WOMEN ON WHEELS. Jackson's seminar `demystifies' car care for non-technical folks

``Carburetors are the Hamilton-Beach Mixmasters of your car, that combine air and fuel in the right proportion for a car's diet,'' said Mary Jackson in her seminar ``Women on Wheels.'' The carefully coiffed mature ladies sitting on folding chairs smiled at this analogy.

So did the younger women and a sprinkling of men who filled out the class in the Salem Honda dealership's squeaky-clean garage.

Auto repair, for them, was becoming ``demystified.''

And that's the purpose of Ms. Jackson's seminar - clarifying the mysteries of cars for ``ordinary'' people, particularly for women.

Her down-to-earth, three-hour class, sponsored by car dealerships, helps non-technical folks learn enough so that they can ask intelligent questions when taking their cars to the mechanic.

Jackson, drawing from her background as both a second-grade teacher and manager of an auto body shop, created her own traveling seminar business in 1983.

Her business has blossomed, and she now conducts classes in cities throughout the United States.

She started the seminars to correct what she saw as women's limited access to useful information about automobiles.

But she has found that many men, too, enjoy the course. They come up to her after the seminar and tell her, ``You know, my dad didn't take me out to look at the V-6, either.''

With simple color-coded diagrams, actual parts of an engine, and common-sense analogies interspersed with humor, Jackson reveals the inner workings of the automobile.

``The battery is the clothes closet of electricity,'' she explains.

It should be replaced in the fall, if it is weak - before that fateful day you turn the key, and it is so quiet that ``you could hear a worm burp.''

This will keep you from having to buy the tow-truck driver's inevitable ``zillion-dollar battery.''

This household theme reappears in other comments.

``When it's cold outside, oil goes from consomm'e to beef stew,'' she warns.

Jackson's seminars are offered free as a service to the public by sponsoring auto dealerships.

``We've been here about 2 years, and we've done well,'' says William Tucker, general manager of Salem Honda, the scene of the recent car-care seminar.

Mr. Tucker explains that his Massachusetts dealership sponsored the ``Women on Wheels'' seminar ``for the exposure'' and ``to give a little something back'' to the community in return for its business.

``Sixty to 65 percent of our customers are women,'' he adds. ``The response [to the seminar] has been tremendous, and indirectly we've sold a few cars.''

Tucker is now thinking about sponsoring the seminar several times a year.

Salem Honda's seminar, held in its repair garage between car lifts and huge garage doors, was well attended.

The students, who had responded to an advertisement for the seminar in the local paper, listened attentively, chuckling frequently.

``You touched all the bases,'' said one attendee afterward in a written evaluation.

``Concise, important information for everyone,'' said another.

Jackson illustrates her talk from her own extensive personal history of auto care mistakes.

She admits to being able to figure out just how many more miles she can squeeze out when her gas gauge hits empty, and to consequently coasting into more than one service station just ``on fumes.''

But she has reformed her ways in that regard, and advises her students to do likewise.

The ``second-nicest thing you can do for your car,'' Jackson says, is to fill the gas tank frequently, never letting it get near empty. (The nicest of all is to keep your oil clean, and change it and your oil filter once a season.)

One of your car's enemies - dirt - lurks at the bottom of your gas tank, she says. If you run on almost empty, the dirt clogs your fuel filter - a $17 to $25 part.

If it gets past your fuel filter, she adds, the dirt can clog your carburetor or fuel injectors - demanding a flow of big bucks from your wallet.

Jackson advises her seminar attendees not to assume that their auto mechanics are out to cheat them.

But she advocates not being intimidated by ``garage-ese,'' or technical garage terms, and to firmly insist on having your questions answered fully and in words that you can understand.

``Be assertive, not aggressive,'' she says. ``Wouldn't you want to know what went into a dinner bill of $73.54?'' she asks her students.

Similarly, why pay a mechanic's bill without asking what specific work was done? ``Ask what the bill is for,'' Jackson says.

She is now planning luncheon seminars for businesses that want to offer her information to their employees.

Her mini-topics will include ``Behind the wheel: reducing stress on today's superhighways'' and ``How to find and talk to an auto mechanic: deciphering garage-ese.''

Mary Jackson travels throughout the US from PO Box 17184, Boulder, CO 80308; (303) 642-0956.

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