CAMP ZAMA, Japan (April 24, 2019) -- Michael Deeter's most recent automotive project at the Camp Zama Auto Skills Center involved taking the engine off his 2015 Nissan GTR so he could work on the turbo system.
"I started (learning how to do my own mechanic work) when I was a little kid, working on a ranch with my dad on tractors and farm equipment," said Deeter, a civilian employee at Camp Zama who has taken advantage of Auto Skills Centers for years.
The facility can handle everything from oil changes to more difficult projects like Deeter's. However, there is no need to have Deeter's level of experience to work on vehicles at the facility, he and staff at the center said. Not only does the center offer classes for beginners, but staff members can also point patrons in the right direction during repairs.
The facility features two bays with lifts, two flat bays, a motorcycle bay and "pretty much everything you can repair a car with," including socket sets, screwdrivers, specialty tools, a tire-changing machine, a wheel balancer, a spring compressor and an automatic transmission fluid remover, said Naohisa French, manager of the Auto Skills Center.
The facility also hosts classes twice a month on subjects such as how to do an oil change, how to replace spark plugs and how to buy a used car, French said.
The U.S. Army Garrison Japan Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation magazine, "The Bugle," lists the dates and times each month, French said.
The classes cost $5 per person and it is necessary to sign up in advance so staff members can plan ahead and advise on which materials participants will have to purchase and bring to the class, such as oil and oil filters, French said.
Youths as young as 14 can participate with a parent, and 16-year-olds can attend classes by themselves, French said.
Everyone, however, must complete a safety briefing before using the facility, French said. It takes roughly half an hour.
Darryle Jones, chief of the Community Recreation Division, USAGJ FMWR, said Auto Skills Centers throughout the Army are a great place for Soldiers and their families to save money.
"Every Army installation has an Auto Skills Center where people can go in and do self-help on their vehicles, and it helps reduce the costs," Jones said. "It helps Soldiers and their families keep money in their pockets."
The facilities are also useful places for Soldiers to learn a trade, Jones said.
In addition, the classes can help beginners learn the basics of vehicle maintenance, Jones said.
People should also be aware that the facility has an automated car wash and vacuum cleaners, Jones said.
Deeter said he has found the facility's staff members knowledgeable, friendly and helpful.
"If you get stuck or there's an issue, these guys are really good about coming in and helping," Deeter said. "The guys who work here, they're very nice; they're not aggressive; they're not mean-spirited; they're not like, 'Well what do you need now?' They're very nice. They're like, 'So what's going on? What are you working on today?'"
French said the center's staff members are happy to help.
"They can assist and show you what to take off and in which order," French said. "They can show you what tool to use and even give you points like, 'You should probably change this out in so many months.' Whatever questions the customer has, they can pretty much give an answer."
The center does not sell parts, but can give directions to parts shops, French said.
Rental of a flat bay is $1.50 an hour, and rental of a lift bay is $2.50 per half hour, French said.
The center rents bays on a first-come, first-serve basis, but members of the U.S. military have first priority; U.S. civilians have second priority; Japanese Master Labor Contract employees have third priority; and members of the Japanese military after that, French said.
French said the benefits of using the facility are many, including self-satisfaction.
"It gives them knowledge, so when they do work on their own car, they know what to do, and if somebody tells them, 'You need to change this out,' you can tell if they're telling the truth to you or lying to you," French said.
The center, located in Building 360A, is closed Mondays and Tuesdays; open 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; and open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.