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How to know when to trust your mechanic

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image Julie Davis, owner and manager of At Home Auto Care in Ruskin, provided breakfast and gift bags, above, to women who signed up for AC Delco’s “Knowledge is Power” program held at her shop June 8. Photo Penny Fletcher

Many women are intimidated by maintenance, and don’t know who or what to trust when it comes to repair.

By PENNY FLETCHER
 
It’s making a pinging noise. It goes “whrrrrrr” when I try and start it. The mechanic just said I needed a whole new set of belts. How do I know if that’s true or not?

To start with, most cars only have one belt — although some makes still have two. So there’s never a “set” of belts.

As for the “ping” and the “whrrrrr” or any other strange or unusual noise or action your vehicle makes, unless you’re a mechanic, you just have to trust the person you let work on your car. But deciding who to trust is a major issue for many people, especially women who have always had someone else take care of their car for them.

Maybe a trusted mechanic retires or a husband gets sick or a son moves away. What now?

Julie Davis, owner and manager of At Home Auto Care in Ruskin, knew she had some women in the area who wanted to know about their vehicles. But so many women packed her shop June 8 for the AC Delco presentation “Knowledge is Power: A Women’s Car Care Seminar,” that she now says she plans to host another seminar in the fall.

Immediately some of the 38 women who attended asked if it would be a repeat of what she was having that day. Many said they had learned a lot but wanted to continue to learn more.

Davis said the fall presentation would be based on what people who sign up want to know. She said she was very pleased at the turn-out, but only a little surprised.

“Many women are intimidated by maintenance, and don’t know who or what to trust when it comes to repair. We want to help end these fears,” Davis said.

So she had her service manager, Ed Childers, and two representatives from ACDelco based in Sarasota, District Manager Deano Pesaturo and Jake Freije — this area’s maintenance and repair specialist — give presentations in her shop.

The duo also gave handouts to all who attended, including diagrams explaining what all the vehicle warning lights meant and a book called “Women’s Car Care Seminar: Knowledge is Power.”

The seminar included regular maintenance, how to recognize a problem, how to care for your vehicle, how to talk to a technician and several tips for “going on the road.”

“I started out pumping gas in the ’70s and I really miss those days,” said Freije. “You’d see the same people every week, check their tires, oil, transmission and brake fluids and change their windshield wipers when they needed it. We knew our customers by name.”

The women who remembered the time when “gas stations” were “service stations” agreed.

Davis reminded people that even those who don’t drive 5,000 miles in six months still need to have their cars checked out periodically because things go down — batteries weaken, tires flatten or get weak and blow out.

Davis’s service manager Ed Childers also played a large part, raising a car so the women could see the underside and explaining its parts.

Carol Cappuzzo of Sun City Center is hooked on At Home Auto Care.

The reason? Unexpected honesty.

“Julie called me after I’d had an oil change to tell me I had been overcharged. It seems the oil and filter should have been included in the price, but the computer charged them separately. She called to tell me they owed me money. I was absolutely stunned. Who does that anymore?”

In general, the women at the seminar did not expect mechanical technicians to treat them honestly.

“If all I can say is ‘I know something’s not right,’ I’m afraid they’ll charge me for things I don’t need,” was the most repeated complaint.

The best advice the Delco representatives could give was to keep learning about the vehicle you drive.

“Read your owner’s manual and know what needs to be done and when,” said Pesaturo. “Then when something goes wrong, you know something about how it is diagnosed, and that helps a lot.”

He showed the women a tool that would read exactly how much a belt has worn down. “This is an exact measurement,” he said. “If you know to ask to see it, you will know if you really need the belt being recommended.”

He explained also that most automobiles now have only one belt that runs everything although some makes — and older vehicles — still have the two-belt system. The key is to look under the hood, see what you have, and then look at your owner’s manual.

The rubber compound used on belts is not the same one used on cars even five years ago, he said. “The new kind will crack but they won’t break. So take the old one you just had changed and keep it as a spare for emergencies.”   

Brake wear can also be measured by a special tool.

“If your tech says you only have 4 millimeters left of brake pads, there area color codes on this tool to tell you just how much you actually have. If it sinks into the pad past a certain point, then you need them. You can ask to see the gauges.”

Davis said she put on the seminar because she didn’t want women to put themselves in danger of a safety risk because they feared the service experience.

“Judging by the turn-out, I definitely plan to hold another one of these in the fall when the snowbirds are back,” she said.

To find out when another seminar is planned call At Home Auto Care at (813) 645-0339.

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