Novice car fans know several things about most any vehicle, including the engine size, transmission, suspension tuning, horsepower and torque. The more dedicated among them can work a manual transmission or head off-road and cite a vehicle’s approach, breakover and departure angles. Yet, there are certain essential skills young car enthusiasts should master in their quest to earn the coveted gearhead mantle. Before you get too taken with your favorite car’s complexities, make sure you can do these five things.
Every driver — regardless of age, wealth or gender — should know how to handle certain car maintenance basics. These serve as the foundation for understanding both the way your vehicle works and, importantly, how to handle simple tasks at home.
To begin, drivers should check their tire pressure monthly, ensuring that there’s sufficient air in each, including the spare. A tire gauge is an essential tool for every car owner.
Next, pop the hood and familiarize yourself with the various fluids present. Inspect the coolant level, topping off the reservoir as necessary. Check the oil, transmission and brake fluid levels. Finally, fill the windshield washer fluid.
Other basic tasks include examining and changing wiper blades as needed and checking the battery’s condition with a multimeter, replacing it before it dies. Every car owner should also know how to change the oil and filter, as well as how to safely dispose of the oil filling your drip pan.
2. Change and Rotate Tires
You already know about checking tire pressure, but what about tire condition? This requires you to look for signs of wear — blistering, cracking and breaking — and replace the tires when they’re worn.
In the meantime, learning how to change a tire is essential and will ensure that you’re never stranded due to a flat. You need a jack, lug wrench and a fully inflated spare to get this job done. It’s also a good idea to learn how to rotate tires, understanding the differences between directional and nondirectional tires and whether to rotate the spare in or not.
3. Replace Lights
Light bulbs burns out eventually. Familiarize yourself with the general workings of your vehicle’s electrical system, beginning with the fuse panel.
When a bulb burns out, turn to your owner’s manual for guidance. Identify the bulb type before you purchase a replacement.
4. Jump a Vehicle
If you can swap out a car battery, you can jump-start a vehicle. A set of booster cables is an essential part of your car emergency kit. You do have a kit, right?
With both vehicles off and the parking brakes engaged, attach the red (positive) clip to the positive terminal for one battery, then do them same for the other battery. Next, attach the black (negative) clip to the first vehicle’s negative terminal, then ground the cable on an unpainted surface of the second vehicle. Start the working vehicle first and allow it to run for a minute, then start the second car.
5. Change Brake Pads
You’re already familiar with tire care, so understanding basic brake care makes sense. You’ll need hand tools and torque drivers, as well as new pads, brake fluid, a cleaner, grease, a drip tray, clamps and a bleeder tool. The steps are involved, so you may find performing your first brake job with someone experienced in the art is the best approach.
Does everyone want to graduate from young car enthusiasts to full-on gearheads? If so, ensure you can do basic maintenance yourself before wading into more difficult projects. Get the hang of it, and you may find that your passion could lead to your career choice as an automotive technician.
Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how young car enthusiasts can graduate to the gearhead level, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photos courtesy of Matthew C. Keegan.
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.