While guys usually don’t blink twice when they have to change a flat tire, replace a headlight bulb or install new windshield wiper blades, women still tend to shy away from the hands-on, DIY approach to car maintenance.
Education is key to overcoming any fear, and even if you don’t do the work yourself, by getting to know your vehicle — at least a little — you can be better informed on your next trip to the auto mechanic.
Take a Class
Women’s auto mechanic classes are easy to find these days; take Girls Auto Clinic, headed by Patrice Banks, an engineer and automotive technician who caters to women in the Greater Philadelphia region. Banks says she established GAC in 2013 “to empower women through interactive vehicle operation and service workshops that give practical, relatable advice on maintaining and caring for one’s car.”
Sites to Bookmark
There are blogs, too, such as Women Auto Know (get it?), with posts on oil weight, winter driving safety tips and a reminder that bigger isn’t always better when it comes to choosing tools. Another blog, called Ask Patty, has articles about what to do when the check engine light comes on and how the deep cold can trigger your car’s tire pressure monitoring system light.
Even a site like Repair Pal can help give you a rough idea of how much you might pay for work on your car (or how much you can save if you do simple jobs yourself). For instance, the national average to replace a headlight bulb runs between $126 to $157. That estimate includes $47-$61 in labor and $79-$96 (before taxes and fees) in parts.
Open the Hood
Of course, you’ll need to do more than read. For those of you who haven’t bothered to look under the hood, first things first — you’ll need to learn how to, well, open the hood of your car.
Locate the interior latch, which is usually to the left of the steering wheel under the dash, and lift. This will partially release the hood.
Feel under the partially open hood for a lever which, when you press it, will release the safety catch so you can raise the hood all the way up. As you’re lifting the hood, look for the long rod, which you can insert into the hood to prop it up and keep it from falling.
For a step-by-step instructional with images, see the wikiHow article called “Open the Hood of a Vehicle.”
Top Up Windshield Washer Fluid
While you’ve got the hood up, why not add some windshield washer fluid? Locate the container that holds the liquid (the cap will have a windshield/water symbol), and simply pour until full.
It’s important never to get caught short, especially if you live in northern climates and encounter winter slush (and who can forget those windshields full of squashed bugs after a summertime road trip?). Always keep a spare bottle in the trunk, and remember to make it winter grade windshield washer fluid when it’s freezing outside.
Check the Oil
Checking how much oil you have is an easy three-step process. The only real learning curve involves identifying your vehicle’s dipstick; usually, it will look something like the photo above.
Here are the three steps:
If you’re low on oil, it’s easy to top up. First, check your car owner’s manual to find out the grade of oil you need to buy — and while you’re at the store, get yourself a plastic funnel, too.
When you’re back under the hood, look for the oil cap — some are indicated with an oil can image, others have the words “engine oil” printed on them. Remove that cap and insert the funnel, then pour in a small amount of oil, checking the dipstick at intervals to see when you’ve got enough.
Thorin Klosowski at LifeHacker points out the handful of are other fluids that you should monitor, too, such as transmission fluid, coolant, brake fluid and power steering fluid. His article has videos to show you how to check all those fluids.
Kicking the Tires Isn’t Enough
Checking the air in your tires is something every driver should know how to do because tires that are under- or over-inflated can be hazardous in certain weather conditions. Digital pressure gauges tend to be the easiest to read and the most accurate.
There’s a how-to guide at DMV.org that explains exactly how to check the air pressure and how to add air, as well as one on how to change a tire. The latter reminds you to have a flat-fix type spray handy so that, in the event of a flat caused by a nail or other sharp object, you can fix the tire enough to allow you get to a safe place to change it.
Daniel McGaw at Fuelzee says it’s important to program some numbers into your phone, including a tow truck service and your mechanic’s name. He adds: “If you don’t have a mechanic, think about where you’d want your car taken in a breakdown.”
Changing a Burned Out Headlight
Replacing a bulb isn’t difficult, per se, but sometimes in a car just getting access to the bulb poses the most problems. Michael Ballaban at Jalopnik hopes that “this little bit of maintenance may become a part of the past as super-ultra-long-lasting LEDs become more common.” In the meantime, he has a helpful video on how to replace a headlight bulb.
Use Your Friends
You’ll need a partner to help you check that all brake lights and turn indicators are working, and you’ll also need someone (with a car) if you’ve found out your battery is dead and you need a jump start. The best instructional video on how to jump start a car is by Brett and Kate McKay at The Art of Manliness (and as it’s written for men, it goes to prove that knowing this kind of stuff isn’t automatically based on gender):
Know Your Car
Listen to your car, and soon you’ll be able to tell the difference between a normal noise or noise level as opposed to something abnormal that may be cause for alarm. You’ll also be able to tell your mechanic when the noise started and whether it’s constant, intermittent or happens only when you make a certain action. This will in turn help your mechanic diagnose the problem.