Unfortunately, we collegiettes™ have a reputation for being terrible at fixing things on our own, whether it’s cars or problems around the house. I say unfortunately because too often, it’s completely true. That’s where I come in with my amazing (occasionally borrowed) advice on the intricacies of Doing-It-Yourself when it comes to the confusing mechanical world.
Today, you’ll discover the mysterious secrets of keeping your car happy. After reading this article, barring the occasional freak accident or major mechanical failure, you should be able to keep your car running well enough to avoid roadside failure. Because, admit it, we’ve all seen the girl on the side of the road, hopelessly looking at her dead car.
Now here’s the truth, girls: it’s very easy to prevent you from being a stereotype. And the old saying about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure doesn’t sound so trite when you’re cursing a flat tire or dead battery. So, grab some gloves, and find the owner’s manual to your car. Hint: it’s probably buried in bottom of the glove box.
The mysteries of tires are few: keep them inflated properly, replace before they explode, and learn how to deal with an emergency tire change. When a tire isn’t inflated correctly, it’s less “round” and needs more energy (a.k.a. $4/gallon of gas) to roll. So go get one of those pressure gauges and an air compressor (known as the “Air” at gas stations everywhere), and get to work. Most cars recommend 32 to 35 pounds per square inch (psi), but check your owner’s manual.
Here’s a secret, collegiettes™: tires also wear out! Depending on how you’re using the car, every 40,000 miles equals new tires. If your tires get too old, they will explode. But there’s also an easy trick: stick a penny into the tire tread, with Lincoln head-down. If you can see space above his head, those tires are getting thin. In Eugene, I personally love Les Swab for new tires. They’re quick, friendly, and have never mocked me for all the near blowouts I’ve had.
This is a biggie! Screw up on your oil change, and you will have hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of damage to deal with. Depending on your car, oil changes are recommended every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. However, a great rule of thumb is the color of the oil itself. Grab a paper towel, pull the dipstick out, wipe it on the towel, re-dip, and take a look. Is the oil a pretty light brown, or black and gross? Greasy mechanic stereotypes aside, you don’t want black gross stuff running through your car.
I honestly don’t recommend changing the oil yourself. Oil changes are pretty cheap at only around $30, and buying the oil and filter yourself will set you back almost as much. Also, you’ll have to haul the used oil, a greasy black concoction, to a recycling center. Instead, go to Oil Can Henry’s or Firestone, both great services.
I won’t bore you with the details of the car electric system, but without a functioning battery, your car isn’t going anywhere – as in, you’re calling a tow truck. Batteries die all the time, and sometimes, it’s not even your fault. Batteries don’t have secrets; just clean off the white crusty build-up (same rule, gross stuff shouldn’t be there). Also, if your battery has little cells (holes), keep them filled, but not overfilled, with distilled water.
But sometimes you’ll accidentally leave the headlights on. And the engine will refuse to turn over, otherwise known as the dreaded moment when no noise happens when you turn the key, and the radio doesn’t work. Luckily for you, this is a very easy fix.
Find a friend with a functioning car and a pair of jumper cables. This is the embarrassing part, because you have admit you killed the battery. People will laugh, but they’ll also help. So, park your friend’s car very close to your own, and turn that engine off. Good, now hook the jumper cables in this order:
1. Red cable to red/positive terminal on dead car
2. Red cable to red/positive terminal on friend’s car
3. Black cable to black/negative on friend’s car.
4. Black cable to any clean, unpainted metal under your hood. Unless you want to see pretty sparks and maybe an explosion, only connect the negative cable to the negative terminal of the dead battery if nothing else works.
Now, start your friend’s car, and let it run for a couple minutes. Unhook the cables in the reverse order that you put them on, and drive away happy. (Actually you probably should thank your friend first, or they won’t want to help you next time.) Also, keep your car running for about half an hour, or the battery won’t charge all the way, and you’ll be stranded again, hopefully not somewhere sketchy in Springfield.
All right collegiettes™, now you’re experts (sort of) in DIY car care, and maybe your guy friends will stop making jokes about female drivers. If they don’t, make them take the bus. And next week, we’ll talk about what to do when things go wrong in your house. Think flooding toilets, holes in the walls, clogged sinks, or anything that will cost you your security deposit!