Let’s face it: Owning a car is a pretty sweet deal, and not one to take for granted. Which means that if you have any pride in your ride, you should have at least a basic understanding of how to operate it and how rectify certain problems that may arise. The following skills are critical—and could even save your life, or at least your love life, one day…
1. Change a Tire
Your biggest hurdle in completing this task these days is the jack. To make them compact and take up less space, automobile manufacturers have seen to it that they’ve become trickier than ever to master. Real comforting considering the jack is what is going to be what holds up the whole damn operation. But cracking those lug nuts, and swapping the tire with the hole in it for the donut should be as easy as ordering one, buddy.
2. Jump the Battery
No guy should ask the “what is red and what is black” question after the age of eight. Jumper cables are no laughing matter, especially as they’re linking two running automobiles together, ultimately. Real recipe for disaster territory here. And resist the temptation to clank your grips together and cause that spark, like most men do. Worry about the spark you had going with your passenger before the battery died.
3. Replace Wiper Blades
You may not want to be bothered with this miniscule task. And, sure, depending upon the model of automobile, it can actually occasionally be confounding. But when you say to your woman, “Your blades aren’t cutting it, you’ve gotta be able to see out there, baby,” and proceed to swap hers out just before breakfast some Sunday morning? Well, let’s just say that what is served after breakfast will make it all worthwhile.
4. Change the Oil
Nobody really wants to (except gear heads), and there will probably never come a time when you actually need to, but it’s a good thing to know how to do. And a considerably easier thing to pull off than most neophyte car mechanics even know. It’s one screw being undone and draining the engine of that old gunky oil that’s gotta go. A blood transfusion for your ride. Key here is disposal of that old oil. Make sure you’re environmentally conscious with it. Related note: At the very least you should know what your car eats. Synthetic? Semi-synthetic? What grade? The slightest slip-up here could result in you eating the cost of a new transmission.
5. Pre-Set the Radio
You don’t need to be a computer tech to figure out how to have six sweet radio stations lined up, plugged in, even in a sort of order, with which to entertain your passengers. From your local radio stations to satellite fare to even music you fed into the system yourself (the “Mix Tape 2.0,” if you will), you’re not just the driver, you’re the DJ.
6. Check and Top Off Fluids
Beyond oil and even windshield wiper fluid, there are other—in many cases far more essential—fluids that are key to maintaining one’s automobile. From brakes to power steering to coolant, you should at least know how to check them and top them off if need be.
7. Monitor Tire Pressure
OK, so you’ve noticed how that one tire seems lower than the other three, and that every time you fill it back up it just returns to that sad, saggy state. What are you going to do about it? Take it to the garage, of course. But you need to be aware of your tire pressure in general, and to be able to check it with either analog or electronic gauges. Don’t rely on that cute pic to pop up on your dash of a tire with a tear in its eye—rely on your own eye.
8. Drive Stick
In a day and age where actually craning your neck to look through the back window and see how close you are to that car parked behind you is obsolete, thanks to handy cameras and alarms that go off if you get too close, it’s easy to dismiss learning how to drive a car with a standard transmission. But knowing how to take that sucker from first gear to second, and ultimately to fifth or sixth, and how to work the clutch and gas simultaneously, is an art form. And you never know when it might come in real handy.
9. Get Unstuck
Be it mud or snow, the guy whose tires are spinning and he’s just sitting there sulking is the stuff of “it’s not you, it’s me.” No, it’s you, dude. Always have a small shovel handy in the trunk for digging purposes, and maybe even some rock salt (or kitty litter!). If it’s mud that’s got you looking the dud, your rubber floor mat properly inserted beneath the tire in question just might give you that second of traction you need. But never pin it at full speed. This is a “just enough” situation. Otherwise you might send that mat flying into the next county.