Father’s Day / Auto Repair Aye, yai, yai!

It’s a myth that fathers know how to repair numerous vehicles, from lawnmowers to trucks to motorhomes.  Maybe they did 50 years ago, when mechanical objects were simple and the “parts” could be purchased at the local garage, parts store or hardware. Along with $0.59 worth of electrical tape, some accurate tips from the guys at the garage, a bit of “tinkering” and all would again be well in the family stable.

Not at my house. My father, the engineer, was just not handy – an Asperger thing? It took several hours of fumbling, dropped bolts and nuts, skinned knuckles, Band-Aids and frequent “Hell’s Bells” before he’d relent and take the car to a mechanic. He tried to teach me to do “simple” work, like rebuild the carburetors (3) on my Austin Healy 3000, a task that British mechanics dreaded. I ordered the complete kit from the Warshawsky Catalogue and a new manifold, and set to work.

My father was useless; indeed he was infuriating.  Desperation set in; but desperation can be a great generator for full-steam-ahead effort. Somehow I got everything back together with new parts. The fact that the car started and was drivable was a victory in my mind, although it ran no better than before. It was a decade old by the time I bought it, and victim of Chicago’s awful winters. Salt had rusted the gas tank and underside. The electrical system was a mess. I eventually sold it to a man who bought it as a “toy” for his children. He planned to park it in the drive as a “pretend” car. A fitting end for eccentric British design.


Not my Healy / Mine was trashed by inappropriate climate.

This and other father / daughter vehicle misadventures taught me to find an honest and skilled mechanic wherever I lived. A real stress-reducer. The mechanic I have trusted for twenty years just retired: a minor panic set in across town; he had many loyal clients. Also, I’m poor, so upkeep on two old trucks, a 1972 Chevy C-10 and a 2004 Dodge Ram, is increasingly DIY territory. The Chevy is 44 years old; the Ram 13. Guess which one is causing more problems, not necessarily in number of repairs, but the infinite difficulty of doing even minor repairs oneself, and it all has to do with mysterious computer modules, incomprehensible diagrams and the inability to access whatever needs replaced.  And the horrendous price to replace “parts” that are a bunch of “functions” manufactured as units. You have to replace the whole damn thing.

Case 1. The turn signals and wipers on the Chevy quit working. The fuse box is in the cab, behind the brake pedal: each fuse is labeled. $6.00 and 10 minutes to fix.

The peak of American cultural expression was 20th C. auto production.

The peak of American cultural expression was 20th C. auto production.

Case 2. Horrendous hail storm: The Dodge’s instrument panel is dead. No wipers or turn signals; door locks inoperable. Headlights switch on when starting the truck; cannot be switched off. A number of (misleading) warning messages appear. A fuse box exists; the labels are in code, which one must decode by numbers, which don’t reveal the function of different fuses. The owner’s manual says that the info is on the fuse box: it isn’t. I drove the truck; a bit inconvenient not having turn signals, but use of these is an “option” where I live.

Next morning: dead battery.

Thankfully there are numerous forums about old vehicles online; mostly “guy chat” about Ford vs. Chevy vs. Dodge and anecdotes about victory and defeat. I found one that addressed my very problem in a multitude of variations as to which gauges and accessories weren’t working.

As usual the comments went like this:

Guy 1. Try this; it worked for me. Blah, blah, blah. Guaranteed to fix the problem.

Guy 2. Where is the Blah? I can’t find it.

Guy 3. I tried that, it didn’t work.

Guy 4. Where I live it rains a lot; the problem comes and goes.

Guy 3. Hey! Me too. I finally took it into the dealer. They can’t find the problem.

Guy 1. The Blah is on the firewall.

Guy 2. Inside the cab, or the engine compartment?

Guy 5. Forget it! You have to replace the module. A refurbished one costs $295.00.

In this case having no money in my budget for auto repairs was a great opportunity. Water condensing or leaking inside: a match to the heavy hailstorm. $295.00 for a “module?” No way. It’s been hot (upper 80’s) and dry (10-15% humidity) so I let it sit for the weekend,  and then jumped the battery. Instant start; gauges, accessories, door locks working. $300.00 to $400. 00 saved.

In fact, the real value in having some knowledge about vehicles has been BS detection. It was obvious many times when a repair estimate was inflated, when a mechanic was lying about what was causing a problem and piling on “fixes” that were not needed. Garages really do prey on women and males who are clueless.

My conclusion? Sometimes it’s good to not have money: rich people buy $60,000 – $70,000 vehicles in which the plastic computers come from China and are no more reliable than in a cheaper car. Plus “luxury cars” are so overloaded with electronic gadgets and gizmos that failure is inevitable. Repairs? The owners manual says, “Return vehicle to manufacturer.”

The “obvious” psychological interpretation is that Asperger females have inappropriate obsessions with “male” stuff and therefore have male brains. Nonsense. The old advice for women was to marry a man who was good at fixing the maximum number of household problems or to marry a man who could afford to hire a plumber, carpenter, electrician, mechanic, roofer, and lawn service. The advent of women working, divorce and the choice to be single, and the fact that the number of men who can fix things has dwindled, along with number of things that can be fixed (Doesn’t work? Throw it away) and the sunken economy and lack of  job opportunities, women more than ever need to learn self-sufficiency.

Schools need to offer more skills training across the board, but especially programs for girls and women, and not limited to hair cutting, beauty salons and fashion / retail, but including traditional male skills that will be useful and money-saving, married or not.





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