Before getting my driver’s license it was important that I know how to do all of these things before setting off on my own. Having independence when driving is wonderful and freeing, but nothing stifles independence more than not knowing what to do when something unexpected happens. There is nothing worse than having to rely on another person to service your vehicle. Ignorance is not bliss and will result in you paying way too much for a simple part, or even more insultingly, something you could have easily done yourself with a little bit of common sense and a screwdriver.
What does this have to do with philosophy? My 99-year-old grandmother never learned how to drive. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to; it was that her husband didn’t want her to. This affront to feminism has bothered me for a while now and now that my nieces and little cousins are inching up in their teens it’s been on my mind to put something together to remind them why it’s important to not only learn how to drive (and well) but to maintain their vehicles and take power of their independence.
Women drivers have long been shrouded in stereotype of being bad drivers; and they’re not really doing anything to combat it. Men still have to pay higher car insurance premiums, so there’s some statistics to back up the claim that the finer sex is definitely not to blame when it comes most to car-related incidences. In fact women are even parlaying into driving sports – Janet Guthrie, Shawna Robinson and Danica Patrick have all paved the way (pun intended) for professional female drivers in NASCAR and IndyCar racing.
Take it from me: learning how to maintain your car isn’t something that will take over your life. There are a few basic concepts and tricks that go a long way when it comes to having a little common sense about your vehicle. It may seem like your car is a magical device that, with the help of a key and some gasoline, takes you from point A to point B – but it’s a little more complicated than that. Here are ten simple ways to ensure that you maintain your independence (while maintaining your vehicle):
I can’t tell you how many tires I’ve changed in my life. In fact I changed one last week on the side of the freeway at night! My trusty headlamp and maintaining a calm attitude got the job done in under 20 minutes and back on the road we were. Learn how to change a tire – trust me. The best way is to practice on your own vehicle (when you don’t have a flat tire) on a nice day on level ground. Make sure you know where to place the jack for each tire that could go flat (there should be a groove or mark on the frame of the vehicle) AND loosen (don’t remove) those lug nuts BEFORE you jack up the car.
The oil in your car is like its blood. Nothing is more frustrating than realizing that your car has been running with too little oil or oil with a lot of contaminants in it. The health of your car relies very heavily on the cleanliness (and volume) of your oil. And it’s simple to check.
It’s like a bad math word problem: One time I was waiting for a friend’s train to arrive while parked in a parking garage. I didn’t want to waste gas, so I just ran the radio (and some air) off of the battery… for almost an hour. Guess who’s battery was dead when my friend arrived? Mine. Dead as a doornail. So I flagged down the next driver that went by and asked that he park next to me so I could jump my car really quickly. Guess who didn’t know how to open his hood (that guy), guess who didn’t own jumper cables (that guy), guess who didn’t even know the first thing about jumping a car (that guy). But guess who knew all of those things and calmly taught that guy how to do those things so he could have independence the next time that happened to him? This girl. Open hoods. Starting with the working car, connect red to red, black to black (don’t touch the clamps while you do this or ZAP) start his car for a little bit (so we don’t drain his battery), start my car. Unclamp. Close hoods. So easy! He was completely baffled by the whole scenario but drove off on his merry way. Always have jumper cables with you; if the oil is the blood to your car, the jumper cables are the defibrillators.
4. How to pump your own gas
A friend in high school prided herself on not knowing how to pump her own gas in her car. That’s the “man’s job” she would say. I say that’s a steaming pile of bull. Learn how to pump gas or you’ll find yourself asking scary men at a gas station at two in the morning how to do it and that’s the last thing you’ll ever want to do. If you’re driving a strange car and don’t know what side the gas goes into, oftentimes there is a little triangle next to the gas symbol on your dash to indicate what side. If not, don’t fret, most gas station hoses will reach across your car. Also: it’s easy. Get over it. Open gas cap, pay, select grade, put gas nozzle in car, pull the trigger, don’t overfill, replace nozzle, replace gas cap. Reset odometer. Also: if your passenger didn’t clean your windshield while you were doing all of this they’re a jerk and don’t drive them anywhere anymore. Which leads me to:
5. When to kick someone out of your car
One time I got a late night phone call from an ex-boyfriend who needed to be picked up from a party because his designated driver had already left. Let’s just say I’m a really nice person, generally, so I got myself out of bed and went to pick up this person. The entire way back to his house he made fun of my driving and told me how awful I was. When I could see his apartment complex I pulled over and ordered him to get out. Guess what. He did! If a passenger is being a jerk to you and possibly endangering both of your lives by distracting you and berating the really nice thing that you’re doing for them – kick them out. They’re mean and don’t deserve your kindness. Also: you’re the driver and you get to pick the music and the temperature. Your car is your safe zone. There is plenty of danger outside of it in the form of other drivers, there is absolutely no need to keep danger inside of it. Also: don’t pick up strangers on the side of the road OR pull over if you are alone in your car and someone is waving you down for help. You are not AAA, but you can call the police for them and the kind, armed, peace officers can help.
One time the temperature gauge went into the red zone. The danger zone. I called my friend and asked that she bring water and she brought one single 16 oz. water bottle. We still laugh about this. Always have a little water in your vehicle for such occasions and know how to use it.
Is your radio not working anymore? Your dash doesn’t light up? What happened to the lights that used to come on when you opened the door? Probably a fuse. Locate your fuse box (and have extra fuses in your kit) and know how to replace them. Simple.
8. How to load and drive a moving truck or tow a trailer
Ever want to just get up and move? Where do you start? While this isn’t something you probably need to know before you get your license, it’s definitely something that you’ll need to know how to do before going off to college. Prepare to have more addresses than you’ve ever known possible. Prepare to be the only person who knows how to drive a truck while towing a boat. Prepare to be the only person not afraid out of their mind to drive a giant moving truck. Guess what. It’s not as hard as you think, you just have to remain calm, admit that you are still learning and be aware of your surroundings. Do a walk around, make sure the trailer is connected securely, be aware of how long your truck is, and just be aware. Your independence relies on your ability to do a lot of things yourself.
9. How to deal with maintenance (and the people trying to rip you off)
Remember: “There’s no such thing as a funny sound.” Shop around for prices, don’t trust the dealer when they say you need to replace everything on your car. Look up forums of common problems with your vehicle. Unless you drive a custom classic car, there are thousands of your car on the road – and it’s likely that someone out there has written about every possible issue with that vehicle. Stay informed, don’t get ripped off, and ask questions. Let’s just say the one time I bought new tires myself I am fairly confident I ended up paying for the new tires of the guy selling them to me as well.
First. Call 911 if there are any injuries or if flow of traffic is hindered. Then: take pictures. Don’t admit fault. Get contact information. VERIFY that it’s real contact information by trying to call the cell phone number that they give you while you’re standing there. Take pictures of who was driving the other car, and if possible, the other people in the vehicle as well. Take pictures of everything. Print those pictures out immediately and get a timestamp on the back. This has saved me too many times when the other driver (I had to put my truck SLOWLY into reverse to avoid a semi taking off my front end while he made too-sharp of a left turn in front of me, the guy behind me was NOT paying attention despite the fact that I was laying on the horn and all that happened was that I dented his license plate) tries to claim that they have back injuries or that there were more people in the car than there were and they, too, have neck injuries. Guess what. They back off when you have solid, visual proof that isn’t true. Then, if your car is disabled, know who to call – keep numbers in your phone of tow trucks in the area and know where to take your car (you may not have data coverage or be too flustered to look something up). Call a trusted family member to let them know what happened and if they’re close enough have them come to the scene. All in all there a lot of emotions and ethics involved in what to do in case of an accident – just stay calm.
BONUS POINTS: Ladies, do yourselves a favor and learn how to drive a manual transmission. It’s way more fun to drive, trust me. Also: when that guy you’re on a date with who drives a sports car drank a little too much and you don’t trust him behind the wheel… take his keys and drive your own self safely home. Feel free to use tip #5 at this time as well.