Nobody was better with a wrench than Dad…
As we celebrate Father’s Day, we here at Backyard Buddy can’t help reminiscing about learning to work on cars with our dads, and thinking about some of the ways we can pass a love of wrenching on to our kids. A lot of us had great times working with our dads, whether it was handing him tools while he did routine maintenance on the family’s Olds 88, or him helping us keep the pile of junk that was our first car running so we could go out on a saturday night.
For a lot of us, it seems like nobody was better with a wrench than Dad, although we suspect that he thought the same thing about Grandpa. If you’d like your kids to think the same thing about you, there’s no better way than to have them help you take care of your vehicle, whether it’s the family minivan or your fully-restored 58 Vette, or for you to help them take care of theirs.
For young kids, or kids without much interest in “how things go”
Take them on a “tour” of your family’s vehicle. They’ve likely never given much thought to how a car works (Mommy or Daddy sit up front and we get where we need to go!), but if you ask them how they think a car goes, they may suddenly be very curious about how it works.
The key is to keep it simple and fun. Show them that the gas pedal makes the car go and the brake makes it stop (you can show them the clutch, but good luck explaining the transmission. There’s plenty of adults that don’t get how that works), let them turn on the wipers and the turn signals, and as long as you’re sitting in the driver’s seat, let them turn the engine on and off. For the finale, let them pop the hood (if they can) to hear the satisfying “thunk” of the release, and lift them up to look into the engine bay. If they’re still curious, you can talk with them about how the engine works and show them the major components.
Once you’ve shown them the basics, Invite them to “help” whenever you’re working on something, but be fully aware that they’re probably going to wander off or stay and ask 100 questions, so be prepared to not get much done.
For school kids
This is the classic “hold this flashlight for me. No, point it there. No THERE” age that we all survived. Unfortunately, this is not the best way to get kids to fall in love with wrenching.
Instead, try holding the flashlight for them. Give them simple tasks that you know they can manage (break a lug nut free and then let them take it all the way off, have them check the pressure on the tires, let them pour the oil in during an oil change), explain carefully what they need to do to complete it and what tools they need to use, help them if they get stuck, and encourage them when they are successful. It can take the patience of a saint, but the worst thing to do is to take over the job from them when they’re too slow, or doing something wrong. The investment in time and patience will be worth it!
When you’re working on a project, bring them over and explain what you’re trying to do (“I need to change the parts that make the car stop”) and give them a simple overview of the steps you need to take to do it, then ask them if they’d like to help. Odds are they’ll wander off in 5 minutes anyway, but it can be hard to tell what will strike a child’s curiosity. We’ve seen a first grader with no interest in cars suddenly decide that she was going to be an expert in changing out a dead brake light bulb after asking her dad what he was doing to the car, and she became a lifesafer getting into the confined space with her little hand.
Also, don’t overlook teaching them to fix their things. Instead of fixing a flat tire or squeaky brakes on their bike, work with them to help them fix it.
Like most skill building with kids, the keys are to be patient, explain things thoroughly, and let them learn from mistakes (this may not be the time for them to help with the Vette mentioned above), while celebrating their successes. They’ll have plenty of time to curse at a stuck bolt when they’re older. For now, try to keep it fun and enjoyable.
For older kids
Hopefully by now you’ve sparked an interest in wrenching, but don’t be disappointed if your teenager doesn’t want to get a junked car and rebuild it for their first car.
Many of our households had a “you drive it, you fix it” rule, and while we may not have appreciated it at the time, we learned a lot from it. Although modern cars are getting harder and harder for backyard and shade tree mechanics to repair, you can still help your kids do basic maintenance on their own vehicles. Again, be patient, but teach them how to change oil, change air filters, swap out a battery, replace dead bulbs, check tire pressure, and fix the basic little problems that come up with their car. Always be there to help, but make sure they’re the one doing the work. Even if they’ve never shown an interest before, once their ride is on the line, teens may suddenly be all ears about how to maintain and fix their car.
After all this, your kid may not end up being the type that can tear down an engine or fix anything with spit and bailing wire, but they will at least know the basics of working with their hands to take care of their own vehicle. That’s a Father’s Day gift for all of us.
As always, we’re here to help you work on your vehicles with lifts and accessories that even the youngest mechanic can appreciate. Give us a call at (800) 837-9353 from 8:00 to 5:00 Eastern time so that we can help you find a lift that your kids are likely to inherit.