In some ways, driving a car in the easy part; knowing when your tire pressure is getting low, or your brakes are done can be more difficult—but very, very important so you don’t get stuck on the side of the road. This is one of those cases where a few minutes of education about your car can get you on the road, and keep you on the road.
How to check your tire pressure
There are so many reasons to check, and know how, to check your tire pressure. Tires with improper tire pressure can cause handling and traction issues, which are dangerous especially during our Wisconsin winters. In addition, overinflated or underinflated tires are both vulnerable to unpredicted flats, which can cause you to lose control of your car or leave you stranded on the side of the road. An underinflated or overinflated tire can also accelerate the tread wear of your tires and leaves you vulnerable to blown tires. Another reason to check your tire pressure? Tires with too much pressure or not enough decrease your gas mileage, making you stop at the pump more often.
You can’t check tire pressure by looking at them; some tires may be down 10 pounds of air pressure and you can’t tell! The best way to check your tire pressure is by using a tire pressure gauge, or by asking your mechanic to check your tire pressure with a tire pressure gauge. Don’t forget to check your spare tire, in addition to all four tires.
- Get a tire pressure gauge like the one in the picture. (We’ve also found this great video as a reference.)
- Remove the cap from the tire stem. (The tire stem is a small rubber piece sticking up from your tire.)
- Insert the tire pressure gauge into the tire stem. You will feel the gauge fit in there correctly. (If you have a gauge with a knob for deflation, you will know if you are using the right end if you DON’T hear air escaping.)
- The end of your tire pressure gauge will register a number electronically or the white numbers will rise at the other end of the tire pressure gauge.
How to check your oil
A car engine without oil, or enough oil, is an engine with a death wish and a limited life span. Car engines need lubrication to keep running; that’s why it’s so important to make regular appointments to get your oil changed, and to check it periodically between appointments. To check your oil, turn off your engine and grab a paper towel. Open the hood of your car and locate your dipstick. Pull your dipstick out and wipe off the end. Put the dipstick back in and pull it out. Your dipstick has little lines on it; make sure your oil level is between the two lines (and not above the max line). If your oil level is low, add oil. Make sure you added enough by checking the oil again when you are done.
If you find your oil level is consistently low, mention it to your mechanic at your next appointment. A low oil level can indicate an oil leak or another issue.
What to pack in your emergency car kit
Packing an emergency car kit is not one of the first steps that come to mind, but it is one of the most important. A car breakdown is unpredictable; not having the supplies you need when you need them the most is more than an inconvenience:
- Roadside assistance card or tow truck phone number
- Jack and lug wrench
- Jumper cables
- Snow shovel
- First aid kit
- Rags and hand sanitizer
How to change your tires
You don’t know how important your tires are until you’ve slid into the ditch, or are stranded on the side of the road with a flat. Prevent the stranding part by locating where your spare tire and tire jack are located in your car BEFORE you get that inevitable flat; those items are kept in different areas in every car.
If and or when you do get a flat tire, take these steps:
- Make sure you pull your car completely off the road.
- Take out your spare tire and tire jack.
- Use a screw driver to pry off the hub cap (if your tire has a hub cap).
- If your car has a lug wrench (it’s a t-shaped tool), put one end of the wrench on a lug nut. Loosen the lug nuts slightly.
- Position your tire jack and pump until your car is at least 6 inches off the ground. To determine where the jack should go, check in your owner’s manual for the right spot for the right location on your car.
- Use your lug wrench to completely loosen the lug nuts. Make sure you don’t lose any of the lug nuts. Remove the flat tire and put it in the trunk; depending on the size of the hole, the tire may be able to be replaced.
- Put the spare tire on. Put the lug nuts on and start tightening them by hand. Tighten the lug nuts with your lug wrench.
- Don’t drive indefinitely with the spare tire on; a spare is not manufactured for long distances. Make an appointment to get your flat tire fixed or to locate a new tire for your car.
How to charge your battery
Carrying a set of jumper cables is essential for anyone who does not want to be stranded by a dead battery (ever left your lights on? You know what we mean). When the day comes when you need those jumper cables, park another car near the front of your car and turn the cars off. Make sure the cars are secured, and use your parking brake if necessary for safety. Then:
- BE CAREFUL! Remember, you are touching an electrical system, and you could get hurt. Be cautious.
- Locate the positive and negative terminals on your battery. A “+” means positive and a “-“ means negative.
- Attach the positive clamp of the jumper cable to the positive terminal on the dead battery.
- Attach the other positive clamp of the jumper cable to the positive terminal on the live battery.
- Attach the negative clamp of the jumper cable to the negative terminal of the dead battery.
- Attach the other negative clamp of the jumper cable to a non-moving metal part of the engine. Do not reach into any areas with moving belts or parts.
- Turn on the car that starts for a few minutes. Lightly rev the engine by pressing the gas pedal.
- Start the car with the (formerly) dead battery.
- Remove the jumper cables.
- Enjoy a car that starts.
- Get your battery checked and replaced if necessary.
If you have any questions about your car, email your question or schedule an appointment to have your car checked. A few minutes of your time, and an education, can keep you and your car on the road—and not dealing with the inconvenience that comes with a dead engine or battery because you didn’t know any better.