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The Evening Class;Car Maintenance;Mind and body

Nigel Hay's newly- acquired 1934 vintage Riley is his pride and joy, but he nearly went off it last year when the first bill for servicing came to pound;1,000. The choice was simple: give up the car or learn how to look after it.

He opted for the latter, and since joining a class for two hours a week last September, he has learned to tune the engine, re-wire it, change the oil, fit new plugs - and much more.

His group, Car Maintenance Stage 2, is one step up from Basic. "For years, there was a class called Car Maintenance for Women," explains tutor John Hennah. "But then someone decided that was sexist so it was renamed Basic.

"In reality there has always been a mixture of men and women in every class. Women are just as good and often better than the men - all that's necessary is to be physically fit and willing to get your hands dirty."

At every level except Basic, students immediately start work on their own cars, under the expert eye of the tutor. "Most of the cars are pretty old so there's always work to be done, and over the course of the year they'll have given it a major service."

The first two terms of the Basic course are devoted to fundamental things like changing a wheel, learning how the engine works and changing the oil and plugs. "I don't let them loose on their own cars until I know they won't wreck them," says Hennah. "With beginners that usually means the third term."

Students can then undertake any job, as long as it can be completed in a single session.

Alison Lyen, a part-time voluntary care co-ordinator, says it's the only way she can afford to keep her 13-year-old (but pristine) Vauxhall on the road. "I've been coming for years because it saves me hundreds of pounds and I enjoy it." In contrast, some people come for a single term and feel satisfied when they've learned to change a wheel.

Nicki household This class took place at the Clifden Centre of Richmond Adult College. Tel: 0181 891 5907

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