From the days of Rosie the Riveter all the way up to Danica Patrick, you ladies have been out and about, turning wrenches, flattening pedals and defying stereotypes. You love going everywhere in your sporty little Beetle, your luxurious SUV or your mudslinging pickup, but all the freedom and horizon-chasing spirit in the world mean nothing if you don’t know how to solve any automotive problems that may arise.
At AutoAnything, we’re committed to providing our consumers with not only the finest aftermarket performance parts and accessories on the market, but the confidence that comes with mechanical knowledge and practical competence. Here are some useful car care tips for women so you can handle business on your own – boyfriends, mechanics and Good Samaritans need not apply.
How to Jump Start Your Car
We’ve already written a step-by-step article on how to use jumper cables, as well as a self-charge auto jumper, to get your ride back up and running, but so long as you’re here, let’s sprint through the steps anyway.
- Take your jumper cables from their space in the trunk compartment. If you haven’t already purchased a set, do it – today. But, chances are the saint who’s willing to lend a helping hand with the jump will have one of his or her own.
- Make sure both vehicles are switched off and the parking brakes engaged.
- Attach one of the red clips to the positive terminal on your battery, easily identified with “POS” or “+” and larger than the negative terminal. It’s very important that you follow this order every time.
- Next, attach the other red clip to the positive on the other vehicle. Then attach one of the black clips to the negative terminal on the other battery.
- Attach the last black clip to an unpainted metal surface on your car not near the battery, such as a bolt, part of the engine block or the body frame.
- Start the working vehicle and let the engine run for a few minutes.
- Turn the ignition of your own car. If it doesn’t revive immediately, check that the cables have a good connection and have your new best friend run their engine for a few more minutes. Your battery should be good to go on the second attempt. Make sure not to turn your car off until you reach your destination or as long as need be, as the battery is recharging.
- If your car doesn’t start the next time you use it, chances are it’s time for a new battery altogether.
How to Solve Steering Wheel Lock
It doesn’t happen all the time, but there are a number of reasons why your steering wheel may suddenly lock. You’ll know it when it happens, too – try as you might, your helm won’t budge when turned in one direction, and it’s very springy with rebound when turned in the other. The problem could be a power steering fluid leak, a worn serpentine or drive belt or a damaged power steering pump. It’s very important that you determine the cause, but before you call Roadside Assistance, it may be worth trying these simple steps to loosen things up again – at least for the time being.
- First, apply a bit of pressure to the key while simultaneously turning the steering wheel back and forth to find a free spot. You may need to exert some pressure against the ignition mechanism until it unlocks – but don’t force anything. You don’t want to break your key off in there.
- If you drive a car with an auto transmission, make sure the selector is in park. Some vehicles won’t let you turn the key if this component is in any position other than park or neutral. Easy to overlook at the end of a long day or if you’re in a hurry, but easy to fix!
- Try lubricating the lock cylinder. It may be that an accumulation of debris is to blame, and a liberal spraying of electrical contact cleaner, followed by a drop or two of liquid graphite, may do the trick. Keep your doors open to fumigate and once you’ve added enough lube, give it another go.
- Finally, inspect the key itself. It may be as simple as it being a little misshapen or bent out of place. If you don’t have a spare, place the key on a flat, solid surface and strike the key – not too hard – with a blunt object to restore its flat shape. Don’t use a hammer or any instrument made of steel or metal, as this could foul the grooves in the key’s softer composition.
How to Check Your Tire Pressure
Before checking tire pressure levels, find out how much psi (pounds per square inch) your tires can hold. If you take a close look at the sidewall of your tire, you’ll see the tire-specific maximum pressure recommended. This is the max amount of air that can be pumped in without jeopardizing the tire’s structural integrity. It may not be what’s best for your vehicle, though, and you run the risk of over-inflating. The ideal operating pressure can be found in your owner’s manual, or more conveniently, inside your fuel door or the door jamb on the driver’s side. When in doubt, 32 psi is sufficient for most tires until you can do further research.
- If you don’t already own one, pick up an air-pressure gauge from any auto parts store or garage. If you’re at the gas station, the air machine often has one attached.
- Unscrew the valve cap from the valve stem on the tire. The valve stem is a pencil-sized extension near the hubcap.
- Press the air-pressure gauge evenly onto the valve stem and note the reading given when the gauge shoots out. If you hear a hissing sound, the gauge isn’t tight enough for an accurate reading. The angle of the gauge may need to be adjusted.
- If you’re a pound or two over the ideal psi, don’t worry about it, but if some air does need to be let out, simply push down on the knob on the backside of the air-pressure gauge head to get back to the desired level.
How to Check Your Oil
Most drivers overlook their engine oil levels until a flashing light on their dash catches their attention, but a good rule of thumb is to do so about once a month, or before heading out on a longer trip. Only check your oil when your engine’s cold – a wait of about 30 minutes should give the fluids a chance to settle and provides a more accurate reading.
Luckily, this is definitely one of the simplest maintenance measures on this list – all you need is a rag or paper towel, and a bottle of high-quality oil.
- Once you’ve popped the hood, locate the dipstick on your engine – it’s usually distinguished by a brightly-colored ring or handle – and twist-pull it free.
- With your towel or rag, wipe the end of the dipstick clean, then find the high- and low-fluid marks (usually indicated by notches in the stick).
- Re-insert the dipstick down the tube, wait a second, then withdraw to see where your engine oil level stands. Ideally, it will be somewhere in-between the two notches.
- Check your manual to find out the total capacity of oil recommended for your car. Top-off as needed.
How to Change a Tire (and Locate Your Jack and Tools)
You can make it a few more miles – even a hundred more – with low tire pressure. You may even be able to briefly bring an as-good-as-dead battery back to life to make it to the garage for a new one. But if there’s one thing you won’t be going anywhere with, it’s a flat or blown tire.
One challenge most often brought up by women is changing their tire. It requires a little more muscle than any task so far, but after the first time, the know-how tends to stick with you. Read on to save yourself the stress when and if you find yourself stranded with a flat.
- Once you’ve found a safe spot to pull over, set your parking brake and turn on your hazard lights. Retrieve your jack, wrench and spare tire from the trunk. The jack and wrench are likely under the luggage door cover, and you may need to lift up the carpet to reach it. Your spare may also be located in your trunk, under your vehicle or mounted to your rear door.
- Place the jack under your car frame near the flat. Ensure the jack is in contact with the metal portion of the frame. If your vehicle has molded plastic along the bottom, be especially carefully to find the right spot so you don’t crack or damage the plastic when you start lifting. Check your owner’s manual first.
- Remove the hubcap, then loosen the lug nuts by using your wrench to turn counter-clockwise. If they’re especially tight, try placing the wrench on the nut and standing on the wrench arm to bring your full weight down.
- Use the jack to lift the vehicle about 6” off the ground. As you work the jack, make sure your vehicle doesn’t start leaning or hazardously reposition itself. If you notice any instabilities, lower the jack and fix the problem before proceeding.
- Remove the lug nuts and pull the tire straight towards you to detach it from the wheel base. You’re almost there, and the hard part’s over!
- Align the lug nut posts with the holes in your spare, and push the spare all the way onto the wheel base.
- Re-apply the lug nuts, but don’t tighten them fully just yet. They should be tight enough that your spare stays in place while you lower your vehicle.
- Once your vehicle’s back on solid ground, remove the jack. Now you can slowly start tightening the lug nuts. Start with one nut, tighten it about halfway, then move to the nut directly opposite and tighten that one about the same amount. Keep this gradual process up until each lug nut is as tight as it should be.
- After that, there’s nothing left to do but put your flat and tools back in the trunk and get back on the road!
How to Tell When You Need New Tires
Most people don’t know that all it takes to check your tire tread is a penny and a few minutes. When you think it might be time to replace a heavily-worn tire, you can confirm or deny your suspicion with a shiny Honest Abe.
In the US, tire tread depth is measured in 1/32", with factory-fresh tires typically available with depths of 10/32” or 11/32", although some trucks and SUVs may have even deeper treads. The US Department of Transportation recommends replacing tires when they get down to about 2/32” – and some states even legally require tire replacement when they get that low. Here’s how to check:
- Wedge a penny between any one of your tire’s ribs – meaning the raised portions of the tread that span the circumference of the tire – with the president’s head pointing down into the tread.
- If the top of Lincoln’s head disappears between the ribs, then you’re still within that 2/32” safe zone.
- If you can see the entirety of his head, you’re outside that zone. Whether this uneven tread can be traced to under-inflation, over-inflation or wheel misalignment, it’s time for a replacement.
No matter if you’re cruising around town or headed out on a girls-only weekend road-trip, we hope you’re more comfortable than ever handling whatever the open road throws at you.