If you’re anything like me, you’d be more likely to curl up into the fetal position until someone rescues you, than to actually change a flat tire. The problem is, if we don’t know the basics of car maintenance—for instance how to jack up the car to replace a flat (or even how to raise the vehicle’s hood for a basic inspection)—we’re bound to run into some trouble down the road—literally!
Here are a few basics that we women should learn about car maintenance, and how to prevent an unnecessary break down…
KNOW HOW TO CHECK THE FLUIDS
Engine Oil: Our owner’s manual will tell us the correct kind of oil to use for our car. It also will instruct us where to check our oil if we’re unsure (wink). How often should we check the oil? The answer to this is every week or two (oh dear, where have I been?) Luckily it’s straightforward: remove the dipstick and wipe it clean; re-dip the clean stick and remove it again to compare the actual oil level to the markings on the stick. If the oil is low, simply add oil—being cautious not to overfill.
Coolant (Antifreeze): Coolant should also be checked at every week or so—and do so only when the engine is cold! The fluid level should be visible at the top of the radiator and the overflow tank within normal range.
Transmission Fluid: Transmission fluid keeps our cars running smooth – and checking this fluid is done in the same way as checking the oil (note that transmission fluid is red in colour). Again, our owner’s manual contains a diagram of where exactly the dipstick is located.
Brake Fluid: On some vehicles, the brake fluid is checked with a dipstick too, but usually it’s a plastic reservoir with a cap. We want to keep the fluid level within half an inch or so of the cap. Take note that brake fluid is toxic—try not to spill!
Steering fluid: Steering fluid should be checked at a regular tune up. But if the wheel begins to make any noise when turning, then we will need to check it right away.
Windshield washer fluid: Keeps the view clear and the bugs off—keep it topped up!
LEARN THE BASICS
Be familiar with car gauges. Know how to read each of your interior car gauges, and what each one indicates.
Our car battery should not be ignored. Some batteries have levels that should be checked. Regardless, if the battery begins to leak acid, it’s time to replace it.
Need a jump-start? It’s handy to know how to attach and use jumper cables in the event that our car battery dies. It’s a good idea to review this with someone just to make sure we’re confident. Although it’s simple to do, there’s a right and a wrong way!
Keep tires properly inflated. Own a tire pressure gauge and check the tire pressure when the tires are cold, once a month and before driving any long distances. Your car manual will instruct you on the recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) for your tires. Only add air when the gauge indicates a low pressure reading.
Learn how to jack up the vehicle and change the tire. It’s important that we know how to change a tire safely and properly. This may take a little bit of practice until we feel sure of ourselves. A challenge to all of us who don’t know how to change a tire: this month have someone teach you!
Windshield wipers should be replaced as they grow old or cracked. They are easy to replace, however sometimes a shop will put them on for free when you buy.
TAKE CARE OF ROUTINE MAINTENANCE
Dirty engine oil can lead to reduced efficiency; therefore getting our car oil changed every three to five thousand miles is recommended for engine care. Or if we notice that the oil is dark – it’s time! Changing the air filter every twenty thousand miles will additionally save wear and tear on the vehicle.
How often should brakes be checked? Have brakes looked at by a mechanic once a year or every 15,000 miles—whichever comes first. Also get them inspected if they begin to feel or sound different when braking.
To make the most of tires, we need to inspect the tread and have them rotated when the wear begins to look uneven, or every 6,000 miles. We can also use a penny to determine if it’s time to buy new tires: put a penny in the grooves. As long as part of Abe Lincoln’s head is covered, then the tread is high enough and your tires are fine.
Finally, if we really want to cover all the basics (and we do), we should also know what to do if our car breaks down.
- Consider becoming a member of an automobile association that will come to the rescue if there’s a mechanical issue or accident.
- Do you have emergency numbers programmed into your phone?
- Do you keep tools and emergency supplies in your car? Some items to travel with are: spare tire, car jack, jumper cables, basic tool kit, first aid kit, emergency blanket, raincoat, reflective triangle.
Performing regular maintenance checks on your vehicle will keep you safe—most importantly. And in the long run it will most likely save you money, or the inconvenience of an avoidable breakdown.
A great way to keep track of vehicle maintenance is to make a note on your calendar or set a reminder on your phone. It’s not going to kill us to get our hands a little greasy. But by not doing so we could be putting ourselves and others in harms way.
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