Guilty as charged. I bought a high-end vehicle three years ago and along with it the highest service package available. I have barely cracked open the user manual and I know the car can park itself, but I'm honestly not sure how to make that happen. I have fallen victim to the spoilt lifestyle trap of having someone do everything for me, which is highly unbecoming of a self-proclaimed car enthusiast and a former US army soldier who once had her own military-grade Humvee to care for. So when the chance to get back into a garage and get down and not-too-dirty at the UAE's first auto-training workshop for women came up, I jumped at the opportunity.
Nazli Koseoglu, a British expat, is the general manager of Hammerhead Auto Specialists in Al Quoz and it has been her dream since 2013 to put on this event to give women a chance to broaden their knowledge and to feel comfortable when it comes to handling their own car. Koseoglu describes an incident in which a friend’s car broke down on Sheikh Zayed Road with her two kids in the back. She had no idea what to do. Koseoglu believed her friend wasn’t alone in her situation and that knowing the basics of car maintenance would foster confidence in women and lead to increased safety on the roads.
“Women play a huge role in deciding what car they own and where they get it repaired,” says Koseoglu. “However, traditionally men and women have taken on roles like women cooking and men fixing. This has resulted in women not getting involved in vehicle repairs, but this is rapidly changing. Women are intelligent, and understanding what happens during a service or repair is not rocket science. They have a great sense of smell, feel and sound so they become very good at diagnostics. If explained, [women] would grasp the concept very quickly, but that starts by asking questions.”
Women should not be shy, she says, to ask what services will be performed on their vehicles – what oil will be used, what is the best option and if the tyres really do need changing.
Located in a warehouse down a narrow alley, Hammerhead is unlike any garage I’ve been in before. Clearly designed with a feminine touch, the large bay is spotless, bright and even smells nice, or well, not like a garage. There is a small lounge in the corner with a foosball table, leather couches and a coffee table, where Koseoglu later tells me she encourages her staff to read and develop their professional knowledge. There are plants to add some colour, 1970s rock music is playing on the speakers and on the day of the workshop, a mobile Pinkberry is set up to serve froyo. The office is located in a refurbished, glass-walled shipping container placed in the back corner and classic cars under restoration are lined up in front of it. Amenities are not an afterthought, which in my mind translates to a strong attention to detail, and I already know I want to bring my car here for service.
Koseoglu opens by presenting Hammerhead as a friendly face to fill the gap between large service centres and backstreet garages and a one-stop shop for all vehicle needs, committed to transparency and accessibility for all customers, including this free workshop for women. The same friendliness seems to be said for her team of eight.
Forty-five women are in attendance at the workshop, and a second is planned. The attendees range in age and nationality, and include working women, stay-at-home-mums and even teenagers learning to drive. Some clearly have experience with vehicles and others, like me, admit to needing some basic details. What we all have in common is the belief that knowledge is power and we’re hoping for a Ferrari-level introduction today. Wynona Dobbs, a car hobbyist who spoke at the seminar, shared her three top tips: don’t be afraid of your car, ask questions and stick to what is recommended in your owner’s manual.
We inspect underneath a vehicle and learn about each part: the frame, the undercarriage or chassis, the driveshaft and the engine. We are led through regular checks and assessments that can be carried out in five minutes or less, as well as how to be a detective and assess a situation to know what is wrong in an emergency. Here’s a rundown of what we learnt.
Check tyres every month or two, and change when there is insufficient depth, uneven wear, cracks caused by heat, flat spots, or a manufacturer defect. If a service shop tells you that you need to change your tyres, ask why and ask them to show the cracks, nails or whatever is causing the problem. Otherwise, replace tyres every year or two and have them rotated based on the manufacturer’s requirements, which can be found in the owner’s manual. Tyre pressure varies by vehicle and tyre type. Refer to the owner’s manual.
Oil is the blood of the engine. It lubricates the moving parts, pulls heat away from the engine and prevents corrosion. Oil should be checked every month or two and should be honey-coloured. Feel free to bring your own oil and use a garage that sticks to manufacturer’s recommendations. Since the oil directly impacts the engine’s performance, as the vehicle ages, its health care needs to change. “It’s a bit like multivitamins,” says Koseoglu. “If you are above 40 you can’t take multivitamins prepared for a 20-year-old.”
If the oil is black, it is healthy but still should be changed. If it is sludgy and black, it is unhealthy oil and the engine should be flushed. If the oil is milky like a latte, it is mixed with coolant, which is like cancer for the vehicle. If combined with smoke from the exhaust, there is a blown gasket or a cracked engine, which has to be overhauled or replaced.
The coolant is how the car sweats heat from the engine. It regulates heat by raising the boiling point of the water and in cooler climates it prevents freezing. It comes in bright red, green and blue. When checking your coolant, it should be a bright colour, not muddy. In newer vehicles, manufacturers are not including a dipstick or fluid inlet. Monitor the dashboard for warnings.
After being given the chance to take a tyre on and off, jump-start a dead battery and learn what goes into an emergency survival kit (see sidebar), we receive our certificates of completion and take our graduation photos behind an engine, proudly, with a spanner in hand. There is a certain air among the group now, a confidence in handling our vehicles, but also simply being comfortable in a garage.
Red flags in a vehicle come from something you can see, smell, hear or feel.
Indicators: Make a habit of looking at your dashboard during your drive to ensure there are no alerts, and take warnings seriously. Check the manual to know what the symbols mean. A red light means you should have the item checked immediately, while amber lights are a warning. Problems can include low oil pressure, an overheating engine (stop, do not open the bonnet, call roadside assistance), a dead battery or low brake fluid.
Leaks: If you notice a puddle at your usual parking spot, take a closer look. If it is larger than your fist or does not seem to be just water, have it checked out. It may indicate leaking oil, coolant, automatic transmission fluid, power steering fluid or brake fluid.
Smoke: If there is bluish-white smoke from the exhaust, this indicates burning oil and something wrong with the engine. If the smoke is white and coming from the engine, this is overheating. If it is white and coming from the exhaust, this is steam and it means there is coolant in the engine. For any these issues, stop and call a tow truck immediately. If there is black smoke coming from the exhaust, the engine is not properly combusting. In this case, if the car is driveable, go to a garage.
Sounds: Groaning around the wheels can be a wheel-bearing problem. Whining can be a problem with the driveshaft or power steering. Knocking or pinging is an engine malfunction. Squeaking or clunking is the suspension. Squealing from the engine bay is the belt or alternator. Grinding is the brakes. Hissing is an air-vacuum leak in the vents or window seals or an air-vacuum leak from the engine. Humming is the tyres.
Handling: Vibration in the steering wheel or pulling to the sides while driving can indicate a problem with the tyres and should be evaluated by a proper diagnostics centre.
• The next auto-training workshop for women will take place on March 26 from 10am to 11.30am. Register at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800 HAMMER (426637). Hammerhead Auto Specialists is open daily 8.30am to 6.30pm, Street 22, Al Quoz, www.hammerhead.ae
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