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I’ll never forget the night I was standing in a parking lot in the dark, watching my friend freak out about her dead car battery.
Of a handful of friends present, I was the only one who knew how to jump start a car – but it was late and I was holding Miss G. Every time I tried to pass her to a friend, she screamed bloody murder. I tried to coach my friends through the process of jump starting her car, but they were nervous having never done it before and we ended up waiting around for my dad to show up and help.
Ever since, I’ve felt very strongly about women knowing basic car maintenance and safety skills – from knowing how to check the oil to jump starting a car. Here are the top 10 Car Maintenance Tips you need to learn today to ensure your safety on the road.
The first thing I want to encourage you to do is read your car’s owner’s manual and read your warranty (if you have one). Your owner’s manual will give you recommended times for replacing certain things – like time belts, that you should be aware of. Not changing belts on time can cause damage to the entire engine.
Also, your car may run better on certain types of gas. For example, German cars usually can only use Premium Gas.
Most basic car maintenance you should be good to do on your own without voiding your warranty (if your car is still under one) but double check. Some warranties will become completely void if you even change an oil filter (or take it somewhere other than the dealer to change it). Being aware of this can save you lots of headaches in the future.
10 Car Maintenance Tips for Women
- Know how & when to pump your own gas
This might seem obvious to some, but it’s a really good place to start – especially if you are from an area where full-service stations are the norm.
Recently, I was talking to a friend about the little ways her husband shows her affection – and it came up that she has never in her life pumped her own gas since she went right from her parent’s car to being married and having her husband take care of that.
Also, did you know that you shouldn’t let your gas gauge get below a quarter tank? This can cause issues in the winter, so it’s good to be in the habit of it all year round.
2. How to top up washer fluid
On most cars, you should be able to simply pop the top of the reservoir and pour the windshield wiper fluid in – use a funnel if you’re not confident in your pouring skills. Be careful with anything that comes in touch with the fluid as it is highly flammable.
Also, you should use a different formula of washer fluid in the summer versus the winter – they are also often different colors to help remind you of the difference. The summer one can freeze in the winter so pay attention!
3. Check your headlights
It’s really easy to change the headlight bulbs and it’s really important to be diligent about checking them. If your break lights or signal lights aren’t working, you can cause an accident or get a hefty ticket. Here’s a quick one minute video to show you how to do it.
4. Know how to change a fuse
Fuses can burn out or break in a car, just like in your home’s fuse box. I one time whacked the radio with my purse and caused a fuse to burn out. Now, I keep extra fuses in the glove box and it’s really easy to swap them out if one burns.
5. Check & Top Up Oil
Changing the oil filters is an advanced task that can be great to know, but at the very least you really do need to be able to check and add oil – especially if you’re doing any road trips or long distance driving. Just driving my daughter to and from school plus doing a couple errands in the week requires me to often top up my oil a bit, so don’t underestimate this task.
One thing I do to stay on top of this is order the 5qt bottle of Pennzoil 0W20 Platinum Full Synthetic Motor Oil from Walmart.com every 3 months because I seriously never remember to head over to the automotive section when I’m there shopping for groceries (I won’t even tell you how many months it took me to get a new package of lights for Miss G’s beside table).
My dad always recommended pure synthetic oil, and I like that the Platinum® motor oil is proven to keep pistons up to 40% cleaner than the toughest industry standard. The PurePlus™ Technology is a revolutionary process that converts natural gas into a 99.5% pure base oil. It’s on rollback right now, too!
To check the oil properly, pull out the dip stick and wipe clean with a rag or paper towel. Insert it back in the tester, and then pull it out again. Compare the fill line to where the oil comes up on the stick. Also, take note of how clean the oil looks (it should not be dark or black).
You don’t want to fill your oil tank to the top as the oil will expand, and if you spill oil it can cause smoking when the engine heats up. Get a cheap funnel just for this purpose to avoid spills.
6. Changing Cabin Air Filters
This isn’t an essential skill, but it is really easy to do on your own and can save you some money at the mechanic.
The air filter stops engine smells from entering the car, which can cause headaches and also be worrying. Changing the air filter regularly prevents that and makes it easier to know if your engine is putting out bad smells, which can be an indication of a problem.
7. How to Jump a Car
Okay, this might seem like a big skill, but having kids – it is a lifesaver to know how to do this yourself. Imagine if in the process of getting all of the kids and groceries out of the car, you accidentally leave a door or the trunk ajar. Or, maybe your child is like mine and loves flipping the light switch on the interior light? These things can all lead to your battery dying.
I’m going to link to this video as this is a skill you need to be confident in, but the big things are:
- Turn both cars off (park or neutral setting)
- Connect the red jumper cable to the red terminal of the not-dead battery
- Connect the other red cable to the red terminal of the dead battery
- Connect the black cable to the black terminal of the not-dead battery
- Connect the other black cable to an unpainted metal surface (like the pole holding up the hood)
- Start the car of the not-dead battery and run for a few minutes
- Attempt to start the dead battery’s car
Another thing, please spend the $10-20 and get a set of jumper cables for your car. If you’re ever in the bind of needing to jump your car, your odds of finding someone willing to help are better than your odds of finding someone willing to help with jumper cables.
8. Changing Wiper Blades
If you’ve already topped up the windshield wiper fluid and you’re experiencing streaks or inadequate cleaning of your windows, change your wiper blades right away. Visibility is important, especially in extreme weather – and you don’t want to pay a mechanic to do this simple job for you. I actually keep a spare set of wiper blades in my trunk and they are super simple to swap out. Here’s a video.
9. Check air pressure & fill tires
You can check air pressure with a small air pressure tool (keep it in the glove box as it can double as a tool for breaking windows if you ever get stuck in the car) or with a penny. I prefer the tool as it’s more exact, and I also keep quarters in the glove box if I ever need to add air (not actually air) to the tires.
10. Stay on top of scratches
If your car has a metal exterior, a small scratch can lead to rusting. If you notice a scratch, try buffing it out and if that doesn’t work, invest in a small bottle of sealant or car paint to prevent moisture from entering that opening.
While not an essential skill, keeping a clean car is something that makes a huge difference in car ownership. I feel prouder and more invested in my car when I’ve taken the time to empty out all of the little items that can clutter up the small space and spend a dollar vacuuming it out. I use regular cleaning wipes to remove dust and food crumbs.
Also, being a cautious driver can prevent the need for repairs. Going slowly over potholes and speed bumps is a great place to start!
Now, here are some advanced skills to consider learning once you have checked off all of the above:
- knowing how to change a tire (and use a car jack)
- knowing how to flush your radiator
- replacing oil filters
- changing the oil (not just topping up)
What essential car maintenance skills would you add to this list? Would ordering car essentials like oil online make your life easier?