WASHINGTON - Like any teen approaching his 16th birthday, Jamie Walters had a dream car: a Mustang fastback. Not the 21st century version, but a classic circa the 1970s.
When he was still a year away from getting his driver's license, his mom, Karen, tossed out an idea: "Find an old junky one and you can fix it up." The gauntlet was dropped.
Jamie and his dad, Jim, had taken on joint projects before, but there had been nothing like this, a father-son adventure that would test their patience - and cement their already strong bond. More than a year later, the project continues.
They began by searching for a car on the Internet and scouting "For Sale" signs on parked cars. One day, in a Wal-Mart parking lot, Karen Walters spotted it: not a Mustang, but a bright blue 1991 Chevrolet Camaro with a T-top.
"It's cool," says Jamie, a high school junior in Washington, D.C. "It's not a Mustang, but it will work for my first car."
Once they had it, the arduous task of determining what needed repair began. The seller said there might be problems with the water pump. Jim Walters thought there might be wiring issues. Or was it the battery? The brakes, for sure, needed to be replaced.
There were stops and starts, taking things apart and putting them back together. Jamie says his biggest challenge so far has been the gas pedal. "I was trying to put a cover on it and it kind of snapped."
And then there are the brakes. Well, not really the brakes - just getting to them. The tire lugs were put on so tightly, Jamie couldn't get the back tires off and was having trouble finding a lug wrench that would work.
Help for do-it-yourselfers
The Web offers scores of do-it-yourself auto repair sites. Some advertise certified technicians ready to answer questions. Others specialize in specific makes of cars. One of Jamie's favorite sites is autozone.com.
At cars.com, through a partnership with Car Talk, you can access an interactive view of a car's systems, from brakes to engine to suspension and more. The site ranks repair jobs for complexity and the risks involved.
Joe Wiesenfelder, senior editor of cars.com, advises, "Everything seems to take longer than you expect it to."
"There have been times that we have struggled with stuff," Walters says. "There are times that we discovered stuff."
In the process, Jamie and his dad have learned a lot about one another. "What I have seen is his ability to problem-solve and not get overly frustrated," Walters says.
Jamie says he and his father sometimes approach things differently. When that happens, "we discuss it in detail."
"I've always liked my dad a lot," he says. "He can be annoying at times, but he always said I can do it. It's just been fun."
"I've gotten used to his teaching method," adds Jamie. And what's that? "Just do it and work hard at it."
When they're finished with the repairs, they'll bring the car to a mechanic to make sure they haven't missed anything.
With luck, the Camaro might be ready by the time Jamie, who turned 16 in January, gets his provisional driver's license. In the District of Columbia, teens must have at least a year of experience behind the wheel - first with a learner's permit and then a provisional license - and be at least 17 before they can get a regular license.
Jamie already has his first big road trip planned, though: He and his friends will drive to Pennsylvania to get fireworks. "We'll launch them out of the T-top and watch the fireworks from inside the car," he says.
Walters looks over at his son. "We'll chat about that," he says.