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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
2) Know how the read both the gauges on your dash and the owner’s manual
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. 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. 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 head lights on accidentally? How about leaving the overhead light on 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.
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.
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.
Many models have different size blades for each window. Determine what size blade you need and keep an extra pair on hand in the car. The manual will tell you how to remove the wiper blades and replace them.
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 keep your car on the road longer.
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