Common Sense Auto Care Tips for Women

If your father never told you, a shade tree mechanic might. There are a lot of simple, common sense things women should know about car care and driving that can save them problems on the road, or prevent some from ever happening. Of course, major breakdowns to occur. But here are a few auto care tips for women that can help them avoid some car snafus.

Auto care if your car overheats…

Turn on the heater full blast.. This pulls heat off the engine. Then keep an eye on the gauge to see if it changes.
Of course, if the car overheats while the air conditioner is on, turn the A/C off immediately since it taxes the engine. Coasting can also help cool the engine if you can’t pull over right away. Remember not to ever remove the radiator cap on a hot engine or you’ll risk explosive heat. The cap maintains pressure so removing it when the car is hot is like opening a volcano.

If you’ll be sitting idle for more than 90 seconds, like at a train crossing or drive-thru, pop your automatic transmission into neutral. This takes some of the strain off the engine and lets it rest a bit.

Auto care for tires…

Practice pre-emptive auto care, by getting in the habit of glancing at your tires as you walk to your car. Soon it’ll be second nature and you’ll know before leaving home if you have a potential auto care problem. Don’t wait to check a tire that looks low. Not only will you avoid flats, but your tires will last longer when properly inflated, and your car will get better gas mileage.

While you are driving, if the car seems to be pulling right or left, it could indicate a low tire that is on its way to a blow-out. Don’t ignore the warning signal. As soon as you safely can, pull off and take a look. If it really is low, get to a service station as soon as possible or call for help (or change your tire).

More pre-emptive auto care…when tires get worn in spots, the cords can begin to pop out. You may not be able to see the cords, so once in a while, especially before a trip, run your hands all around the tires and see if you feel anything you shouldn’t, like wires.

Auto care for battery cables and connectors…

Basic auto care requires that you open the hood once in a while and look at your battery. If your battery connectors become corroded and covered with greenish, fuzzy material, you could end up going nowhere fast because corrosion inhibits current flow. You can clean the corrosion yourself by pouring some cola directly on the green fuzz. If it’s stubborn, you may have to remove the cables and scrub the corrosion with a wire brush that you can get at a hardware store. The corrosion is battery acid so you will need gloves and eye protection. If your battery is the type that needs to be topped off, check it regularly, especially in hot weather. Use distilled water. Also, with a little advance auto care you may sidestep battery problems by keeping the top of the battery clean, since dirt acts as a conductor which drains power.

Auto care for brakes…

If you must drive through a puddle, your brakes could get wet. After leaving the puddle, accelerate slowly while applying your brake. That exposes the brakes to air, giving them a chance to dry.

If you must hit a pothole, don’t keep the brakes applied. Doing that locks up the wheel and can damage the suspension.

If you’re traveling on a windy, steep, downhill road you may be tempted to apply your brakes more than you should. If the brakes get hot, they may start to smoke and emit a strong chemical smell. If that happens, pull over in a safe spot and give the brakes time to cool down. You may be able to avoid this problem by putting your car in a lower gear before traveling downhill, causing the car to go slower without the need for constant braking.

Auto care according to smell…

Some car problems give you no warning whatsoever. But fortunately, other problems announce themselves with definite odors.

Here is a checklist of car odors that may be no big deal, or may require that you put down the keys, call a tow truck and let a professional handle your auto care needs.

Burning coolant. You could have a blown head gasket, which causes coolant to mix with your gas. If this is the case, you may notice thick, sweet-smelling, whitish smoke coming from the tailpipe. At this point, you may need professional auto care, so see your mechanic.

Exhaust. You may have a leak in your exhaust system, like a hole in your muffler, tailpipe, or exhaust manifold or exhaust pipe. Once again, it may be time for professional auto care.

Burning trash. Is your engine burning oil? If your car is older, you may have worn piston rings. These rings seal gaps between pistons and engine cylinders. If they wear down, oil can leak out of the cylinder walls. The oil burns, and exits the tailpipe in smelly, blackish puffs of smoke. Don’t take chances. See your auto care technician.

Hot oil. If oil is leaking, it may boil onto engine components and bake. Start by checking to see if your oil cap is loose.

Fresh asphalt. This could be a sign of an overheated engine. Something is melting down, like plastic parts under the hood. If that happens, a chain reaction may result, making the engine hotter and hotter.

Raw gas. Is the gas cap loose? Did you overfill the tank? If neither of these is possible, don’t risk starting the engine. You may have a severed gas line or leaky fuel-injection system. You’re going to need professional auto care, so your best bet is to have it towed to a technician you trust.

Rotten eggs. This could indicate a plugged or damaged catalytic converter or a too-rich air/fuel mixture. Call your mechanic, since this is a sign of electrical malfunction.

Burnt toast. A burnt toast smell could mean the electrical insulation is burning. Again, call your mechanic for a professional auto care opinion. You may have an electrical malfunction.

Burning plastic. This may be as simple as a plastic bag caught under the car. Use a flashlight to check. If that’s the case, you’ll probably just have to wait for the plastic to burn off.

Burning rubber. A rubber hose may be resting on the exhaust manifold, or a belt may be shredded by a jammed pulley. If a belt is loose or worn, it is usually indicated by a squeal. Turn off your engine and inspect the hoses and belts and replace as necessary. Could the smell be from your brakes? As mentioned above, after a long, steep descent, it’s not uncommon to smell your brakes. Try using a lower gear. If you smell your brakes during normal driving, get them checked immediately.

Miscellaneous auto care…

Suppose your fan belt breaks miles from anywhere. In a pinch, you can use panty hose. Just loop the pantyhose around the fan belt cogs and, if possible, cut off the loose ends. Then get yourself to a mechanic.

If you’re driving on a windy day and the wind is pushing the car around, you can counteract that somewhat by rolling the two rear windows down a few inches. That allows the wind to go through the car instead of pushing against it.

Once in a while, clean your windshield wipers with window cleaner and a paper towel to remove the road oil and grime. They’ll last longer and perform better, and cause less eye fatigue for the driver.

If your car has a problem smell, you may be able to solve it simply with dryer sheets. Even a strong smoke smell can eventually be defeated by tucking dryer sheets in every nook and cranny of the interior of the car. After a while, you should be able to remove the sheets and the smell should have vanished.

If pet hair is an issue, you know it can seem sticky when you try to vacuum or brush it. Try spraying it with Static Guard, which should loosen it.

When you do need a mechanic for auto care…

Of course you know there are times when you need professional auto care. Many women feel taken advantage of by male mechanics. Before you make an appointment, ask friends and family where they take their cars for auto care. You can also call local consumer groups to find out if a particular auto care shop has complaints registered against them. Choose a shop with ASE certified mechanics (ASE stands for Automotive Service Excellence).

When you take your vehicle in for auto care, ask for an estimate in writing. Also ask a lot of questions and write down the answers, including a list of the parts the mechanic thinks you will need. That way, if you get a call in the middle of a busy work day telling you your car needs additional repairs and parts you can repeat their own words back to them as you ask questions. Tell the mechanics up front that you’ll want to see (or take home) any parts they remove from your car. If the repair is costly, you may want to get a second opinion.

As with any area of life, there are honest, trustworthy mechanics, and those who will pump up the bill by trying to scare you. If he says something like “I wouldn’t drive two blocks in this death trap!” be wary. Don’t succomb to pressure… after all, it is still your car and you’re in charge of your auto care.

Finally, you shouldn’t go into a auto care shop acting cocky as though you know more than you do. But arm yourself with a little knowledge, describe the problem as clearly as possible or take a test drive with the auto care specialist and point out the problem, and be willing to ask questions.

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