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Living Below Your Means
Life Skills and LBYM

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By ARRazorback
October 24, 2003

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I believe everyone, both men and women, need to develop certain life skills/knowledge.

For instance, I feel everyone should know how to sew a button on a shirt or how to hem the legs on their favorite pair of pants. Everyone should know how to change the oil or a tire on their car. Everyone should be able to cook one entree well. Everyone should know how to balance their checkbook. Everyone should know basic defense moves--that is do you know what points to strike on an attacker's body in order to make him/her release his/her grip on you? You should.

Why you ask? There are several possible answers. One is that these skills (or knowledge) will save your sorry butts when you least expect it. You cannot wait for a knight in shining armor (or a warrior princess in a leather bustier) to save you. Second is that it could save you money. A lot of money.

For example, my car is my baby--I have named it "Silver Bullet" (which was preceded in life by Bluebell and Little Betsy). Every month I do a routine check of Silver Bullet. The oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, washer fluid and power steering fluid are checked. The antifreeze is checked as well as the air filter. I check the battery for corrosion and the hoses and belts for cracks both large and small. The tread on the tire is checked with a penny and the air pressure is checked with my trusty gauge. The wipers and the undercarriage are inspected (ever have your muffler come unwelded? Lots of noise and sparks that can be prevented by just checking it every once in a while.) Once you get the routine down, it only takes 20 or 30 minutes.

At any point in time, I can give you a relatively accurate picture of the condition of my car. Why? I could say something about treating your car well and it will treat you well blah blah blah. Very true. No the main reason I do this is because I have to. I was always content in high school and college to leave this stuff up to Daddy. Well I went to a grad school that was 1,000 miles from Daddy. I quickly found that when I walked into auto garages and dealerships that the men lit up (and sorry guys, but I have yet to see a women in the service department at any of these places). It wasn't because they thought I had a pretty smile or that they were eager to serve me. Nope--they saw dollar signs.

And I tired of it quickly. In the past 6 years that I have been paying my own way, I have yet to have a good experience with a dealership/Walmart car care center/Jiffy Lube/auto garage. I am always treated like a child or idiot. I can take my car in for routine maintenance and every single time they always return with a list as long as your arm of things that are horribly wrong with my car. And it always seems that these things will cause my car to immediately blow up if I drive it off their lot--it must be fixed then and there. Funny these things to be fixed are always the most expensive services on their menus. In the past, I have managed to hold my tongue and be polite. You can forget about protesting their recommendations because as I was told one time they are trained professionals and I am not.

Well it happened again this week. I took my car to the Nissan dealership near my house for its annual checkup. Minnesota doesn't require an annual inspection of cars unlike NC or Arkansas but I like to get one every year anyway just in case. I knew going in that the battery had a little corrosion on it--nothing major. The cables were still looking good. It just needed to be washed down with a little baking soda and water. The mechanic did catch that. But it went downhill from there. Suddenly the cables were "rotting off." But they were only going to charge me $30 to clean the battery and replace those rotting cables. And that transmission fluid that was pink, clear and didn't smell burnt last week was now filled with varnish and sludge so much so it was completely black. "I can't believe your transmission is still working under those conditions. If the transmission isn't flushed soon, it will have to be rebuilt." Well that's only $150 for a flush. And that antifreeze that was bright green and free of particulate matter last week was now needing to be flushed also--I couldn't possibly drive that car with that antifreeze through a Minnesota winter. Besides it was only $120 to fix that.

Something inside of me snapped. Loudly. I proceeded to inform the service manager (politely yet firmly) that the cables were not rotting nor was the transmission in need of flushing nor was the antifreeze in need of flushing. Oh but they do. Really? I informed him that the transmission was flushed about 12,000 miles ago (during the Nissan recommended 30,000 mile service)--it wasn't supposed to be serviced again for another 18,000 miles--was he straying from the recommended guidelines and why? I never got an answer--he just sputtered for a moment and then looked like he had stepped in dog poo. And that horrible coolant--well it was flushed just last November--my Southern baby didn't have the right water/antifreeze ratio to make it through a MN winter. Then came the question you always get when you take your car to the dreaded dealership: "Well was the work done by a Nissan dealer?" Uh yes---and it didn't cost me $120 or 150 because they gave me a coupon (LBYM tip: check your dealership's Webpage for coupons!!!)! And just a side note, Nissan doesn't recommend that the antifreeze be changed every year. He insisted he was right even as I was walking out the door to my car. He was, after all, a professional.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a rant--sorry. But for those mechanics out there on this board, please treat your female customers with dignity and respect. Just like you would your mom, sister, wife or daughter. Remind your co-workers to do the same. It is now to the point that even if something were horribly wrong with my car I wouldn't believe the mechanic. And I know I am not the only woman who feels this way.

Boys and girls make sure you check your car out before taking it in for maintenance. Know the condition of the filters and the colors of the fluids. That way when you are told something needs to be replaced, you know if the mechanic is being truthful. I remember one time a mechanic told me my air filter had to be replaced (the charge: $10)---funny I had checked it two days earlier and it was clean. The idiot had taken his greasy fingers and smeared grease all over my air filter--you could clearly make his hand print out. Geesh.

And ladies, make it a point to learn about your cars. A good resource is "Auto Repair for Dummies" by Deanna Sclar. Yes you read that correctly--Deanna. Reader's Digest had a good car care book out at Barnes and Nobles but I can't think of the title at the moment. It is well worth the $20 you will spend. Take a Saturday--grab the car savvy person in your life--and learn about your car. Even the most basic knowledge will save you time and money. Besides, it is fun to get greasy and play with tools every once in a while. ;-)

ARR
her next life skill to be learned: checking the electrolyte solution in Silver Bullet's battery


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