Karen White laughed as she twisted out spark plugs to see how fast she could change a set of four at car care clinic set up in the Eastern Hills Mall for National Women’s Day.
Her time, under two minutes, was almost twice as long as the men’s scores, but she earned a free pair of black flip-flops and mints and began to consider learning more about cars than she does.
“I don’t even know where my windshield fluid is,” she said. “I think women should have to take a course.”
The Saturday clinic featured the spark plug contest, a car part identification quiz, brochures with car-care tips and conversations with car repair shop owners.
“We just feel if you’re educated a little more, you’ll make better decisions,” said Jeff Wetzel of Wetzel’s Tire & Service Center on Wehrle Drive in Williamsville. About six years ago, he and eight other locally owned auto repair shops teamed up to create an association they named WNY AutoCare.
“We just don’t want to see people getting ripped off,” he said.
Their information table near the food court attracted a steady stream of people – often more men than women – to check out an array of 10 mysterious car parts and try to identify them – from an oxygen sensor cord to a metal hub-bearing ring.
“What is this again?” said Lynn Canty, holding a U-shaped black item that was a brake caliper. “You can Google it though, right?”
She couldn’t name them all on her own, but she was interested in figuring out what they were. The tall plastic contraption was a fuel pump. Wetzel lifted the piece that floats on the surface of the gas to measure how much is left in the tank.
“As you fill your tank,” he said, “this goes up.”
Canty nodded thoughtfully. She doesn’t worry about car repairs much because she leases her Kia Soul, but she likes the idea of having more savvy when she does have to deal with mechanics.
“They’re going to think twice about trying to take advantage of me,” she said.
Helping people feel more comfortable getting cars repaired was one of the day’s objectives.
“People are more curious than I’d thought they’d be,” said Wetzel, the fourth generation in his family to run a car-repair business.
White made her way to the clinic from the table that her daughter’s Brownie troop had set up to sell cookies nearby.
The talk about cars reminded White of one of the tasks at hand after her divorce. She had been so used to her husband taking care of the family car that she didn’t cultivate those skills herself. Now, with a Dodge Caravan to take care of, White understands the disadvantage.
“It really is tough,” she said. “I can get bills that are crazy.”
Wetzel advised caution. “Whenever you’re uncomfortable with prices,” he said, “getting a second opinion is never a bad choice.”
Kathy Wager stopped by the table with her husband and made fast work of naming the parts without Wetzel’s help: Distributor cap, oxygen sensor, alternator.
“Every one of those parts I can change myself,” said Jim Wager, who noted that new cars are harder to work on. He said he had to take his Dodge Magnum in to change the transmission fluid because only the dealer had the right tool.
At home in Akron, the couple is working together to restore a 1953 Ford truck. “I came to the barn one day and she had the engine torn apart,” said Jim Wager of his wife. “Engines were a lot simpler in 1953 than they are now.”