Knowing Your Car

My biggest frustration as a woman in the automotive industry is hearing other women downgrade their knowledge of cars, act dumb about them, or simply refuse to learn. My advice is to always trust your instincts, if something seems wrong it probably is. Different noises and feel can be an indication of a problem – unless you are a car hypochondriac (I will talk about that another day).

I know that I grew up different than most women. My dad told me at an early age that I needed to know how to deal with the basics of a car before I could start driving. He taught me how to change a tire, jump start a battery, and the principles of how a vehicle runs (fuel, spark, & compression). The first true negative attitude I experienced as a women who took car care seriously was my best friend in High School; she questioned why on earth I would want to work on cars? Her statement: “I will always have a boyfriend or my dad to do it for me” would come to haunt her. On a cold and dark evening 20 years later she called me while sitting in her car panicked with a flat tire, she was stuck in a bad neighborhood, her husband was deployed overseas, and she had to wait for her father in law to rescue her. When he arrived, beyond finding the jack and spare tire in her trunk he had no clue how to safely jack up her vehicle or get the tire off. I directed her to the car’s owner manual – “oh I took that out of the car!!” Luckily she had someone to call to walk them through the steps.

Last week after my women’s book group, I came out to pouring rain to an older lady standing in the parking lot asking for help with her dead battery. I had a jump box in my vehicle so we did not have to span jumper cables 20 feet to reach her, but what struck me is that she knew the process of how to do a jump start, but had no clue on how to open the hood on her own car.Women desperate about broken car screaming

Waiting until you are stranded on the side of the road or stuck in the rain or snow is not the time to learn the basics about your vehicle. I do not expect anyone to learn everything there is to know about cars in general, but you should learn how your vehicle operates, and how to deal with an emergency situation like a dead battery or flat tire. Both happen by the way, even with the best mechanics doing the service work.

Let me introduce you to the best resource for your vehicle – the owner’s manual. Most people keep it in the glove box; if you removed it for some reason I suggest you put it back! If you did not get one with the vehicle they usually are not too expensive either from the dealer, or on Ebay. Many car manufactures offer online versions, which is great for my following suggestions, but not great when you are on the side of the road looking for your jack point.

I know the writing may seem really boring, but I suggest you curl up with a glass of wine and at least get to know where information can be found – there will be sections on use of the vehicle, advice for dealing with emergency situations along with maintenance and care.

Portrait of young stressed woman standing at broken car and reading owner manual

Don’t wait until you are on the side of the road to find your resources!

After you get familiar with your book, you should also relate what you are reading with the car itself. Take a walk around your car and find the items discussed in the manual.




At a minimum you should learn the following:

  • What your basic dash light symbols mean.
  • Find your hood release and learn how to open your hood.
  • Jump starting procedure for your vehicle. Start by finding your battery’s location. Note: not all are under the hood!
  • Did your vehicle come with an emergency kit, and what does it include.
  • Location of your spare tire, jack, and lug wrench. If you are ever in a bind, the manual should walk you through the steps to change the tire if needed.
  • Where and how to check your oil, what oil to add if it needs it, and where to put it.
  • How to add most fluids: washers (some have front and rear reservoirs), and coolant/antifreeze. These two often get confused and can be costly to flush if you get it wrong. Note: Transmission fluid can sometimes be difficult to check depending on the vehicle – consult the manual!
  • This may seem silly, but learn how your headlight switch and other switches operate. Too often we rely on Auto mode which can bite us in the butt when something doesn’t function properly. (Or someone else drives the car and “adjusts” something)
  • Find your maintenance schedule and what items need to be done and when…
  • Know how your vehicle should be towed in an emergency. For instance some vehicles can be towed with two wheels on the ground and some cannot.

Owners manual

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