“An independent woman should be able to take care of her own car. Not just putting gas in the tank, but also general maintenance and repair.” That’s what my dad always said right before he would proceed to ruin a perfectly good weekend for me.
When I turned fifteen, not only did I learn how to drive, but I also learned how to be a mechanic. Whether I wanted to or not, I spent time in our garage changing oil, gaping spark plugs, adding water to the battery and so on. I most definitely did not want to learn any of this. The one time I told my father that I was going to be a successful business woman and would pay for someone to take care of my car for me, he had one question,
“What are you going to do before that happens, and how are you going to know if you are getting ripped off?”
I had no answer to that so out to the garage I went.
When I was young, I actually enjoyed being out there with my dad. He had grown up as the son of a General Motors supervisor, so fixing his own car was automatic. It’s funny because during the week, he was the white collar guy in the corporate world; the big boss. I think that working on cars (or motorcycles or any engine work) helped him relax as much as anything else.
I can remember squatting on the garage floor when I was as young as five years old, talking to him about various things while he lay under a car twisting a wrench. The topics of the conversations we had are gone, but I can still smell the combination of concrete, oil, and Marlboro reds. It was fun being out there, “helping” him. He would always tell me what he was doing and why; I find myself doing this very thing with my own children when they are hanging around while I complete a task.
When I was a teenager, it was awful. There were a thousand other things that I would rather have done, my friends were waiting, nobody else had to work on their own cars, why couldn’t we just take it to a shop somewhere? It always boiled down to that fact that I couldn’t afford to have someone else do the work and if I didn’t do it, I didn’t have a card to drive. It didn’t matter how much I cried, whined, complained, sulked, I was out there on Saturday morning and well into the afternoon. Over the course of several years I learned about pulling an engine, replacing drive shafts, setting timing belts, wet sanding and priming for paint, points and plugs, replacing alternators, and ad infinitum. I am not saying that I can do any of these things on my own, but I certainly have helped do all of them – some more than once.
The one that I am sure I can do without help is replace brake pads. I know this because I did it.
The brakes went out while my dad was away on business. He had been warning me that they were wearing down for a while, but of course I was dragging my heels about doing the work. While he was gone, they started making a lot of noise that sounded pretty bad. When I called him, he told me that it wasn’t safe to drive the car. I could either wait for him to get home in a week, or I could replace them myself. I absolutely could not do without my car; what teenager can? Totally disgusted with him and the car, I decided to just do it myself.
We had a reliable place to order car parts and they sold me what I needed, no more or less. I had a how-to book about my car that I knew how to use. I had also done this before with dad. I jacked up the rear end of the car and managed to wrestle the tire off by myself.
I was doing ok until I go to this funny little pin that held the brakes against the wheel. I couldn’t get the new one in place. I tried and then tried again; repositioning my tools, myself, the brake, the pin, you name it. Not being the most even tempered individual in the world, I also tried strong language and kicking the wheel. None of that worked. I then called dad at work (long distance) to get his input on what I was doing wrong. He made a few suggestions and advised me to just wait until he got home. By this point, I was too mad to quit. I went back outside and raged to the world (muttered under my breath) about how I was the only person to ever have to work on her own vehicle and how I shouldn’t be forced to do these kinds of things. I didn’t care about being independent and it wouldn’t matter if I was ripped off as long as I never had to work on a car again. Then I hunkered down by that wheel and tried again. And again. And again.
And got it. Finally! The relief was overwhelming. I put the whole mess back together, cleaned up the tools, went inside and took a shower.
The words of praise from dad when he got home felt pretty good and almost made it worth it. Even better, it became a great story at parties and on dates. Quite often some of the guys I went out with didn’t know a thing about car repair. It was a bit fun to brag. However, I didn’t marry one of those types; the guy I married changes the oil and does the repairs.
And I have never gone near a set of brakes with a wrench again. Not in this lifetime.