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Chief Wench gets greasy

Vanessa Papas 19 October 2001
Spanner and Wench

Breaking down in the middle of the night on a deserted street is any woman's worst nightmare. Unless you're 29 year old Niven Postma, in which case you'll don a wrench and spanner and escape the ordeal with nothing more than a grease smudge on your cheeks_

You can call Niven many things from a car fundi to a new ear fighter of women's rights. One thing's for sure though, the next generation of mechanics better hope their female customers haven't attended Niven's motor vehicle course.

Niven's passion for understanding the technical aspects of how a car works was forced on her every time she took her car in for a service or repair. Today she's forgotten her days as a strategy consultant and instead runs her own car workshops - strictly women only.

"It's a sad fact that women are generally charged 10 to 15 percent more than a man for the same car repair job," states Niven, adding that the female species are partly to blame for this type of crookery.

"Mechanics tell you what's wrong with your car and how much it is going to cost and you have no choice but to trust them and hope they aren't ripping you off."

Tired of going to mechanics and being treated like a "načve sucker", Niven donned a toolbox, notebook and as much tenacity as she could conjure and hounded garage mechanics watching them fix cars.

After gaining more knowledge about cars and how they worked, she decided to share her findings with others. She started a one-day automotive class on Saturdays called Spanner and Wench, teaching women the basics of how their cars work and how to recognise and prevent problems.

"My aim is not to turn women into mechanics. Rather, the course helps women get over the mental block that makes them believe that car parts are on a par with rocket science," she laughs. "It teaches preventative maintenance, as 15 minutes of monthly maintenance prevents 70% of highway breakdowns."

The course is limited to a maximum of 12 people, so that individual attention can be given.

"I have the utmost faith this business will take off as there's a huge gap in the market for this sort of thing," she says. "I can never see myself becoming a mechanic in the future but I'd like to hook up with a venture capital firm and open up garages all over South Africa under my business name, Spanner and Wench."

Details: 837 3858 or 083 326 2705

Fact file:

Name: Niven Postma
Age: 29
Sideline: Norwood Police Reservist
Claim to fame: Started own business called Spanner and Wench - workshops held all over Johannesburg, teaching women about cars and how to avoid problems.

Guidelines to fix certain problems yourself

Changing a tyre:
  • Make sure your car is equipped with a jack, wheel wrench and spare wheel with a properly inflated tyre.
  • If your wheel nuts have been machine tightened, they will probably be too tight for you to loosen manually. Get them loosened now in case you ever need to change a tyre.
  • Put the car in gear, with the handbrake on, unless you are changing a back tyre, in which case chock (lock and secure) the front wheels.
  • If you have hubcaps, take them off.
  • Loosen the wheel nuts, but don't remove them. Jack up the car to where the manufacturer suggests until the wheel is just clear of the road.
  • Remove the wheel without putting any parts of your body near or under the car. Fit the spare and finger tighten all the nuts.
  • Bring the car down again, tighten the wheel nuts securely and put on the hubcaps. Get the flat attended to as soon as possible.

How to check your car battery:
  • The easiest things to check on your battery are the water levels inside the cells and the condition of the terminals.
  • To prevent dead cells, which will in turn make your battery die, check that the water levels inside the cells are correct (not too low.) If they are running low, fill them up with distilled water only and take care not to overfill past the fins.
  • If you see any deposits on the terminals (although you would normally see such deposits on the positive terminal only), clean them off with a mixture of warm water and bicarbonate of soda, using an old toothbrush. Rinse the area around the battery well, because those deposits are made by battery acid and you don't want the stuff to sit on the metal parts of your car for too long.
  • Make sure you don't get the acid on your clothes or near your eyes. Avoid sparking the terminals and don't smoke near the battery as it can explode.
  • Once you are done, dry everything off with a clean cloth and put petroleum jelly on the terminals to prevent the deposits forming again.

How to jump start a car:
  • Make sure that both cars have the same voltage. If unsure, consult the owner's manual.
  • Find the battery - it may be in an odd spot, like under your back seat.
  • Put the red wire (positive) of the jump cable onto the battery lug of your car (the lug will be marked in red or with a positive sign) and connect to the other car.
  • Do the same with the black this time looking for a negative sign or black marking.
  • Start the cars together and charge the battery.
  • If the car still doesn't start, turn the ignition off and start again.
  • Further failure means that a mechanic may be needed.

Always keep the following on you: A cellphone, AA membership card, spare tyre, spare wheel, jumper cables, jack, torch, wet wipes, distilled water, spanner and wrench.


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Copyright © 2003, Rodney Jones, rtjones@amethyst.co.za, Randburg, South Africa (Last updated on 7 August 2003)