BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A couple hours under the hood on a breezy, fall Saturday may prove dividends for about a dozen women who showed up to learn some basics of car care.
Griffin Muffler & Brake Center at the corner of 6th Street and Avenue G, in Fort Madison’s Main Street District, held a free workshop called “Heels and Wheels” on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Twelve women, none of whom showed up in heels unless you consider boots heels, were educated on the basics of car care and repair and were treated to lunch, some winex and gift bags in the gold brand color of the neighborhood service center.
Certified auto specialists Andrew Irish and Matt Jones, along with owner Nannette Griffin and her husband Clark, the lead service specialist, spent close to three hours answering questions and showing the basic components of their vehicle that require regular maintenance, but also have the biggest impact on the vehicle’s safety.
Griffin put two vehicles on lifts in the service center and another vehicle on a state-of-the-art alignment rack to show the women the importance of routine maintenance.
However, questions weren’t always routine.
“My tire was making a noise and I took it in and they found a pair of pliers inside my tire. How did that happen?” one of the women asked.
Clark said, unfortunately, that didn’t surprise him and he’d heard other similar stories. But he said that’s why it was important to make sure you know and trust the company that’s working on your vehicle.
Irish also talked about electronic codes and what information can be obtained from the codes and the “snapshots” of the vehicle’s performance.
He said the women need to be careful about taking their car to auto parts stores with code readers.
“Have any of you ever gone to the parts store to get your engine light fixed?” Irish asked. “They told you a code and said it’s this. We see this typically, people will bring in a vehicle and say the auto parts store scanned it and said it was the oxygen sensor. How much to fix the oxygen sensor.”
Irish said a good mechanic won’t recommend replacing a part without scanning the whole vehicle first.
“They only have a global reader that only scans things that are emission related that the federal government says all cars have to have. That’s the only thing it’s going to pick up.”
He said other safety issues like a seat belt loop, won’t be scanned.
“This gives us a chance to get a lot more in-depth with your vehicle and find underlying issues,” Irish said.
Nannette said in addition to getting more in-depth, the service center won’t just throw parts at it, but get to the real problem that could save money in the long run.
Irish said the reader at Griffin’s will pull the snapshot of the vehicle’s performance when the engine light comes on. They can see speed, braking and other information that was happening with a vehicle at the time the light came on. But parts stores will typically clear that information to get the light off, and then the service center won’t have access to the information.
Nannette said she envisioned having a free education day about 14 years ago, but the industry kept changing and the time never seemed to be just right. But she rolled it out this year because she wanted to try and remove a lot of stereotypes in the industry. And not just the obvious stereotype that men handle most of the car repairs.
“Statistics show that women make most household decisions. We think this is a good way to help them keep an eye on the family vehicles and working maintenance into hectic schedules,” Nannette said.
“We’re trying to bring our industry to a different standard. Holding this event, our different warranties, our philosophy, how we operate, transparency, honesty. We can get our industry to rise to a higher standard, kill the stereotypes, and have people view us more as professionals. These people working here are educated and bright. Cars are still going to be sold and you need trained, certified people to work on them.”
Kacey Weaver, of Donnellson came down because her mom made her. She said although she’d rather be laying in the sun with her pony, she did have concerns about her car and she learned things while in the service center.
“I learned to call people if I need help and to make sure the people working on my car are good at it and they know what they are doing,” Weaver said.
“We also told her to not turn the radio up when you hear a noise in your car. You can blow up your engine,” Nannette chuckled after hearing the comment.
One of the women in attendance was Mari Holtkamp who owns a service center with her husband in Mt. Pleasant. Holtkamp held her own women’s event at her dealership and was down seeing how other service centers are approaching the issue.
“Women are sometimes, I think, intimidated about cars. But they’re the ones, like these guys said, that are the driving force in the household. The ones that are scheduling kids’ dentist appointments, soccer practices, piano lessons, and whatever else. If they’re not comfortable getting their car worked on, that’s not good for their family and the safety of the vehicle,” Holtkamp said.
Nannette said the Midwest is more of a ‘if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it’, mentality.
“We need to educate people better on maintenance. And if you’re not maintaining care of your car, you’re gonna end up stuck on the side of the road, and nobody wants that.”
Holtkamp said people forget that their vehicle is one of a person’s biggest investments.
“If you would just maintain the one you have and invest a little money, this is an investment and the second most expensive thing you’ll own next to your home,” she said. “If you come to someone you trust – that doesn’t consider you a number to them, they’re gonna help you take care of your car and they’re going to take care of you.”