Good car habits formed early

Good car habits

Last weekend we had nine young men from Boy Scout Webelo Pack 3267 visit New Concept Auto Service in Overland Park with a goal of getting their handyman merit badge. The morning included teaching the boys some basic car maintenance tasks. Led by den mother Liz Sears, the program started by showing the boys how to unlock and lift the hood, and included teaching them how to check the oil, replace a turn signal bulb, check the tire pressure, and safely replace a flat tire with the spare.

I first stepped through how I would do each task and then let the boys collectively perform each task as a team.

To check the engine oil level, you have to first get the hood opened. This turned out to be a learning experience I did not expect (it’s second nature for me of course). After you pop the hood latch from inside the car, you have to release the safety latch with one hand, just under the front of the hood while lifting it up with the other hand, and then you have to position the hood latch while holding the hood up. This proved to be quite a task for the shorter boys, but they all did fine. I showed the boys how to look for the high and low marks on the dipstick to make sure the oil level is correct. They had some good questions, like where do you put the oil in and what if there is too much oil. I explained that changing your oil is the most important thing you can do for your car’s engine to make it last a long time.

Next I showed the boys how to change a turn signal bulb. They got to use a Phillips screwdriver to remove a screw. I was glad to find out most of them knew counterclockwise means to loosen the screw. I told them “lefty loosey and righty tighty” is the way I remember. Changing a bulb is a delicate task, since you have to finesse a plastic lens assembly out from under the front fender where it gently snaps into place. The boys all managed just fine. Getting the old bulb out of the socket proved to be the roughest part, but once the new bulb snapped into place and lit up, so did their faces.

Checking the tire pressure was next. One boy asked why the tire was so bouncy as he pounded it with his fist. I explained how tire pressure in PSI (pounds per square inch) is higher than the atmosphere, like a balloon. I showed them where to find the design pressure on a tag in the driver’s doorjamb when you open the door. Our car required 32 PSI in the front. Each boy used a chrome tire gauge that showed the pressure on a plastic scale when pressed against the valve stem. Each boy got the same reading, which indicated the tire was a little low at 28 PSI. The next question was, “So how do you put more air in it?”

“Well, you air it up at a gas station if you can find one,” I replied.

Lastly we changed a flat tire. I first explained the most important thing to do when you realize you have a flat tire while driving is to slow down and get to a safe place. You don’t want to change a flat on a busy highway or street in Overland Park. It is best to drive slowly to a safe place and not risk it, even if it ruins the flat tire.

First we had to get the spare out of the trunk, along with the jack and the lug wrench (or tire iron). One end of the lug wrench is pointed and is used to pry the hubcap off. Next we broke the lug nuts loose with the car on the ground. Each boy took their turn and a few had to really put their weight into it. I explained if you put the lug wrench at the 9 o’clock position and push down you will have better luck. Then we placed the jack in the proper position, which on this Toyota Corolla was indicated by two little half moon marks just under the car in front of the rear tire. The “jack man” then turned the screw on the jack until the tire was in the air. This young man was absolutely fascinated that he was raising a car in the air simply by easily rotating a crank with his hands. Next the boys unscrewed the loose lug nuts by hand. I told them to put the lug nuts in the hubcap so they don’t get lost. The old flat tire came off and the spare was wrestled back into position. This proved to be the hardest part, since everything must line up just right. The car has to be at the right height and the tire rotated to align with wheel studs. Once the spare was on with the lug nuts finger tight, the jack man lowered the car. Now for the most important part, each boy took his turn at tightening a lug nut, now with the lug wrench in the 3 o’clock position. To my surprise all were tight as I checked them myself. We put everything back in the trunk and the chore was done.

To help complete the handyman badge, one of the fathers also showed the boys the importance of maintaining a bicycle. They learned how to adjust a seat and handlebars, replace a bike chain, lubricate moving parts, fix a flat, and add air to the tire.

The boys were very attentive and I had a great time teaching. They worked surprising well together and let each other take their turns. I really enjoyed the questions–not what I would have expected. It brought back fond memories of when I was a young Boy Scout and how learning these simple tasks stayed with me my entire life. I was honored to be asked to help and only hope I was able to turn at least a few into future gearheads