SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — On Sunday around noon, anyone passing through Peace Dale may have noticed a group of women standing around a parked car, hood popped, conversation underway. This was not an emergency; it was an experiential session in car maintenance 101. Of concern was knowing how to check car fluids and understanding what the colors of these fluids mean, and how they factor into general car health.
The group was gathered outside of The Collective, a bookstore, infoshop, lending library, reading room and community meeting space, where Beth McGuire was leading a session aptly titled “Girls Auto Clinic!” This was the third session she has hosted on car maintenance, drawing on material from the book “Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide” by Patrice Banks, and referencing personal experience.
McGuire, who lives in Peace Dale, has long had an interest in car mechanics. As a child, she prefered Matchbox cars to Barbies. And as a teenger raised by a single mother, she wanted to know more about car mechanics, primarily so she could be empowered and not taken advantage of whenever car trouble arose. She convinced a teacher at South Kingstown High School to let her take the senior car mechanics class, an experience “that was really cool,” she said.
“This should be something all people are exposed to,” McGuire added, “it shouldn’t be weird for women to have an interest.”
Now, she wants to help relay all the she has learned and experienced to other women so they too know how to check on car fluids, and can navigate a mechanics shop more knowledgeably.
“I feel like this is a super important subject for women because we want to stay empowered,” she explained.
McGuire began the session by reading a pop quiz from “Girls Auto Clinic,” which tested the “Auto Care IQ” of those in the room. Some of the myths busted, or clarified included:
Cars do not need an oil change every 3,000 miles, but rather every 5,000 miles.
Heating your car up in the winter is not necessary, unless you drive an antique.
And yes, you should, replace your tires in pairs.
She then covered several topics that may seem like basic information, but in reality are not so obvious.
For instance: The best way to have clout wherever cars are concerned? Always knows your car’s year, make and model.
McGuire explained what a VIN number is — essentially your car’s fingerprint — and where it can be found — printed on your registration and on the car’s windshield.
She went over FWD, AWD, and 4WD, what they mean and how they differ. This reporter earned a tire-pressure gauge for knowing that “FWD” means “Front Wheel Drive,” which McGuire explained is the most fuel efficient (the four other participants would also earn gauges).
“One of the best ways to save yourself some major money is to never let your fuel tank go below a quarter of a tank,” she said.
Wondering about changing your own oil versus going to a mechanic? Go to the mechanic, it’s less messy, McGuire advised, speaking from experience.
“The absolute most important thing you can do for your car is change the oil,” she said, explaining that oil is the lubricant that keeps your car running smoothly, much like the blood flow in your veins. An oil change is also a great time to rotate your tires, McGuire said.
Don’t be afraid to shop around until you find a place where you feel comfortable. Whenever possible, go to a trusted mechanic, preferably at a locally-run shop. “Like with anything, trust your gut,” she said.
Checking fluids before making an appointment is helpful, and is much easier than it seems: power steering fluids should be a maple syrup color; brake fluids should be a dark red, merlot color; and anti-freeze a fluorescent color.
The checking of such fluids is what moved the group from inside the bookshop outside to the sidewalk, gathered around a popped hood.
McGuire used the dipstick to check the car’s oil, explaining that she always keeps a light colored towel, or old t-shirt, in her car, so she can see what color the oil is: a light amber hue is most ideal, anything dark and murky means an oil change is in order.
Other topics covered in the class, which was free, included a jumper cable demo, talk of car batteries (fyi: leaving your phone charger plugged in drains your car battery even when your car is off), types of oil, a trick for checking your tire’s tread, and what to consider when shopping for a used car.
Maura O’Halloran, 26, lives in Providence and drove to Peace Dale from Middletown for the class. She recently bought a preowned vehicle — the first in her name — and wants to be able to care for it without needing to lean on her father.
“I don’t want my dad to drive down every time I need something; I want to do it myself,” she said. After the class, which ran just over an hour, O’Halloran was feeling empowered. “It makes me want to learn more — it’s almost like a gateway drug,” she said, adding that she would like to be able to instruct and inform her guy friends on issues of car maintenance.
Debbie Dyer, 57, drove from Exeter for the class, which she was hoping to attend with her daughter, who is just learning to drive but had to work. Dyer has an older car and would like to be more aware of its maintenance needs. For her, the class confirmed many things she has long suspected. “It made me feel more confident in what I was right about,” she said, especially: “not needing an oil change as often as your dealer would recommend.”
McGuire plans to lead another workshop in the fall, and those interested should stay up-to-date with happenings at The Collective (1220 Kingstown Road, Peace Dale), via its website or Facebook page.
In the meantime, she is helping the members of a local girl scout troop earn their car maintenance badge — which elicited excited commentary from some in the room, girl scouts from a time when such a badge was unimaginable.
“It’s so cool to see five women walk out of here knowing so much more about their cars,” McGuire said. “Don’t let misogyny win; fight the power!”