By Joe Rector

I’m sitting in the waiting room of a car dealership this morning. No, I’m not looking to buy a new, or even a used, vehicle. Instead, it’s oil change time for my wife’s car, I always wait for a coupon to pop up to find the best deals for these kinds of basic services. The sad fact is that I never learned the skills necessary to perform these types of things. Oh, I’ve tried to fix things before, but as you might imagine, things didn’t work well.

Jim and I drove an old ‘54 Chevy that had already gone through both parents and an older brother. I loved that car and wish I could afford to buy another one. On occasion, I ran up against some problems and tried to fix them to save a few bucks. On one rainy trip from Knoxville back to Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, the windshield wipers malfunctioned. They were vacuum wipers, which meant they worked depending on how the gas pedal was pushed. Around Crab Orchard, the darn things wouldn’t move. A leak had developed in the vacuum line. I drove down I-40 with my head out the window so that I could see the road. With no idea of how to fix the thing, I drove only during clear skies until a mechanic could fix the problem.

The water pump went out on the vehicle another time. My friends all told me how easy it was to replace it, and the concept seemed simple enough. The problem was having the correct tools to do the job. I spent several days trying to get the tools so that I could buy a new one. I’m not sure who installed the new pump, but it wasn’t me.

Amy and I owned a Datsun 310 during our first years of marriage, and I decided to change the oil in the vehicle before driving to my brother’s home in Powell Valley. I had no ramps, a fact that made reaching the oil pan plug and oil filter more difficult. Still, I managed to complete both tasks. I put on the new filter and poured in the oil. My pride swelled over having succeeded. I hopped in the car, backed it out of the garage and eyeballed a puddle of fresh oil oozing across the garage floor. To my shame, I realized I’d forgotten to replace the plug in the pan.

Over the years, I’ve tried to work on my lawnmowers. The same thing always happens with them as with cars. A couple of weeks ago, I replaced the pinion steering gear on a lawn tractor. Hours of labor went into a job that shouldn’t have taken longer than half an hour. When I finished, the gear and plate weren’t aligned evenly, so the turning radius in one direction was much smaller than the other direction. I later discovered that the wheels had to be offset to install the thing.

If I had my time to do over, I would take an auto mechanics class, a small engines class, and a construction class. The money I could have saved would have been in the thousands. Parents, I don’t care if your children are geniuses who are headed to prestigious colleges. Insist that they take some of these vocational classes so that they aren’t as lacking as I am. In the end, having those skills will save them, and possibly you, thousands of dollars.