It is important that vehicle owners know a little bit about their vehicles so they can do what’s necessary to keep them running smoothly. There are also some tasks that are important to prevent you from being stranded on the side of the road at the mercy of roadside assistance or the kindness of someone driving by that will actually stop.
By making sure that you know how to do these 4 tasks that we have outlined below, you will be much more prepared in the event of an emergency and will also be able to take better care of your vehicle on your own. Another benefit to knowing how to do these tasks is that you won’t have to pay for an automotive technician to do them for you.
1. Changing A Tire
Getting a flat tire is something that every vehicle owner has gone through at one time or another. Knowing how to change a tire on your own can get you back on the road quickly without the expense of paying for roadside assistance.
Many people think that changing a tire requires tons of strength and a lot of skill but neither is true. The tools that are used to change a tire compensate for whatever strength the tire changer is lacking.
Flat tires or blow outs can happen at any time including the middle of the night. Flat tires can happen to anyone regardless of age, income, sex or automotive knowledge. One of the first things you need to know to successfully change a tire is the tools that you will need to have on hand to complete the task.
The majority of cars on the road come with a jack and lug wrench but make sure that you know, 1.) If your vehicle has a jack and lug wrench, and 2.) Where it is located in your vehicle. Also know where your spare tire is located and most importantly, how to get it from where it is to where you can put it on your vehicle in the event of a flat tire.
We’ve outlined the simple steps below that involve changing a tire. Familiarize yourself with these steps so you will know exactly what to do. You may even be able to help someone else one day with this knowledge. Another important step in being prepared for a flat tire is to check your spare and make sure it is in good shape and fully inflated with the proper PSI recommended for the spare. The steps to changing a tire safely and efficiently are listed below.
- Make sure your vehicle is on as flat a surface as you can get to safely and pull as far off the road as you can without sinking into the grass on the shoulder of the road. If you are on the highway it is safer to try to make it to the next exit before you pull over. Being on the side of a highway is dangerous enough without trying to change a tire while you are there. Never stop the vehicle in the middle of a curve because cars will not be able to see you until they are already on top of you which creates a potentially disastrous situation.
- Set the parking brake and if your car has a manual transmission, you should leave it in first gear as well.
- Turn on your hazard lights or put out road flares if you have them.
- Pull out your vehicle’s jack and lug wrench along with the tire you will be putting on in place of the damaged one. Get out any other tools you will need as well.
- Remove the hubcap from the tire if there is one. Using the lug wrench, loosen the lug nuts by turning the wrench counterclockwise. Sometimes the lug nuts are super tight and hard to loosen. If this happens, place the wrench on the nut and stand on the arm of the wrench. You can also use a hammer or rubber mallet on the arm to loosen the nut.
- Once the lug nuts are loosened, set up the jack and lift the car off the ground. Make sure you put the jack in the proper place on the car so it is lifted safely and properly. Jack the vehicle off the ground about 6”.
- Remove the lug nuts completely and place them in the hubcap so they don’t roll away. Pull the tire off by pulling it straight towards you and put it off to the side out of the way.
- Put the spare tire on the wheel by lining the holes up with the bolts. Push it all the way onto the wheel until it won’t go any farther.
- Put each lug nut back on and tighten them just enough to keep the tire on straight.
- Lower the car to the ground using the jack and remove it from the car.
- Tighten all the lug nuts with the wrench. Choose one to start with and then tighten the one opposite the one you just tightened and so on until all of them are tightened about halfway. After all of them are tightened 50%, go back around finish each one until they are as tight as you can get them.
- After all the lug nuts are tightened and the spare tire is on securely, put the damaged tire and all the tools back in the trunk making sure that nothing has been left behind. Don’t forget to pick up your flares and turn off your hazards.
Other Things to Consider
If the tire is super low but not flat, use fix-a-flat to get yourself to a garage or home. Fix-a-Flat products work very well but are not permanent fixes for a tire that needs to be fixed or replaced. The directions are very easy to follow and are located on the can.
One way to make sure that you are not stranded on the side of the road with no way to fix your tire is to have an emergency kit in your trunk. The following items are good to include in your emergency kit:
- Tarp or mat (for kneeling if necessary)
- Extra batteries
- Rain poncho
- Can of fix-a-flat
- Tire gauge
- Tire blocks
- Emergency lantern
- Hand cleaner
2. Replacing the Windshield Wipers
Changing the windshield wipers is another very fast and easy task that any vehicle owner can do. Windshield wipers are very important when it comes to driving safely in inclement weather such as rain, sleet, and snow.
When the wipers are worn and don’t do their job of clearing the windshield, visibility is compromised which can lead to a serious accident.
Wipers are very easy to replace and they should always be replaced in pairs. Find the right wipers for your make and model of vehicle. Most windshield wipers will have this information on the package or you can look it up in a book that is often kept at the place where they stock the wipers.
Remove the old wipers and throw them away. Replace the new ones by snapping them into the opening and that’s it; you’re all set. If you’re not sure if you need new windshield wipers, there are a few signs you can look for with the existing ones:
- Squeaking noise as they move
- Scraping sound when they are in motion
- Streaking water
- Leaves a film when they are used
- Doesn’t clear the windshield during rain or snow
It’s easy to overlook windshield wipers as an important piece of equipment on your vehicle. You should inspect them regularly. Look for the signs we listed above to see if they are performing the way they should be. There is no set time frame on how often you should replace your windshield wipers. It could be as long as a year or as short as 6 months.
Make sure that you get the right size windshield wiper for your vehicle so they work properly and provide the best visibility you can get during rain storms and snow storms.
3. Checking the Fluids
Checking your vehicle’s fluids is necessary to ensure there are no leaks and that everything is properly lubricated. There are several basic fluids that should be checked on a regular basis. We have listed these important fluids along with a little bit of information about each type and how often it should be checked.
Checking these fluids is not hard but it can provide you with clues if something is wrong and regular checking can catch problems early. Make sure that when you are checking the fluids, the vehicle is parked on level ground and you check the fluids cold when the car has not been running for awhile.
Checking the oil
Making sure that your oil levels are where they should be is important because your engine oil is one of the things that keep your engine properly lubricated so it runs smoothly. Checking the oil on a regular basis ensures that there are no leaks or other problems that need to be attended to.
With the majority of makes and models of vehicles, checking the motor oil levels once a month will be sufficient.
You should get an oil change according to the recommendations in your owner’s manual. It used to be routine to change the oil every 3,000 miles or 6 months but that is not the standard anymore.
Your owner’s manual will also let you know what type and weight of oil your specific vehicle requires. Do not use a different weight than is recommended to get the best performance from your vehicle.
It will be different for different vehicles and some of that depends on how often you drive the car and how far you drive as well. Checking the oil is a simple process that only requires a rag or paper towels to wipe the dipstick off.
- Remove the dipstick and wipe it off completely with the paper towel or rag.
- Stick the dipstick back into the holder and pull it back out to see where the oil levels are. You want the level to be in the normal range where it does not say add a quart. You don’t want to overfill the oil so make sure you don’t add anymore unless the levels indicate that you need to.
- If you need to add a quart, use a funnel and add the quart and repeat the steps to check the levels to make sure it is where it should be.
Checking the Coolant
The coolant is another name for the antifreeze in your vehicle’s radiator that keeps everything cool while it is running. Without coolant your engine can overheat and cause other issues to occur. You do not want to run your vehicle with just water as this can result in disastrous problems with your engine.
The coolant/antifreeze keeps your vehicle from overheating and in the wintertime it prevents cold weather from causing problems. Coolant resides in your radiator and it is easy to check. You should keep a mixture of half coolant and half water in your radiator at all times for the best performance.
You should check the coolant level in your vehicle two times per year, once before the summer starts and once before the cold weather sets in. Radiator coolant should be changed completely every 2 to 3 years. Checking the coolant levels is very easy:
- Lift the hood and look for the clear plastic container that is close to the radiator.
- There is a minimum fill line marked on that container. Look to see if the liquid in the container is below the minimum fill line. If it is fill it with more of the 50/50 mix that is already in there.
- If there seems to be a small leak in the radiator, you can add a radiator stop leak which can stop tiny holes from becoming large ones. You just pour the radiator stop leak into the radiator and drive the car for about 10 minutes or so.
Checking the Transmission Fluid
The transmission fluid is responsible for keeping the gears moving smoothly and without issue. Checking the transmission fluid is a lot like checking the oil.
It should also be checked once a month and can be checked the same time you check the oil. Get into the habit of checking all the fluid levels once a month. It’s a good habit to get into to ensure that things are going smoothly with your vehicle’s engine and other systems.
Transmission fluid should never be low since it is all part of a closed system, unlike the engine oil. Checking the transmission fluid is different than checking the oil in that the vehicle needs to be running and in the parked position when the transmission fluid is checked.
Other than that difference, checking the transmission fluid will follow the same process as checking the oil did.
- Pull out the dipstick and wipe it off thoroughly with a rag
- Replace the dipstick and pull it back out and check to make sure the levels are where they should be.
- Look at the color of the transmission fluid and make sure the color is red and clean and not burnt smelling and/or brown in color.
If the reading on your transmission fluid is low, it warrants a visit to the auto repair shop because that low level indicates a leak somewhere.
One of the important things for you to look at when checking the transmission fluid each month is not the levels but the look of the fluid. Transmission fluid is red in color and it should remain red even when it is inside the vehicle. If you notice a burnt smell or the fluid is brown, it needs to be replaced. How often to change the transmission fluid is different for every vehicle but on average you should expect to change the transmission fluid every 50,000 to 100,000 miles.
Checking the brake fluid
Brake Fluid is also part of a closed system much like the transmission fluid so you shouldn’t ever really be low on it. You should check the cleanliness of the brake fluid to make sure that it is not contaminated.
The reservoir for the brake fluid is a clear container that has maximum and minimum fill lines marked on the outside so you can see where the levels fall. If it is low, you need to get the vehicle checked out by an auto shop because there is a possible leak or problem going on.
You should check the brake fluid once a month along with the other fluids you are checking each month. The reservoir for the brake fluid is on the driver’s side of the vehicle. The brake fluid should be changed every two years. It should be golden brown in color, so if it is brown you know it’s time to change it. The brake fluid can be checked by looking at the levels on the outside of the container. There is no dipstick to worry about.
If your brakes are acting up of “feeling” odd, check the brake fluid and color to rule out any issue with the brake fluid system.
4. Checking the Tire Pressure
Another often overlooked task that helps ensure your car runs properly is to check the tire pressure. Checking your tire pressure helps keep you and your family safe and the car running smoothly. Tires can leak air even there isn’t a problem.
Daily temperature and other conditions such as how far the vehicle is driven and whether there is added weight on the vehicle can affect the pressure in each tire so by checking it regularly you can ensure that the tires are where they should be when it comes to how much air is in them.
Checking the tire pressure is easy and involves a simple and inexpensive tool called a tire gauge. You need to remember to check the air pressure when the tires are cold and the vehicle hasn’t been driven in awhile. Make sure you know what the manufacturer’s recommended PSI is for your tires before you get started.
- Remove the cap on the tire if there is one. (this little cap is on the black stem that each tire has)
- Put the tire gauge into the valve stem and press down to get a reading.
- The stem on the bottom will come out to the number that indicates the tire pressure.
- Match this number to the recommended tire pressure for the tire.
- If it matches, the tire is good and does not require any more air. If it is lower than the recommended amount, you will need to add air to the tire until it matches that number.
- Repeat these steps for every tire.
Checking the tire pressure for each tire shouldn’t take a long time at all. Air to put in your tire can come from a home tire inflator, an air compressor or a gas station. Gas station air pumps cost about a $1.00 to get 10 minutes of run time to add air to the tires.
Keeping Your Car Safe and Running Well
Doing these four tasks on a regular basis will ensure that your vehicle runs well and it will help you spot many potential problems before they become big problems. As a vehicle owner, it is much better to take responsibility for learning how to do these simple preventative maintenance tips rather than waiting until something goes wrong and then being stuck on the side of the road or having to spend money to find out things that you can ultimately do yourself.
None of these tasks is difficult and anyone can do them no matter how young or old the vehicle owner is but they can have a big impact on how well your vehicle runs and can also help you avoid problems in the future.