Deb Boerma has been working on cars so long she can usually identify the size of a bolt simply by looking at it.
Boerma grew up on a farm and has always loved being outside. Rather than being in the confines of the house, she learned at age 11 to drive a tractor. By age 12, she was handy with tools and could always be found tinkering under the hood of the tractor, taking to heart the advice her stepfather gave her that if she was going to learn to drive, she was also going to learn to fix the vehicles she drove.
Boerma recognizes that her interest in fixing cars is not typical with young women.
“My daughter is only 11 and she is not really into it,“ Boerma said. “I guess when I was younger, I was more into it. I didn’t want to do dishes or learn how to cook; I was more interested in being outside.”
Doting over classic cars or having a favorite NASCAR driver doesn’t fancy Boerma as much. She simply believes in the practicality of knowing how to take care of her own vehicles rather than paying someone else to do the work.
“I just do what I need to do to keep my car running,” she said.
Boerma carries a toolbox in the back of her van at all times. With a job that requires dependable transportation, she can’t afford to have her car in the shop, financially or otherwise.
Boerma has worked on both older and newer cars but attributes the computerized electronics of current models as being more of a challenge.
“We have just to figure out where the problem is and go from there,” she said about fixing more modern vehicles, “but the older ones are a lot easier.”
For the most part, Boerma does all the work on her van herself but she recently sought the help of a local mechanic.
“The only time I had to take my vehicle in was because I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong but knew it was with the wiring,“ Boerma said. “I took it to Crystal Mike’s and he only charges $30 a hour; he is the cheapest one around.”
Despite possessing a skill set not often seen in women, Boerma never considered being an auto mechanic. What she learned from her stepfather, was enough. She never had any interest in being a certified auto mechanic.
With the “gear head” knowledge she does possess, Boerma keeps her car maintenance costs low and helps out friends who need work done and cannot afford a garage. She refers to herself as a “shade tree mechanic,” as she often does her work on just a paved driveway
Boerma also believes that every toolbox should contain 5/8-inch, 9/16-inch and 3/4s half-inch-sized sockets to accommodate most basic repair. When a metric system is needed, she recommends having sizes 14 and 15 in the tool box.