Our Northwest

Car-care skills vary with tasks, gender

Thursday, January 22, 2015by  Jon Osterberg

Our new PEMCO Poll confirms a common stereotype: Northwest men do more hands-on car care than women.
   So what, you ask? Well, PEMCO would like all drivers – men and women – to know how to handle basic problems like flat tires, dead batteries, or chaining up, so they won’t be stranded in unsafe circumstances.
   It’s a safety issue.
   We learned that men across the Northwest are more likely than women to have changed a flat tire, 86% versus 44%. More men than women have jump-started a dead battery, 88% versus 64%.
   Thirty percent of Northwest women say they’ve changed their own oil, versus 74% of men.
   Also, 74% of men in Oregon have chained up in snow, compared with just 61% of Washington men and 48% of Northwest drivers overall.
   The number of women who said they’ve changed their own oil – 30% – surprised me, based on what I hear from my own friends and family.
   With one notable exception.
   I admire my co-worker Jessica for a number of reasons, but for one, she’s a gearhead. Okay, maybe she’s not a weekend mechanic. But she has repaired her vehicle and isn’t afraid to get her hands a little dirty.
   “My dad has always been a firm believer in do-it-yourself when it comes to auto repair and maintenance, and he was a great teacher,” Jessica said. “He taught me how to change the brake pads, battery, and oil and other fluids on my F-150. And when the starter, alternator and the solenoid went out, he walked me through replacing them myself.”
   Jessica said her old Ford pickup was unsophisticated under the hood compared with cars today. But her dad taught her enough not to panic if something goes wrong.
   While driving from Gresham to Eugene years ago, Jessica got a flat tire and changed it by herself.
   “I’m still pretty proud of that,” she said.
   Perhaps more important, having hands-on car experience gives Jessica confidence when talking with mechanics about her current car. She doesn’t worry that they’ll assume she knows nothing and try to rip her off.
   As PEMCO’s poll reveals, Jessica isn’t a rarity. Though, she would be in my own family.
   It’s important to note that our poll question asked, “Have you ever…” and not “Do you always?” Another work colleague pointed out that many of her relatives can do car care, but choose to pay someone else because of the time it would take.
   Good point. I learned basic car maintenance and repair in my teens, not because I’m mechanically inclined, but to save money and avoid the potential “rip off” that Jessica noted. I fixed my own cars for years.
   Things changed when I realized my time had become worth more than the $19.95 Jiffy Lube charged (long ago) for oil changes. My mindset further changed once I found a few skilled, honest mechanics I can trust.
   But the point is, if my car breaks down, I have the basic skills and knowledge to fix it and keep me out of harm’s way.
   So does my colleague Jessica.
   PEMCO would like all drivers to have some DIY skills. Stay safe!

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