Mercer student organization creates community for car lovers

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Five students pose for a group photo in the garage, with each holiday a piece of automotive equipment.
Mercer Car Club members, from left, Rayne Long, Tory Hopper, Brendan Michler, Charlie Cloaninger and Themba Nsubuga are shown inside their garage on campus on Feb. 10. Photo by Rod Phillips

Behind a bright orange garage door on the Macon campus is a haven for young car enthusiasts. Here, students have access to a variety of tools and equipment to work on their vehicles as well as a community with a shared interest. 

The garage tucked behind Mercer’s Auxiliary Services building is the home base for the Mercer Car Club, which was founded several years ago and has about 30 members.

It’s stocked with an extensive collection of tools ranging from wrenches to air compressors, allowing members to tackle a variety of automotive projects, said club Vice President Themba Nsubuga, a chemistry major and Student Government Association senior class president. Members mostly wash and detail their cars, but they are also able to do tire, brake, suspension, exhaust and engine work. Nsubuga said he has changed 14 tires this year.

“We have almost any tool you can need,” said club President Brendan Michler, a junior electrical engineering major. “We have students come in for a basic tire change all the way up to oil changes to a complete engine swap.”

The club hosts “open garage” every Friday from 4:30-6 p.m., a time for students to work on their cars and hang out. Members coordinate with club officers if they want access to the garage at other times, Nsubuga said. Michler said the garage is treated like a lab on campus, with safety always first.

“I’ve been liking cars pretty much all my life. Working on them makes me happy,” said Nsubuga, who does maintenance on his turbocharged 2019 Volkswagen GTI in the garage. “As a member of the club, you have access to a plethora of things. I know a spot where I can wash my car on campus, and we have a group of people who have knowledge of not just your car but other cars. You have people willing to help you out.” 

Two students look under the hood of a car.
Rayne Long and Themba Nsubuga work on a car during “open garage” on Feb. 10. Photo by Rod Phillips

Education is an important part of the club, as members help each other on projects and share their knowledge of cars with their peers. They have given a presentation on how to install a spare tire and plan to do others on how to check tire pressure, change oil and perform other general maintenance.

“I’ve always been a big fan of cars and working on cars, and I’ve always been one to think that everybody should know how to do at least general maintenance on their cars,” said Michler, who works on his 2015 Ford Fusion in the garage.

Club Treasurer Tory Hopper, a freshman finance major, said he mainly uses the club’s space to wash and detail his 2017 Kia Forte, but he looks forward to learning and understanding more about the mechanical side of cars through the organization. 

Members have regular photo shoots of their cars, go for group drives, and host charity car meets that benefit local organizations. 

In addition, the group maintains and stores the 1960s GMC orange Mercer truck and sets it up at Mercer football games and events. The vehicle can be a bit temperamental, so it can be a process some days to get it moving, Michler said.

Mercer Car Club is starting to get involved in autocross as well, and a few members have attended events. Autocross is a timed competition where participants drive their vehicles through a course set up on an open parking lot. 

“You have the best and safest environment to learn the absolute limit of your car’s capability,” Michler said.

Some Mercer Car Club members are also active in a new sister club called Mercer FSAE (Formula Society of Automotive Engineers). Formula SAE is a student competition where university teams design and build race cars. Mercer FSAE now has its vehicle frame built and is working on welding and suspension, Michler said.

While access to tools and the garage are a huge bonus, Mercer Car Club members say it’s the community that keeps them coming back.

“When I joined my freshman year, I came every Friday,” Nsubuga said.I was looking for something to do, and I met these great guys. These are my best friends for life. Yes, I’m involved in many things on campus, but this is my home on campus that I always try to go back to because of how much it’s meant to me.”

Michler said it’s been invaluable to have a place where he can work on his car and have fun with like-minded people.

“(I love) the community, being able to connect with other people who know a lot about cars,” Hopper said. “It’s a way for us to hang out and learn from each other and the different cars.”

Students interested in joining Mercer Car Club can drop in for open garage from 4:30-6 p.m. Fridays or message the club on Instagram at @mercercarclub.

A student holds a tire and cleans its wheel.
Brendan Michler works on a wheel during “open garage” on Feb. 10. Photo by Rod Phillips

 

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Andrea is a digital content specialist at Mercer. She creates and maintains written and multimedia content for primary University web pages. She ensures a consistent, University “voice” throughout various forms of online communications platforms. She also plans and executes campaigns for the primary official Mercer University social media accounts.