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Kid Mechanics

Last week you guys told Charlotte with the four adopted, mechanically interested kids not to buy an old car for them to dismantle, arguing that it would be too dangerous. I know your lawyers probably won’t let you guys say anything else on public radio, but this is one time when you are dead wrong. If these kids want to learn about real cars, the only way is to interact with a real car. Yes, that means some bumps and scrapes along the way. It can be made safer by removing the wheels, doors, battery, wires, and toxic fluids, but to remove all risk is to remove the value and goal of the activity.

The best mechanic I know, my father, educated himself by dismantling lawnmowers and tractors before age 10, moving on to motorcycles and cars. He went on to become an airplane mechanic and pilot. A plastic “toy” car is an insult and a disservice to a budding mechanic.

MANY years ago I was in a nursery school daily. Today they call it “day care”. Luckily the nursery school I went to had an OLD car in the play yard that the kids all played in. I suspect it was late-thirties vintage. I know it was newer than the Model “A” era as it had an “aligator” hood. It was a great honor to get to be the driver. I think the doors had been removed to keep them from being slammed on fingers, but I don’t recall much else about it. Hey, I was under five.

My dad was into motorcycles and could fix pretty much anything.
My training was watching him take an engine out and stripping it on the dining room table, much to the dismay of my mother. My brother and I (11 and 5) were his helpers, cleaning all polishing parts with oil. He showed us how to meticulously lay all the parts parts out in a very specific order on wax paper with notes so it could all be put back together. He’d patiently explain what the parts did. At the end of the evening, the entire place would smell of oil. Your hands would smell like it for days.
To this day the smell of oil brings back very fond memories.

Nothing wrong with teaching kids how to wrench. Cars are dangerous so Just make sure they are supervised. Enough of this world is sanitized, safe and disneyfied. Just make sure you keep an eye on them and don’t do anything stupid. We never got hurt.
Get a car and enjoy working on it with them. It’ll get them hooked for a lifetime of wrenching, busted knuckles and mysterious stains that won’t come out of clothes.

It won’t kill them. We never had bicycle helmets, skated on thin ice, played football without protection, climbed trees that didn’t have rubber matting under them, etc. In retrospect,
It is a miracle my brother and I lived, if you’re led to believe modern child rearing.

I dunno, in my neighborhood I wouldn’t want/allow anyone to have a car that they are dismantling. Its one thing to have a working one around that they can experiment with but not to dismantle the thing. What do they learn from dismantling it and not getting it working again? Henry Ford took his mother’s sewing machine apart at a young age but he put it back together again so it worked.

I always had a go kart that helped me to learn how to control my temper. Neighbors also had a go kart or two, boat motors, bikes, scooters, mini bikes, and we kind of just absorbed it. So I’d think maybe something like that would be better. Taking a small engine apart can be quite a learning experience. Although I’m still wondering what the heck was wrong with the Wizard motor bike that I paid $10 for. None of us could get it running. Had spark, fuel, timing, compression, but just wouldn’t run. Dad finally dumped it.

YES, let them tinker.
Especially if it’s already a junker.
They can’t break something…if it’s already broken.

This is how my son learned from me.
“but dad, what if we break something ?”
“It’s already broken…we’re taking it apart to see what we can see ( tape player, tv, toys, vacuum cleaner, light fixture, furinture, oven, stove, bicycle, dispose-all, etc. ) then if we can’t fix it we at least learn something about it in the process.”

THAT alone was the most valuable lesson.
The investigative process.

The analytical steps.
How is it assembled/disassembled ?
How could we possibly fix it ? drill and pin ? fabricate from stock ? glue and tape ?
How did it work, therefore why did it break ?
What can we do next time to not break the new one ?
Save some parts from this one, for the next one ?

It’s important to realize that most people can’t afford to buy an extra car for their kids to dismantle. If their lifestyle is such that they buy used cars and then use them up totally, and often have a worthless hulk around the grounds, that’s great. But that’s also not common, at least in my area. For those that do have that lifestyle, the only question becomes safety. And I’d have to agree that below age 10 it’s too easy to get hurt. Besides, not everyone has the capacity to learn without knowledgable help teaching them.

In other neighbothoods, having a partially dismantled car in the yard is a no-no. In some neighborhoods it’s a violation to even have a car parked in front of the house. Some neighborhoods ban trucks.

Personally, I have neither the money or the yard to have a partially disassembled vehicle hanging around. If I did, I’d worry about safety. I saw a truck recently the rear end of which was way up in the air being supported only by cinder blocks…leaning blocks… on grass…with the axle removed. This could easily have gotten someone killed. There’s a list of potential problems. It might not have been done by a kid, but it’s the type of thing a kid would do.