5 Basic Things That Every Non Mechanic Needs to Know

How to Add Air to Your Tires:

If your tires appear to be low, check the pressure and note the amount that they’re underinflated. Then drive to a local gas station and add air. It’s easy, but be sure to bring some change (usually quarters) with you for the air dispenser. (Forget about things being “as free as air” — at many stations it isn’t!)

Follow these steps to add air to your tires:

  1. Park your vehicle by the air dispenser.

    You will need to reach all four tires with the air hose.

  2. Remove the cap from the tire valve on the first tire.

  3. Use your tire gauge to check the air pressure in the tire.

    Air hose gauges at many gas stations are inaccurate.

    Checking your tire pressure.
    Checking your tire pressure.

    The pressure will have increased because driving causes the tires to heat up and the air inside them to expand. To avoid overinflating the tire, no matter what the second reading indicates, you should only add the same amount of air that the tire lacked before you drove it to the station.

  4. Use the air hose to add air in short bursts.

    Check the pressure after each time with your tire gauge.

    If you add too much air, let some out by pressing the pin on the tire valve with the back of the air hose nozzle or with the little knob on the back of the rounded end of the tire gauge.

  5. Keep checking the pressure until you get it right.

    Don’t get discouraged if you have to keep adjusting the air pressure. No one hits it on the head the first time!

How to Check Your Tires for Wear


You should check your tires for wear at least once a month and before and after long trips. You check them to determine whether you need to buy new tires, have your wheels balanced, have your wheels aligned, or change your driving habits.

Underinflated tires wear out faster, create excessive heat, increase fuel consumption, and make your car harder to handle. Overinflated tires can “blow out” more easily, wear out faster, and make the vehicle unstable and unsafe to handle. And a new set of tires on wheels that are out of alignment can wear out completely in as little as one day of hard driving!

What the signs of poor treadwear mean.

What the signs of poor tread wear mean.

To determine what’s causing problems with your tires, try the following:
  • Look for things embedded in each tire. Do you see nails, stones, or other debris embedded in the treads? Remove them. If you hear a hissing sound when you pull a nail, push the nail back in quickly and take the tire to be fixed. Tires with leaks should be patched by a professional.

  • Look at the sidewalls. Check for deeply scuffed or worn areas, bulges or bubbles, small slits, or holes. Do the tires fit evenly and snugly around the wheel rims?

  • Look at the treads. Most tires have built-in tread wear indicators. These bars of hard rubber are normally invisible but appear across treads that have been worn down to 1/16 of an inch of the surface of the tire (the legal limit in most states). If these indicators appear in two or three different places less than 120 degrees apart on the circumference of the tire, replace the tire.

    It’s time for new tires when treadwear indicators appear.
    It’s time for new tires when tread wear indicators appear.

    If your tires don’t show these indicators and you think that they may be worn below legal tolerances, place a Lincoln penny head-down in the groove between the treads. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, your tire probably needs to be replaced.

What to Carry in Your Car Toolbox

If you plan to do your own car maintenance and repairs, you need a toolbox to keep tools clean, in good shape, and all in one place. Look for a lightweight, plastic toolbox that fits easily into the trunk of your vehicle and fill it with these tools:

  • Screwdrivers: The difference between a standard screwdriver and a Phillips screwdriver is the shape of the head, as shown here.

    Standard (a) and Phillips (b) drivers and their screws.
    Standard (a) and Phillips (b) drivers and their screws.

    Offset screwdrivers are handy because they make it easy to get to screws that have little clearance over the head. Offset screwdrivers come in both standard and Phillips styles and some have one of each type of head at either end.

    An offset screwdriver.
    An offset screwdriver.
  • Screwholders: Instead of holding a screw in place with the fingers of one hand while wielding the screwdriver with your other hand, you fit the screw into the screwholder and use it to insert and tighten the screw.

    A screwholder helps you get into hard-to-reach places.
    A screwholder helps you get into hard-to-reach places.
  • Wrenches: Wrenches are probably the most basic tools for auto repair. Most wrenches are available in both standard — also known as SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) — and metric measurements. Today, most American vehicles have a mix of SAE and metric nuts and bolts. Foreign vehicles or foreign components used on American vehicles (a practice that’s becoming quite common) use metric nuts and bolts — even the inch-based British.

    A socket wrench set.
    A socket wrench set.
    • Socket wrenches: Socket wrenches come in sets for a wide variety of prices, depending on quality and how many wrenches are in the set.

      You need at least one ratchet handle; most sets have two or three handles with at least one adapter.

      Socket extenders are indispensable items to help you reach those almost-unreachable nuts and bolts.

      A spark-plug socket (a), a ratchet handle (b), and an extension bar (c).
      A spark-plug socket (a), a ratchet handle (b), and an extension bar (c).
    • Combination wrenches: Combination wrenches have one open end and one boxed end. These wrenches come in sets of several sizes, and each wrench is made to fit a nut of a specific size, whichever end you use.

    • Torque wrenches: These wrenches are designed to tighten a nut, bolt, or screw to an exact degree to avoid under-tightening or over-tightening.

      A dial torque wrench (a) and a deflecting beam torque wrench (b).
      A dial torque wrench (a) and a deflecting beam torque wrench (b).
    • Adjustable wrenches: You probably already have a crescent wrench in the house, and you can adjust the jaws to fit a variety of nuts and bolts simply by turning the wheel.

  • Pliers: If you have to buy pliers, the very best kind to get are combination slip-joint pliers. You can adjust this general-purpose tool to several widths with a sliding pin.

    Needle-nosed pliers (a) and combination slip-joint pliers (b).
    Needle-nosed pliers (a) and combination slip-joint pliers (b).
  • Gauges: Several tools are available to help you determine when enough oil, fluid, air, pressure, or whatever is enough. The gauges here are the most useful:

    Wire feeler gauges.
    Wire feeler gauges.
    • Tire pressure gauges: If you never check anything else on your vehicle, make a habit of regularly checking the tire pressure; it’s critical both for safety and good fuel economy.

    • Wire and taper feeler gauges: You use wire and taper feeler gauges for “gapping” spark plugs.

    • Compression gauges: You use compression gauges to check the pressure that builds up in each cylinder as your engine runs.

In addition to these basics, you might want a work light. Fluorescent work lights can draw power from the car’s battery or cigarette lighter or plug into a wall socket. They also come with changeable batteries, like flashlights. And if your car didn’t come with a jack, you’ll want to be sure you get one of those, and jack stands too!

How to Check a Vehicle's Transmission Fluid

If your automatic transmission hesitates when you change gears or shifts with a “clunk,” first check your transmission dipstick. Your transmission fluid may be low or dirty.

To check your automatic transmission fluid, look for a dipstick handle sticking out of your transmission toward the rear of an in-line engine on vehicles with rear-wheel drive:
Finding the transmission dipstick on an in-line engine.
Finding the transmission dipstick on an in-line engine.
If your vehicle has front-wheel drive, you will find it sticking out of the transaxle:
Finding the transmission dipstick on a transverse engine.
Finding the transmission dipstick on a transverse engine.

If you have a manual transmission, the fluid level must be checked with the vehicle on a hoist to enable the technician to reach a plug in the bottom of the transmission. It’s best not to monkey around with this yourself. The next time your car is in for service, have the technician check the transmission fluid level for you. It’s a good idea to know what type and viscosity of fluid goes into your transmission and to make sure that’s what the technician plans to use. Some newer manual transmissions use automatic transmission fluid; others use engine oil.

To check your automatic transmission fluid, follow these steps:
  1. With the gearshift in Neutral or Park and the parking brake on, let your engine run.

    When the engine is warm, pull out the dipstick. (Don’t turn off the engine.)

  2. Dip the tip of your index finger into the fluid on the dipstick and rub the fluid between your finger and the tip of your thumb.

    The transmission fluid on the dipstick should be pinkish and almost clear. If it looks or smells burnt or has particles in it, have a mechanic drain and change the fluid.

  3. Wipe the dipstick with a clean, lint-free rag; then reinsert it and pull it out again.

    If the transmission fluid is clear but doesn’t reach the “Full” line on the dipstick, use a funnel to pour just enough transmission fluid down the dipstick tube to reach the line. Don’t overfill!

There are several types of transmission fluid. Each is made for a specific type of automatic transmission. Newer transmissions from the major automakers require different fluid than older ones. Because so many different kinds of transmissions are around these days, check your owner’s manual or dealership to find out which type of fluid your vehicle requires.

Items You Should Always Keep in Your Vehicle

You can pack your auto repair toolbox with the best tools that money can buy, but all those fancy gadgets and gizmos won’t do you any good if they’re at home when your vehicle breaks down 30 miles from civilization. Don’t tempt fate: Keep basic tools and materials onboard at all times.

Besides car toolbox filled with the tools you need for quick repairs, be sure to keep the following items on board:
  • Rags: Keep a clean, lint-free rag in your vehicle to wipe your oil or transmission dipstick or to clean the inside of your windshield if it clouds up.

  • Spare parts: If you replace your spark plugs, save the old ones if they’re not too worn. Carry them in your trunk-compartment toolbox for quick replacements if necessary. The same goes for old air filters and other minor gizmos. A couple of extra nuts, bolts, and screws also are useful to have on hand.

  • Emergency parts: Carry a spare set of windshield wiper blades, an extra radiator cap, and extra fuses. If you plan to travel in hot weather in remote regions, top and bottom radiator hoses are a good idea. Although they’re more costly, it’s good to carry extra accessory belts.

  • Spare tire: Check your spare tire often. It’s humiliating to find that your spare is flat, just when you need it.

  • Lug wrench: A lug wrench is sometimes provided, along with a jack, on new vehicles. If you buy a lug wrench, get the cross-shaft kind, which gives you more leverage.

  • A can of inflator/sealant: This item saves you the trouble of changing a flat on the road. It attaches easily to the valve stem on your flat tire and inflates the tire with goop that temporarily seals the puncture.

  • Jumper cables: One of the most common automotive malfunctions is the loss of power to start the engine, either from an old or faulty battery or from leaving the headlights on by mistake.

  • Snow and ice equipment: If you live in a cold area, carry tire chains or a bag of sand. A small shovel is useful for digging your tires out, and a scraper allows you to clear your windshield of snow and/or ice. A can of de-icer is useful in icy weather.

  • Flashlights and reflectors: A flashlight in your glove compartment can help your kids locate dropped toys on the floor of the car, enable you to see under the hood if your vehicle breaks down, and serve as an emergency light for oncoming traffic if you have to stop on the road for repairs.

  • First-aid kit: Keep a first-aid kit in your vehicle. Choose one that’s equipped with a variety of bandages, tweezers, surgical tape, antibiotic ointment, something soothing for burns, and a good antiseptic.

  • Hand cleaner: Most hand cleaners are basically grease solvents.

  • Gloves: Keep a pair of gloves in the vehicle for emergencies. Industrial rubber gloves, available at swimming pool supply stores, aren’t affected by gasoline, solvent, or battery acid.


About Robin

I have been blogging for over 2 years. My goal with blogging was so that I could bring the stories that matter, the stories that make a difference and the stories that put spotlight on achievement and success.
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