For many women (and men too, for that matter), their car or truck is somewhat of a black box - they know what it's supposed to do but they have no idea how it does it. And that can be pretty intimidating all around, whether in trying to figure out how to take care of what is an expensive piece of hardware, or when taking it to a mechanic who, if they're not the most upstanding of business people, may see an opportunity to take advantage of someone who they think doesn't know any better.
Speaking to the women in the audience, with something as complicated as the modern-day car, nobody's going to learn everything there is to know about it all at once. It's best to simplify things and start from the beginning, start with the basics. Once you have the basics down, you'll have more confidence to build on that knowledge little by little.
The more you know about your car, the better you can care for it, the longer it will last, and the more enjoyment you'll get out of driving it. And you'll feel at least a little more confident in talking with mechanics and service departments when the time comes.
Read The Owner's Manual
It's amazing how often this is overlooked. And if you bought the car used and can't even find it, now you can simply go online and download it for free. Easy.
Reading the owner's manual will tell you some important things you need to do - what grade of oil to use during an oil change, how often you need to get important parts serviced, even what kind of tires to use.
Master The Oil Change
Or at least, master getting it done at the right time. If you don't get it changed often enough, your car won't last as long as it should. That's a fact. If you get it changed too often, you're just wasting money. Where can you find information on how often you should have it done? Check the owner's manual.
Tire Pressure Is Important
Checking your tire pressure is quick and simple; you can get a little gauge at Walmart for three bucks. Tire pressure goes down over time and underinflated tires get hotter and go flat or even blow out (you don't want that). They also suck the mileage out of your car, so you spend more on gas. You should check your tire pressure when the tires are cold and do it once a month at least.
Vital Fluids Are....Vital
Every vehicle has fluids it needs to run properly. And we're not talking about gas. Radiator fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid and (if applicable) automatic transmission fluid. Hopefully you will have a trusted mechanic - if you don't, go get one (ask around). Follow the recommendations of the owner's manual (there it is again) and ask your mechanic for advice on how to check on important things like these. If they're good, they'll be very happy to teach you a little bit.
One important tip in this area: if you're checking radiator coolant, never do it when the engine is hot or running. Ever, ever, ever.
Rubber Hoses Don't Last Forever
Pop quiz: what's the number one cause of breakdowns in these here parts? Belt and hose failures. You should check them regularly and have them checked during oil changes at least every six months. A visual check on your part is pretty easy to do because you're not looking for anything complicated; just abnormal signs of wear.
Have The Right Tires
We already mentioned tire pressure, but if you drive a lot in wintery conditions up north, you'll want to make sure you have snow tires on. They will make handling your car in those treacherous conditions much easier.
Don't Be Confused By Acronyms
You'll hear acronyms all over the place when it comes to cars, and they all have meaning. If you're familiar with them, you'll be more confident in thinking about your car. Take ABS - this means Antilock Braking System. Simple, right? TCS is Traction Control System, another modern invention. ESP is Electronic Stability Program. To find out what the important ones are for your car, consult your owner's manual.
Some Other Suggested Resources
Hopefully you've learned a few things from the Bell blog, and by accessing some of our free resources like the Healthy Oil Resource, which we try to put together to educate consumers like you. But if there's one other thing that's true, it's that the Internet is a GREAT place to learn all sorts of things you could never have learned otherwise.
Don't have a mechanic best friend to teach you how to change your own oil? You don't need one. Youtube is filled with awesome how-to videos on tons of subjects having to do with cars. Seriously. Go to youtube and start typing up car-related searches. You may stay there all day.
And finally, we highly recommend the web site of the guys from Car Talk, the national car show on NPR. The Tappin Brothers retired less than a year ago, but their web site really is top-notch for finding good, reliable information on almost anything you need to know about cars, what goes wrong with them and what to do about it. And it's written especially for the average person to understand.
This post was published on September 6, 2013 and was updated on November 19, 2013.