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Driver’s Education: The Next Generation

Chris Eschenburg has spent his career in the automotive industry developing strategy and advertising for some of the biggest automotive brands in the world. As his two daughters and son approach adulthood and the milestone of getting a driver’s license, he has made sure they know what they’re doing under the hood as well as behind the wheel.

By jeff mason

May 21, 2021

What My Kids Should Know Before They Get Their Licenses

My kids couldn’t escape learning something about cars because of my career. Even if they didn’t want to hear it, they’d have absorbed something growing up in our house. But, I wanted them to know more, to know how every system on a car works, so I used a combination of hands on and books to teach them. I also have a couple of really intense Lego models that show the operation of an engine. The pistons pump up and down in cylinders, they’re really cool.

I told them that if they want their driver’s licenses, they have to know these things. I want them to have an appreciation of what’s happening when the car is working and what to do when it’s not. I want them to know what the oil light means and why an engine needs oil. One reason I did this is safety, another is that I don’t want them to be ripped off at a garage. As a side benefit, the whole car experience became more interesting to them.

I’m also proud of what they’ve accomplished. I overheard my 21-year-old daughter with a guy who was saying he needed to put air in his wheels. She corrected him, “It’s a tire.” That’s just great.

She can drive a stick. I wanted to be sure that if she was ever in a situation where the only way home was a car with manual transmission, she could take care of herself. I don’t know that she likes driving a stick as much as I do but she’s definitely glad to know how.

Yes, they know how to drive a stick shift.

When I bought her first car, she was so excited to see it in the driveway. I told her, “First, you have to change the tire. I want you to know where the jack is and how it works on this car, not just the one I showed you.” She knew where everything in that car was before she took it out on the road.

My Own Education

My grandfather had an engine hoist in his garage. He and my brother would buy cars in not very great shape and completely restore them. I hung around and watched a lot of that. I learned very quickly and the hard way that headers are very hot and don’t grab them. I understood how a car works before I ever got one and I think everyone should to truly appreciate them. They are a commodity to some people but I’m not like that. I have a passion for all things car and I’d like to pass that on to my kids.

The idea of teaching them was something I got from a girl I dated. Her dad made her tear down a motor before she could drive and I thought, “That’s a great idea. I’m going to make sure my kids go through the same kind of experience before they get their licenses.”

Teaching Your Loved Ones Isn’t Easy

When I started teaching my daughter, she moved through the turns so slowly, I had to ask, “What is wrong? You’re going to get us killed.” She said she felt like the car would roll over.

So, I took her to a big, empty parking lot and did some massive power slides. I drove this car really hard and it showed her the car can’t flip over. I also showed her that she could drive out of almost any problem and she’s pretty interested in that skillset.

I considered putting them through a formal driving school but the timing wasn’t right for the classes and our schedules. I’ve been through the schools about 10 times and it’s hard-wired into me so I taught them. I remember thinking I knew how to drive but, after I graduated from my first class, I realized I’d been driving like an idiot. I was 19 or 20 at the time and so I’ve spent most of my life driving with good skills and manners.

The kids’ seating position is perfect. If they get into someone else’s car, they take the time to make adjustments. Both hands are on the wheel in the right positions. They know that where their eyes go, the car will follow. There’s no texting. It’s all business behind the wheel.

Since they were pre-teens, there’s been no looking down at phones. As passengers, I want them to look at the road and know what’s going on. I’ll point out how traffic flows and what a dangerous car looks like. We don’t have safety inspections for cars here in Detroit so you’ll see vehicles where the suspension is out of whack or the frame is bent. I’ll tell my kids that you want to get away from that because something catastrophic will happen to that car, maybe in the next second or maybe next month, but it’ll happen.

Driver’s Knowledge is a Good Thing

My 21-year-old is a very disciplined driver. She uses her turn signals religiously, even when friends make fun of her for doing it. And she makes them wear their seatbelts because I told her how her passengers will basically become human projectiles in her car if there’s an accident. She’s taking care of the car, looking way down the road and also using her mirrors. And she starts braking at the right times, so she’s not just burning through rotors every year. That’s not to say there haven’t been incidents. She’s scraped some wheels while parallel parking but she’s learned from everything she’s ever done and never really cost me money.

Driver's education begins at home.

That’s another good reason to educate kids. Cars are the second most expensive thing we buy and not understanding how a car works can add expense as well as danger.

My 13-year-old’s education is paying off in other ways. When he plays Forza, he knows where he should upgrade or not. He tells me he won’t buy a giant wing because that’ll make the online car less aerodynamic and add unnecessary weight. That’s his car world right now and the knowledge applies.

I’m proud of the knowledge my kids have but even more excited that they have a passion for cars as well. I feel like I taught them well.

When Chris Eschenburg isn’t marketing the latest cool car to come out of Detroit, he is the Director of Business Development at the Piston Foundation.

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