As a seasoned driver with nearly two decades of experience behind the wheel, I have a horrifying confession to make: I don’t know what I’m doing. Yes, I can merge onto the freeway (but I hate it) and I can even parallel park (most of the time). But when it comes to basic car maintenance skills, I’ve got nothing.
So, in an attempt to bring myself up to speed on the topics I wasn’t taught in Driver’s Ed, I did some digging and identified three (very) basic things every driver should know how to do. Whether you already have these mastered, need a refresher, or, like me, are a complete noob, here’s a quick guide:
How to Check Tire Pressure
- Start with “cold” tires — that is, tires that haven’t recently been driven.
- Check your manufacturer’s recommended PSI (i.e. pounds per square inch of pressure).
- Remove the valve cap from one of your tires and insert the pressure gauge into the valve stem — if you’re using a digital gauge, it should start reading the pressure immediately; if you’re using a “pencil-style” gauge, the gauge will pop out and display a measured number.
- If the reading you got was too high, release some air from the tire, and if it was too low…fill it up! This may mean a trip to a gas station if you don’t own an air compressor.
How to Check Tire Tread
- Insert a penny into the groove of the tire with Lincoln’s head pointing down.
- If the top of his head isn’t covered, it’s time to replace your tires.
- (Alternatively, do the same test with a quarter; when you can see the top of Washington’s head it’s time to start thinking about new tires, even if the situation isn’t quite as urgent as with a penny.)
How to Jump Start a Car
- Be sure to travel with a set of jumper cables in your trunk at all times.
- Make sure neither car is running.
- Attach one of the red clips of the jumper cables to the positive terminal of your battery and the other red clip to the positive terminal of the second car’s battery.
- Attach one of the black clips to the negative terminal of the other car’s battery.
- Attach the second black clip to an unpainted metal surface on your car that’s not close to the battery (i.e. one of the metal struts holding the hood open).
- Have the other person start their car and let the engine run for a few minutes.
- Try to start your car. If it starts, awesome! Drive around for at least 15 minutes to let your battery recharge. If it doesn’t start, you may need to call a tow truck and get that battery replaced.
Even low mileage drivers need to keep an eye on their cars. Need more helpful driving tips — or just need an insurance company that gets you? We’re here.
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Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist, UC Berkeley alumna, and Metromile customer.