I’m sure brakes are going to be a popular suggestion, but considering the number of people I know who can barely fuel their car up, I’m going for the low hanging fruit.

Jump Starting

Ever walk past someone in a parking lot trying to jump a dead car? It’s terrifying. I always leave the area immediately.

The time to learn how to jump start your car is before your car is dead in a parking lot. A surprising number of new cars have jumping procedures that aren’t like your grandfather’s pick-up truck. For example, in many newer cars, you don’t connect the cables to the battery. There are dedicated terminal hookups for jump starting the car. There might also be a specific procedure recommended to protect your cars electrical components.

Being able to confidently jump start your vehicle is a skill you might never need, but when you do, it sure feels good to know what you’re doing.

Diagnosing a Dead Battery / Alternator

Did you come out of a store to find your battery dead? Or were you driving down the road when your car conked out? Did you stop at a stoplight, only to have your car die and refuse to crank? Understanding how your car’s battery and alternator system works can prevent you from undertaking potentially unsafe “repairs” in the event of a dead battery.

When a car won’t crank, or if it cranks slowly, most people assume that it’s just a dead battery. However, that isn’t always the case. When a car is running, the alternator supplies all the electrical current needed to operate the vehicle. It also tops the battery off as you drive around. This means that if your car dies and won’t crank while it is in operation, you don’t have a battery issue; you have an alternator issue.

Here’s where the unsafe part comes in. Having a car die on you while in motion is no good. Your power steering goes flat, which makes the steering very heavy, and you only have a couple of pumps of the brakes before the vacuum boost bleeds off and you’ll need legs of steel to stop the car. You really don’t want a car to die on you while you’re driving; it’s just not safe.

This means that any time a car dies while it is in operation, and won’t crank again, you should go ahead and call at tow truck. Jump starting the car might get it running again, but it won’t get you far. If you’re a block from your house, ok go for it, but otherwise, hope you remembered to pay that AAA bill.

Coolant

Where do you put coolant in your car? How do you check its level? Where is that damned radiator cap, anyway? You may not have one. Many cars use coolant reservoirs, and lack radiator caps entirely. The filling procedure varies, but sometimes involves loosening a bleeder valve and pouring coolant into the reservoir. This is another one of those procedures you’re better off knowing before you need to actually do it, so study up!