I consider myself a pretty self-reliant woman . . . that is until I have to deal with a plumber, an electrician, or an auto mechanic. But I’m learning – FAST!

The Self Reliant Woman My “training” technically started three years ago when we moved back to Utah after having been away for 10 years. My husband and I both had good jobs in our previous locale (Colorado Springs), but we needed to be close to our children and grandchildren. So we moved back to Utah.

My husband found a good job but I had a bit of trouble. It’s not like I am a doctor, lawyer, computer programmer, or teacher. I’m more of a jack-of-several-trades.

The solution we came up with is that I would work at home on my websites, run all the errands, take care of the yard, the house, and (mostly) the car, the pets, and the cooking, and he would go to work. (He does help out though – a lot!)

That solution was perfectly fine with me. The trouble began when I had to take the car or truck in for service, or find an electrician to install some electrical outlets in the basement, or find a good plumber to diagnose the leak in the water heater.

Ladies, I know you’ve been this route also. You trot off to the auto mechanic or (worse) the auto dealership where you bought your vehicle. You just want an oil change. After a substantial WAIT in the customer waiting room, the service person (whatever his title is) comes up to you and presents you with a somewhat dirty air filter. He explains that you need a new one and your mileage will greatly improve. If he’s pedantic, he will give you a very long and detailed explanation of how it all works to increase your mileage. (Does he notice your eyes glazing over?)

Are you convinced? I can’t tell you how many times I have watched as “most” women just nod and say, “Okay, put in a new one.” And she may need one, but have you ever calculated how much money they make on air filters? Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against the capitalist system and a business making an honest buck. But I’m also a frugal person, and I believe in doing some things for myself – if at all possible.

Making a woman more self reliant is it possible?

The Self Reliant Woman vs The Auto Mechanic

Auto mechanic working with customer.I know it sounds stereotypical, but it does happen often that auto mechanics take advantage of women, assuming, and rightfully so sometimes, that women know nothing about their vehicles.

The self reliant woman will prove them wrong, bolstered with knowledge and confidence.

Oh, you say you’re one of those women who doesn’t know an air filter from an oil filter? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. We’re going to remedy that.

I know you’ll think this is the most boring suggestion in the world (I can hear the groans coming), but read your Owner’s Manual. Yes, read it cover to cover. And, no, you don’t have to memorize it – just read it through so you will know, when in the presence of an auto mechanic, that you read about that “thingy” somewhere. Just familiarize yourself with the words like oil, oil pan, oil filter, air filter, AC filter, transmission, radiator, etc. Know how much oil your engine holds. Mine takes 4.5 quarts – not 4 and not 5 but 4.5. When I take my car in for an oil change, I have already purchased the oil filter recommended by the manufacturer and the oil that my husband prefers (we buy it by the case – it’s less expensive).

Of particular importance in the manual is the part (usually a chart) that tells you exactly what should be inspected, changed, or replaced at a certain number of miles. Make a copy of it and keep it in your purse or some place handy in the car. Compare the mileage on your odometer with the chart. If you have ~30,000 miles on your odometer, before going to the repair shop, look at the chart and see what needs to be serviced at 30,000 miles. Now with that knowledge, if he suggests any service that is not on that chart, you tell him (with confidence) that it doesn’t need to be done until (insert # of miles). Then turn back to the magazine you were reading.

If your trip to the repair shop is not a routine visit and something is really wrong with your car, you have more work cut out for you. Here’s where to start:

Ask a trusted male – father, husband, brother, uncle, friend – what they think the problem might be. Many men know just by listening to the engine, or can give a good guess if you describe the symptoms to them. (As my 17 year old grandson told me, “It’s just not manly not to know about your car.”)

Time to Google. Be specific in your search and you will probably find some pertinent information about the problem. Then when you take it to the mechanic, you can WOW them with the details you have learned. Be sure to use proper names of parts you researched. Even if your diagnosis is incorrect, they will be less likely to take advantage of you if you sound like you know what you’re talking about.

Call around to two or three repair shops and describe the problem to them. Usually they can give you a pretty good guess as to what it might be. Ask for an estimate – write it down, along with their name. Then compare details and costs from the different shops. Choose the one you feel most comfortable with (like the lowest cost maybe?), but more importantly, I personally will choose the shop that sounds the most professional, service oriented, and helpful – not always the lowest cost. If the one I choose lives up to my expectations, I will use them again. Finding a mechanic you can trust makes auto repair much simpler.

Watch them work on your car, if possible. They don’t like it but it gives you peace of mind to know that they actually did the work. This is an easy scam for a mechanic to tell you that a part needs replacing, charge you for it, but never put the new part in.

Many times, however, the repair shop is not trying to take advantage of anyone; that’s just what they charge for a particular repair. The parts are usually not too expensive – it’s the labor that’s pricey. After all, they are skilled at what they do (we hope) so they should get paid for their knowledge. That being said, there are times when you can and should do it yourself.

Case in point: At the 30,000 mark on my odometer, I visited the dealership for the services listed in my Owner’s Manual. One item listed was to change the “cabin air filter”. When I asked the cost of replacing it, the service manager quoted the cost of $70. Skeptic that I am, I asked where it was located (having NOT done my research first). He told me it was in the glove box cavity. I asked if it was difficult to get to, like remove the dash or some other big part to get to it. He said no, but it was behind the glove box and was a bit tricky to get to and put back together. I told him I would think about it but not have it done today.

I went home and scoured my Owner’s Manual for a diagram of where and how to replace that filter. I found instructions but not a diagram. Off I went to Google it – found a diagram. I made a trip to the nearest auto parts store and purchased the filter (I had the part number from my manual). The filter cost $15 and 10 minutes to replace, saving me $55!

The self reliant women never visits an auto repair shop without enough knowledge to at least sound like she knows something about her car. And it doesn’t hurt to really know about it either.

The Self Reliant Woman vs The Plumber

water heater leak It didn’t begin with the self reliant woman (me) VERSUS the plumber. He was a very amicable fellow, in a folksy way, and owner of the 5-employee local company. We chatted easily about this and that, and finally about the water heater.

As we suspected, the leak was not just a loose nut, bolt, or anything. It appeared to be “split” somewhere inside.

Okay – we choked when we heard the price but said, “Go ahead – put in a new one.”

The next day, two young employees showed up to install the new water heater. I debated with myself: Should I stand around in the cold basement and watch them, or go about my business on the upper floor? The warmth upstairs won me over and I retreated to my computer while they worked in my basement.

It didn’t take them very long. They turned off the gas, the water at the main shutoff, released all the connections, and wheeled the old one out of the house. Then installed the new water heater, following the same procedures in reverse. Done.

But wait! I have a question. (I did a little research on the Internet.) “Do you have any idea why the water heater didn’t last even seven years?” I implored. “I’ve never had to replace a water heater in less than seven years.”

Their explanations:

Could be the hard water in this area. (Meaning?) You know, the minerals and sometimes sand gets into the pipes and ultimately into the water heater. (That was the best they could do.)
Could be the expansion tank is not working or is not properly inflated. (Me: Did you check that?) That would be no. (Me: Please do check it.) They tested it with a tire gauge and informed me it had only 10 psi. (Now here’s where I should have done more homework.) “How many psi SHOULD it have?” I asked. They said it should have 60 psi and they would fix that.
I went upstairs again trusting that they knew what they were doing. I paid them and they left.

The next day there’s water leaking out of the overflow pipe onto the floor when the appliance heats up. Even I know it’s because there’s too much pressure in the water heater tank. Call to the plumber. This time he diagnosed it as the PRV valve that regulates the water pressure coming into the house from the city water line. New PRV valve installed and another chunk of change to the plumber. By now he’s hating my calls but loving my money as he prepares to leave.

But wait! I have a question (plumber trying to disguise the eye roll). “What’s the pressure reading on the water heater now?” I asked. He doesn’t have a pressure gauge with him. (He doesn’t have a what?!!) I let it go – at least he installed the PRV valve and a new expansion tank (no charge) thinking it was the problem. It wasn’t.

Now you (and the plumber) might think that I asked enough questions. But not so my husband. He wanted more answers. So off we went to the nearest hardware store and bought ourselves a shiny new pressure gauge just for our lovely new water heater. It even has an extra needle to mark the highest point when the pressure goes up, and remains there. My husband quickly installed it on the drain valve and we kept a close eye on it. It was right on target at 60 psi.

After a couple of showers and a dishwasher cycle, we checked our pressure gauge. The high mark was 104 psi! From our research and my quizzing of a plumber at the hardware store, we knew that was too high. It should fluctuate between 60 psi and about 80 psi (90 maybe, but not 100).

Umm . . . yes, I called the plumber. He wanted us to put the pressure gauge on a “cold water” tap to test the pressure. I know what he was getting at by now. He wanted to know the pressure coming into the house. On a hunch, my husband checked the pressure in the “new” expansion tank. Arrgh! It was at 96 psi. It states right on the canister that it is pre-filled in the factory to 40 psi. Every canister I saw in the hardware store was pre-filled to 20 psi. A brief “push” on the little valve to let a bit of pressure out, test, and it’s now at 40 psi – right where it should be.

The lesson for the Self Reliant Woman: As Ellen wrote in her article about Self Reliance is the Key to Quality Medical Care, so too is self reliance and research the key to having a successful experience with a service provider – in this case, a plumber. You can WOW him (or annoy him) with your knowledge – but you will be the winner.

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