledge as to why it could be thus and are brave enough to throw down the one liner without reasons why someone needs to change it out to me is an issue. To me it's akin to R&R wrenching, which to me is the worst form ... you aren't diagnosing anything. You're just stabbing in the dark, which usually costs the OP tons of money before they get it figured out or throw up their hands in frustration. We need to separate ourselves from the forums which work under these premises. Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 15:24
  • @Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 I was specifically referring to the first example, which actually has some diagnostic content (look for mineral deposits). Such an answer might come from an empirical example of a non-mechanic whose none-the-less "handy". "Here's what I did on the same vehicle to fix those same symptoms."
    – SteveRacer
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 20:37
  • Then that qualifying information should be part of their answer. Otherwise without context the answer looses relevance. Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 22:23
  • @RowanHawkins I'd say it loses justification and perhaps overall quality - but it is no more or less relevant. If it's a valid solution, it's relevant. The qualifying information might justify and bolster the quality of the answer, but the answer (if valid) is relevant regardless of how fleshy. At the very least such an answer presents an empirical solution, pointing to a cause that might be rare and unmentioned otherwise. Ideally, every answer should be a treatise of exemplary beauty. Pragmatically, I'd rather see "check strut bushings, it's what fixed mine" rather than not at all.
    – SteveRacer
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 3:23
  • 1
    @Zaid From my perspective, a more formalised answer requirement will reduce participation in the site. To get more people voting, those here have to vote more, and edit the 'less than perfect' questions/answers to help those who may be subject matter experts (in some degree) but no great communicators. Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 7:36
  • @SeanHoulihane YES! Thank you. Said in 50 words what I can't seem to explain in 5000. OF COURSE we want the best answers possible... But me (egotist, engineer, ASE advanced master, and a vocational school instructor) has a really different angle on this community participation. I try very hard to make my answers fully explained and fleshed out. But I have those chops (sort of) and maybe the average Joe doesn't. Nor should they. Honestly, if somebody is asking a question on this site, they are quite likely not a mechanic or a master mechanic of any sort.
    – SteveRacer
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 9:16
  • I truly understand that "craptastic" answers don't help, but I don't want to enter a police state of editing and formality. This meta is a noble effort in an attempt to achieve what we all would like. However, I still pine for an organic solution which simply makes good answers good (by voting) and mediocre answers stand on their own by fundamental merit. Bottom line: participation has intrinsic value, especially when there is no compensation. Yes, I assuage my ego with my participation here and my well-edited answers. The fact that other contributors don't share my fetish is moot.
    – SteveRacer
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 9:24
  • And to add to my silly long wind; sure: Make a FAQ entry. Dorothy Parker will rise from the grave and say "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think." The first example (I didn't invent this out of ether) is a perfect example of some regular Joe offering empirical experience, typing it as an answer, and letting it stand. Even if I were a betting man with great odds, there is no way he would have read any "FAQ" and fleshed out his/her answer more. Kudos for the participation. Gift horses and mouth examination...
    – SteveRacer
    Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 9:40

Surely the answer here is to comment, and maybe downvote or flag non-answers? I didn't see any bad answers in the list...

  • 1
    The idea is to comment and notify users. As you point out they aren't "bad" from the perspective of standard SE guidelines, but they have the potential to be poor automotive answers for various reasons. My intent in creating this question was that the community could agree on what's missing from such answers, so that it can be formally added to the FAQ
    – Zaid
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 15:57
  • Yeah or possibly they could be edited to not be so prescription-like/absolute?
    – rogerdpack
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 22:41

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