While most car washes are closed on Monday nights at 8 o’clock, the College Avenue Car Wash keeps its lights on. Teagan Prince, the president of the University of Maine Car Club, used to host meetings in parking lots around campus until his girlfriend’s family was nice enough to let him use their car wash for the weekly meetings.
“We started off with just a bunch of guys in parking lots crawling under cars with flashlights,” Jack Houtz, a member of the car club since 2016, said. “Now we’ve got this place on Monday nights, which we’re very appreciative of.”
Prince started the club four years ago, when he arrived at UMaine as a freshman. Like many incoming first years, he didn’t know many people on campus and wanted to find a club where he could meet friends with similar interests. When he found out there wasn’t an existing car club, he decided to make one and it soon garnered a lot of interest.
“It was me and two other guys sitting and doing homework one night my freshman year, procrastinating of course,” Prince said with a laugh. “We said ‘we should join a club. What club?’ There were none we were super interested in. I’m not really athletic, but we were all into cars so we said ‘well let’s make our own club, you only need five people.’”
In four years, the club has gone from Prince and a couple of his friends to a close-knit group of car lovers. While attendance at meetings can vary due to weather and school commitments, the group has over 200 members on its Facebook page and the overall turnout at meetings continues to increase.
“We’re a bunch of people who are into cars or who want to get into cars but don’t have a lot of background in it,” Prince said. “It’s a very ‘you teach me and I’ll teach you’ type of thing. Everything from how to change a tire to how to repair your engine.”
The club goes far beyond cars. In addition to working on cars and learning the skill from others, there’s plenty of time to talk, laugh and hangout. This has bred some invaluable friendships along the way.
“When I came here, living eight hours away, it’s always daunting coming into a whole new world. By sophomore year I was getting my feet down and through this club I’ve met friends who have saved my butt when I really needed help,” Houtz said. “One time my car broke down way out on a logging road and some of my good buddies who I met through car club came out with a trailer and picked me up, brought me home, and we all fixed my car that day.”
“It’s fun, it’s social, it’s making new friends. I didn’t know any of these guys before the club,” Prince said. “I’d say half my friends at UMaine I met here at one point. And it’s a learning experience. You can’t get this stuff in any class that I know of at UMaine.”
The group welcomes and even encourages people who may not know much about cars but who have an active interest in them to join. Even stronger than many members’ love for cars is their love for teaching. Corbin Study, a third-year electrical engineering student, has a shop in southern Maine. When he’s in Orono, he likes to impart his knowledge on members of the car club.
“I like teaching people like ‘hey, here’s how this works. Here’s what you gotta fix, if you need help with anything I’ll show you how to do it,’” Study said.
“This is for people who know nothing about cars and just want to learn. Even if it’s as simple as learning how to jump-start a car, we’ve got 30 guys around who can tell you how to do it,” Prince said. “If you want to get into it, this is the way to do it.”
When asked if he wants to make cars his career, Study was hesitant to say yes.
“I was thinking along those lines,” Study said. “But then I thought ‘do I want to make my hobby my life?’ It’s one of those things, like if you’re a chef and you cook all the time do you want to go home and cook again?”
Regardless of whether they want to make cars their career, members agree that the knowledge they’ve gained through car club will be beneficial forever.
“My sister’s car just broke a valve cover gasket the other day and between the part and the oil and getting it to the shop and all the labor, it probably would’ve been a couple hundred dollar job,” Houtz said. “Her and I went to Bangor, bought the parts, came back to my place where she parked her car, and we did it in my driveway in the evening. In the dark and cold, which sucks, but for $22 we were able to do a $300 job.”