Cars are great when they’re running properly, right? But even if you keep your vehicle up to date on oil changes and routine maintenance, things are bound to pop up that require your attention. Accidents happen, no matter how prepared you are. And when they do occur, it’s important to know how to respond.
Even if you’re not the most mechanically-minded or car-savvy person around, there are some simple fixes that everyone can (and should!) learn. From jump starting a car, to changing a tire, to learning how to refill windshield wiper fluid, below are three car maintenance tips that can make you a more confident motorist.
How to jump start a car
Car batteries die. It’s an unavoidable fact of car ownership. However, by always carrying high-quality jumper cables in your trunk, you mitigate the risk for an even worse situation.
First, you’ll need the assistance of a kind friend or stranger when jump starting a car. Make sure both of your vehicles aren’t running, the ignition is off, and parking brakes are engaged. Pop the hood of your car (if you haven’t already) and locate your battery. This should be pretty straightforward, as your battery is the black rectangular item with the red and black terminals on top.
Remove any plastic caps on the terminals so that the nodes are properly exposed and follow these steps to safely attach the cables (we promise, it’s easy and safe!):
- First, place the red clamp of your jumper cable on the positive terminal of the dead battery. A good mnemonic device to remember is, “red to dead.”
- Place the other end of the red clamp on the positive terminal of the good battery. While this may feel nerve-racking at first, know that attaching positive terminals is generally safe to the touch.
- Place the black clamp of your jumper cable on the negative terminal of the good battery.
- Finally, place the black clamp on an unpainted metal surface of your car like a metal strut that holds your hood open. To ground this current and avoid any sparks, it’s important to keep this clip away from the battery, fuel system, or any electrical parts.
Now it’s time for the other driver to start their engine. Let it idle for a minute or two before you start your dead car. If it doesn’t start right away, don’t panic! Let it charge a few minutes and start it up again. Once you get your vehicle to run, let it run for five minutes. From there, it’s time to unclip the jumper cables in reverse order:
- Start with the black clamp on unpainted metal on your car
- Remove the black from the clip from the helper vehicle
- Remove the red clip from the helper vehicle
- Finally, remove the red clip from the dead car
After safely removing the clips (and saying your necessary “thank-yous” of course), it’s lastly important to allow your car to run for a minimum of 15-20 minutes. While it’s not uncommon for car batteries to die in the cold, it may also be a sign of a failing battery. Be sure to consult your warranty and a service professional to confirm the life of your battery as soon as you can.
How to change a tire
Much like their batteries, car tires wear out over time. It’s just a reality of car ownership. While there are some steps you can take to increase their longevity—including rotating your tires regularly and keeping an eye on their tread—accidents do happen. Knowing how to change a tire can seem daunting if you’re new to it, but it’s actually easy when you have the right tools and instructions. Whether you run over a nail, drive over a pothole, or puncture a sidewall, here’s our step-by-step guide on how to change a tire:
- Turn on your hazard lights and find a safe location. Safety comes first, so that’s why you should never hit the brakes or abruptly turn when you first realize you have a flat. Instead, slowly reduce your speed and find a level, straight stretch of road in a safe spot such as the shoulder of the road or a parking lot. It’s also important to be seen by other drivers—and hazards help indicate your presence. Do not change a tire near oncoming traffic. While driving on a flat tire is a risk to your rim, your safety is your top priority.
- Stop, apply your parking brake, and apply wheel wedges. To minimize the potential of rolling, it’s essential to apply your parking brake once you locate a safe, level spot. It’s also important to use wheel wedges if you have them—although bricks or large stones will suffice. If your flat is in the rear, place wedges in the front; if your flat is in the front, place wedges in the rear.
- Remove the hubcap and loosen lug nuts. If your wheels have hubcaps or wheel covers, remove them before you lift the vehicle with a carjack. Use the flat end of your lug wrench to remove the hubcap. Once you remove the covers—or if you do not have hubcaps—it’s time to loosen the lug nuts. Using your lug wrench (usually supplied in the trunk of your car), turn the lug nuts counterclockwise to break resistance. Do not remove them completely at this stage!
- Raise your vehicle with the jack. Locate your car jack and place it beneath the vehicle frame on the side of the flat tire. While many vehicles have a metal space for the jack on the frame, it’s important to consult your owner’s manual to confirm proper placement. To stabilize your jack, it helps to place a piece of wood beneath it before raising your vehicle. Once you have the jack properly positioned, it’s time to raise the vehicle. Be sure to never put any part of your body under the vehicle during this process.
- Unscrew the lug nuts and remove the tire. You’ve already loosened the lug nuts—now it’s time to remove them entirely. Once that is complete, you should grip the tire by the treads and gently pull it towards your body until it’s completely removed from the hub. Set it on its side and move to the next step.
- Mount the spare tire. Locate your spare tire (either in your trunk or underneath your vehicle) and carefully place it on the hub, being sure to line up the rim with the lug bolts. Gently glide it on to the lug bolts. Place the lug nuts back on the bolts and tighten them by hand. Like before, you’ll be tightening the bolts later.
- Lower the vehicle and tighten the lug nuts. Safely and slowly lower the vehicle so your spare tire rests on the ground. From here, tighten the lug nuts as much as you can with your wrench. Lower the vehicle all the way to the ground and remove the jack.
Once you have the spare tire safely attached to the vehicle, it’s time to replace the hubcap and clean up and store all your equipment. Be sure to grab your flat tire, as it may be repairable by a reputable mechanic. It’s also important to check the pressure of your spare tire. Know that temporary tires (also referred to as donuts) aren’t made to travel at high speeds or long distances. It’s recommended to travel straight to your preferred mechanic or dealer right away, so they can assess the damage.
How to check your fluids and change them
Much like fuel, fluids keep your car running smoothly. While some fluids require regular changes, others need to be checked every 50,000 miles. Luckily, some fluids can be checked and refilled in the parking lot of your local gas station. For example, windshield wiper fluid is one of the first fluids to run low—but also one of the easiest to refill. Simply purchase a jug at your local gas station or auto shop, pour the fluid in the reservoir, and you’re on your way.
Fluids like engine oil require routine maintenance but are easy to check yourself. Oil keeps your engine components spinning smoothly. While the exact mileage is often debated, it’s generally recommended to change your oil somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 miles. Luckily, checking your oil is simple. Most vehicles have a dipstick that lets you check your levels. It’s essential to keep track of oil changes, as they’re an important component of vehicle performance.
While transmission fluid, air conditioning fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and coolant require less frequent check-ups, they’re also central components of any modern vehicle. Generally speaking, these are fluids that should be inspected during any normal tune-up. However, it’s important to keep an eye on them. As usual, consult your manual to ensure you’re checking your fluid levels at necessary increments. And if you have any questions, be sure to consult a trusted mechanic.
Roadside assistance coverage you can trust
There are, however, some car issues you can’t anticipate. And, let’s be honest—sometimes we simply forget our jumper cables, or procrastinate on inflating our tires. That’s where Elephant’s modern Roadside Assistance Coverage comes in. This coverage helps our customers get fast, safe, and high-quality service when they need it the most. Whether you need help with a flat tire, a battery jump, or a top off of fuel, we’re here to help. Visit our website to learn more about our Roadside Assistance and our other services, or log in to your online account to add it to your plan!