Dave's Garage
by Dave in Texas

Don’t ask. You can’t afford me.

Most of us know at least something about taking care of our car. You’ve been around, life experiences give you a little working knowledge (I know I’m supposed to do x when that light comes on). Some of us learned from dad, if he knew anything at all. Most of what my dad learned came from not being able to afford to pay to have it repaired. In 1974 I learned that a spring tool for a rear drum brake assembly is a better tool than a screwdriver. I learned this by watching my dad smash his fingers into the brake drum when the screwdriver slipped, and I watched him bleed and curse. See the spring tool has this little recess on the end, designed not to slip.

I learned that without even getting myself banged up. Went to school on him, as the saying goes. We learn that preventative maintenance can save you money on more costly repairs, so we maintain the things. Oil, tires, coolant (have I lost anybody yet)?

fixitguy.gifIt’s not hard to keep an eye on maintenance needs for your car – you’re in it almost daily and can tell when something needs to be done. But if you have more than one, well you have more than one to keep an eye on.

I accepted the mantle of responsibility for my wife’s car, when we could afford two. It wasn’t difficult really, once a week I could drive it and check it and no big.

Then one day about 5 years ago my two car problem became a three car problem. Eldest needed wheels, and I was feeling generous so I found an eleven year old Honda with 140,000 miles on it. Call me a sugar daddy.

Several astute readers at this point will have already had this thought pop through their head. “An eleven year old vehicle with that kind of mileage is going to need a little more maintaining than the other two you have pal”. So true. Almost weekly there was something that needed attention. O2 sensor, wiper motor, a cracked distributor cap (genius me on that one – symptom was occasional start failures, seemingly random, but in actuality on rainy, cool, humid days. Popped off the old cap, found moisture condensed on the inside, then spotted the crack. Heh.), radiator hoses, etc.

Still I managed to keep up. For four years, until we replaced it and sent her to school to become edumacated.

When youngest reached driving age so I gave her my six year old pickup, and bought another one, no it wasn’t an excuse to buy a new truck maybe it was so shut up.

Now I am responsible for keeping up with 4 vehicles, not major repair stuff, just the basics. Oil changes, tires, vehicle registration and inspection stickers. And whatever minor wear and tear.

I get no help.

wipers.gifI mean, no notification of an impending need. Nada. Couple of weeks ago I had to switch trucks with youngest, I forget why, and it started raining. I turn on the wipers. The one in front of me is working. The passenger wiper just sits there, looking all bored and shit. Why is this? Because I had not imparted knowledge to my child. I did not tell her Easter Sunday when she had 5 inches of snow and ice on her windshield not to turn on her wipers until she broke that stuff up. Or the knurl on the wiper nut would become loosened (or stripped).

Granted this is not the kind of info you need a lot down here in Central Texas. Still, one day you will.

Oldest helps a bit. She gets her own oil changes now, and even offered to go get a set of tires when the time comes up. But I can’t tell you how many times I looked at a windshield around here and thought “hell, that’s 2 months out of date”.

One of the kids told me once “I don’t like telling you about that kind of stuff because you seem to get mad”. Fair enough. I could manage my reaction better when you tell me the tires are showing tread and that warning light probably just burned out, it’s been on for 6 months. I’ll work on it.

I had a dream the other night. A strange one, where I got behind the wheel of my wife’s car, and I recalled her mentioning she had new wiper blades installed. I got in the car, and turned them on, and they were installed on the inside of the window. They were flipping and banging right in front of my face. What the hell? “How do you even do that?” I remember thinking rationally about something so completely irrational. I’m sure I blamed her for the situation, although I can’t really remember how it went down.

I learned these bad habits from my dad, who raised me and three sisters. Whenever I came home, the hood didn’t go up unless I raised it. Whenever they came home, he made it a habit to go check out their car, look for what needed to be done. Looking back, I would have been better off getting them more involved in the responsibilities of checking stuff. Would have been better for them too, learning some responsibility. I resisted it though, because now and for a few more years, if they mess up the call I’m still the one who pays.

I’m sure there’s a way out of this, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.

Dave wants to get under your hood (insert dipstick joke here)



My dad was a mechanical engineer who worked for a well-known diesel engine manufacturer. He was also a shade-tree mechanic who kept his fleet of cars together with god knows how much jury-rigging.

I can still monitor and change Vega$ vital fluids, rotate tires and other maintenance tasks, unlike many other 30-somethings.

I had to learn to drive a standard shift by myself though. Once automatics were affordable, he never looked back.


I’m sure there’s a way out of this, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is.

There's really no way out of it. When my car broke down the other day, guess who I called? Dad. He doesn't fix cars, but he helps me get mine fixed.

It will all come back to me tenfold when my daughter gets her first car soon.


I showed my eldest how to change a flat tire this past winter. How much of it she'll remember when she really needs it I can't say. I think she'll figure it out. She's smart. Her biggest problem will be getting the lugs loose.


DOH! You reminded me of something compos, and I owe eldest a little more credit.

She hit something in a construction zone a year ago that punctured the tire in the side. She and her friend also a girl were about to pull it somewhere safe and put the spare on. I had not taught her that, she read the book.

I never would have thought of reading the manual.





I'm just waiting for the day when I'm sitting at home in San Antonio, drinking a beer, and the phone rings. It's my fiancee, telling me she's almost to Austin and she has a flat and doesn't know how to change it.


Dave, you the man.
I feel your pain. I tried to get all 3 kids to understand basic mechanical concepts by working on their bikes.
I made them all change a tire in the driveway when they got to be driving age.
My daughter was Hard on cars.


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