There are some thing that should definitely be left to the experts. But on the flip side, there are some things you can’t afford not to know. Having a little bit of car maintenance know-how isn’t just helpful for saving money; it can be a real lifesaver in a pinch. 

Here are 5 things every driver should know how to do themself.

Change wiper blades

Typically, when you come in for an oil change we’ll ask if you want to have your wiper blades replaced. This service can be super convenient, especially if you’re heading out for long winter road trip and your wipers just aren’t up-to-pare. However, changing your wiper blades yourself is also incredibly easy for most vehicles. 

You can buy new blades at any auto parts store. In most cases, blades either pop or slide off. You can check your owner’s manual for details if you have any questions. 

Generally speaking, you’ll want to replace your wiper blades every six to twelve months. Living in Tacoma, having a good, functional set of wiper blades is important year-round. 

Check/fill washer fluid

Untitled design 1

Also the same vein as changing your wiper blades, checking and topping off your washer fluid is easy to do and can save you an unnecessary trip to your local auto technician. 

To top off your washer fluid, pop your hood and locate the windshield washer fluid reservoir. The exact location of your reservoir will vary depending on the your car’s year, make and model. The cap will be easily identifiable with a symbol that looks like a windshield (kind of like this one).

Washer fluid is a blue liquid you can purchase at most car parts shop. 

You can usually tell that your washer fluid is running a bit low if it’s coming out slowly (or not at all) when you go to use it when your car is running. 

While some people may swear by it, we don’t recommend putting tap water in your washer fluid reservoir. There are several reasons for this. Tap-water doesn’t contain the menthol that windshield wiper fluid. That means that during a cold snap or if the temperature drops, your wiper fluid will freeze, leaving you in a big pickle come rain, snow, or sleet. The second reason is that the minerals in tap-water may cause build ups and harbor bacteria.

In a pinch though, tap-water is better than nothing.

Check/fill engine oil

Another one of the many things every driver should know how to check their oil. 

You’ll need a rag for this one.

How to check your engine oil

  • Park on level ground and cut the engine. Wait 1-2 minutes for oil to settle into the pan before getting started.
  • Pop the hood and locate the dipstick. Usually, the dipstick is signaled by a bright orange or red ring or pull tab towards the back of the engine. 
  • Once you’ve found it, pull it out and wipe it off with a rag or cloth. 
  • Reinsert the dipstick fulling into the compartment, then pull it back out. 
  • Take a look at the dipstick. While the exact verbiage or numbering differs depending on make and model, you’ll have a clear indication about what your relative oil level is (low-high, empty-full, etc.). 

While you’re checking oil levels, also take note of the viscosity. If it has a black, sludgy, thick texture, it a good idea to go get an oil change. 

Why check your oil?

Checking your oil is important for a number of reasons, one of the biggest being lubrication. Oil is the water that keeps your engine alive. It’s essential for lubricating all your engines components and helping curb heat and friction to the engine itself. Instead of the engine taking on this wear, the oil does. This is why your oil go down and why it’s important to check oil levels periodically (i.e. more than just when you’re going in for an oil change). 

Check tire pressure

Checking your tire pressure is a really simple and easy procedure. All you need is a tire pressure gauge, which you can buy at most auto parts shops (sometimes they even have keychain versions!). Knowing your tire pressure is important to the health of your tires and vehicle overall. Under-inflated tires can wear faster, while over-inflated tires increase your risk for blowouts and crashes.

Untitled design 2

Proper tire inflation doesn’t just keep you safer and prolong the life of your tires, it can save you up to 3% in gas mileage

When checking your tires what you’re really looking at is you PSI, or pounds per square inch. Your owner’s manual will have a chart for what your optimal PSI is based on your car’s make and model. Your optimal PSI takes into consideration your car’s size, weight, and towing capacity.

It’s especially to check your tire pressure during heat waves or cold snaps. Large fluxes in temperature can affect your tire pressure significantly. 

How to check tire pressure

Remove the end cap of your tires air valve. Insert your gauge into the value step and press down quickly. You should repeat this process several times to get an accurate reading. Check your most consistent reading against your vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation. 

If your reading is too high, push in on the the air valve to let out air. If your PSI reading is too low, come into Courtesy Auto to fill up your tires. 

Change a flat

On the list of things every driver should know how to do, changing a flat should be a #1 priority. If you’re caught out on the road out of range and with no tow trucks in sight, knowing how to change a flat could quite literally save your life.

Make sure you’re parked on a flat surface. 

Use your jack to support the car (don’t lift it yet). 

Using a lugue or torque wreck, loosen the lugnuts of the tire. This can be really difficult especially if the nuts are on there tight. If they’re too tight, try to angle your wrench up and step on it to get some leverage to loosen them. Make sure you’re turning left (counterclockwise). Trying to remove the nuts by turning them clockwise will just make them tighter and make your job exponentially more difficult. 

Keeping your car on the ground while you’re loosening the nuts will help with stability and ensure the wheel isn’t spinning while you’re trying to get them off. 

Once the nuts are loose, jack up the car and remove the offending tire, replacing it with your spare. Screw in the lugnuts while the wheel is suspended until they feel secure.

Lower the jack until the wheel is on the ground (supporting the weight of the car; we don’t want the tire to be supporting the total weight of the car just yet). 

With your wrench, tighten the nuts as tight as you can get them. Once they’re snug, lower the vehicle completely and remove the jack. Go around once more to make sure all the lugnuts are as secure as possible. 

Note: While a spare tire can get you out of a tough situation, it’s not advisable to use a spare as a permanent solution. Get to your nearest tire shop as soon as possible to get a new set of tires. 

If you can’t afford to replace all four you can actually just replace two. It’s best to replace tires in sets of at least two. This helps tires to wear evenly, helping you maximize your fuel economy and extending the life of all your tires.

We hope these things that every driver should know are helpful. Explore our Auto News & Tips for more things every driver should know.

More things every driver should know:

Replacing Tires: A Comprehensive Guide

How to Deal with Foggy Windshields