What Was The Best Car Experience You've Had With Your Mom?

Illustration for article titled What Was The Best Car Experience Youve Had With Your Mom?

It’s Mother’s Day, the perfect time for me to recount the time my mom made me look like a total wrenching amateur.


It was 2012, and my parents had just moved from Kansas to Richmond, Virginia, a short drive from where I was attending college at the time. Naturally, I used their proximity as a way to gain access to a garage and tools to fix up my junky 1992 Jeep Cherokee.

The biggest issue I was having at the time was overheating at idle, a problem caused by a burned-out electric fan. The job was supposed to be simple: all I had to do was take out the old fan, and slide the new one in. The problem is, there was very little space between the curved front crossmember and the accessory drive, and there was also not much space between the mechanical fan shroud and the air box.


Taking the old one out wasn’t a problem, but getting the new one in without breaking the tabs sent me cursing to high heavens. I probably spent a half an hour trying to rotate and bend the fan just right to get everything aligned. Then my mom came out, saw my struggle, and asked if she could help.

The curve in the crossmember means plopping the fan straight down isn’t a possibility. It must go in at an angle, but then you run into the accessory drive. It’s a pain the first few times you do it.
The curve in the crossmember means plopping the fan straight down isn’t a possibility. It must go in at an angle, but then you run into the accessory drive. It’s a pain the first few times you do it.

My mom is a five-foot German lady who hadn’t wrenched on a car a day in her life (she spent much of her time raising us six boys). But at that point, I was both spent, and kind of intrigued, so I moved aside, and my mom took the helm.

After a careful look at the area she had to work with, my mom rotated the fan with a precision that made my attempts look downright clumsy by comparison, bent the plastic tabs carefully, turned the fan back in the upright direction, and plopped it right into the tabs. It took 30 seconds, max.


Later that day, my mom helped me swap the brake rotors on her SUV, and again, I was amazed by how quickly she understood the system, what needed to be done, and the best way to do it. She is German, so maybe understanding complex mechanical systems is in her blood.

Even though brake rotors and an aux fan are just small jobs, I learned that day that my mom has common sense and mechanical intuition that I clearly—based on my copious wrenching mishaps—failed to inherit.


So that’s my story; let’s hear yours. Tell us about a cool automotive experience you had with your mom.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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Mom grew up in Italy and moved to the US with my Dad when he met her in Abruzzi. A young woman in a strange land who didn’t yet know the language. She learned to drive in America, in a 1963 Buick Riviera with the 425. You can’t even imagine the size difference between that car and the Italian cars she rode in when in Italy. She terrorized the town with that car and loved it. My dad always thought she’d eventually smash a hole through the back of the garage with the speed she drove up the driveway.

Then one day, my dad surprised her with a new Chevrolet Corvair. Bow tie on the top and everything. She was furious since she loved the Riviera. She’s never forgiven my dad for that!

Anyway, I used to think of my mom as the best driver in the world as a child. She used to let me steer when we dropped my dad off at a store or something, then let me operate the gas and brake other times. On the street she’d let me steer or operate the gears in our Datsun around our city while she otherwise drove. For a kid who had painful impatience waiting for the day I could get my driver’s license, these were the best times of my youth!

All this paid off one day when we test drove an early 80s Fiat Spider 2000. Mom went to a parking lot, got out, and let me finally try driving stick shift on my own. Honest to god, with all the practice and pestering my mom for information, I got in and immediately started driving. It’s hard to describe the excitement of that now, though I still can’t believe we did that with some stranger’s car!

Mom has had Alzheimer’s for years now and is quickly approaching the final stages. It’s funny how Alzheimer’s takes away your latest memories the most, but the oldest ones remain. One day, the entire family was down to visit for Christmas or something. Mom had mostly been silent all day sitting in her chair observing everything. My brother was telling the story of her Riviera and how everyone said she would drive through the back of the garage one day. She suddenly piped in “But I never did!”

I’m at her house now to visit her for motner’s day. I owe her (and my dad) for everything, including my lifelong love of cars. I love you, Mom!