I was discussing the challenges of having teens driving cars with a person this past week. We discussed the challenges of getting teens interested in the maintenance part of driving a car. It’s all part of the learning process on their way to adulthood. I confess I have a bit of an advantage in this area. I have a younger sister and brother to help instruct. I was the kid who hung around his grandads and dad when they talked cars and when they worked on them. In First Grade, I used to ride my bike down to the local tire store and sit on the stoop with my Grandad Smith and his associates. By the time I was seven, I knew on site most makes and models of every car on the road. This wasn’t the case with my siblings. At that point in my life, I still found crawling under cars, getting pretty darned dirty an enjoyable experience. I now know why most automotive centers cater to the 40 and older crowd. By that age, they have burned themselves out on the shade tree mechanic thing…anyway I digress.
I had found my then 16 year old brother a 1972 Chevy Chevelle Tudor. It was a terrible pea green color and had bench seats but it had a converted 454 cubic inch engine and a 4 speed transmission. It was tired and needed a lot of attention. I figured it would be a good bonding experience for us and it was a fairly straightforward process to obtain used parts as we found parts at junk yards…the kind where you drove in, found the wreck you wanted and took the parts off yourself. By the time we got done, my brother Dave, had a red Chevelle SS with a black fake leather interior with bucket seats, courtesy of a wrecked Pontiac Lemans. The car looked good and it ran ok. I kept after Dave to watch the engine and keep the fluids full as it had a lot of miles on it and wouldn’t take a whole lot of strain…yeah I know…I told that to a 16 year old male.
Well, one day, Dave showed up and he had belts, hoses, spark plugs…you name it. He said he wanted to take me up on the tune up.We set about changing the belts etc. It came time to fill the engine coolant up. I told Dave to pour in the coolant and add water and I would be right back. I went into the house to make a call. When I came back out five minutes later…Dave was still filling up the radiator…not a good sign.
My big brother RADAR went off as my brother and his friends sheepishly stood around as I asked my brother if he had encountered any engine trouble lately. He finally told me that he had broken a radiator hose and the car had “overheated just a little.” Upon further cross examination…er…inquiry, I learned that they had driven the poor thing about 3 miles to get water….cold water to put into the car. With that bit of information, I pulled one of the newly installed spark plugs and you guessed it….water. So…the weekend became a rebuilding weekend. A new smaller 327 cubic inch motor, a new clutch plate and Dave was good to go again.
It was a pain in the neck. I could have really been mad since I had warned him…but I didn’t. It turned out to be one of the few times we actually got to work together on a project that ultimately provided a decent mode of transportation for a few more years.
So, as I enter the next phase of helping keep my kids’ cars working, I’ll try to remember that ’72 Chevelle experience and keep my patience and build some new memories.