Living Democracy

Car Care 101 in Collinsville

image of man beside vehicleWhen I was 13, my father died suddenly. The two of us were returning from a soccer tournament in Chattanooga and were a half hour from home when the car hydroplaned and flipped four times. I was treated at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital for three days, but Dad was pronounced dead upon arrival. When I remember that he won’t be at my graduation or there to walk my down the aisle, my deeply buried grief washes over me again. But I don’t need big events to trigger a tear. There are smaller, less significant moments that happen every day that remind me: dating (no one to scare away the boyfriends), changing a flat tire (do I even have a spare?), or walking through a Home Depot or Academy Sports (where we spent many Saturdays after soccer games).

I’ve been lucky to have several father figures in my life, ranging from soccer coaches to teachers to family friends, and each one has taught me invaluable lessons about the world around me. This summer, Mark Shatzel—one half of the couple I’ve been living with—taught me the basics of Car Care 101.

“What would you do if you got stranded in the middle of nowhere?” he asked.

“Call AAA,” was my response, which received an eye roll, because Mark is a sassy retired man. I think it’s why we have such good chemistry.

image of Living Democracy student beside vehicle“It’s important for every kid—boy or girl—to know this stuff early on,” he told me.

We spent one day tinkering around my car. He showed me which parts of the engine I can maintain and those for which I’d need a professional. I learned how to check my transmission fluid, oil levels, brake fluid, anti-freeze, wiper fluid, power steering, battery fluids, and all of my lights. Anti-freeze needs to be replaced every two to five years, and car batteries need water, but only distilled…don’t ask me why.         He explained that I have to let the car sit on a level surface and cool down before I could check the oil, but that the engine must be on and parked to check the transmission fluid, and he made it clear that the two were checked differently to give the most accurate readings.

He listed off warning signs to look for in a failing transmission, like the dipstick smelling burnt, the transmission hesitating to switch gear, the car not moving at all, or the most ominous sign of all—it flat out won’t start.

He wanted to make sure I knew all he could teach me about refilling my oil and changing my brake lights.

I learned how to check my tire pressure and fill them with an air compressor—even the spare, which was embarrassingly flat. Mark also educated me on proper tire pressure, noting that each make and model call for their own level and pointed how to check what each one needed (hint: it’s written in black and white right there on the tire).

image of vehicleHe taught me wisdom he learned in his various trades. My friend and mentor went beyond teaching me about cars. He even let me help him set up vent filters and lay the new elevator floor at the library. He’s bought me lunches, given me a tour of the firehouse and rescue squad buildings and promises I can tag along if there’s a need for Collinsville’s rescue squad, of which Mark is an officer.

One day we drove 20 minutes out to the AutoZone in Centre where Mark helped me pick out the kind of oil I needed for my car. We took a pit stop at Sonic for slushees and root beer floats, sipping occasionally while I listened to stories about how and his wife, Mrs. Pat, met, dated, and married. We took back roads home and talked about our families and pets, conversation flowing easily between us. I could have been talking to my dad—that was the relationship that was developing between us.

Even though I was raised to be independent and learned how to take care of myself if I were ever in a sticky situation, my father died before he could pass on certain knowledge and skills to my sister and me. The hours spent by the car were something I longed for with my own Dad. I know it would have made him proud, and he couldn’t have picked a better car expert stand-in than Mark.

Last Updated: July 23, 2014