More women become fix-it-yourself car owners

Camshafts, distributors, alternators, and carburetors. All are found under the hood of a car, but to many people -- and to most women -- that territory might as well be Siberia. Right now this lack of knowledge about the geography of a car's insides, and undersides, is changing fast. At today's prices of automobiles, and of the gasoline that makes them go, and of the repair costs if they don't, cars have suddenly become objects of great caring.

Magazines run how-to articles on everything about car preservation from where to find spare parts to how to change a tire. Community colleges are offering do-it-yourself courses on how to diagnose and sometimes remedy ailing car mechanisms. After looking at the facts that 25 percent of all registered car owners in the US are women and 46 percent of all licensed drivers are female, at least two national companies have begun to offer free car clinics to women across the country.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company has offered its three-hour car care clinic to more than 35,000 women around the country and will continue its program through 1980. In each course, two trained experts give lectures to groups of 25 -30 women, answer questions and then help them work with cars, identify parts and learn their functions.

Linda Finch, the company's car care consultant, said in Manhattan after one clinic, "Our aim is to teach women the basic systems of a car and how to take care of their own preventive maintenance.

"Most women want to avoid unnecessary repair bills. In taking the mystery out of what's under the hood, we teach a woman how to read the warning lights and gauges on her dashboard, and how to recognize and check oil, coolant, transmission, and brake fluids.We show her how to check wheel alignment, brake and exhaust systems, shock absorbers, and electrical systems. As a result women can speak far more knowingly to the mechanics and to service station attendants.

The most asked question, Miss Finch says, is, "How do I keep from getting ripped off by a mechanic?" in view of reports that up to 50 percent of repairs made are not necessary.

This is the clinic's advice: ask for a written estimate, not a verbal one. Insist that if the work exceeds that estimate by 5 percent, your authorization must be obtained before a mechanic proceeds.

Then ask for your old parts back, a practice that puts garages on notice that you are paying attention to what is going on. If you are not satisfied with the work, demand that it be done properly. Miss Finch says she never pleads, "Will you please do this?" But comes on strongly with, "I have paid a lot of money for this work and I insist that it be done right."

If the work is not done properly, she says that there is recourse. "Go from the local service manager to the owner of the dealership, then to his regional boss, and on, if necessay, to manufacturing headquarters. If all else fails, you can go for assistance to the office of consumer affairs, or to the state attorney general's office."

The problem that baffles most women drives the most, says this consultant, is the sense of panic that overtakes them when their car breaks down on the road and they don't know what their alternatives are. The clinics are aimed at helping women diagnose the problem, and, better still, prevent its occurrence.

Atlantic Richfield Company's conservation program is called "Car Care, Not for Men Only." It is aimed at building self-reliance and also at showing drivers how to conserve fuel. Clinics are held at local ARCO stations under the administration of local chapters of the League of women Voters. During these 2- 1/2 hour sessions, women learn to jump-start a battery, change a tire, and check tire pressures and all fluid levels. ARCO advises women to buy cars that give good mileage in the first place and says the US Environmental Protection Agency mileage estimates are available to help this decision-making. (Write for the free booklet called "Gas Mileage Guide," to the US Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.)

ARCO clinics also advise a woman to read her car owner's manual as if it were a best-seller and to follow every driving and maintenance tip listed in it. ARCO instructs women to use snow tires only when necessary, to accelerate slowly , and to maintain speeds steadily at 55 miles per hour on highways to save on gas consumption.

The Insurance Information Institute of New York is also giving more attention to women as car owners. The institute, at 110 William Street, New York, NY 10038, has just prepared an educational film "Drive Safely with Janet Guthrie," the first woman to compete in the Indianapolis 500 auto race.

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