- You’re all stuck at home right now. Here’s how to make the most of it without staring at Netflix for hours on end.
- Besides quality bonding time, car maintenance is an important skill that teaches problem solving.
- Parts and tools are still available for delivery during the coronavirus pandemic, without the delays seen for many other items.
Schools are closing, and the kids are at home. Educators are scrambling to come up with at-home lesson plans that should take up some of the day, but then what? You’re at home, they’re at home, and there are only so many Tik-Tok videos a young brain can consume before your kids are more dance meme than human.
To counter the effects of prolonged social media, why not teach your kids something more useful than lip-syncing to a song: how to work on a car.
It’s easy to point and laugh at the generational gap in automotive knowledge. Millennials and members of Gen Z can’t drive a manual transmission or change a tire. Oh, the hilarious memes. Yet that information wasn’t just bestowed upon Gen Xers and Boomers as we emerged from the womb or gleaned from ancient runes handed down by the Haynes overlords. Someone taught us how to turn a wrench, and for many, that person was a parent. Now’s a good opportunity to be that parent for your own kids.
It’s best to start slow. In other words, maybe don’t start with rebuilding an engine. Instead, begin with the bare necessities. You can even sing the song from the Jungle Book if you like. Sadly though, unless a song is from Frozen they won’t know it. But that’s a whole other thing you need to teach your offspring.
Changing a tire should be one of the first skills any driver should have. I’ve seen too many people jack the car up and then try to loosen the lug nuts. Don’t let your kid be one of those people. Remind your child that this is something they will have to do at some point in their life. If they counter that they can figure it out on YouTube or AAA can handle this for them, explain that cell coverage isn’t everywhere and tow trucks can sometimes take hours to reach someone in need.
Keep the garage school going by passing along the proper way to jump-start a car, how to check the fluids, when and how to replace brake pads. Even changing the oil should be covered. But space it out with one item per day. Don’t try to cram everything into one day. Most important, be patient. Give them an opportunity to make mistakes and tell them where they went wrong. It’s best to give them time to figure it out now rather than when they’re stuck alongside the road.
As you progress, don’t be overly concerned if you’re not actually the best mechanic. Turns out, YouTube is a wealth of knowledge. If there’s a task to be done on a vehicle, there’s probably someone out there who shot a detailed video on how to fix that item. For example, I inherited a 2004 Jaguar X-type (long story) and it desperately needs new shocks. Turns out, there’s a video for that.
Also, the best present my dad ever gave me was the shop manual for a 1990 Honda Civic right after I bought it. That well worn, oil-stained book helped me change the timing belt, replace the distributor, and swap out the transmission. Shop manuals are tough to come by these days, but if you can get one, snap it up and hand it to a child. The schematics alone will keep the most inquisitive kid busy for hours.
It might be easy at first, but expect at least some pushback. Both my parents worked on our cars, and I was usually recruited to help. Sometimes I was happy about it. Others, not so much. As a teenager, I wasn’t always keen to hand my dad tools and help pull an engine on a Saturday. I swore I’d just take my car to a shop when it broke down. I did exactly that and was ripped off. After that, the value of working on a car made a lot more sense.
Then something else happened. Working on cars became an escape, a way to focus on one task that had a tangible, satisfying conclusion. The sense of accomplishment when you fix something on your vehicle is intoxicating. I’ve seen folks who have never worked on their cars before perform some routine maintenance and walk away with a smile on their face and desire to do more. This is the gift you’re giving your kid.
This is also a good time to tell them about the importance of buying quality tools. I still have scars on my knuckles from the horrible ratchet set I bought at a 24-hour discount supermarket in the desert when my Datsun roadster’s alternator decided to stop charging the battery. Or better yet, give them their own tools. Although toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and wipes are in short supply right now, tools and parts are still available from online retailers. I can have brake pads for my Subaru BRZ delivered to my house by Saturday. Any tools I need (because you can never have too many tools), they’ll be here at the latest next week but most by this weekend.
Being a kid stuck at home with your parents for potentially weeks on end sounds horrifying. But for a parent or guardian, it’s an opportunity to bond over something that you love, and a chance to share the ability to solve problems and follow directions in a familiar environment. They may not come out this trying to figure out how to do an LS swap on your CR-V, but they will have the knowledge on how to perform routine maintenance on their own cars.
Then maybe later, you can teach them to drive a manual transmission. The future only knows what it’s been taught.