Kid Mechanic wannabe for real!

I have a 12 yo son that is into muscle cars and wants to learn more about mechanics. He took a summer ‘camp’ where he worked on small engines, but I’m not sure where to go from here. If he had his way, he’d take all his birthday and christmas money and buy a car to fix up, but we don’t have a garage and I don’t know any mechanics to help him out. I take him to all the car shows I can and he talks very intelligently to car owners about engines, transmissions and such (it all sounds like pig latin to me). His uncle gave him an old riding lawn mower without the deck for him to learn on and he has replaced the battery and fiddled with the spark plugs. How do I encourage his interest at this point other than building a garage and letting him buy a fixer-upper? Thanks! Lynne

Encourage your son at every opportunity. I think 12 years old is a little too young to let him have a “fixer-upper” vehicle. Let him continue to work on lawn mower engines and maybe a motor scooter a little later on. It sounds like deja vu to me. I started out by working on my grandmothers old washing machine that had a gas powered engine at the age of 12. I progressed from there to lawn mower engines and had a small business for a year or so. I earned enough to buy a Vespa scooter and worked on it until I traded it for a Cushman scooter. I then got a job at a supermarket so that I could buy the car that I wanted while in high school. If he’s really interested in mechanics…he will continue that interest all of his life. Your son is very lucky to have a parent like you.

Libraries and books are a great resource for a youngster who doesn’t yet have a shop/tools/car. He can absorb an enormous amount of knowledge about engines and mechanical things by reading. Then when he gets old enough for his first car he’ll have a great store of knowledge to draw from.

I worked part time in a garage even before I had my driver`s license. They let me do all sorts of things I could not get into trouble with.

Gat him more small engines.
Go karts
Radio controled gasoline cars, planes , and boats
Small motor cylcles and mopeds.
These hobbies are not cheap but may be just the ticket for now.

you could even experiment with him doing some of the routine maintainence on your vehicles. From oil changes to spark plugs, belts and hoses and filters.
A repair book could help guide him or talk nicely to your regular mechanic to see if he can ‘‘help’’.

I got my first car at 13. Paid $25.00 for it put my bike in the and drove it home 4 miles. Those were good times. I would see if there is a boys club or the boy scouts my be able to help you find a volunter to teach him. Next time your at a car show ask one of the guys if he would like a helper.

My first entrance into car mechanics was helping my dad change the oil in the family car. Then, after I got the oil change procedure in hand, and proved I could do that safely and not forget to install the drain plug before pouring in 4 quarts of new oil (oops!), he showed me how to change and adjust the ignition points and condensor. Then the air filter. Then changing out the coolant. He also showed me how to change a flat tire. Few tools required, and yields a lot of “car sense” confidence for a youngster, and saves a good deal of money too. Until later, on my own, no dad nearby to help, I found myself owning/a 1970’s VW Rabbit, those were the only things I knew how to do on a car. The Rabbit incentivized me to learn more, so to speak. I didn’t want to be in the poor house, so I took a night-school course at the local high school in home car repair.

My dad and I though, we had no garage to work in, just did it all on the street or in the driveway. Something like that might work for you and your son. Start slowly, make him prove he understands how all the tools work, why to use this one, rather than that one, the importance of keeping the tools organized, clean, and in good repair, and that safety is the most valued quality of all in doing home car repair. Start slowly with something simple and easy to do, and best of luck to you and your son.

Do you mind if he drives a go-cart? He can fix it and race it at a sponsored event. They don’t go too fast and with all the safety equipment, he should be reasonably safe. It’s about like a lawn mower in complexity and is a lot more fun to ride. BTW, he could make extra money for this hobby by owing lawns with the riding mower.

you might ask around at some local, independant mechanics shops(i.e. no Mineke, Sears, Walmart, Jiffy Lube, etc) and see if they’d be interested in mentoring your son.

Visit the classic car shows, we have one every Wed at wendy’s, Ask one or a few or the guys if you cold teach me how to do a tune up on this car, I mean with points lasting 3 to 5 k that would be a great starter point imho.

Let the kid fix up mowers for fun and profit. Plenty of scrap yards take 'em in. Work out a deal to buy a few at, say, double scrap prices (around $15), and see if he can fix 'em and sell 'em (around $75).

A steady source of income is a positive reinforcer for both adults and children.

One great angle on the old mowers is ;
get many old ones and produce one or two working finished mowers from many bad ones.
This is great practice at disassembly and reassembly plus a working mower can often result with no additional parts purchases…or very little ( new plugs, seals and fuel )

I often do this on other items making one good one from multiple bad ones. I pirate and save parts from many types of discarded devices and can so often use them to repair bad units with no parts purchases at all.

He can also invest his time just disassembling old stuff just for the sake of investigation into their inner workings …even if he can’t fix that item.
power tools, radios, toys, lawn and garden equipment, appliances, old automotive parts too.
— This in itself is valuable knowledge. — ( disassembly assessment and assembly skills training and ‘‘how stuff works’’ )

My son and daughter and I used to disassemble EVERYTHING that was broken. Vacuum cleaners, tape players, lamps, faucets, etc.
’’ but dad, what if we break it more or can’t put it back together ?’’
’’ #1, it’s already broken and we’ve conceded to buy another. #2 we might just learn something about it. #3 we might find we could actually fix it. and #4 we can learn WHY it broke and learn how to treat the next one to not break.’’

@jtsanders go-cart idea is a great one. I had a friend at that age who had his own go-cart, I think his dad made it for him, his dad was a orchard-farmer and knew about small gasoline engines and how to weld. We’d get together in the church parking lot and ride it at least once a week. What a blast! When it worked, it worked great, very fast, at least seemed fast as close to the ground. But that thing was broken more than it ever worked. But we had fun and learned a bit fixing it every week and getting a couple more hours of use out of it, before it would break again. I learned more about the subtleties of centrifugal clutches than a person should really have to know. But if you want to dance, you have to pay the piper.

Thanks so much for all the input, so many of the ideas are doable! Ken, he will take apart anything that is not nailed down. I have a neighbor with an old go cart, I may just ask if we can buy it.

FWIW, many NASCAR and other top race drivers started driving go carts. It can be a great hobby, and could lead to a career if he likes it and is very good at it.

Karting can be anything from fun in a parking lot (if you can find one that’ll let you use it) or field, to super competitive and fast racing competition. Google ‘shifter kart’ for some neat equipment.

As kids, my brother took apart anything he could get his hands on

I did not

Now, as adults, my brother is an IT guy, working at a desk, and I’m the professional car mechanic

My point is that people do change

We should encourage kids to do what is interesting for them, as long as it is safe

That said, it’s possible the kid will lose interest or move on to something else later on