For a car newbie, are swap meets useful?
April 22, 2016 3:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm a really new automotive DIYer. I'm interested in all the auto swap meets that will happen this spring/summer. Should I go, or will it all go over my head?

Background: I've been driving regularly for < 10 years and recently became interested in learning about, and maintaining/fixing, my car. Over the past several months I've taken a night class, read college texts, and accumulated basic tools; done various maintenance checks, and changed engine oil, spark plugs, and tires. I plan to work on brakes maybe in a few months.

So that's the extent of my knowledge. There are no other classes in the area, and I kinda miss having other people to talk to about it, checking out their cars, and learning from them. So the idea of going somewhere that has all that (I think?) plus finding useful items* and perhaps chatting with like minded people is really attractive right now.

But (here's the over thinking part) are swap meets more for hardcore enthusiasts or guys who have been, like, building engines for 20 years? I don't want to be out of place and wasting my time (the events I see are not in town so I'd have to drive at least 45 minutes one-way).

Any advice or comments are appreciated. If it's relevant, I'm a feminine-looking woman**, would prefer to go alone to such events, and am in SW Ontario. Thanks!

*Like say a micrometer or some sockets. Or gauges, some magnets, whatever. I know I could get these at the local auto parts store. But I like the thrill of flea market shopping too!

**Only mentioning out of insecurity I guess. :(
posted by methroach to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total)
Are you familiar with Car Talk?

That show started out as a resource for dudes who would like to putter around with their cars. But the show changed. Mostly because cars became more complex and computerized. There are some things that you're just not going to be able to do on a modern car without sophisticated diagnostics, specialized knowledge and tools. Their show changed materially from "How do I get an oil pan replacement for a '58 Rambler" to "My car makes a weird noise and is displaying a Code 58 error, what is that?"

From what I can gather, car meetings fall into a couple of different categories. Older, cars that people lovingly restore in their garages and specialty car enthusiasts. I like both, and I especially like Corvairs. But I digress.

But I say go to a couple and check 'em out. 45 minutes isn't so far away and if it's pointless and a snore you'll know to skip it next time.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:18 PM on April 22, 2016

Do you own a particularly cultish car? Specific communities like air-cooled VWs or classic Porsches are often helpful because of the commonality of parts, tools, and knowledge. If you attend a general swap meet there might be a lot of stuff that isn't applicable to your car, which might be interesting to see but can be frustrating to walk past table after table of stuff I can't use or have no interest in.

However— it's worth it to go to a couple, especially if they're for the type of car you own, to meet other car weirdos and occasionally get some free shop stuff while you browse around eating corn dogs or poutine or whatever. Giveaways are also common at least at the bigger shows with sponsors.
posted by a halcyon day at 3:35 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know anything about the swapmeets in your part of the world, so I will stick to generalised advice based on my experience.

Go. Definitely go! Doesn't mean you have to buy, but you can look, ask questions. Generally you will find people helpful and friendly, and you will learn a lot (not all of which may be true/accurate). People may tell you what you need, but unless you already know it keep your hands in your pockets - in my experience it easy to buy things that don't get used at these events. If you have a list of things to acquire so much the better - if you stick to it! If these things are generalised (tools etc), you will probably have more luck than if you are looking for a special widget for a never-heard-of car.

Sounds like membership of a car club might be a step forward, especially if there is one for your sort of car. Also check out the online car forums, they will have lots of advice on particular cars (most have a technical/garage section which can be very informative) - google for your car.
posted by GeeEmm at 6:27 PM on April 22, 2016

Swap meets vary quite a bit. Some are highly polished like something on TV others are like the sketchiest church basement sale you can imagine. Often their will be cars for sale. Larger swap meets will also sometimes have clubs doing recruiting from local to province/Canada wide. Often their will be a formal or informal show and shine associated with swaps.

methroach: "I kinda miss having other people to talk to about it, checking out their cars"

This is pretty much the only reason I go to swap meets.

Realistically what is the worst that could happen? The admission is usually pretty nominal. A lot of it happens outside and there are always lots of people around (mostly guys naturally but even though the hobby skews male lots of wives end up attending) so personal safety isn't any worse than say a well attended park.

Finally offering a ride share on Kijiji or craigslist if that would be something you'd be comfortable with be an excellent way to meet another local enthusiast.
posted by Mitheral at 6:45 PM on April 22, 2016

I don't really do swap meets, but I've been to a lot of car shows, show-and-shines, cruise nights, etc., and most have been in SW Ontario.

As a gal, I wouldn't worry about your safety (or at least no more than you typically do when you're out by yourself at a public event).

Being a woman means that you'll never get the same experience and interaction that the guys do. You'll encounter a lot of blowhards who think a) they know everything b) you know nothing and c) it's their obligation to tell you everything they know. You'll also encounter the ones who won't want to give you the time of day because you're not a guy, and therefore not worth their time. Of course there will be some males who will actually deal with you as human being, but the odds of meeting one of those are slimmer than encountering the first two categories.

If you want to make the most of your experience, you'll really have to put yourself out there and initiate conversations with people. You'd be best to be prepared with a bit of information, and ready to stand your ground when necessary. Being a single woman without a man on your arm will also be an impediment to interacting as you will be placed in that weird "other" category that they can't define (i.e. not a wife/girlfriend, not a vendor, etc.)

If you want to MeMail me with a list of some of the events you're thinking of attending, I may be able to offer you some advice about which ones are better known, which are likely to have a good turn-out etc., although most of my familiarity will be the ones that cater to classics and antiques.
posted by sardonyx at 10:41 PM on April 22, 2016

Thanks all! Sounds like I should try at least few this spring/summer.

(Also I might've been more clear, but I mentioned being female + going alone not out of concern for personal safety but due to the kinds of stuff that sardonyx mentions.)

sardonyx, I will memail you!
posted by methroach at 6:05 AM on April 23, 2016

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