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Andrew Clark (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Andrew Clark (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Road Sage

Why I (try to) make my wife ask the stupid car questions Add to ...

I’m one of those guys who is not adept at carpentry, landscaping, auto mechanics or general handy-manning. You know, the kinds of things that tough-yet-sensitive characters named “Brick” – who have affairs with rich housewives on Lifetime shows – are good at.

When it comes to cars, I’m a “car guy” rather than a “gear head.” What’s the difference? A car guy knows how cars are fixed. A gear head knows how to fix a car.

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It’s not normally an issue. If I’m local, I take it to my mechanic. He’s happy I’m not good with cars. The only mechanical skills he wants me to be good at are signing cheques and typing my PIN. When I’m out of town, however, I’m in a bind. I’m a guy (really), and apparently having a penis means I’m supposed to know how to replace brake pads or change a worn drive belt. I have to call around for advice and the fact I write a driving column makes my lack of savvy more embarrassing.

So I do what many men do. I try to get my wife to ask the embarrassing questions for me.

She often tells me that mechanics treat women like they know nothing about cars. When our vehicle needs repair, I’m the one who takes it in. So I twist her logic. This most recently happened on a road trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Our dashboard “change oil” light came on and I wasn’t sure how long we could push it. Did it need immediate attention or could we drive another 14 hours home and change it then?

So I asked her to call a garage.

“But why should I call them,” she said, “if you’re the one who wants to know?” It was a good point.

“You’re always saying that mechanics treat women like they’re stupid,” I said. “If you call up and ask what’s an ‘oil change light really mean,’ you’re not losing anything. If I call up and ask that question, the guy will think I’m a complete idiot.”

“So it’s okay for them to think I’m an idiot?”

“But they already think you’re an idiot. You’ve said so yourself. So you’ve got nothing to lose.” I felt pretty good. The logic was sound.

Then she said, “I’m not calling them for you,” in such a way that I realized I needed to stop talking. Still, there was no way I was going to make that call. It was therefore time to do what the dashboard light decreed. When in doubt – fix it.

I called CAA and got the names of a few approved local mechanics. When I called ABC Towing I got a nice southerner named Beth who called me “hon” and told me to call Coastal Fast Lube and ask for Katie. I reached Katie, who said they were a 40-minute drive away. I hopped in my car and, one-and half-hours later, the oil had been changed and I’d picked up a case of Weeping Radish OBX from Chip’s Wine and Beer Market (which happened to be next door to Coastal Fast Lube).

I called my wife and, in my mechanically proficient voice, said, “Car’s fixed” (even though technically an oil change is not a repair).

Sometimes ignorance is indeed bliss.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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