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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Getting Dirty and Lessons Learned in the Process

Last night was our general automotive class. Before Spring Break, we were instructed to bring oil and an oil filter if we wanted to change our oil during lab so, knowing my car desperately needed an oil change, I was sure to buy all the right things before class yesterday.

I admit I was quite excited to get my car up on the lift to get a good look at the underside and finally learn how to do something on my own car, even if it was something as simple as an oil change. But part of a proper oil change is an inspection of your vehicle and I was really more interested in getting to know the ins and outs of my particular car. The following should be checked during routine oil changes: air filter, cabin air filter, tires/tire pressure, rotation/balance of tires (and if off balance, check the brakes for reasons why), fluids (brake, transmission, power steering, antifreeze), lights, hoses, steering/suspension (bounce test), and a general visual inspection for leaks. It's also nice to know the past service history of the vehicle so you can determine when rotors, belts and other things were changed. The Amateur commented that the vast majority of people did not know any of these things and I believe he's right; I don't remember the last time my timing belt or rotors were changed/serviced. Apparently, I don't even know how many miles are on my car (see below).

Mr. Forrest is very pragmatic about the realities of working in a shop so he was sure to say that not every mechanic will inspect all of these, but a good mechanic will not only inspect these items, but also check service information to see what routine maintenance is recommended for the specific mileage of your vehicle (if only to upsale the oil change into additional work).

Before we headed out to lab, I was already learning stuff about my car. Or, rather, I was learning what I did not know about my car. Specifically, I had no idea my car had 120,000 miles on it (I guessed around 85,000), or that it was an Elantra GT instead of an Elantra GLS. Lesson one: These are things you need to know in order to look up accurate service information about the suggested manufacturer's maintenance schedule.

When I drove my car up to the lift machine, we started our inspection. Everyone was crowded around the car and Mr. Forrest was in front of the hood. "OK, Holly. Pop the hood." I popped it. People were talking and goofing off so a few seconds later, he said again, "You can pop the hood, Holly." I popped it again. Twice even. He still couldn't get it up. And then I hear The Amateur's voice coming from the back of the car: "Holly, you're popping the trunk!" followed by a lot of laughing and head-shaking from the whole group. I don't think I'll ever live that down. Lesson two: Know the difference between popping the hood and popping the trunk before you attempt to do anything in front of a dozen car-boys.

Visual inspection showed that I needed two lights (left rear brake and front left side blinker), power steering and antifreeze top-offs, and a hold down mechanism for my battery. My cabin air filter was missing entirely and my tires looked awesome but needed some air. And so began my oil change. Lesson three: Oil can be very hot when it comes out of the oil pan so care needs to be taken to avoid burns. It's also a very, very messy affair.

All-American toted me to the car store to purchase the extra stuff. I was glad to have experienced help in locating the items until I realized five seconds into the store that I was going it alone when All-American spoke to the guy behind the counter. "Hey, Eric. How's the Mustang coming along?" I politely interjected my questions around pictures of tires and engines and discussions of other car-related things that have no meaning to me but clearly enthralled All-American and Eric for quite a while. Eventually I learned lesson four: There are two types of antifreeze that you can buy: pure antifreeze and 50/50 blend. Always buy the pure antifreeze as the blend is simply 50% antifreeze and 50% water and you can mix it yourself at home. The price difference is staggering.

At the end of the night, I felt like I knew my way around my car much better than before and left with a renewed belief that the education I'm learning is beneficial in its own right.

But I admit I was quite wary driving down the interstate and half-way expected something I touched during the lab to pop off and cause a big accident with great bodily damage. Lesson five: I'm not extremely confident of my car-prowess just yet but hopefully it'll come with time and experience.

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