Definitely, Maybe Not a Car Expert

Sometimes I am acutely aware of how little I know about how things work.

Yesterday I was headed out for a bit when I noticed two women standing by a car across the parking lot. Two cute women, as far as I could tell (is there a word for someone who looks cute from a distance but not up close?)

One was peering into the car window while the other appeared to fidget with the driver’s side door. She was either trying to get the key to work or trying to access the lock some other way. Isn’t there a trick with a credit card or a hanger?

They looked like they could use some help. For a split second I thought, “I should go help.” I should be that guy. After all, they were cute, so maybe one of them was single and would invite me to a house party that they’re having this weekend, and their apartment is right near mine, which is convenient, and we’d end up having a great time at the party, sharing a pomegranate-infused kiss at the end of the party, and soon we’re going out, taking walks, talking about life and love and how peaknuckle is spelled pinochle (weird), then she’s moving in, wearing yoga pants (or less) around the house, being kind to my cats and sometimes busy with her creative projects and friends, but with just the right amount of time for me (and she loves board games, of course), and then we’re engaged and married and having kids and sending them off to school with sandwiches and the occasional treat, but we still maintain healthy relationships with other friends and each other, and we flirt every day, even as we get old and I can’t get it up anymore and her face is no longer smooth, but I know and love the story behind every wrinkle, every crease….

But then I realized that I know nothing about cars, and I kept walking.

I probably should have offered to help anyway, just to show them that someone cared. But really, it hit me right away that there was literally nothing I could offer them. I would just be another bystander making them feel awkward as they tried to get into their car. At the very best, I could have called AAA and tried to convince them that I had a different car.

Is it just me, or do most people my age (32, bah) know nothing about cars?


24 thoughts on “Definitely, Maybe Not a Car Expert”

  1. I think you’re right, but maybe it’s only because cars have gotten so computerized and complicated now.

    My dad first taught me to drive at the tender young age of 8. It was just around the driveway, but it felt major. By 12, he’d let me drive us to church. The whole driving thing was only allowed on certain conditions, which were that I had to show that I could:
    – change a tire alone (this involved literally putting my ENTIRE body weight on the jack to get the car off the ground)
    – pop the hood
    – check the oil, the radiator fluid, the transmission fluid, and top them all off accordingly
    – correctly hook up jumper cables and jump start the car successfully
    – use a coat hanger to open the door when I’m locked out

    Sadly, my current car is too complex and newfangled for me to do most of that on now. I’ve only opened its hood once, and that was the day I bought it. Dad would be so ashamed.

  2. While I wouldn’t recommend trying to change a major part on your car unless you know what you’re doing, certain things are actually pretty easy to figure out if you look in your car owner’s manual and tinker around a little.

    In my opinion, oil changes are not worth the hassle, but changing your car’s air filter (or cabin filter) or headlights, checking fluid levels (and topping them off in the appropriate place), using jumper cables and changing a tire are not that difficult. Changing the battery isn’t too hard either.

    How cool would it be if public high schools offered a course called “Life Skills” that taught a person how to perform general home maintenance (like changing air filters, testing and changing batteries in smoke detectors, reviewing certain tools and what they’re used for–what the heck is a jigsaw?), car maintenance, investing skills & terminology, basic cooking, etc?

    • I completely agree with the idea of a “life skills” class being offered to teach the basics (this idea feels a little like déjà vu, and I’m pretty sure was brought up in a previous post, or am I mistaken?) Knowing some of the basics definitely would have come in handy a few months ago when my garbage disposal stopped working, and after calling the maintenance guy I learned all I needed to do was press a red button labeled “reset,” and like magic it started working again.

      • It’s entirely possible that I have gotten on a soap box about life skills before. I know Jamey once posted something about the top things he learned in school. I may have begun babbling about my life skills initiative at that point 🙂

    • Trev–I can definitely appreciate the power of tinkering while using the owner’s manual. But having that life skill class you describe on my resume would be awesome. I think that would help me not just know how to replace one little part, but also know the role that little part plays in the overall system of the car. That’s perhaps where I’m lacking the most knowledge.

    • The “Life Skills” class is a great idea! We’ve just started an elective night program which offers 6-week classes…this first session we have a cooking class and a budget class. I’m going to add home and car maintenance to my wish list of elective classes to offer. 🙂

  3. My dad always says that older cars were much easier to work on than newer ones, so there’s a lot of stuff that he used to do that is now too much trouble. So maybe people of our generation are off the hook, somewhat.

    Also, someone who only looks cute from a distance is a “Monet”.

  4. I would agree to having limited car knowledge. However, I am pretty sure AAA will come to pretty much any car, as long as you stick around to sign. I’ve helped many friends out with mine before.

    Also, if your blog had a “like” feature, I would press it for T-Mac’s comments. Life skills would be great! (I could use a lesson in some of it now…) 🙂

    • That’s very nice of AAA! I had no idea. I thought it would take some elaborate act involving multiple costumes and a fog machine to convince them it was my car.

  5. This reminds me of this story I read a few months ago about a 12-year old girl who convinced her parent to let her buy an old Pontiac Fiero and fix it up so she could drive it when she turned 16. It’s a little long, but definitely worth the read. I’m in awe of this girl!

    I agree that life skills like this should definitely be taught in high school. My first car was a white ’89 Hyundai Excel hatchback handed down from my brother. He called it the White Knight. I called it Chester because it looked dumb and was slow. 🙂 It loved to leak oil, so I learned pretty quickly how to check the fluids and top them off if needed. I know all of the steps to change a tire, but I’ve never actually had to do it before (knock on wood). I’ve jump started my vehicle and actually popped the locks on a few as well–all legitimately, I swear!

    I’ve helped install kitchen cabinets before, and I’ve taken an old bookshelf and restored it by tearing out and replacing rotted shelving, sanding it down and repainting it cherry red–it’s now the focal point of my living room. But that’s the extent of my home ownership skills.

    I’ve been toying with the idea of working on my toilets this weekend. You have to hold down the handle on both for just the right amount of time to get them to flush properly, and it’s becoming really frustrating. I haven’t looked into it, but I doubt it would be hard to fix. This might be the little push I need to get my DIY juices flowing!

    • Chester is a great name for a car.

      I’m impressed by your kitchen cabinetry skills. My theory is that we all have at least one innate household repair skill, and perhaps yours is working with wood. Mine is plumbing. For some reason I “get” plumbing (I think I wrote about this in a blog post about fixing things). I actually replaced my toilet’s flushing device a few weeks ago, and it was quite easy.

  6. I’ve done some small things like: change batteries, a tire, jump start cars, changed my oil (agreed, not worth the money saved in the time and mess involved) and a few other small things. However, I have two bits of information/advice:

    1. I have used my AAA for a friend who locked keys in his car. They didn’t ask any questions about it not being the “covered” car.
    2. I’ve been in a wreck out of town (totaling my car) with a dead cell phone. Though no one could have fixed my car, I wish someone would have offered to help.

  7. My high school actually had a few required “life skills” courses that every student had to complete in order to graduate. One was about finances – learning to budget, planning for retirement, and other related topics (I remember there being a section on name brand vs generics and we did lots of taste tests). I can’t remember which other ones were required, but we had several cooking classes, woodshop classes (even in junior high we had these – i made a clock and a key rack, using the jigsaw!), and I definitely learned about car stuff at some point in school. I know that included how to change your oil, check if you have enough fluids, and how to change a tire. In grade school, we had “home ec” classes where we learned to sew, use cameras and develop film, and work with tools.

    While I think it’s a great idea to have those kinds of classes, I kind of wish I’d had them later in life when a lot of those things were actually more relevant in my day-to-day life. When I was in high school, I thought it was really boring, especially the financial planning one – I mean, at 18 years old, it’s pretty hard to get someone to buy into the idea of saving for when you’re old (granted, it did plant the seed that the younger you are when you start saving, the better off you’ll be). Also, if you couldn’t tell from the above paragraph, I have retained next to none of the relevant information from these courses. Mainly, I just remember realizing that I liked generic pretzels, but not generic orange juice.

    • Susie–Thanks for your thoughts. That’s a great point about some of those topics seeming irrelevant to high schoolers. I have a vague recollection being taught about credit cards, with the takeaway being that credit cards are bad. At that time I didn’t question that, because I had no need for credit cards. Of course the answer is more nuanced than that, but I didn’t think twice about it.

      I wonder if I would take the time to take a life skills class as an adult, though. Maybe in college–a senior year requirement. At least then I would know if I liked generic pretzels. Now there’s no way to know.

  8. Cute from a distance but not up close: “Full-on Monet,” according to Clueless. Also, Definitely, Maybe is one of my all-time favorite movies. By the way.


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