It feels like it was an entirely different life when I used to spend my weekends at the race track prepping and racing a variety of different cars. I had a lot of good times in motor sports (including meeting my hubby!) and a lot of fun. But since becoming a mother, I’ve also realized the value of having a basic understanding of my car. It makes me a lot more confident when I’m on the road with my boys and it keeps me from getting taken advantage of at dealerships, auto repair shops, or tire shops.
Here are a few things about vehicles that every Mama should know:
1.) Check your tires. You don’t have to be a tire expert, but it’s important to remember to take a look at your tires on a regular basis. Does one side of the tire have more tread than the other? Does the front look to have similar wear as the back? If there is a big mismatch, this could be a sign of an alignment issue that can be a quick fix at a shop that can save you a lot of money; a $99 alignment is worth saving an $800 set of tires. Another thing to look for is any white on your tires. This could be a sign of your tire cords popping through, and that your tires are COMPLETELY worn out (NOTE: oftentimes the inside edges of the tire get corded first, and aren’t always easy to see from outside, so don’t be afraid to get on your knees and peak under to get a good look). Corded tires can lead to a blow out on the highway which is both scary and unsafe! Just take a quick walk around your car and peek at the tires, if anything looks weird, take it to a shop or a savvy friend!
2.) Don’t ignore your car. If your dashboard lights up like a Christmas Tree when you get in, something is up. Those lights on the dashboard share valuable information. Some common issues that are communicated through the dash are low oil, low tire pressure, battery light, or check engine. All of these things can be annoying to schedule an appointment for, but a low battery can leave you stranded or engine failure can be a very costly repair. Most NAPA, Autozone, O’Riley etc. shops have scanners and will help you scan your codes for free; it’s quick, and this way you at least know what the car is trying to tell you.
3.) Find your battery connector points. It’s great if you learn how to do a jump start on a car, but at the very least you should know where your battery is and where the connector points are. If your battery dies while you’re out and about and someone is able to offer you “a jump” it can save you a lot of time and stress if you already know where and how to connect. Bonus points for keeping a set of jumper cables in your trunk. As funny as it may sound, I’ve seen people cross the battery cables and fry a bunch of fuses, so even if someone is helping you, always look over their shoulder to make sure red is on (+) terminal.
4.) Check your oil. A lot of newer cars don’t actually have a traditional dipstick for checking your oil. It might be as simple as navigating through your car’s computer system to check oil levels, or learning where the dipstick is and pulling it out. If you’re car ever gives you the low oil warning, being able to check the oil can help you determine how urgent the situation is. Oil is your engine’s lubricant and it’s essential to keeping that engine running… and engines aren’t cheap to replace! Check your maintenance manual for what type of oil is recommended, and pick up a spare quart to keep in the trunk. Generally, yellow is a warning, but if a red oil light comes on, stop and turn off the car immediately to avoid any engine damage.
5.) Learn the process of changing your tires. Changing a tire can be annoying and physically challenging. Even if you have roadside assistance, it’s important to know the process of changing your own tires. Some tires have a wheel lock which can be prohibitive for other people changing ties. Check or ask if you have a wheel lock and find out where the key is. When I had a car with wheel locks we kept the key in the glove box or the tire changing kit in the trunk. Find out if you have run-flat tires and find out where your spare tire or jack is in the car. Sometimes these are stashed in the trunk, under the trunk mat, or under the rear seats.
No one wants to think about having the stress, fear, or cost involved with car trouble, but these are important things to know. If you have any questions — leave it in the comments or send me a message! Let’s keep each other, and our kiddos, safe on the road!