The other night, I was walking to my car in a grocery store parking lot with a male friend when a woman approached us frantically asking for help with her car that wouldn't start. She immediately directed all her attention to my friend and handed him the jumper cables, but little did she know he was just as hopeless. He shot me a wary glance as he peeked under the hood with the clips in hand like they were tweezers in a giant game of Operation.
I've boosted cars more times than I can remember, but I stood there biting my tongue. I wanted to jump in and yell, "no, not there!" or "no, don't do that!" but I waited for him to finish. After his failed attempt, I corrected the cables. Once the car was up and running, the woman thanked him and went on her way.
While this story is another example of the unconscious bias women experience in the world of cars, it is also a good reminder that these stressful car issues can often be resolved if you know some of the basics. Here are four tips that I often recommend to friends:
Jump start your car
I got really good at this in high school when my old car needed a jump on a pretty regular basis. I kept a jump-start unit in my trunk, which is a good option especially if you have a car where the lights don't shut off automatically. It only takes about five minutes and it's much better than waiting for a tow truck or flagging down someone to give you a jump.
Stressful car issues can often be resolved if you know some of the basics.
If you're jump starting from another vehicle, the steps are pretty easy. First, attach one clamp of the red cable to the positive terminal of the working battery and the other to the positive terminal of the dead battery. Next, attach one clamp of the black cable to the negative terminal of the working battery. The other clamp of the black cable goes on a grounded metal surface under the dead car's hood. Sometimes there's a metal screw that serves the purpose. Now start the stalled car to see if it works, and then unclamp everything in reverse order while the car is running — make sure you don't touch the clamps together!
Once you've wrapped up, go for a drive to charge up. Easy, right?
Change your windshield wipers
A car loving co-worker recently told me he visited his mechanic to replace his windshield wipers. Being frugal, I was shocked that he went to a shop; wipers are generally cheap and very easy to replace.
Before heading to the store, the first thing you need to do is make sure you check which wipers are compatible because every car is different. Once you've made the correct purchase, the second thing to do is lift the blades to check out how the old blades were attached. Usually there is a tab on the bottom of the wiper, so press this to remove the blades. Then attach the new blades the same way, and make sure they're secure. It's not as hard as you'd think, and it will save you a few dollars and a trip to the shop!
Put air in the tires
Most of the time a slow leak in your tire is not the end of the world, but it shouldn't go ignored for long. Driving on underinflated tires uses more gas and could result in avoidable repair bills.
You should never judge inflation by sight; that's what a tire gauge is for. The tire gauge will give you a correct measurement of PSI (pounds per square inch). Temperature makes PSI fluctuate quite a bit which is why you may have to make adjustments as the seasons change.
To fill your tires, unscrew the cap then press the tip of the gauge on the valve. The gauge will show a PSI reading. Match the reading back with the manufacturer's recommendation on the inside of driver's door, then fill your tires and check until the reading is a match. If you go too high, just press the gauge tip on the valve until you hear the air leak out and check again.
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Keep your maintenance records handy
I also find it helpful to keep maintenance records handy to keep track of when my car is due for a service. There are free online services, like DRIVE, that clear the clutter in your glovebox and help stay on top maintaining your car before it's too late.
Cars are not always reliable whether you drive a new car or your dad's old pickup truck. You'll never know when the next breakdown will be so you should be prepared. And please, never assume a woman can't fix it!
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