Taking Care of Her Own Car
SOCIETY was horrified at first at the idea of a woman riding a bicycle, then rode it to death. It shuddered at the idea of a woman driving an automobile; now the woman who owns a car and isn’t her own chauffeur on occasion, is not only hardly smart, but gets a reputation for timidity. This may or may not be so, but it is the beginning of an interesting article by C. H. Claudy in the World To-Day. It goes on:
There have been for years many women who would drive their own automobiles, if they felt they could care for them— women with the means to purchase a moderate-priced car, but denied a masculine member of the household to do the grooming, and unable, or unwilling, to keep a properly accredited chauffeur.
To these, the salesman is now presenting a new argument. Instead of trying to convince a woman who is, although highly intelligent, without any knowledge of mechanics, that “my car doesn’t need any care; all you have to do is to turn the crank and start it, then get in and ride,” he tries to show her that “although this car, like any other car, needs attention to run at its best, that attention is something which a woman, as well as a man, can give it.”
He shows her that even if a carbureter does get “out of whack,” it isn't a matter of muscle and great knowledge to fix, merely a matter of a little know-how ana practice. He shows her that an ignition system is not inherently an affair of the devil, impish, for all the testimony of its actions at times, and that the magic which will exorcise said devilishness is merely patience and, again, knowledge, which can be as easily acquired by a woman as
a man. He shows her the ins and out of steering-gear, of transmission, of differential, of valves, and of control; shows her, in fact, what he would show a man who expected to take care of his own car. The result is, there are more and more women driving cars all the time, who stable them, feed them, clean them, keep them in order, adjust them, “time them up,” even if they still leave heavy repairs or matters of muscular labor to paid masculine help.
When it is boiled down to a matter of essentials, there is really nothing more complicated for a woman, in taking ordinary care of the average car, than there is in taking the same care of a sewing-machine or a furnace, two pieces of household apparatus that any modern Priscilla usually understands thoroughly. Now is the time for the skilled automobile mechanic to rise up and roar. One can fairly hear him :
“What? An auto no more complicated than a sewing-machine? A motor-car as easy to take care of as a furnace? Nonsense. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!”
And, from the skilled automobile mechanic’s standpoint, the assertion is somewhat difficult to swallow. But observe, please, Mr. Skilled-Automobile-Mechanic, and you, too, Miss Want-To-Care-For-MyOwn-Car, that the statement said “taking ordinary care of the average car.” '
Now, what is ordinary care?
In the first place, keeping the tanks full of oil and gasoline, the radiator filled with water. Is there, inherently, anything harder about unscrewing a cap and pouring oil, gasoline or water into a brass hole, than there is in squirting fluid from
ing-machine? A difference in magnitude, not kind.
Ordinary care includes, in the second place, keeping tires well pumped up. One can stop at a garage and have it done; one can buy cylinders of compressed air and do it oneself, with no more effort than is required to attach the hose and turn a handle, or one can get right down to hard facts and pump, just as one did with the bicycle, and if any woman will tell me that it is harder to pump up a medium-sized tire than it is to shovel in coal or take up ashes from a furnace, I will—contradict her!
In ordinary care is found, also, cleanliness. Cleanliness means not only of fenders, body and brass, but engine cleanliness. It means particularly spark plugs and cylinders. Spark plugs don't get dirty standing unused; they soot up just when one is demonstrating one's machine for sale to a purchaser who doesn’t know a spark plug from a reach rod, or an ignition system from a spanner, and who thinks any use of a tool on the engine means it is fit for the scrap-heap. Or, they get dirty just when we have put on our daintiest lawn dress, and are in the middle of a ride with our dearest enemy, of whom we want a favor!
In such circumstances, to await, helpless, the coming of something with trousers, who, by the way, unless he comes in his own car, is just as apt to be entirely ignorant of trouble in dirty spark plugs as you are, is humiliating, to say the least. How much more comfortable it is to play the man, don old gloves and a duster, or even an unautolike apron, take out the offending plug, squirt it with gasoline or clean with a rag, rescrew it in place, hook on the wire, and—off again!
How to test for the offending plug with the buzzing coil, and how to remove and clear and replace the plug, is neither hard nor troublesome to learn. Any woman who can learn the intricacies of a shuttle, needle and feed on a sewing-machine can do this equally well; in fact, a lot of them do, which is, when all is said and done, the surest indication that the assertion, questioned by Mr. Expert-AutomobileMechanic, is a true one.
To say, “Those cylinders are getting carbonized”^,: to be horribly technical.
Many a woman has heard that from her repair man, in the now happily lost days of repair shop robbery, and said, “Well, for goodness’ sake, stop it; I don’t want the whole car carbonized!” and has paid roundly for the cleaning which she can do equally well herself, at no expense. For no one will contend that it takes either great skill or great knowledge to pour a little kerosene into the cylinders through their cups, and run the engine until the carbon deposit in the cylinders (the remains of burned oil) is burned away.
By the same token, some helpless woman drivers have had a repair man come to their car and paid him for time and knowledge, to start it, when all it wanted was a little “priming” or extra gasoline put in the cylinders, through those same cups, a thing sometimes necessary in cold weather !
Sometimes, when the motor begins to “miss,” it is the battery which is at fault. A “miss fire” is easily recognized, its cure not much harder. It must be faulty ignition, not enough gas. or dirt, if it is to be curable on the road. If the batteries are all right, and there is no “short circuit” (wires touching where they should not), the trouble is in the plug, and it is ignition which is at fault. If the plugs are all right and there is no short, circuit, seek the trouble in the storage battery. And the testing of the battery with the instrument made for that purpose (the ammeter) or the shifting of the wires from one set to another, is neither complicated, vastly difficult, nor hard to understand; certainly no harder than the adjustment of a radiator in a house, the reading of a steam-gauge on the furnace, or the management of dampers and doors to produce the desired temperature.
And magneto ignition—which, O feminine shudderer at hard words! means an electrical system for igniting the gasoline gas charge in the cylinders, by means of a little mechanism called a magneto, which generates an electrical current instead of the battery—is almost troubleless, and reduces the hunt, for electrical trouble to short circuits and dirt. If you learn where the magneto is, and see always thatits wires are tightly fastened, you will know about all you need to about this part of the machine.
Carbureters, I will admit, are affairs not to be adjusted without exact knowledge. Yet on the carbureter depends the performance of the car. If it isn’t working right, if it isn’t producing the right kind of gas from the gasoline, if, in other words, the mixture is too rich or too poor, there is going to be trouble. Adjusting a carbureter to the car is a matter of knowledge rather than of skill. But, admitting that it gets out of adjustment and must be put back, any clever woman can learn from seeing it done, and understanding why this, that and the other, are done, to do it herself. She is intelligent, this Miss Take-Care-Of-Her-Own-Car, or she wouldn’t understand it. It takes only intelligence to understand that a gasoline motor goes because a charae of gasoline gas and air is ignited in the cylinder bv a spark, which ignition or “explosion” is accompanied by a great expansion of the gas, which expansion pushes a piston that turns a crank, which motion finally gets to the wheels and turns them.
Understanding this, it isn’t much harder ^ to understand that there is some best mixture of gasoline gas and air for the kind of car and the'time .of year, at the carbureter, to get the best power out of the gasoline used. It is this best mixture which the carbureter gives the car, and, understanding the apparatus and how it does it. and why it does it, and how to adjust it, is a part of the education of every autoist, and it’s about on a par with understanding the engineering principles of a heating plant. One can heat a house without, knowing them, and one can drive and care for a car without everv touching a. carbureter, hut if one would do either to the best effect, and with the most intelligence, such knowledge is desirable.
Even as one star differeth from another star, so doth one carbureter differ from another in glory and mechanism. But all have some method of adjusting the relation of gas and air. She who learns what this relation is. for her car, and can adiust, the air or gasoline intake so the car runs best and with least smoke, either in winter, when the cold air makes more of it. needful, or in summer, when the air can be cut. down, saves herself trouble, time, and “repair” charge.
Then, there are a lot. of little things about the engine which anyone can learn.
The belt which drives the fan may get loose. Any woman who can fit a dress ought to be able to take up a belt! Yes, it gets your hands dirty—wear gloves. Yes, it’s messy—everything about an engine is messy, oily and dusty. Wear the proper clothes. But the continual revolution of that fan means cool water in the radiator, which means smooth running to your car.
The control may develop lost motion. If you understand the control, that is, can follow the rods and wires as they run from carbureter to the control handles on the steering-gear and from the timer to the same place, and can see where the lost motion is, you can correct it, providing, of course, that it is correctable with wrench or other tools. It may well be that in going over and caring for her car, MissTake-Care-Of-Her-Own-Auto comes across things beyond her skill, strength or knowledge. But if she understands what, is the matter, and what ought to be done, and can take her car to a repair shop and say, “Here, there is too much lost motion in this steering-gear,” or, “My clutch slips and I lose power,” she will get her work quicker, better done, and with less charges than if she is compelled to go to the garage, get a repair man to ride with her, and find out what is the matter, for himself, and then leave him to do what he pleases and render what bill he likes, to what he knows to be dense ignorance.
There are different ways of getting the knowledge required to care for one’s own car. One girl I knew had a friend in the automobile business. She persuaded him to allow her to spend some time in the shop. She stood around for a couple of hours for several days and went away with a working knowledge of how a car is put together, which nothing but continual observation of different chassis in various stages of ^deshabille could have given her.
Another young woman contracted with the agent fropn whom she bought the car in this way:*
“I’ll buv your car,” she said, “and pay you cash for it. You will agree to have a man teach me how to run it, and take it to pieces and put it together again, so I can understand it.”
The salesman didn’t want to; it meant three days of a repair man’s time, but
that $900 in cash looked so very green, he—did it. The young woman has a mental picture of all the “works” of her car, and can tell as well as any one when anything is wrong, fix it if it is not too complicated, and is not a bit afraid to take her car on a day’s run, if she has “tuned it up” herself.
A young woman was promised a motor the day she could demonstrate to her father that she knew how to take care of it. He was a civil engineer.
The young woman bought a couple of text-books on the automobile, studied them, then asked a friend for lessons in the simple essentials. One day she came to her father and told him:
“I’m ready to show you I know how to run and how to take care of a car.”
Her father borrowed a friend’s car and took her riding. She showed him first that she knew how to drive, and then, as fast as he disarranged the car in several ways, while she turned her back, she put it right again. He disconnected a wire from a spark plug—she found it in a moment. He disconnected the wire from the battery—she tested for current as soon as the car wouldn’t start, and, finding none, went straight to the battery box. He removed a plug and fouled it—she located it, had it clean and back in place in five minutes. Other and more elaborate tests were dispensed with as being injurious to the car, but the daughter gave her father such a lecture on a car’s construction and principles that he was glad to throw up his hands and ask her to have mercy, and please to drive to the garage where the new car was to be bought!
There are dozens of such examples, and whether the car be the simple electric, the slightly more complicated and infinitely more flexible gasoline car, or the little steamers, you will see women not only running them, but running them with the comfortable knowledge that, even if they get out of adjustment, the power to “fix it” is within them, and not necessarily for them in a garage.
The matter of tires must not be neglected. For of all things which may happen on the road, calculated to strike terror to the heart of alleged helpless femininity, a punctured or burst tire is the worst.
Yet coming back once more to the stove and the sewing-machine, the present
scribe can see nothing more difficult in replacing a tire with a new one, save the muscular effort required, than in “tuning up” a heating system, emptying radiators of air, seeing that the water stands at the top of the system, that flues are free and dirt-pockets clean, etc. It is true that it does take a little strength to remove and put on a heavy tire. A mediumsized tire can be managed without trouble by any woman with the understanding of how to go to work, and patching a punctured inner tube is certainly no harder than patching a torn skirt!
Telling a delicate woman that the first thing she must do if she would repair a tire, en route, is to lift the car up from the road enough to allow the wheels to revolve, seems, at first thought, equivalent to saying at once, “You can’t do it.” But in every motor-car tool chest is found a little apparatus called a “jack,” and this tool will do the lifting up of the car for you with less exertion than is necessary to pump water from a well, and with the same motion.
Modern tires are held on mechanically, not alone by air pressure, as were the old double-tube bicycle tires. It is only necessary to use a wrench to get off the retaining nuts and rings and free the rubber “shoe.” Getting the tire off the rim is more a matter of patience and the right use of a tire tool than great strength, and putting the new or patched inner tube in place is neither difficult nor exhausting.
Pumping up is undeniably hard work! But it can be done, with time, patience and a foot-pump, and if there are several to take turns at it, it is really not so terrible a job as it might appear. But the modern way to pump a tire is to have a small tube of compressed air along with you, connect it to the tire, turn a valve, and presto ! the tire is ready for use !
Repairing a tire, like all the rest of the moderate, every-day, not highly scientific care which any car requires, if it is to run at its best, is entirely a matter of the right knowledge, plus the will to do. The whole matter rests entirely with the individual woman in question. As between learning the average care required for the average car, and learning to cook a good meal, I think any one who knows anything about automobiles and who has tried to be his own cook, will back the person who tries
to learn the essentials of autoing, to finish first.
However incredulous the masculine reader may be, or his sister either, who has already regarded anything mechanical as about as mysterious as the stock exchange, the fact remains, more and more young women are taking care of their own cars, more and more are learning the simple essentials of keeping a car in tune, of keeping it clean and healthy, and able to run there and back with comfort. With many it is the case of “Do it myself or do without a car,” and, as one young modem sister of Phæton put it, “I never knew how much the men were bluffing when
they talked motor until I learned for myself how very simple such things as batteries, spark plugs, transmissions, and clutches were!”
This, for a mere man to quote, is humiliating, but goes far in proof of the point nevertheless, that there really is nothing more complicated in taking ordinary care of the average car than there is in taking the same care of a sewing-machine or a furnace !
Try it, Miss Want-a-Car-Very-BadlyBut-Am-Afraid-Of-Its-Care, and see if you can write, as a conclusion to this tale, a good round Q.E.D.