When all else fails, read the owner's manual

When my friend Patti-Jo invited me to go with her to a car care clinic for women at Eddie's Automotive Service in Lilburn, I said no thanks. I already know everything I need to know about how to take care of my car.

I just ask my husband to drive my car about once a month to see if he can see, hear, feel or even smell anything wrong. He either fixes my car himself or tells me where to take it for repair.

But then there was that time my idiot light told me my right rear tire pressure was two pounds too high. I couldn't contact my husband because he was at a meeting and had his cell phone turned off. There I was, three miles from home. Should I put on my flashers and hope a knight in shining armor would stop to help me put on my spare? Was I going to have to call a tow truck? Thankfully, my husband got my message and called me back to say it was OK to drive on home. But what if he hadn't?

"OK," I said to Patti-Jo. "I'll see you Saturday morning."

When I arrived, I joined 20 other ladies around a table with flowers, hot coffee, gourmet pastries and chocolate chip cookies that Eddie Price, the owner, made from scratch. I settled into a comfy leather chair as Eddie introduced Mike Joachim, a master mechanic for ACDelco.

This was a new experience for Mike, who usually teaches advanced mechanics, so he went over some basics including a physics lesson about tire pressure and a mini-chemistry course on synthetic oil. But what he really stressed was that the key to good car maintenance is to read the owner's manual.

"The guy who looks up what is wrong with your car is not a chemist or a scientist. He reads the computer printout of what is recommended by the manufacturer," he said. "What he sees on your screen is the same thing you'll see in your owner's manual."

Mike also suggested finding a mechanic you trust and building a relationship with him. "When you go to these quickie places, you don't know the qualifications of the workers or if they'll be there the next time you come in," he said.

One lady asked about the fuel additives they sell at gas stations.

"They're only trying to make money, because they don't make any money on gas. Auto manufacturers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on research. If any of these products were any good, you'd be reading about them in your owner's manual."

We ended the session by looking around, inside and under several cars so we could learn to identify different parts. But there was no test. Mike said if we forgot anything, all we had to do was look up their pictures in the owner's manual.

Patti-Jo and I went over to grab one more cookie before we left. "You know," I said, "auto mechanics isn't all that tough after all. You just have to know how to read. I think I can handle that."

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.