Unexplored Territory

For most women, our vehicles are considered our best friends, our most loyal lover, and a necessity in today's fast-paced world. But when something goes wrong with them, most of us are deathly afraid to deal with it. Here are five things every car-owning woman should know how to do. These tips will save you money and time, and also give you a sense of self-pride. Nothing feels as good as fixing it yourself!

1. Know your dashboard.
Do a quick Google search or open up your car's manual and figure out what each light on your dashboard stands for. Pay attention to them when you're on the road, taking note of any lights that come on or blink. Some basics you should keep tabs on:
- Gas gauge. If your gas gauge isn't moving or is fluctuating a lot, reset your odometer to make sure you don't run out.
- Brake light. If your brake light comes on, the first thing I would check is your brake fluid (see #2 on this list).
- Temperature. Your car will usually maintain a pretty consistent temperature. Keep a mental note of that.
- Check engine. Places like AutoZone will usually do a read of your engine for free. This will tell you exactly what is wrong with it.
Recently, my ETS Off light came on. I had no idea what it meant and instantly freaked out and called someone to come pick me up. Had I have known what it meant, I would have saved myself some grief and probably gotten the problem taken care of faster than I did.
2. Know how to check your oil.
This was a practice I was completely oblivious to until recently - I just always had the oil change guys take care of that. But it is really easier than it looks, and is usually a quick fix.
- Park your car, and leave it off for a few hours. This will allow the engine to cool, resulting in a more accurate reading. Once the engine is cool, open the hood (most hoods have a latch in the center that needs to be squeezed in order to open).
- Find your dipstick. This is attached to your engine. It will appear to be a cap, and is usually marked 'oil'. Once you unscrew it, you will notice a long metal piece attached to it. Pull it out, and wipe it onto a paper towel or rag, completely cleaning it off.
- Stick the dipstick back in, and pull it out. Check to see where the oil has left a mark. If it is below the 'full' line, add a bit of oil.
- Replace the dipstick and seal the cap.
Make it a practice to check your oil at least twice a month - on top of the oil change you should be getting every 3,000 miles. If you notice you are having to constantly add oil, call a mechanic.
Most other fluids are checked the same way. Some will not have a dipstick, and will just have a 'full' line on the container itself. Make sure you read up on what your car's specifications are for things like brake fluid and coolant if they run low.
3. Know how to put air in your tires.
Honestly, I think gas station air pumps are some of the most confusing machines invented. What is that hissing noise? How much is too much?
- Check your tire's recommended air pressure. This is usually found somewhere on the tire. If you can't find it on the tire itself, check on the inside of your driver's side door.
- Unscrew the cap, and check the tire pressure. Most gas station air pumps have them attached. Simply attach the hose to your tire's valve and press down. The hissing sound you may hear means that you are letting air out instead of in. Press harder.
- Keep pressing down until you have reached your recommended air pressure. Replace cap, and you're done!
Keeping properly inflated tires will make for a smoother ride and better gas mileage. If you constantly have to add air to your tires, you may have a small leak. Most tire shops, or even stores like Walmart will patch small leaks for under twenty bucks. Try this first before you shell out the big bucks for a whole new tire.
4. Know your environment, and how to prepare for it.
I am from Michigan, and snow falls hard here in the winter. It is important to remember to prepare for that first snowfall, both for safety and financial reasons.
- Replace tires if they are old. This will make for better traction during icy winters.
- Make sure your headlights are in working condition. This should be done regardless of the season, but is especially important in the winter. During bad snowstorms, it is often hard to see. Driving with your headlights on and using your turn signals will prevent collisions.
- Keep your fuel tank as full as you can afford. Gas tanks let moisture in, and the less gasoline you have in the tank means more moisture is inside - potentially freezing, which can lead to more dangerous and expensive repairs.
- Replace your wiper blades. This is inexpensive, and can be done on your own. Driving with a streaky windshield during a snowstorm can be dangerous and inconvenient.
As always, drive with caution when the weather is yucky. Always carry a spare tire and extra blankets in your trunk during the winter.
5. Know how to haggle with mechanics.
Truth is, getting your car fixed is just like shopping for anything else. There is usually always a better deal somewhere else, and unlike some markets, prices for repairs are not necessarily always set in stone.
- Check the coupons in your phone book first. Most of the time, there are great coupons for things like oil changes and tune ups.
- Go to the repair shop with someone you know. Going to a place that a friend or family member trusts usually means they will cut you a deal. They are doing the company a service by referring you, and most shops honor that.
- Research your car's problem so you sound like you know what you're talking about. Or, bring someone who does. Mechanics are usually great salespeople, and can oftentimes talk you into paying for much more than you need. And, as unfortunate as it sounds, they can sense the feeling of confusion - especially in women. If you sound like you know what the problem is and what needs to be done to fix it, they will usually shy away from offering more than you need.
- Shop around. If you are quoted a price that is too much than you can afford, don't be afraid to go somewhere else. I can't guarantee you will find something cheaper, but it is better to look than pay too much.
- Say no. If you don't need to repair right away, or honestly can't afford it, don't let anyone talk you into it. Also, if you negotiate with your mechanic, they will sometimes lower the price. Tell them your price limit and let them know that if they cannot do it for that price, you will continue to shop around.
I was quoted an insane amount of money last week for a new muffler. I explained to him that I was quoted almost $100 cheaper at a different shop, and he took an extra $60 off for me.
Happy driving!