Steam Backlog: Car Mechanic Simulator 2015

By Shamus Posted Friday Jul 21, 2017

Filed under: Game Reviews 46 comments

It’s exactly what it says on the tin. You’re a mechanic, and you run an auto repair shop. Customers call you up with car problems, and you can choose which repair jobs interest you. You open the hood, take the engine apart, find the bad bit, and then either repair or replace the damaged part. Then you put the car back together and move on to the next job.

This game was originally Kickstarted for $22,866, and it’s pretty good for a game developed on a budget of that size. By random chance, this review is going to appear on the same day as the launch of Car Mechanic Simulator 2018. This will be the first CMS game since 2015. For the last couple of years developer Play Way has been trying to branch off from cars by making similarThe trailers make them look similar. I haven’t actually played them. mechanic-style games about farm equipment, trucks, and trains. I don’t know enough about this series to comment on those, except to note that the Steam reviews aren’t particularly good for those spinoff titles. This review has nothing to do with any of that. Car Mechanic Simulator 2015 is just the game I decided to play this week.

This game is pretty janky and I have gripes with just about every aspect of it, but I got a good couple of days of entertainment out of it despite that. There are a lot of baffling design decisions here, but the core loop of tearing something apart and putting it back together is really satisfying.

This is the quietest and cleanest repair shop I've ever seen.
This is the quietest and cleanest repair shop I've ever seen.

The various cars are modeled with an almost fanatical attention to detail, with each car being made up of literally hundreds of parts, all modeled down to the individual bolts. Because of this, it takes some familiarity with the particular model of car to work on it efficiently. (The cars are all fictional. No licensed cars here. I think that’s a plus, since licensed cars always have annoying compromises imposed by image-oriented car companies.) Different engine layouts mean that some cars are easier to work on than others, and knowing what parts you’ll need to disassemble to get at the problem can make a lot of difference in how long it takes you to complete jobs. Beyond the engines, you can repair damaged bodywork, open the doors, check out the detailed interior, and even take the car for a test drive to look for problems.

The game simulates all the fun parts of automotive repair and ignores all the annoying stuff. Removing the alternator is just a matter of right-clicking on the part in question, then clicking on each of the bolts to remove them. You can see through the body of the car and position the camera almost anywhere you want. Which means that – unlike a real-world mechanic – you’ll never find yourself wedged halfway inside an engine trying not to burn yourself on the exhaust system while you use your off-hand to turn a stuck bolt you can’t see while flakes of rust rain into your face. If working on cars in the real world was more like this, I might be more inclined to do my own repairs.

When working on an engine, the body turns transparent and your camera can freely float around inside the engine compartment.
When working on an engine, the body turns transparent and your camera can freely float around inside the engine compartment.

The problems with the game stem from its slow and obtuse progression mechanics. You earn both XP and money for completing jobs. The odd thing is that all of your upgrades are based on XP, not money. A typical repair job might get you 100XP or so. For every 1,000XP, you get a skill point. All upgrades cost a skill point. Want to add a new device to your garage? That’s a skill point. Want to buy a tablet PC so you can order parts while you’re working on a car so you don’t have to cross the room to use the garage computer? That’s a skill point. Want to change a completely cosmetic feature, like the wall texture? Skill point.

Worse, the game doesn’t explain any of the upgrades. I had no idea what “Compression Tester” upgrade was, what it would do, or how it would help me. Same goes for the “OBD Scanner”. The game never explains any of the devices. Even if you have some knowledge of cars and know how these devices might be used in the real world, you might still have trouble understanding how to apply them within the game.

No tooltips. No informational popups. This is everything the game has to tell you about the upgrades.
No tooltips. No informational popups. This is everything the game has to tell you about the upgrades.

This wouldn’t be a big deal if upgrades were frequent. But after 5 hours of play I’d only earned 3 skill points. After a while it starts to feel like a real grind. That’s probably totally realistic, but in a “realistic” world I’d buy an “Electric Tester” with money instead of conceptual representations of my life experience, and I’d know if I needed one and what it would do before I bought it. With each point taking so long to earn, it’s not the sort of thing that lends itself to blind experimentation. If I sink over an hour into an upgrade, I should at least know what I’m getting. A grind is a lot more tolerable when you’re working towards a concrete goal with a perceivable benefit, as opposed to blindly picking from among various inscrutable options.

The game is in desperate need of a tutorial. It offers you one at the start of the game, but that ends before it gets done explaining much of anything. It never told me about the repair table, the oil drain, the various upgrades, how job payment workedYou’d think it would be better to personally repair parts as opposed to ordering new, but according to the forums you just pass that cost on to the customer. Since you don’t see an itemized bill, I don’t know how you’re supposed to tell the difference., how you diagnose problems, or any of the other systems in the game.

I know I’ve been kind of negative, but I have to give credit CMS credit for trying something really new and committing to it fully. The systems of the game are kind of wonky, but it’s pretty impressive from a technical standpoint. Assembling and disassembling modern engines is a complex thing and this game had to basically invent their own interface conventions from scratch because there really isn’t anything quite like this out there.

I can’t wholly endorse this game on the basis of gameplay, but as an experimental quasi-educational sim it’s worth having a look.



[1] The trailers make them look similar. I haven’t actually played them.

[2] You’d think it would be better to personally repair parts as opposed to ordering new, but according to the forums you just pass that cost on to the customer. Since you don’t see an itemized bill, I don’t know how you’re supposed to tell the difference.

From The Archives:

46 thoughts on “Steam Backlog: Car Mechanic Simulator 2015

  1. methermeneus says:

    As someone who tries not to burn myself while turning a bolt I can’t see with my off hand for a living, I kinda want to try this, if it’ll work in Linux. Also, did you mean to say “credit CMS credit”?

    1. Philadelphus says:

      Sadly, I just checked, and neither this nor the 2018 version have native Linux versions listed. Could always try WINE, I suppose.

  2. Zak McKracken says:

    “trying not turn burn yourself ” –> “trying not to burn yourself”?

  3. Zak McKracken says:

    Passing part costs on to customers actually sounds quite realistic to me … too many places simply don’t bother about this sort of thing. It took me quite a while top find one that did in the previous place I lived at. Boy, was that great! I’m not sure how you’d put that into game mechanics, though, because it doesn’t seem to impact most garages IRL, either.

    …maybe if you always swap rather than repair, your more discerning customers will not come back? But most of them will never notice because they have no way of knowing whether the swap was actually required or not. I mean, I only noticed because my car had had the same problem for a long time and then this guy fixed with a hammer what the other places had tried to fix by swapping expensive parts… that’s the day he gained a faithful customer (until I moved away …)

    1. bigben1985 says:

      The “customers” don’t really exist, you just get a list of repair jobs you can do, regardless as far as I can tell of how good/fast/expensive you are.

      Also there is a whole bunch of DLC which introduces real cars as well as new fictional ones with new car types. The mechanics don’t change much except that you will need special parts (which is realistic) and can’t use “generic” stuff.

      I can say that I definitely got my moneys worth with this game. Now if you’ll excuse, I have to check out the 2018 version Shamus mentioned…

    2. Agammamon says:

      I don’t know about that – IRL, unless the part in question is really expensive, I would prefer it to be swapped out.

      Sure, the water pump’s plastic rotor might have broken, but its 10 years old and opening it up and replacing that (because none of them are going to fab a new part for you – at least not until 3D printing becomes cheaper and more reliable) just means I’ll be back next year when something else in it breaks.

      Plus, nowadays replacement parts are, in general, cheaper (and faster) than keeping the expertise, manpower, and capital on hand to do component level repair work. Sure, you can fix that alternator – for $150 dollars. Or I can just order a new one for the same price.

      Its why nobody fixes tv’s anymore. If it doesn’t break under warranty, it’ll last long enough that by the time it does break its more cost-effective to buy an (upgraded) current model.

      1. Richard says:

        And if it does break under warranty, the whole thing is swapped and the dead one dismantled and the parts sold as spares or recycled.

        In general, unless there’s a known fault with a particular component, most modern goods are not worth repairing at all.

        1. ehlijen says:

          Which makes any machine surviving a zombie apocalypse really unlikely. Or a buried under collapsing mt garbage apocalypse.

        2. default_ex says:

          Only not worth it if you don’t know what your doing. Electronics are insanely cheap to repair for anyone that is familiar with a multimeter and has a steady enough hand to do pinpoint soldering. Components that tend to die cost less than $1 and you can usually find a good electronics shop within 20-30 miles if you take the time to look; it just might be the only electronic shop within 20-30 miles thanks to Radio Shack taking that industry over, jacking up prices, switches focus and failing to maintain the new focus (sorry, very angsty against them).

          It’s only prohibitively expensive because of this stupid double standard mindset that has arisen. The one that if a repairman’s prices sound reasonably low, their work must not be all that good but if they are high then it’s cheaper to just replace the device. Just say it like it is instead of insulting me and the work I take great pride in, you want a shiny new device and are looking to me to give you a reason to spend the money on it. I don’t mind doing repair work at an affordable price because the parts are so cheap that majority of that cost is going straight to my pocket. $15/h might sound cheap to you when most repairs take less than an hour, but to me that’s $14 for 5-10 minutes of work that I enjoy doing.

          1. Richard says:

            Swapping a bulging electrolytic, dead line driver/buffer, or even (in some cases) a MOSFET/IGBT, yes, that is possible, and perhaps economic for some kit.

            The majority of other failures are quite likely to have killed a monolithic IC (either directly or as a side effect).
            In modern kit that’s a high pin count SMT chip, which is rarely hand solderable in a reasonable amount of time, if at all. Many are also now BGAs, and you’re not doing that by hand.
            Swapping a BGA chip needs rather specialised reworking tools – such as an x-ray machine.

            Repairing a linear or switch-mode PSU is often feasible – though rarely economically viable.
            Eg, a high-spec 650W ATX PSU goes for under $100, and a cheap one can be had for under $40.

            1. default_ex says:

              Yeah I get the whole IC problem. My Xbox360’s SB has a burnt out eject function that I had to bypass with a switch wired between the motor and a ground (it grounds to open). That took some out of the box thinking to fix that I know most aren’t capable of, just mapping it out was difficult enough for me to feel like a geek in an electronic shop.

              However most of the time ICs are very well protected in modern devices. Pretty rare that they are affected. It really doesn’t help with things like surface mount resistors being likely culprits, even with a steady hand it’s dodgy to replace those, so much so that I don’t even try unless I have at least 1 more to spare.

        3. Zak McKracken says:

          …or that’s what the manufacturer would like you to believe… for them it’s usually better if you swap or better replace the entire car. “original” replacement parts are so expensive that the parts which make up your car would cost five times what the car cost when it was new .. that’s not an accident. It is rather a test of the willingness of customers to risk using non-“original spare parts or repairing components. Somehow it always sounds you’d be safer replacing with original parts.

          …in my case, the oil pan had never been quite tight ever since the car was new. two different shops had charged me for a new part, which still didn’t quite fit and kept losing oil. The last one told me with a smirk that you need to know how to use a screwdriver and a hammer to get the part in shape, and it never leaked again. No worry, it’s on the house.
          Now, the manufacturer made a few hundred Euros on the first two jobs, but nothing on the last one. It’s pretty clear which way the incentives are pointing here from the manufacturer’s perspective.

          I think as a customer, it’s in my own self-interest to work against that.

      2. Steve C says:

        Passing the costs of parts onto consumers is often not reasonable. If the car is worth $3000, then putting in a couple of parts that cost $500 is straight up not worth it.

        I prefer swapping with old parts from scrapped cars. Of course never brakes nor parts that wear out that need to be new. But something like a radiator? Sure. I bought a used car that needed a bit of work. I was offered twice what I paid for it (including repairs) because I kept repairs low by using scrap parts. It would have never been worth fixing if I had to pay for new parts.

  4. TmanEd says:

    “The game simulates all the fun parts of automotive repair and ignores all the annoying stuff. ”
    That actually makes me wonder how a game would represent you being under a car and trying to remove a bolt that was placed with the understanding that anyone who wanted to reach it would have at least two extra arm joints. Maybe put in mic functionality, and have your progress helped along by how much you curse?

    1. Agammamon says:

      Don’t forget the $100 knuckle-smacking peripheral for the full immersion.

      1. Fade2Gray says:

        It goes without saying, if your want the complete experience you’ll want the $250 Accumulated Engine Gunk Dispensing System.*

        *Refill canisters sold separately

        1. default_ex says:

          Guys, I’m picturing a janky strap on attachment. It has a spring loaded servo with a wrench which occasionally snaps your knuckles. Near said servo an electric tooth paste tube squeezer slowly dispersing a tube of grease up your arm. All mounted on a mechanic glove with the knuckle and fingers torn to mitigate the shock absorption properties of the glove.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Guys, I'm picturing a janky strap on attachment. It has a spring loaded servo

            Almost sexual,isnt it Smithers?

    2. TMC_Sherpa says:

      I call those first parts. As in that was the first part put into a jig and the whole car was built around it.

      On my old Neon (Ashes to ashes, rust to rust) it was the alternator. The bolt was too long to take the nut off with a socket and there was juuuust enough room to flip an open ended wrench back and forth about a million times.

      Also you haven’t lived until you’ve steam cleaned the bottom of a firetruck on your back.

      1. Nessus says:

        I remember taking a repair class in school way back in the 90’s, where the students mostly worked on our own cars for in-class lessons. One of the very first hands-on things we learned was, of course, how to do an oil change. One of the guys in my class had a new pickup truck, and we discovered that by all appearances you’d actually have to yank the entire engine just to change the oil filter. Like, you could see the corner of it if you squinted at just the right angle down one of the crevices, but there was no passage to it from above or below that could possibly admit a hand or tool, or the filter itself.

        The engine cavity in general looked like it had been minmaxed for space efficiency while on cocaine. There wasn’t a single crevice below the rim of the valve cover that could admit more than a finger without progressively more stuff having to be dismantled and removed. You had to strip mine layers of engine to reach even surface mounted stuff below that level. But the oil filter, of all things, was flat out completely unreachable. It was sandwiched deep between the engine block and the sidewall, so that (apparently) only by pulling the block itself could it be accessed. Even our instructor (a career auto mechanic teacher, not a shop teacher who also taught cars on the side) was stumped.

        IIRC that guy eventually stopped using his truck for class stuff that had anything to do with the engine cavity. Break and suspension stuff was fine, but if he had to touch anything in the engine cavity other than the battery, he’d buddy up with some else on their car instead.

        I wish I could remember what make and model it was. Just remember it was a relatively new (in the late 90’s) American model pickup. I’ve done some of my own work on my own cars since then, and even with much more recent vehicles with more efficiently compact innards, I’ve never seen an engine cavity as maniacally tessellated as the one in that truck.

    3. Rariow says:

      Maybe a less silly Surgeon Simulator or QWOP style game? The experience of those two games seems to be the closest in the amount of fiddly contorting you’re doing, bonus points for how well they capture that “I have it… Oh, darn, no I don’t” feeling that just repeats ad nauseum. I don’t know how you make it a serious experience rather than an openly silly spoof designed solely to be frustrating, though.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Maybe a less silly Surgeon Simulator

        No such thing.

  5. Ranneko says:

    I really doubt that the budget for this game was only what they raised via kickstarter. Especially given that the game was estimated as about 75% complete when they started their campaign.

    The gaming community, in general, has a very vague idea about how much games cost to create, and reporting kickstarter campaign results as game budgets does not help. They are very rarely the whole story and shouldn’t be treated as such.

    1. Decius says:

      The first half of the programming takes 90% of the budget. The second half also takes 90% of the budget.

  6. Anorak says:

    you'll never find yourself wedged halfway inside an engine trying not turn burn yourself on the exhaust system while you use your off-hand to turn a stuck bolt you can't see while flakes of rust rain into your face. If working on cars in the real world was more like this, I might be more inclined to do my own repairs.

    Hah. I’m a strictly amateur mechanic, and I work on a VERY easy to work on car, but this tickles me.
    I’ve got a burn scar on the back of my hand from a hot exhaust while trying to turn the carb fuel enriching nut :)

  7. D-Frame says:

    As a car enthusiast, I liked this game very much. The most fun part was buying my own dilapidated cars in auctions and restoring them, even adding cosmetic and performance upgrades (DLC). The problem for me was that it got repetitive pretty fast, even though there are lots of different cars. Also, the driving “simulation” was pretty arcade-y.
    I dream of a realistic racing sim where you have to work on your own car(s) manually like in CMS. “My Summer Car” was close, but the life management component drove me nuts.
    Oh: If I remember correctly, XP gain was quicker in hardcore mode where you can’t see the bolts and are given no information on which parts to replace.

    1. Droid says:

      Hardcore mode sounds like the optimal strategy would be to go all “ship of Theseus” on every car and just replace everything in every car with new parts (and the customers can suck up the cost).

      1. Philadelphus says:

        I’m just imagining the conversation:

        “There you go sir, she’s brand new!””I mean ‘good as new!’ ”
        “Great! Thanks. Say, I was just wondering about this bill…”
        “Well, I came in because of that slight ‘tink-tink-tink’ noise in the engine, and I see you replaced my alternator?”
        “Oh, yeah. That was probably the cause. Definitely had to replace that.”
        “You also replaced my engine block.”
        “Yup, yup, just making sure.”
        “And my tail lights.”
        “Yeah, it’s amazing just how interconnected these modern cars are. Couldn’t rule out that those were also part of the problem…”

  8. King Marth says:

    I expected that Job Simulator VR game/tech demo, as it has a ‘mechanic’ part where it gets the conventions of car garages humorously wrong while you flail about. I was pleasantly surprised.

  9. I can't wholly endorse this game on the basis of gameplay, but as an experimental quasi-educational sim it's worth having a look.

    Maybe I can finally learn all those car repair techniques that I was never shown in real life like… hovering my mouse button over the engine to take it apart.

    It’ll save lots of time so I don’t have to use my hands to change anything in my car.

    Although considering I don’t change car parts anyways, yeah.

    1. Richard says:

      I generally just hover my credit card over the engine and it magically gets fixed.

      I don’t really care how cars work, I just want mine to be reliable, comfortable, have huge interior space, small on the outside, easy to park, have excellent fuel economy, and not cause my credit card to burn up in a puff of smoke.

      It’s blue with a phone and lots of flashy interior lights. Got it from a doctor.

      1. Blackbird71 says:

        Do you find that the parking brake sticks?

        1. Richard says:

          It’s automatic.

          At least I assume so, I’ve never taken it off.

          Makes a sort of “keys rubbed on a piano string” noise when I set off. That’s normal, right?

      2. Son of Valhalla says:

        Yep, same here. I just need my vehicle to function. Credit card, swipe, fixed.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But how is the billing done in game?Is it like the real world car shop:

    After finishing the repairs,mechanic is dictating to his assistant what has been done so they can make the bill.
    – And thats all of it.How much does it add to?
    – $1073
    – Thats an ugly number.Round it to $1100.No,wait.He will think we are overcharging him if we make the bill too round.Make it $1136.

    1. Where are you shopping at?! $1000 and over for car repairs? Even my most expensive quotes have been between $500 and $700.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Those are asspull numbers for the sake of the joke.Tweak them as you wish,I just used them because they are nice and round.

  11. Blackbird71 says:

    Some goes for the “OBD Scanner”. The game never explains any of the devices.

    Man, everyone should have an OBD scanner; I keep one in my glove compartment (but I drive an old car with frequent issues). I don’t consider myself a huge car guy; I know enough to change my own oil and take care of a couple other basic issues, but that’s about it. Even if you don’t do any work on a car yourself, you can still find an OBD scanner useful.

    You can get one of these for ~$10-$20 off Amazon. Under your dash there is a sort of computer socket (check the shape and type, as this will determine what sort of scanner you will need, e.g. OBD, OBD II, etc.); the OBD scanner plugs into this socket. When your car is giving that annoying “check engine” light, the scanner will read the car’s computer and return a code. You can then look the code up in a book (included with most scanners) or online, and get an idea of what is wrong with the car. If you do your own car work, this is really helpful to point you in the right direction. If you don’t do your own work, it’s useful information to give your mechanic, or to double check that your mechanic knows what he’s talking about/is being honest with you.

    The scanner has other functions, but reading the engine codes is the primary/most useful one for the average driver. I wholeheartedly recommend it as a part of anyone’s toolkit (even if the rest of that toolkit is just two screwdrivers and a hammer).

    1. default_ex says:

      If you really want to be nice to your mechanic. On the way to the shop leave it plugged in and before turning off the car check the “freeze” section to see if it picked anything up. For the more difficult problems it can be tricky to get the car to generate a freeze frame but the data inside of the freeze frame is invaluable and saves days of haphazard guessing and probing to find the source of a problem.

  12. The Rocketeer says:

    [Y]ou'll never find yourself wedged halfway inside an engine trying not to burn yourself on the exhaust system while you use your off-hand to turn a stuck bolt you can't see while flakes of rust rain into your face.

    Well that’s a nostalgia trip. To paraphrase Einstein, I assure you whatever your problems with turning that goddamn bolt you can’t see are, mine were probably greater.

    1. Droid says:

      Weren’t you the one who said somewhere on this blog that your handle comes from working with rockets? How awesome a job can you have?

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        My handle actually doesn’t have anything to do with working with rockets; the name came first, and it’s coincidence that I later loaded rockets while assigned to an A-10 base.

    2. Decius says:

      Having recently bought a ship, I think that I’ve got you beat. Try squeezing into the small space between a diesel generator and the hull with a starter motor too heavy for one person to maneuver with the precision required to install it, with the only light source being handheld flashlights until the generator is working again.

      Oh, and the entire room is moving erratically on all six axes.

  13. Rick says:

    This sounds like a modern version of Gearhead Garage.

    I had a tonne of fun even with the demo as a kid.

  14. Rack says:

    At the certainty of sounding like an insufferable jerk I can’t imagine playing a game like this outside of VR. The 3D interface seems absolutely designed for touch control.

  15. Mousazz says:

    Some goes for the “OBD Scanner”

    I’m pretty sure that’s “Same” here.

    Anyways, I had fun with this game. It has that skinner box design that scratches the itch to do something simple and monotone for a long time, but was involving enough not to leave me bored. The kickass soundtrack also helps.

    I do distinctly remember almost falling into a rut at some point – it seems either experience, or some unseen “number of successful jobs” ratio also determines what kind of jobs you get. This became a problem at one point when I started getting jobs which required the cars to be repainted, yet I didn’t have a paint spray installed due to lack of XP.

    Otherwise, by the time I’ve unlocked the car auction to buy my own banged up vehicles to sell, I got thoroughly bored with the game. It’s WAY too grindy.

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