I do my own car repairs when I can, which is most of the time. My current project is replacing the water pump on my tiny Saturn. I didn’t get done yesterday, so with all my tools and parts spread over the ground, of course it decided to rain this morning. I covered everything with a tarp. Hopefully that will be sufficient, and I can get back to work this afternoon.
This skill came from necessity, not from any burning desire to be a mechanic. I learned from my resourceful single mother. My earliest memory of working on a car is when I was about 11, lying under our old Ford and helping her hold the transmission in place while we took turns inserting the bolts. The satisfaction of finishing that job made me a do-it-yourselfer for life. My mom and I were an unstoppable team, in my mind at least. I was a powerful problem-solver.
When I was 18 or 19 I bought a ‘67 Firebird from a friend for $700. I named it Jack. It was primer orange with spots of black, and had no muffler and no power steering. The interior was black leather, though, and the profile was mean. My boyfriend’s dad was a mechanic and he put the muffler in for me, but I never did get power steering. Instead I got muscles, and a broken finger when I hit the curb at the Taco Mayo drive-thru and the steering wheel snapped back. A war wound. I was proud.
Something that’s always given me a mixture of pride and exasperation is how a lot of men react to a lady mechanic, especially a young, hot, teenaged one. “What, you’re fixing it yourself? Well good for you!” I always internally roll my eyes, while at the same time thinking, “Damn straight!” And then I smile and thank the man, because I know they mean it as a genuine compliment.
It’s been a long time since I got that one, since I guess it’s more common for sisters to do it for themselves nowadays, and also because I’m older. But I got it last night. At Lowe’s, of all places, where I see sisters doing it for themselves all the time.
I’d stripped the corners of the head of one of the bolts, so I had to find a wrench that would grip a rounded head. I found one I thought would work, but I wanted to double check with the tool guy since he was standing right there, Paul Giamatti without the polish. I explained what I was trying to do, and after a couple of minutes of discussion he said, “Wait, you’re doing this yourself?”
I held up my hand and grinned. “Yeah, I’ve got the grease under my fingernails to prove it.”
He laughed. “Well that’s great. I love seeing girls do stuff like that.” And then he told me a story about his daughter being mad at him because he insisted she check her own oil. I don’t even know what that would feel like.
The older I get, the more I wish I didn’t know how to work on cars. Bending and squatting and twisting is harder to recover from, plus I think I’ve reached an age where knuckle scrapes and greasy nails are undignified. Not to mention it’s a little sad that the reason I know how is because I’ve been poor most of my life, without a protective papa to spoil me.
Paying someone to do this stuff is out of the question, and I want a car. Doing it sucks, but having done it is great. The knuckle scrapes heal, the grease eventually wears off, and I can relax until the next problem arises.