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Auto Shop 101 helps spouses learn about repairs

USO Northwest program helps connect and educate spouses

Cris Henry, standing, gave military spouses an overview of what to expect when taking vehicles in for repairs during the Auto Shop 101 workshop Feb. 20 at Bryan’s Automotive in Olympia, sponsored by USO Northwest. Photo credit: Julie A. Ferraro

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Just popping the hood on a vehicle can be intimidating these days, even for those with a basic knowledge of mechanics.

A small group of military spouses gathered Feb. 20 at Bryan's Automotive in Olympia to learn how to navigate the vehicle repair process and answer some key questions.

Brittany Yamaguchi was among those in attendance at the workshop. "I'm hoping to feel less like a damsel in distress when the check engine light comes on," she said.

Mackenzie Welter agreed. "I do so much driving, I'd like to learn how to change a tire."

Cris Henry, a former Navy pilot and owner of Bryan's Automotive for the past four years, led the group through how auto shops function and the main vehicle components, such as suspension, brakes, transmission and electrical systems.

Henry emphasized the importance of the service writerbeing able to diagnose the problem when a customer brings the vehicle in for repairs.

While some customers may balk at having to pay a diagnostic fee, "The diagnostic is the best money spent for a repair," Henry said.

He compared the diagnostic process to a doctor diagnosing a patient's illness. Little details can enable the service writer to pass along key information to highly qualified technicians.

"It keeps us from doing the wrong thing," Henry said.

Once the vehicle's problem is identified, Henry recommended the spouses get more than one estimate. The pricing should include detailed information about what parts will be replaced and what work will be performed. When comparing the estimates from different auto shops, "They should be in a same ball park," Henry said. If there's a huge difference, the estimates should be reviewed for accuracy.

After the customer approves the estimate, the technician may find other issues as the repair progresses, Henry said. At that point, an additional estimate should be prepared for the customer to approve.

Henry told the spouses that using parts approved by the vehicle's manufacturer is best. When the repairs are complete, the work should be reviewed in detail with the customer, he said.

In addition to necessary repairs, regular maintenance can keep a vehicle in good shape. "The best car is the one that runs and is paid for," Henry chuckled.

USO Northwest's Camp Lewis Center manager Christine Vacynych coordinated with Henry to set up the workshop.

"Bryan's Automotive has been a supporter of the USO over the last year, making weekly donations of sandwich supplies that are used to serve our soldiers and their families at the USO," Vacynych said.

Henry heard about the military spouse program, and offered to host the auto workshop free of charge, she added.

Henry pointed out that, where the older generation might have been more likely to maintain their vehicles, younger people rely on auto shops.

Yacynych explained how programs like the automotive workshop enable military spouses to handle situations while their spouses are deployed. "Auto repair shops can be intimidating for spouses who are not very familiar with how their vehicles work, what services are required, and how much those services should really cost," she said.

"It's always nice to get out and meet other spouses," Welter said.

Vacynych encouraged the spouses to share what they learned with other spouses, to continue making connections.

Future programs will be coordinated by the USO, Vacynych said, including at Bryan's Automotive and Lowe's.

In addition to the learning sessions coordinated by USO Northwest, Coffee Connections are held, "a monthly casual gathering for military spouses to expand their personal networks in the area," Vacynych said.

The next Coffee Connection will take place March 12 at 10 a.m. For more information, contact Christine Yacynych, Camp Lewis USO Center Manager, at 253.279.2252 or visit the USO Northwest website:

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