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Car Maintenance

Five Things Every Woman Should Know About Cars

You are driving alone down a country road when you get a flat tire. You have zero bars on your cell phone and not a soul in sight. What do you do? Wait for someone to come along and pray they are not a serial killer? Walk back a few miles hoping to pick up cell service? Hope that really was a house you saw a few minutes before your tire went flat?

Knowing what to do in case of an auto emergency can mean the difference between getting back on the road quickly and not getting back on the road at all.

As recently as ten years ago auto shop was a regular fixture in high schools. However with the complexities of today's newer, computerized engines and the decline of vocational education in the public schools, the idea that the average person, man or woman, can fix their own car becomes more and more remote.

Despite this trend however of taking our car to the shop for everything from oil changes to installing new wiper blades, there are five important things every woman should know about their car. While you may never have a flat tire, having a working knowledge of your car and what do to when the check engine light comes on can save you both time and money in the event of an auto emergency.

1. Know how to change a tire

Flat tires are the number one cause of auto emergencies. Whether a blowout at 70 mph on the freeway or a slow leak caused by a nail imbedded in the rubber, a flat tire will derail your trip faster than you can say, "what happened?" The key to changing your own tire is to have the proper equipment.

Most importantly, keep your spare tire properly inflated and know where to find the jack and iron. In cars with trunks these tools are usually found there. Many models have a hidden compartment in the trunk or cargo area where the spare, the jack and the tire iron are neatly stored without taking up valuable cargo area.

You should always loosen the lug nuts on your tire before you raise the car with the jack. It will be easier to exert force on the nut while the car is planted firmly on the ground. Not sure which way to turn? Just remember the saying "lefty loosy,righty tighty." Turn the nuts to the left to remove them and to the right to tighten them up.

Here's a tip: this rule applies to just about anything you are trying to loosen or tighten.

In the event your car has a hub cap that hides the lug nuts, keep a flat head screw driver in your cargo area as well. Practice using the screw driver to remove the hub cap so that if you ever have to change your tire, you are not struggling to find the lug nuts.

Learn where to place the jack in order to properly lift the car. Your owner's manual should have both a description of the process and an illustration. Putting the jack in the right place makes all the difference when you begin to lift. Follow the directions in your manual and you will be surprised at how easily you can raise the car to the right height.

After you have removed the damaged tire and put on your spare, tighten the lug nuts as much as you can with your hands and then give them a little turn with the tire iron. Follow a star pattern when tightening instead of going around the tire in a circle. This will help balance the tire and prevent one side from being over-tightened. After you have secured the tire, lower the car slowly to the ground.

Once on the ground, use the tire iron to tighten the nuts as much as possible. Return your damaged tire, jack, iron and any other tools you used to their proper storage area and now you are on your way.

If your spare tire is smaller than your other three tires and only intended to be used as an emergency spare, it is important that you follow the directions in your manual and only drive at moderate speeds until you have the full size tire repaired and placed back on your car. If you had trouble fully tightening your lug nuts, find the nearest service station or automobile repair shop and ask someone to check to make sure they are completely tightened.

2. Know how the read both the gauges on your dash and the owner's manual in your glove box

The second most common auto emergency is a warning light on your dash board. Examples of warning lights are the Check Engine light, Oil light, ABS brake light, or Airbag light. A sudden illumination of any of these lights can mean a serious problem is occurring and you should have your car checked as quickly as possible. However with the modern computers in vehicles today sometimes the lights come on without a serious underlying problem. Sometimes the lights come on due to a faulty switch in the dash or a circuit that isn't properly functioning.

The most important thing to remember about warning lights is that they are your car's way of talking to you and you have to be able to understand what it is saying. Read your owner's manual. Review the section on troubleshooting. Familiarize yourself with what the different warning lights look like when they are illuminated.

Know that when the ABS light comes on you might need to have your brake fluid checked. Know that when the Airbag light comes on you could be driving with the risk that your airbag may not deploy in the event of a collision. Have it checked by the proper technician as soon as possible.

By knowing what your dash gauges mean and how to interpret them using the owner's manual you can catch problems before they become serious, saving yourself money and potential lost time in the process.

3. Know how to check the oil and radiator fluid

Keeping your engine running smoothly is often as simple as making sure it has enough oil and radiator fluid. Automobile engines are made up of lots of little parts. These parts move interchangeably against each other thousands of times a minute and build up friction. Motor oil keeps those engine parts lubricated and functioning properly.

Radiator fluid, or engine coolant as it may be called in your owner's manual, does a similar job. Like any machine, an automobile engine gets warm through the constant moving of its many parts. Radiator fluid cools the engine down so that it doesn't overheat, allowing it to keep working even on the hottest days. Find where the dip sticks are for both engine oil and engine coolant.

In many cars they are yellow in color and marked with a picture of either a drop of oil or some sort of liquid. Using your owner's manual, determine the proper levels for both fluids. To get the most accurate reading, have your engine running when using the dip sticks.

Check your fluids once a month. In warmer weather you may need to check it twice a month. Always have a minimal amount of motor oil or radiator fluid on hand in your garage in case your levels are low and you need to add some.

While it is normal to lose some fluid periodically between oil changes, if you find yourself having to add oil or engine coolant regularly to your car you should have it checked by a technician as soon as possible. This can be a sign of a more serious problem and having it repaired quickly will prevent further damage to your car's engine.

4. Know how to jump the battery

Ever leave your dome light on accidentally? How about leaving the glove box open all weekend? If so you have probably experienced a dead battery and have had to jump start your car. Jumping your battery requires jumper cables and another car that can start its engine.

The key to jumping your car is to know that there is both a positive and negative cable which corresponds to the positive and negative posts on your battery.

The posts are usually covered with a cap however once you remove the cap, the posts are marked with a + sign or a – sign. The cables will be marked as well. With both engines off, clamp the positive cable to the positive post and the negative cable to the negative post.

Do this to both cars. Start the engine of the other car. Wait a minute or two to allow the charge from the running engine to flow through the cables into your battery and then try and start your car. If it doesn't turn over at all, wait another minute or two and then try again. If it starts to turn over, wait a few seconds and then try again.

Once your car starts you can disconnect the cables and close the hood. Allowing your engine to run for about thirty minutes, or driving to your destination, will recharge your battery and you shouldn't have trouble starting it again. However if you find yourself stranded more than once and cannot find evidence of a light left on or other drain on your battery's power, have your battery checked by a technician. It may need to be replaced.

Don't own a pair of jumper cables? For around $30 you can purchase a good set that store conveniently in your trunk or next to your spare tire. Even if you never have to use them, you are guaranteed to save the day for one of your friends or neighbors.

5. Change the wiper blades

Depending on the area you live in, having properly functioning windshield wipers can be critical to safe driving. Getting caught in the season's first rainstorm with dry or brittle wiper blades can happen to anyone. Knowing how to change your own wiper blades however can get you quickly back on the road.

Again, reading your owner's manual is key. Many models have different size blades for each window. Determine what size blade you need and keep an extra pair on hand at home. The manual will also tell you how to remove the wiper blades and replace them.

Some models simply snap on and off, blade and wiper all in one unit. Others need to be threaded across the length of the blade and are more tedious. Just because your manual calls out a particular kind of wiper blade doesn't mean that your car won't function with a different one. If your car has a wiper blade that is difficult to change, ask at the auto parts store if there are compatible models. Often the customer service technicians there are able to help you find a product that works just as well as the dealer specification.

Whether your car is five days or five years old, spending time getting to know the ins and outs of the owner's manual, practicing some basic maintenance techniques, and purchasing just a few basic tools and supplies will keep you safer and your car on the road longer.

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