By on May 7, 2014


I grew up not knowing the difference between a V6 and a V8.

Cars were a mystery to me. Motor oil could have been the same thing as cooking oil right up until my 16th birthday.

Then I caught the bug. We all get it. A nasty incurable fever known as, “First-car-itis”.

I wanted a car in the worst possible way. I knew that if I just grabbed my hands on every magazine, book and repair manual I could find, that first car would become mine for a long, long time.

I didn’t expect a steep learning curve.

The public library in Englewood, New Jersey offered a nice selection of Chilton’s manuals that probably had all of one reader. Those manuals were thick, hard with just a few exceptions, and practically unintelligible at first.

This access to a repair manual made all the difference in the beginning.  I started by opening the hood to a 1987 Toyota Celica which wasn’t even mine, and figuring out where the hood prop was located. That took a little bit of time. Then I had to figure out the little things. The oil cap. The coolant reservoir. After endless page turning, I finally figured out where the brake and power steering fluids were, and accidentally also discovered one of the a/c Freon outlets.

Hot? Cold? Heck, for all I knew that little nozzle could have been a hidden charger for the air struts that lifted the trunklid.

My beginnings were more humble than the 1962 New York Mets. I knew nothing, learned a little however I could, and eventually became proficient at… the basics. It wasn’t until college that I learned how to change out brakes, and that took two other people to do most of the coaching. I brought the pizza and beer.

Cars are intimidating machines, and today’s sealed containers, plastic skid plates, and engine covers aren’t doing the curious novice any favors.

So my question to all of you is, “How much would you charge to teach a newbie how to perform the basics of auto maintenance?”

Let’s keep it simple. Oil change. Coolant replacement. Changing a flat tire. Replacing fluids from the top. Topping off the A/C. Replacing the battery. Checking fluids and tire pressure. Basic inspection of the brake pads.

Remember that they will more than likely need to learn how to use a jack and jack stands as well, and some may even be able to handle a tranny fluid change with either an excavator or a simple wrench if there is a simple bolt to remove it (pray to the old Volvo gods for easy access!). You may also want to throw in basic wrenching techniques into the mix.

Could all this be taught in one spring day?  If so, how much would you charge if you were teaching this type of course? Throw in some free pizza and cold beer for yourself as well.


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56 Comments on “Question Of The Day : How Much Would You Charge To Teach The Basics?...”

  • avatar

    Could it be taught in one day? I suppose, but I don’t think much of it would be retained. Some of this stuff requires a certain amount of feel, like tightening the drain plug enough to keep it in but not so much as to eventually strip it, and that takes experience.

    I’m also not a fan of topping up refrigerant without some gauges handy, and considering how rarely I need to have a car’s A/C serviced, I don’t recommend that as a DIY project, the local Tune Up Clinic will do it quite inexpensively.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      In the South, it can make the difference between a $35 quick fix and a $300+ repair.

      • 0 avatar

        Last summer, the A/C in my car wasn’t cooling very effectively. I took it to the local Tue Up Clinic for an oil change, and their A/C service was $50 plus refrigerant. They evacuated the system, did a quick leak check, and then refilled it, for a total of $80. Considering the last time I needed an A/C service was in the 90’s, I’m perfectly happy paying them for their services.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll take 10 minutes to show them EricTheCarGuy (ETCG) Youtube channel. They can take however much time they need to sift through all his excellent videos.

      Just 2 days ago I learned how to service a caliper. Now I just an air hose to pop the cylinder.

      Thanks to ETCG, I managed to replace the front rotors in my car and do a full brake bleed. Installing a new radiator was a cinch. I flushed the A/T on my gf’s 2004 automatic Civic (easier than doing an oil change).

      To this day, I’m amazed now at how easy it is.

      Just like everything, tell them to start from the little things and then work their way up. Nowadays, I’m in the process of doing suspension service. There’s nothing like videos…

      • 0 avatar

        I was going to say, “Youtube it!”.

      • 0 avatar

        +1 on Eric The Car Guy and other YouTube Channels. The first somewhat major repair I did was a radiator on my 1995 LeSabre. It was actually pretty easy. I did watch a radiator video, though.

        I did all four brake pads and rotors on a 2000 Impala last December. I’d never done anything like that before. i took my laptop outside, and rewound the video when needed.

        Just watch videos, and find a cheap clunker to work on. I keep a 1989 New Yorker and a 1993 Escort for “practice”. If I need to do something for the first time (Say removing a spark plug), I’ll do it on a dead car first. If I ruin an 89 New Yorker with 270k miles, who cares?

        Just get out there and try it. I replaced a transfer case in a 1992 Dakota without ever touching one before. Can’t find a video? Use a forum.

        • 0 avatar

          +1 for Matador on the idea of doing some test work on a similar car that is not yours and/or you dont care about. Your local self-serve salvage yard is a great place to try out some repairs. Need to replace a window? Make your mistakes on the car in the yard first, then move on your baby. Its a good cheap hands-on education.

    • 0 avatar

      I also like Briansmobile1, he’s a real character, and really good at explaining things. The good teachers explain the why, not just the how. Teaching the underlying theory behind the problem really helps to apply it to other vehicles and or repairs.

  • avatar

    On a car sold today, the basics would be oil & filter change and tire pressure check. Repeat for 10 years, 100k. I’ll teach someone that for $9.99…
    Otoh, it would take me ALL DAY to teach someone to properly wash a car!

  • avatar

    YouTube. It’s free. And you can watch it over and over.

  • avatar

    I would add headlight/turn signal bulbs, oh and blinker fluid.

    Cheap shop will charge $30/hr, figure there’s at least 2 hours of work there so 60+beer/pizza, call it $75.

  • avatar

    ” Necessity is the mother of invention” When my 62 Pontiac broke down, it was fix it myself.or walk. My friends and I taught ourselves. In fairness, my older brother is a mechanic. He taught me a lot.

    As far as teaching someone , the basics . I would. do it for nothing. My 11 year old grandson is always asking about tools. . He can identify the different models of cars.. His goal is to learn to drive a stick. I think he was a little disappointed when I traded the Camaro in.

    • 0 avatar

      We were all disappointed when you traded in the Camaro.

      • 0 avatar

        I missed this – what did you trade it in FOR? IIRC, you had the Camaro, a Mustang, and a Cobalt.

        I help all my friends with their cars. Payback is helping me clean the garage a couple times a year. All 3700sq/ft of it. :-)

        • 0 avatar

          Cobalt went in on a used long box 4×4 reg cab. I hated it. Truck and Camaro traded in for 2014 Impala. I love it. The Mustang convertible is still mine, and always will be.

          Life threw me some curves. I’ll leave it at that. You do what ya gota do.

          krhodes1..3700 sq ft…Now that’s a man cave and a half! You could do laps with the Spitfire. Very cool.

  • avatar

    Vocational schools that teach automechanics seem to charge around $2500 a semester here.

    I help young people who are interested. Thing is, most aren’t. They just want it fixed for little or nothing and don’t want to know how.

    • 0 avatar

      Not surprising – auto mechanics isn’t a fashionable activity these days. If it ain’t IT, it’s not something young people want to learn.

      • 0 avatar

        It was that way when I graduated from HS, and this was 1972. Everything was , ‘get a degree, you don’t want to work with your hands’. My father would hear none of that. Oh, he had higher education, but made it clear that you had a body and a brain, use both. I didn’t know right away that him saying, “Hold this wrench”, was education. Having had to replace two Taurus’ starters in parking lots, I say “thanks dad”.

    • 0 avatar

      Lol. I’m very interested, so much so that I jumped in the deep end and bought an RX-7 as a first car with the intention of having something I *WOULD* (not *COULD*) wrench on. Sure would be nice to have a buddy to show me stuff besides my mechanic though.

      I’ve thought about ditching my IT career for working on cars.

      • 0 avatar

        There’s reasonable convergence between IT and auto mechanics, and it helps to have at least some skills in the former.

        You’d be surprised how many flat-out amazing mechanics are challenged by trying to get some of the hideous diagnostic tools running on a PC. Having a set of VMware Workstation VMs, one VAG-COM, one for BMW’s INPA, one for Mercedes, etc, etc and then getting USB or serial pass-through to work, and then dealing with driver and timing issues might be my bread-and-butter, but it’s not everyone’s.

        You could spend hundreds or thousands on dealer-grade versions of these tools, or you could get your own working for much, much less. Sound familiar?

  • avatar

    Bring a 6-pack and I’ll let you help work on my Elan all day. Answer any questions you like.

  • avatar

    “Changing a flat tire.”

    That should be part of the driving test !

    I know it’d be impossible to have Miss 17 year old Prom Queen get out on the side of the road and change a tire in the 20 minute road test you get in California, but maybe a prerequisite for passing a test is some signed certificate saying you’ve completed basic training on how to check fluid levels, check tire pressures and change a tire.

    • 0 avatar

      I know how to change a tire, but I won’t do it on the side of the road. Too many txting idiots out there. I’d rather wait for AAA and at least have that big tow truck with the flashing lights protecting me. Plus fully 1/2 of my fleet of cars has no spare anyway.

      • 0 avatar

        And what if you have no cell coverage or AAA say they’ll be there in six to ten hours ?

        I don’t think people have to know how to MacGyver their way out of any failed situation, like our father’s and grandfather’s generation often did, but relying on a cell phone and AAA for something as simple as a flat tire is a very holey safety net.

        • 0 avatar

          I live in civilization, not East BF Montana. The longest I have ever waited for AAA is 30 minutes. Even if there is no cell phone, there are always houses and businesses here in civilization where you can use a phone. Asking for help is far preferable to getting run over by a txting SoccerMom.

          Plus the minor detail that I have not had a flat on the road in about 25 years, despite better than 35K a year of driving. So lack of a spare (though I have goo inflators in both cars) doesn’t bother me a bit.

          • 0 avatar

            I live there too and I’ve waited an hour an a half at times, typically the shortest I have waited was 30 min.

          • 0 avatar

            What did you need AAA for? I thought your cars defied all known reliability information. Or are you arguing response time based on the flat tire you had 25 years ago, when texting soccer moms were a complete unknown?

          • 0 avatar

            The one flat was on my ’84 Jetta GLI. I put the spare on at the side of the road. But that was a different time, there was a lot less traffic, and a lot fewer distractions. That flat was caused by a 9″ long dagger of 3/8″ steel. I still have it out in the garage.

            A couple dead batteries over the years. The ECU fuse holder crumbled on my Alfa Spider a couple years ago (only time it ever failed to proceed in 4 years). I had the Devil’s own time with the driv ebelts on my 300TD while I was getting it sorted out. That turned out to be one of the pulleys was the wrong width, but the thing came home on the back of a tow truck about 4 times before I figured it out. Also roommates and friends cars. My brother’s Volvo 945 when the timing belt let go recently – I had told him a year ago it was due. Most fun was driving home with my just purchased #2 ’91 318is some years back. A/C belt shredded on the NJ Turnpike, taking out the alt belt. Technically not AAA, but the NJ tow service took less than 15 minutes to get me and tow me to an Autozone. Cost something silly for the tow, but AAA paid for it.

            Overall, considering that until quite recently I drove old European cars usually with 100K++ on them, I really have zero complaints about the reliability of any of them. Look after them properly, and they will look after you. Or evidently in your case CJ, run over your dog an sleep with your girlfriend.

  • avatar

    I’ve been pretty lucky that my father-in-law has a wide collection of tools, and is plenty happy to help me through any job that needs done, provided I seem intent on learning (my parents are from the “get it serviced at the dealer” school of thought). I doubt I’ll ever know as much as he’s forgot, but I’d be more than happy to do what I can to help other people in my life to learn this by doing as well. There’s more than enough barriers getting into this sort of stuff without charging for the knowledge.

  • avatar

    If the person is genuinely interested or someone who this type of knowledge would make a material difference to their car ownership I would (and do) happily do it for free.

    From personal experience the interest in actually learning this stuff seems to be mixed. I do a lot of repairs for friends and friends of friends and always offer to let them watch while I explain the process or reason behind why things failed/how they work as I go along, but most aren’t real takers. Even among more hardcore auto enthusiasts there seems to be a lacuna between those who love stats, performance mods and driving and those who want to actually turn wrenches.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Let’s add to the question a bit.

    Can Youtube teach the average person basic car maintenance?

    In my experiences, it usually pays to have an actual person teach you the basics. Am I wrong?

    • 0 avatar

      @Steven Lang:

      You haven’t seen EricTheCarGuy :P
      There are other youtube videos, but I find that it takes natural presentation skills to explain the concept.

      I learned A LOT from just watching his channel and then doing the work, though I still get screwed up on the lefty loosey righty tighty issue. It did cost me a caliper bolt.

      I find the manuals somewhat hard to follow, but real accurate on the torque specs.

    • 0 avatar

      Completely depends on the person. I can read a book and do whatever. My brother absolutely CANNOT learn how to do things that way, but if you show him he will usually do fine. Video might be a happy medium, though in my case I read WAY faster than a video can show, so I prefer printed manuals.

    • 0 avatar

      I think youtube can teach the basics. For beyond basics, best way to learn depends on both the individual and the teaching material.

      As videos depend on the presenter, books depend on the writer. Of course, you have to pick a book written for your skill level, or the best writers can’t save you. For example, distilling an oil filter housing gasket replacement down to…
      1) remove air box
      2) remove ps pump
      3) remove tension from pulley
      4) remove alternator
      5) remove oil filter housing
      6) replace gasket
      7) installation is reverse of removal
      …does not help someone like me.

      I typically prefer books, but for more hands-on material I find youtube videos immensely helpful.

      For me, doing it myself is the only way I am going to retain the info. For that, I can either dive in and hope I get things back together in time, or preferably have someone that knows what they are doing supervise.

  • avatar

    If I could do it all over again I sure as sh1t wouldve taken auto shop in high school. We nerds used to joke about the rednecks in shop, but who’s laughing now? The guy who can replace his own transmission in his back yard, or the guy who has to pay him $2000 to do it?

  • avatar

    I took auto mechanics from Mr. Smeltzer at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, 1970-71.

    When my niece was six, I showed her how a tire is changed, part of my efforts to demystify stuff for her and make her as self sufficient as possible.

    I’ve also taught maybe 8-10 kids to drive stick.

    This is the sort of thing one does free, out of love for the kids and love for passing the knowledge along–unless one has professional credentials.

  • avatar

    I used to do auto repairs in the parking lot at work for my coworkers. Oil changes, brakes, alternators. Even did a set of rear coils on a Crown Vic once.

    For free. I genuinely enjoyed helping out.

    Since I was always fixing the crap cars I used to drive, my vehicle was a mobile tool box. I carried a complete set of hand tools and fluids in my trunk, and I used them to help out my less-mechanically-inclined colleagues. Just back my car up alongside the “patient” after work and get to it.

    I was the first person in my family to really get into cars, so I had to beat the learning curve on my own. But at this point, I can build a car from the ground up, like a giant model kit.

    I really wish I had someone to explain to me at 18 that car magazines were full of shit and that, “no, I don’t care what Hot Rod magazine says. You CANNOT build a cool car on the money you make working at a minimum-wage job. YOU JUST CAN’T.”

    So I guess I decided to be that person for somebody else.

  • avatar

    This sort of thing is best taught in a group setting. Some sort of junior college or extension offering would be the way to go: set up the class, let the school pay you, and let them figure out how to find the students.

    Of course, the class has to be updated for modern times. Sample curriculum items:

    -How to text AAA if the tire goes flat
    -How to use a map app on your phone to locate Jiffy Lube as you are driving, while avoiding a crash
    -Learning how to connect an iPod to the audio system without unintended acceleration
    -Learning the difference between windshield washer fluid and the overflow coolant tank, in order to avoid confusion if the windows are dirty and the fluid has run out

  • avatar

    I know exactly how much I would charge for teaching the rudiments of car maintenance. I am a DSA Approved Driving Instructor (Car).

    The UK driving test has the show me / tell me.questions which cover knowledge of fluid levels and how to check bulbs, legal tyre treads etc.

    I did have a puncture once just as I was dropping a pupil off at his flat and asked him if he wanted to stick around to see how a wheel should be changed but he declined and walked off – wanker.

    • 0 avatar

      This is interesting, it never occurred to me that a driving instructor might be a good person to do this sort of training but it suddenly feels very logical.

      RE the wanker who walked off. I met my old driving instructor, he taught me 18 years ago, and he said it’s a different game now. He used the “cars as appliances” analogy that I’m so used to hearing when people describe the decline of car culture.

  • avatar

    Most of the basics: oil change, tire checks/changes, fluid levels, brakes I learned more or less through osmosis. Enough of the people around me had to do them that I just watched and figured it out. Then when I went to try myself I made sure to have somebody around who could step in if I was going to make a mistake.

    If only I could teach my friend to check the oil level in his 98 Prizm it would be a good day. He constantly “forgets” how to check his oil level and has to have me do it. The last time I checked the car was pretty much empty. He only realized it because the dummy light came on. I keep waiting for the call telling me his car self-destructed.

  • avatar

    If I don’t like them well enough to do it for free, I’m not doing it. I think internet video’s are more useful for specific tasks on specific vehicles, and work better if the basics have already been touched on. Video’s do have an advantage in that no matter how thick or ill mannered the student is they won’t get frustrated…

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Seems like a 2-day course (minimum) to complete your list. I agree with PCH’s recommendation to make it a group lesson.

    However, before I taught such a course, I’d select a common vehicle and have the class read the service manual as a prerequisite. Our population is becoming illiterate and lazy, but reading the book could really accelerate the learning of these basic tasks.

    I’d also include a primer on costs for parts and labor, so the class could appreciate what things cost, no matter who does the work.

    But here’s the reason this issue is moot: The 3-year lease, and the 5/60 or 10/100 warranty with roadside assistance makes people not care.

  • avatar

    A lot of the most basic things are actually the most difficult to fix.

    Stuff you can get to tends to be stuff that is heavily rusted. Or over torqued, &c.

    The planets have to be properly aligned for everything to work out. What are all of the things that can go wrong simply fixing a flat? The dealer probably sold you some wheel locks. And then, did the last person to change a tire put ALL the pieces back, or are you missing part of the jack mechanism. Spare inflated? Lug nuts not too tight for the 1/2 assed wrench provided. Got a flashlight when you need it? All these things tend to get worse as tires get more reliable and less likely to fail. If something happens once during a 4 year ownership period, is it worth it to even read the manual?

    I would recommend a class on how to remove stubborn nuts and bolts. Before anything else. I could offer lengthy descriptions of minor catastrophes that started with the decision to get a bigger hammer or wrench.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t forget wheel seized to hub because the last person to touch it didn’t use anti-seize! This stumped me on my first tire change; it took some time to realize that I would really have to unload on that tire if I wanted it off.

      Strongly agree that repairs never seem to happen the way they are written up (or shown in a video).

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        One off-book way to deal with the stuck wheel: loosen the lugnuts to half a turn looser than finger tight, then drive the car around in a parking lot swerving like a drunk.

  • avatar

    You had me at pizza. I would happily teach anyone these basics for free. And I would add reading and looking up codes from a scanner. Even if they don’t own an OBD scanner, just knowing its possible and that you can take your car to the local parts store to have it checked for free is a bonus. For those interested in more advanced/specialized how-to sessions, car clubs and specialty repair shops often have group tech days for free.

  • avatar

    I bought a POS 1987 Grand Prix as a beater for my daughters. Leaky radiator, burned/leaked a quart of oil every 300 miles or so, leaky tire. Taught ’em basic maintenance to keep the beater running so they could cruise to school and back along with whatever errands they need to do. Charged them room and board under my roof for the training. Every morning, religiously, they would pop the hood to check the oil and water and then check tire inflation. Must have worked; one daughter stripped here 3.4L Malibu down to replace the notorious leaking manifold gasket and put it all back together without my assistance (only asked how to properly use a torque wrench). It ran fine first time, no problems. Inexpensive and effective training.

  • avatar

    My father got us old cars ( at the time Volvo 140’s), gave us the repair manual and told us if we wanted to drive we had to keep them on the road ourselves. As a result we can both do any repairs to our cars we want, of course we also know ones are too much of a pain to do ourselves now that we can afford to pay someone else.

  • avatar

    I think this is what Dad’s are for, no? Doing simple stuff like changing oil and cleaning air filter in the lawnmower, helping him/her with their dirt bike, having him/her help you change oil in the vehicles, etc.
    I find this is a great way to spend time with my boy.
    One of the important things to stress is safety.

  • avatar

    Cmon guys. There’s only one correct answer here and it is “For free. Anytime”

  • avatar

    I did the timing belt and water pump on my 3000gt vr4 with just Youtube videos and a factory service manual. It took a long time but I completed the task. It was completed and I did not have any problems.

    My suggestion is not to rush things and take your time. There are several forums that have decent walkthroughs. Sometimes with no skill you just need to jump in.

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