You're a smart, powerful woman. Now prove that to your automobile.
Baby, we know you got skills. Perhaps you can speak four languages, compete in triathlons or whip up a five-course meal at a moment’s notice. But tell us: Do you have any idea how to fix your car when it breaks down?
If you said yes, know that, at this very moment, we are bowing in admiration. If you said no, well, don’t worry, because you’d be surprised how many bright, well-educated women fall short when it comes to basic automobile knowledge. Unfortunately, car maintenance and repair is something many of us were taught to leave to the experts—or at least the guys in our life. But we say, ladies, it’s time to hit the road prepared.
Here are 10 things every woman should know about cars and driving. For details on how to actually do all this stuff (hey, we never said we knew everything), consult Julie Sussman’s book, Dare To Repair Your Car: A Do-It-Herself Guide to Maintenance, Safety, Minor Fix-Its and Talking Shop, and check out our links to video tutorials. Now show that cute little Mini Cooper who’s boss.
You should know how to…
1. Change a flat tire. A flat or blowout could happen on a moment’s notice, and you best be prepared. Never drive without a spare tire, or “donut” in your car. A jack and tire iron are also pretty essential, unless you’re certain you’ve renewed that AAA membership. If you can safely change a tire when the need arises, you’re on your way to automobile-goddess status. Note: After successfully replacing the flat, don’t just put the damaged tire where the donut used to be—for God’s sake go out and buy a new tire.
2. Check and change the oil. Running low on oil is bad for your car’s engine, so know how to check it. Actually being able to refill the oil gets you bonus points, but it’s perfectly respectable to take your car to the station to get it serviced. Your car manual (yes, you gotta read that) will tell you approximately how often a change is needed; for instance, every 3,000 miles or more.
3. Check and adjust the tire pressure. It’s not only dangerous to ride on over- or under-inflated tires—it also drains gas mileage. That’s why it’s a good idea to know how to check your tire pressure, and if it’s low, how to add the right amount of air. It’s also wise to keep a roll of quarters in your car, because some air machines still operate the old-fashioned way.
4. Refill the windshield wiper fluid. Of course, this one’s a no brainer: Dirty windshields mean less-than-stellar visibility when driving. You should know where to add the fluid (check your car’s manual if you don’t), and have a jug of it in your trunk for emergency refills.
5. Replace the wiper blades. Effective windshield wiper blades are a necessity in almost any weather. Don’t worry about memorizing the size your car requires (most stores have a guide you can use), but do know how to determine when you need a new pair, and how to change them. Replacement directions are usually right on the back of the package, but here’s a nifty how-to video.
6. Jumpstart a vehicle. Knowing how to jump-start a car is an impressive skill to have. Even if you fail to breath new life into the damn thing, making an attempt is more valiant that sitting in your car crying. Of course, you don’t stand a chance if there are no jumper cables in your trunk. So please, keep some jumper cables in your trunk. (Read our list of the “10 Things You Should Always Keep in Your Car Trunk.”)
7. Handle bad road conditions. Inclement weather and other factors can cause sliding or spinning, and it’s easy to panic if that happens. It’s important to keep calm when driving conditions take a turn for the worse, and to know that you shouldn’t slam the brakes or jerk the wheel hard in the opposite direction. Here’s a great video that shows how to control your vehicle by steering out of the spin.
8. Drive a standard transmission. Being able to operate a manual transmission will make you the coolest chick on the block. Truth is, you never know when you might need to drive a stick shift. It’s not that hard—just ask someone with a manual transmission to take you to a large parking lot after hours and teach you everything you need to know. About the car, that is. Watch this quick tutorial before you hit the mall at 2 a.m.
9. Go off-roading. You say you already know how to drive on a dirt road? Congratulations. But we’re talking about log bridges, large rocks, and crazy-off-road conditions that might find you somehow, someday. Find a friend with an off-road vehicle (a Jeep would do nicely) and hit the trails. With a little practice, you’ll be ready to navigate some badass adventures in no time. Check out Debbie Anderson’s book Simple Rules for the Road Warrior Princess for inspiration on solo road (and off-road) tripping.
10. Call a tow truck. Triple-A can be your best friend when car trouble has you stranded. If your vehicle breaks down and, despite all your homework, you have no idea how to fix it, just dig through your wallet for that handy little AAA card. You knew you paid your annual dues for a reason.