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Car clinic helps women learn basics of auto care

PINELLAS PARK — It is sometimes said that women and cars do not mix.

Yet these women were face to face with 39-year-old Barbara Terry, an automotive expert who knows her cars as well or better than some men do.

Barbara Doyle was among the first to speak up at the "Just for Women Car Care Clinic" held last week at Superior Auto Center at 10491 66th St. N.

On Wednesday, she was explaining how she couldn't figure out how to measure her Ford Explorer's engine oil level with a dipstick.

She said that every time she pulled it out after adding oil to her engine, the entire stick was thick with oil. Where to measure?

Her classmates, many of a certain age and all inquisitive about the workings of the automobile, shifted in their plastic folding chairs to face her. Standing at the lectern, Terry, a woman who refers to her shiny tire pressure gauge as "bling" and partakes in demolition derbies just for fun, started prodding her student for a clue.

It sounded like Doyle may have been in the wrong part of the engine. And — Aha! — she was pouring oil down the wrong pipe. Terry's eyes widened.

"See why I'm here!" shouted Doyle, 59, to a roomful of giggles.

Terry, a professional stock car racer and do-it-yourself advocate and author, was invited to speak by the St. Petersburg Women's Club, Families on-the-go magazine, of which Doyle is publisher, and the Goodyear tire company.

Before class started, the aromas of fresh fruit and warm cookies mingled with that of new tires and brake fluid in the sales room of Superior Auto Center.

Besides learning how to inspect their car's oil and other important fluids, the 25 women also learned the proper way to check tire pressure, car batteries, tire tread and other basic maintenance tips.

"I really wish there had been something like this class years ago," said Dee Jester, 77, of St. Petersburg, who admits to not being too familiar with her vanilla 2006 PT Cruiser. "More knowledge can't hurt anybody."

According to Terry, most women hold great sway in car purchasing decisions in their households, yet many are also confused or intimidated about what goes on under the hood. Her advice: Be inquisitive with your mechanic and take the time to have them show you what they've done to your car.

Terry's must-do list includes:

• Check your tires' air pressure at least twice a month, a simple task that takes minutes and can be done at the gas pump. Proper tire pressure can improve gas mileage by 3 percent, she said.

Also at the gas pump, check fluids — oil is the only one that requires a rag, and most others can be done visually. This simple routine can avoid costly repairs down the line.

• Stock reserves of all those fluids — engine oil, transmission fluid, and windshield wiper and brake fluid — in your trunk. Throw a battery jump-start kit back there, too.

And among Terry's list of things to avoid:

• Never check fluids while the car is hot. "You don't want to give yourself one of those facials that never comes off your face," she joked.

• Never mix fluids of different colors. Understand the positive and negative currents of your car battery before you inspect it.

It was all advice not lost on Doyle, a working mother of a 9-year-old who says her husband frequently travels and is not particularly car-savvy himself.

By the end of the two-hour workshop, mechanic Jeff Mitchell showed Doyle the proper way to check her engine's oil level. She was downright giddy.

"Woo-hoo!" she purred, running the oil dipstick across a dirty rag. "You answered questions I didn't even know I had.

Car clinic helps women learn basics of auto care 09/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 22, 2008 9:53am]
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