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'It's a good way to take the fear away'

Ladies Car Care Clinic is a free workshop designed to teach women the basics

PETRINA GENTILE

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

June 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM EDT

STONEY CREEK, ONT. — Auto mechanics beware. There's a new breed of women coming to your shop — they're educated and more informed about their cars than ever before.

 

That's partly thanks to the Ladies Car Care Clinic, a free workshop designed to teach women the basics of auto maintenance. Even the instructor is a chick — a knowledgeable, qualified one — Kelly Williams, a former race and pace car driver. She's also a spokesperson for Car Care Canada's Be Car Care Aware program and an instructor for BMW Driver Training courses.

 

I'll admit, it's a rare sight — 13 women gathered in an auto repair shop with food and wine, nestled next to a fireplace. They're gathered at Sam's Tirecraft in Stoney Creek, Ont., for an entertaining, informative, and cheap night out.

 

Williams is right at home in the repair shop; the others clearly aren't. "Women get intimidated. There are a lot of single girls and older women who lost husbands. It's good to know how your car works so we don't get taken advantage of," says Susan Creen before the session.

 

 Williams whisks the women to the back of the shop in a makeshift classroom to begin the two-hour class. "I'm not interested in making you guys technicians. I think it's important to know basic vehicle maintenance.

 

"Your car is the second-most-expensive investment you make — but we don't take the time to know it," says Williams, who has already completed nearly 40 Ladies Car Care Clinics in tire shops across the country this year.

 

Williams knows cars like the back of her hand; she has been driving race cars for more than 15 years, since the age of 17.

 

She eases into the session with a show-and-tell of sorts. She holds up a jar filled with yellow liquid. "Anybody know what this is?"

Responses fly from all directions. "Maple syrup?" "Urine?" The giggles start.

 

"It's engine oil," responds Williams, trying to contain her laughter. "What does the oil do in the engine?" Silence.

 

Williams' response is simple and straightforward. "The oil lubricates all the engine parts because they're all metal parts, so they need something to keep them lubricated just like our joints need lubrication."

 

Now comes the hard part — the hands-on demo on how to check your oil.

 

Williams picks Charlene, a chatty woman in the front row, to pinpoint the dipstick under the hood of a 2001 Saturn coupe. "No pressure," Williams adds, dropping a few hints of its location. "It's colour-coded and usually yellow."

 

Charlene is stumped. "Oh my God. I told you — I only know where the windshield wiper is!"

 

Williams guides her closer to the location. Thirty seconds later: "Oh, here it is! Here it is, ladies!" Charlene screams excitedly. The women erupt in laughter. I reach for the Aspirin in my bag.

 

Throughout the session, Williams provides useful maintenance tips and bombards the women with questions.

 

But even the simplest question elicits confusion. "Who owns a vehicle with a manual transmission?" Silence. "Not one of you?" she asks, shocked.

 

"What's a manual transmission?" shouts a woman. "Another word for manual is standard," clarifies Williams. A few hands rise; loud laughter echoes through the shop. "Our husbands told us it's called a standard!" says another woman.

 

One of the most useful parts of the clinic is the discussion on tires — especially the importance of winter ones.

 

"Winter tires are the same as us putting a pair of winter boots on instead of running shoes. Life gets a lot easier walking on the sidewalk with your boots than it does with your running shoes. If you've never had them you have no idea what you're missing."

 

She also stresses it must be four winter tires — two won't do the trick. And reminds them the shelf life of a tire is six years.

 

"How often should you check your tire pressure? asks Williams. "Not in the winter time," shouts one woman. "I'll ask my husband how often he checks it!" adds another. More giggles and chatter.

 

Williams interrupts with the answer — once a month, ideally when the tires are cold. She does a demo; the ladies follow suit.

 

"Ladies, this is just like the Ellen show!" says Williams, before giving away a free tire pressure gauge to all the girls.

 

That does it; the women are out of control. It's like a Tupperware party gone wild. Screams, hollers and applause drown out Williams' voice. The laughter is contagious; even Williams gives in. Luckily, the session is almost over.

 

Clearly, the women have gained more than a few freebies. "I thought it was fabulous. I loved it. I learned a lot. I didn't know what to expect, but I wanted to learn more so that I didn't feel like such an idiot," says Creen.

 

"I used to have blonde hair when I was younger and the guys used to treat me like a dumb blonde. It's very seldom that you get somebody that wants to talk to you — it's often technical, fast and over your head … I think I can approach this now with more confidence," says Ruth Mitchell.

 

Mary-Louise Gregoire agrees. "It's a good way to take the fear away."

 

The next Ladies Car Care Clinics are in Floradale, near Elmira, Ont., on June 19 and in Woodstock on June 23.

 

Additional classes will be available during the fall. For more information visit www.carcarecanada.ca or www.kellywilliamsracing.com.