Diary of a Used Car Salesman: Automobiles 101

A car can be an incredibly expensive, sophisticated, intricate, and downright scary thing to own. Changing oil? Are you nuts? Heck, before I got my license I couldn’t even tell you the difference between a Capri and a Caprice. There were far too many other things going on in my life that were far more important. College for one. Girls (or in my case, girl) for another. Money . . . well, unfortunately not so much. That’s why I now tend to be very forgiving when it comes to teaching others about cars. Speaking of which . . .

I always try to start with the big things first. That’s the engine. That’s the battery. That’s where the coolant goes—and if it’s an old Neon I also make sure to point out the blown head gasket. Seriously though, I usually point out no more than three simple things in the beginning and then have them do something simple with them in order to help overcome the fear factor.

Open the oil cap and look at the engine. Take that 10 mm wrench and loosen the negative battery terminal by remembering, “Lefty loosey, Righty tighty.” Open and close the latches on the air filter casing. When the novice is facing a big machine, I’ve found that it always pays to start with the very small simple steps.

Then I let them ask me questions, “How does an engine run?” is not as common as pointing at a part and asking “What’s that for?” If it involves a fluid I show them how to measure it. Believe it or not, learning to inspect and fill fluids in a car can be as liberating an experience for the automotive novice as learning how to ride a bike. Or for the gamblers amongst us . . . counting cards.

Once the small doing is done, I have them do one simple complete task. It may be changing the oil. Checking and filling their fluids. Or cleaning and coating the battery terminals. I try to start with whatever actually interests them the most. During this time I’ll also help them buy two things. A socket wrench set and a Haynes repair manual.

Of course, they may need to buy a few other small tools as well. But once they own the tools, have done the work themselves, and have the information needed to do it again, they’re ready to begin their own automotive journey.

Their graduation diploma? Referring them to an enthusiast site for the model they now own.

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