Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Female Consumers in the Automotive Market: Are Their Voices Being Heard?

The automotive market has long been seen as a male dominated industry. Men design the vehicles, produce and drive them. For many years little thought has been put into the idea of how this affects women and whether it matters. However, with more women in the work force, not only do they have the money to purchase their own vehicles, they are becoming a large portion of consumers of which should not be ignored. Women have long been alienated by the automotive industry and only in recent years have studies been done to assess how much.
Over the years one thing remains clear, women are not taught about maintaining their vehicles like men are. If we go back to the days when women attended home economic classes while men had shop and automotive, it is clear that the intentions were that car maintenance was men’s work. There are even some who believe that women do not have the capability to learn this technology. The unfortunate problem with this belief is that women drive cars, cars break down and they need to understand at least a little bit about them. Everyone needs to at least have an understanding of the language and how to communicate as an informed consumer about their vehicle, yet we continue to teach the boys and not the girls.

The automotive industry has largely been catering to a male audience with little to no acknowledgment that women today have much more buying influence. While some progress has been made to include women, there is still a long way to go. The automotive shops need to be a place where women can feel comfortable to come in, ask questions and be treated with respect no matter what their knowledge base. Until this happens, the automotive industry will continue to alienate a large group of the consumer population. Why should this matter to them? Because women purchase over 50% of all new cars and 48% of used cars, and they influence 80% of all auto purchases and repair decisions (Road & Travel Magazine).

Women really just want to be heard and taken seriously. They are just as concerned as the men are about what type of work needs to be done to their vehicles and why it is important. My goal, when I started Ladies, Start Your Engines, was to give women a safe place to learn and ask questions about their vehicles. It also offers a chance for the shops that hire me to show that they are concerned with what women want and that they are interested in offering them this type of service. It is not easy to win women over. It will take some work, because they want their questions answered in a way that makes them feel comfortable. They want to understand why the work is being done and not given the line “it’s too technical for you to understand”.

Ladies, Start Your Engines is a light maintenance class for women, taught by a woman. In 2 hours I try to give them the basic understanding of how their vehicle operates, the importance of proper maintenance and the language they need to understand so that they know what their service person is trying to tell them. I want to create a confidence in them to ask questions and not to think that any question is dumb. I explain to them that there are just as many men who do not know about their vehicles, they just act like they do or they ask questions.

So what can your shop or dealership do to attract more female customers and keep the ones you do have.

  1. Take a look at your waiting area. Is it clean? Are the chairs comfortable to sit in for more than 5 minutes? Do you offer free WiFi and coffee?
These might seem like simple things to you, but put yourself in the place of the customer. Women are not going to sit in a dirty area where they can overhear the technicians talking and laughing out in the shop. They may even have to bring a child with them, do you have something to attract their attention? I’m not saying that you have to spend thousands of dollars to fix up your waiting area, but make it a place that you would want to sit for at least a half hour. If you have a TV, it is best to have the volume turned off and run closed captioning on the screen. People who read or bring work to do will not want to have to listen to a loud television playing in the background.

  1. Stick your head in the women’s bathroom. This is something else that women complain about in service waiting areas. You should keep this bathroom spotless. Make sure that all the dispensers are full, trash cans are emptied every night and that you offer some type of changing area for babies. More and more men’s rooms have these as well. Many times you may have customers come in for a quick oil change and then they head off to work. They want to stay clean and they expect your bathrooms to be clean as well.

  1. Is there signage that directs people where to go when they come in for service? If women are already apprehensive about coming to your shop, not knowing what to do or where to go may just make them keep driving by. It is always best to acknowledge the customers when they come in so that they know you have seen them. Even a simple “Good Morning” let’s them know that you know they’re there and you’ll get to them as soon as you can. Remember, the customer in front of you is your most important client. If the phones are busy in the morning, have someone who is not working the desk answer them. The customer in front of you is already there and willing to spend money, make sure you are courteous and listen to their needs. Women especially want to make sure that you understand what they need and expect an explanation of what is being done. Just telling them it is time for a 30,000 mile service is not enough. They want to understand what is involved in this type of service. It is never a bad idea to do a quick walk around with each customer to make sure you understand their concerns. If you think you do not have time for this, think about how much more time you will have when they do not come back.

  1. Call your customers. Women want to know the status on their vehicles. Guessing that the work is finished at the end of the day and finding out it is not, will only create an angry customer. Remember that many women are working moms who have very busy schedules. They would rather know up front if you need the vehicle longer than to find out once they arrive at your shop.

  1. Show them what needs to be done. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case it solidifies with your customers what you are telling them. I cannot tell you how many women have told me that they are not taken out to see their vehicles because they are told that customers are not allowed in the shop. Be forewarned, that I am telling them this is not true. I took customers in the shop all the time. What better way to explain why the brakes need to be replaced than by showing them. I always tell women that if the service writer will not show you what you want to see on your vehicle, take it someplace else. You may only have to take them out into the shop a few times and then they will begin to trust you to do the work according to what you say is the problem. Many women feel they are being lied to when no one is willing to explain why a service needs to be done, do not let yourself fall into that trap.

From my experience as a technician, a service manager and a female, I can tell you that one of the biggest obstacles you will face is gaining their trust. Once you do though, they will be your most loyal customers. They will talk to their friends and recommend you. If you treat them poorly, they will not return and they will tell more people about their experience. One of the reasons I chose this profession was for the opportunities that would always be available. People will always drive cars and they will always need someone to fix them. In many ways, those who do not know much about their vehicles are at the mercy of the service shops. With more and more choices of where to go, women are asking their friends and choosing places where they feel comfortable and feel they are being treated fairly.

I always tell the women to read their owners manual, understand their maintenance schedule and to not be afraid to check their fuses or change a bulb. This simple encouragement empowers them to be more pro-active with their vehicles. Having brochures about your different services allows them to read about the service long before they need it and to formulate questions they may not think to ask when the service is being written up. It is also not a bad idea to have women working in your service or parts departments. This often makes women feel more welcome in your shop. When I was a service manager, many of the female customers would come to me to ask simple questions that they did not feel comfortable asking the men. Many times I would go with them to their service writers and make sure that they were comfortable working together and then they would no longer need me as much.

I cannot stress enough how important the first impression of your shop is to most female consumers. If the place is dirty, technicians are fooling around at the desk, the bathrooms are not clean and no one acknowledges them when they first come in, it will probably be their last visit to your facility. I have found that women are eager to learn about their vehicles if they are just given a chance. You can try offering an information session just for women at your own shop. Ask your female customers to bring their friends, let everyone know that you are female friendly and that you are willing to go that extra mile to produce a happy customer. For many of us, at the end of the day it is not just about the work, but about the people we help. If you were not interested in working with people, you would not be in this business. I remember when I was a technician, going home at the end of the day feeling a sense of accomplishment. I get that now every time I teach a class. I enjoy being able to give back and often times get hugs from the women who take my classes. I cannot think of a better way to judge my success than that! 


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Think My Classes Involve Anything Pink....Think Again!

I often wonder what women who come to my classes think they're going to do. Will I show them how to check the air filter but keep their nails from getting chipped? Maybe I'll show them how to get a man to change their tire...or NOT. My classes have not been "dummied down" so that women can understand, and that's what women like about it. I believe that women are very capable of learning how to maintain their vehicles, and I tell them that. It's all about taking the mystique out of car maintenance and empowering them.

This is why I appreciated Kim's blog about her experience in taking one of my classes. Enjoy her blog and then come take my class. Not only will you learn a lot, but you'll have fun as well. I promise :)

Radical Wrencher

Sunday, September 12, 2010

How to Jump Your Battery

One of the big questions I always get asked by women in my classes is how to jump their battery. Which cable do I connect first, does it matter? There really is a fear of shocking themselves. I think this is a healthy fear because a battery can be dangerous, but not if you know what you're doing. Watch my quick tip video on how to jump your battery and get back on the road.

How to jump a battery

I would suggest that you pay at least $50 for a jump box, which you can find at most stores that sell automotive products, and keep it in your truck. Don't forget to keep it charged. It won't do you any good if it's dead.

This is a safe and easy way for anyone to jump their vehicle and a great gift idea for someone you care about.

Radical Wrencher

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hey, I Can't Hear My Radio Over That Noise!

Rattles in the dash or that loose tool rolling around in the trunk are usually noises that may prompt you to turn the radio up. However, many noises are an indication that something may be wrong and if left unattended can turn into costly repairs. Mentioning these noises when you take your vehicle in for service may save you money in the long run or simply give you peace of mind that nothing major is wrong. The key to keeping your vehicle running for many years is taking care of items before they break. So don’t turn that radio up, check it out!

Brake noise

There are several noises that you may hear coming from the brakes. The most common would be a rubbing noise while you’re driving with your foot off the brake. For the most part many of these noises are normal. Because brake pads can be made of different types of materials, sometimes the rubbing of the brake pad against the rotor will make noise. Most of the time you may notice this noise goes away once you drive the vehicle for a little bit and everything warms up. If however the noise goes away when you apply the brakes, you should have your brakes checked. It may mean that the brake pads are getting low and the noise you’re hearing is actually the warning devise on the pad doing its job. Any loud clunking or metal scraping noise is not normal and should be checked right away by a service facility.

Belt squeal

Belt noises are only heard when the engine is running. It may go away as the belt warms up, but should be fixed. A common fix for most people is to spray the belt with a belt quieter product. This is not the answer. Belts squeal for a couple different reasons and should be properly attended to. The belt may not be adjusted properly and if loose will make noise. You may also get a noise if a pulley that the belt travels on is not turning properly. A seized pulley will eventually break a belt, so it’s best not to let this noise continue. If you’re not sure how to adjust the belt or check the pulley, take your vehicle to a service station and have a technician look at it.

Noisy Steering

Here’s a noise you hear in a lot of cars as their making turns in a parking lot. This is a load moaning noise that is only heard when you’re turning the steering wheel from one side to the other. This usually indicates a problem with the power steering system. One possibility may be that you have air in your power steering pump. When the power steering fluid gets too low is will suck air into the system causing the noise. You may be able to fix the problem yourself by adding power steering fluid. Keep the cap open, fill to the full line and turn the steering wheel back and forth in full turns until you notice no bubbles coming up from the fluid or the noise goes away. Make sure that you use only the fluid recommended for your vehicle by the manufacturer, or you may cause more damage. When you’re finished make sure the fluid is full to the line and close the cap. If the noise returns you most likely have a leak in the system and should take your vehicle to a service station to have it serviced.

Clicking noise coming from the wheel when turning

This noise is mostly heard when you are driving around a corner. This noise sounds like a clicking coming from the wheel and may go away once the wheels are driving straight again. This is usually an indication of a bad CV Joint. In most cases the boot that covers the joint has ripped and the lubrication for the joint leaks out. This problem should be addressed right away. Leaving this problem could eventually cause the CV Joint to break and the driver would lose control of that particular wheel. It will also be a much more costly repair if the whole CV Joint has to be replaced because of damage.

Tapping in the engine when the vehicle is running

A tapping noise coming from the top of the engine could mean a couple things. The first thing to check would be low oil level. With the engine turned off pull the dipstick and check the level. If the oil is low add more oil while regularly checking the dipstick so as not to over fill. Start the engine and see if the noise goes away. If the oil is at the proper level then you may need to have your valves adjusted. Check your owner’s manual for proper service for a valve adjustment. Many vehicles today have self-adjusting valves, so this may not apply. If this is the case, then you should have your vehicle serviced by a trained technician. Leaving this problem will only create bigger problems down the road.


Friday, August 27, 2010

To Hybrid or Not

If you're like me and you find yourself recycling, composting, buying green products and figuring out ways to use our energy more wisely, then you've probably thought about a hybrid vehicle. While more and more manufacturers are making hybrid vehicles....unfortunately it's going to be a while before they replace our gas driven motors. I guess the question is, are the hybrids that are available now really saving us money and the environment....or not.

Brandy Schaffels, a contributing writer for Ask Patty wrote this article to answer some of your questions.

What you always wanted to know about hybrid vehicles

This article on How Stuff Works talks about 5 reasons not to buy hybrid.

I like to weigh my options. While I'd like to 'Go Green', it comes with a cost. Sometimes it's more than what you can afford. I would say that if you are contemplating buying a hybrid your research. Make sure you weigh cost, economy, practicability and even how driving where you live will play into it. It's a tough decision...trying to decide what is the right thing for you and the environment. That's when I get on my motorcycle and ride.  Good luck!

Radical Wrencher

Friday, August 20, 2010

Is That Smoke coming Out of My Tailpipe?

In the perfect world, water vapor would be the only thing we see coming out of our tailpipes....but, we're not quite there yet. So what does that smoke mean?

Obviously when it's cold out and you start the vehicle you'll see smoke. This should go away after the vehicle warms up.If you're finding that this smoke continues, then it's time to get it checked out. There are some general reasons why you may have smoke, and the color can help you diagnose your problem.

Here's a pretty good description of some common issues from RepairPal. I also talk about it a little in my video of what to look for when buying a used vehicle.

As always, I recommend that you have a technician properly diagnose your problem. These tips of what to look for will give you an idea of what could be wrong and help steer you in the right direction....and you'll feel like you know a little bit more of what could be wrong. Empower yourself with knowledge and you'll feel more confident when it comes to talking to your service personnel.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Taking Care of Your Battery

Remember the days when you had to add water to your battery? And not just any water, but distilled. Now our batteries are "maintenance free".....well, for the most part. They still require a little tender love and care if you want to get the maximum life out of them however.

When was the last time you opened up your hood and took a look at your battery? Okay, it may not always be under your hood, check your owner's manual to see if it might be in the trunk or under a seat. Most likely if it's under the hood it's going to get dirtier and should be checked.

What are you looking for? White powder that's caked up around the terminals. It's fairly easy to clean this off by using a simple household product of baking soda and water. All you need is an old toothbrush and a 50/50 mix of the water and baking soda.

Better yet, watch my quick tip video on how to do this yourself. It's easy and a great way to save you money.
Remember, to disconnect the battery you want the key to be off, remove the negative side first and then the positive. When you re-attach the cables you do the opposite, positive first and then the negative.

Battery Cleaning Video

As I always say, don't be afraid to get your hands's a great way to learn.

Radical Wrencher

Thursday, August 5, 2010

How Old is Your Truck?

I often get asked how old my truck is. Even though it looks nice on the outside, one look inside the cab with it's crank down windows, sliding levers for the heat and vents and few gizmos on the dash makes people wonder. For the record, I drive a 1988 Toyota 4WD truck. It doesn't even have a name really...but it later became the Tacoma.

It now boasts 295,000 miles. Unfortunately a burned valve forced me to replace the engine at 292,000, but I'm not complaining. I remember when I was going back and forth about getting a newer vehicle or replacing the engine. Well, for $3000 a 3yr/100,000 mile warranty, the new engine won hands down. I have loved this truck since I bought it new in '88'. I installed my own A/C, which still works, have had multiple radios..currently Sirius, and even replaced the bench seat for buckets.

Once people find out how old it is they always say "Well, you're a technician so you take care of it". I never really understood this. While it's true, I've done all my own's all about maintaining your vehicle. I haven't done anything special, I just take care of it and fix the things that need to be done. I think the most important thing I did was change the oil every 3000 miles without fail.

I grew up watching my father wash and wax his vehicles so they always looked like new. I understood that if you took care of them, they could last for a long time. That's all I've done. I guess what I'm trying to say is that anyone can keep a vehicle for a long time if they just properly maintain it.

What do I mean by this? Change your oil regularly at the scheduled times. Check your owner's manual if you're not sure when that is. Don't let those little noises become loud expensive fixes. If you decide to keep your vehicle for many years you need to understand that it will cost you money. I suggest that you take that car payment you no longer have and put it in a repair account. This way the money is already there when you need it.

You need to understand that vehicles break down when they get older. If you don't have the tolerance for this, then you should probably try to own a newer vehicle with less repair possibilities. It's true, it's easier for me because most of the time I can fix it myself, but most recently I've moved and currently I don't have access to a I have to pay like everyone else now.

Sure, there are times that I get frustrated with the nit picky things that go wrong, but my truck owes me nothing. I couldn't replace it for what it gives me, especially for what I'm paying. So think about what kind of person you are. Do you mind doing repairs more frequently to maintain an older vehicle, or is it easier to own something that always has a warranty?

I can't imagine not having my truck. I tell my friends that when it's time, I'll have it crushed. I really can't imagine anyone else driving her after 22 years. Oh and don't worry, that's not going to happen any time soon...she still gets me where I need to go and is worth every penny I paid for her!

Radical Wrencher

Friday, July 30, 2010

Check Your Wiper Blades Before it Rains!

We always forget about the wiper blades until it's pouring and we can't see. You should check them every six months and replace them once a year. Here's a video I did on how to change them yourself.

How to Change Your Wiper Blades

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What is Proper Tire Pressure for My Vehicle?

One of the most common mistakes in checking tire pressure is thinking that the correct pressure for your vehicle is posted on the tire. I get this answer a lot when I teach my classes. Many people assume that this is where it would be printed.

What you have to remember is that tires are made by the manufacturer for many different types of vehicles. Car manufacturers pay engineers a lot of money to figure out how the weight of a vehicle affects fuel economy and many other factors. Tire pressure plays into this factor. So, depending on the weight, size and other important information, tire pressure is determined by each different vehicle.

Therefore you will always find the tire pressure for your vehicle located on your vehicle or in your owner's manual. Usually there will be a label located on the inside of the driver's door giving you this information. I've also seen them inside the glove box, on the inside of the gas door or center console. Look around, it's there somewhere.

Proper tire inflation not only affects fuel economy, but also helps prevent uneven or early tire wear. There's also a safety concern if the tire pressure is too low. If you look at a tire you'll see that there are a lot of numbers and letters posted on the side wall. All of these numbers mean something. While you don't need to memorize them, it's a good idea to know what they mean. Here are a couple sites that will help explain more about all of those numbers. How Stuff Works is a great website with a lot of vehicle information. I caution you not to read this at work, it's hard to get off this site, it's so interesting.

Another great site is Tire Rack, not only can you get some great information about tires, but you can purchase them at pretty good prices. They even work with installers in your area so that if you need new tires they send them directly to the shop.

One of the things I teach in my class is how to use a tire pressure gauge. I think it's important for everyone to keep one of these in their vehicle. If you're not sure how to use it, ask someone to show you. It's not hard and will help you keep your tires in good shape for a long and healthy life.

As we say in the motorcycle world, keep the rubber side down and be pro-active in learning about the things you can do on your vehicle and do them yourself. It's a great way to understand your vehicle.

Radical Wrencher

Friday, July 16, 2010

How Much Did You Say?

The other day while I was driving I heard an ad on the radio for a brake job. It was a male salesman telling a woman that she could get a brake job done and only pay half for the brake pads. I actually started to laugh.

The woman in the ad was excited and couldn't wait to bring her vehicle in. The problem with this ad, in my opinion, is that the brake pads are not the expensive's the labor. This is the kind of thing that you have to be careful with when getting your vehicle serviced.

The ad makes it sound like such a good deal, but you should ask how much it will cost and how much of a discount that is off of the regular price. Later that night I was having dinner with a group of women friends. We meet monthly and the conversation is all over the map. Many of us have known each other for 10 years or more. I told them about the ad and asked what they thought. They said that one of their complaints is not knowing what it "should" cost to have work done.

Great point. So what do you do when you need work done and the shop quotes you a price? Here are a couple of sites you can check out. One that I like is called repair pal. You put in your vehicle, your zip code and pick the type of work you need to have done and they give you an estimate for parts and labor for your area. It's a great resource to at least get an idea of the amount you might be expected to pay. Now remember, shops can charge whatever they want. If you don't like their price, shop around.

If you just want to see what parts cost I would recommend looking at Rockauto. I buy a lot of parts from them. You put in your vehicle and then look up the parts. This will give you an idea of whether the shop is making too much money on the parts they're selling you.

I don't know about you, but for me money is tight. I want the work done on my vehicle to be the best deal I can get without compromising quality and workmanship. So the next time someone tries to sell you a good deal, check it out, it may not be such a bargain.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What to Check Before Taking That Summer Family Trip

Summer is here and that means family vacations. Here's a quick tip video on what to check before you pack the family vehicle and head out.

Summer Car Care Tips



Thursday, July 1, 2010

Back In the Driver's Seat!

Okay, it's been way too long since my last post...but putting your house on the market, selling it and moving can take up your time so easily! Now that I'm all settled in, it's time to get back to giving you what you want, some good advice.

I'll start with a story about yet another woman agreeing to work she probably didn't need. For those of you who live in states where you have to get your vehicle inspected yearly, you know that this can sometimes be a hassle. We take our vehicle in and then we feel like we're at the mercy of the technician to have it pass inspection.

Let me start by saying that if you feel that work they recommend to pass inspection seems unwarranted, you do have recourse. First, ask them to show you the items that are bad, preferably on the vehicle. If they come out with a part in their hand, you don't know where it came from. If what they are describing doesn't seem right to you then ask more questions or call someone you know to help you make your decision.

If you feel you're being taken, you can contact your state DMV and ask that a representative come and look at the failable item and tell you if it truly is bad. Most people don't know that they have this option. I've heard of shops backing down when the customer wants to call in a representative because they know they're wrong.

Any good shop should be willing to show and explain why the part has failed and help you understand this. Not all shops are just trying to rip you off, but it's good to know that there is someone you can call if you need to. Don't feel like you have to replace a part if you don't think it's bad.

So back to my story. This woman takes her vehicle in and gets a call later telling her that she passed both State inspection and emissions but while doing a 33 point inspection they found some items that need to be addressed.

The oil change, air filter, coolant being low are all things that are regular maintenance items. Depending on when you did them last, it may be time to have these serviced. Now she's fortunate to have a son who can do this work so she declined. Some other things she agreed to. Rotation of the tires, balancing 2 of the tires and clean and adjust the brakes.

Here's where I tend to question work. It said that they removed all the wheels to check the brakes for inspection, so to simply rotate them while they're off is often a courtesy, she was charged $10. Another $15 to balance. Then there's the brake clean and adjust. My thought is that if they didn't fail inspection, which being out of adjustment can make you fail....why are they charging for this service? Another $14 for this. I'd love to know what they really did.

I'm not saying that all shops are looking for ways to make you spend money, but beware of shops that you don't know very well that try to sell you what I call "busy work", because it may be slow. We have to get our vehicles inspected, but try to have an idea of what else may need to be done before you take it in so you don't agree to unnecessary repairs.

Remember, knowledge is power....use it!


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

LSYE on What's Up With Missy 1340 AM

Listen to the interview I did with Missy on 1340 AM Philadelphia. Missy thought she had a great idea...and she did, it was my business! She thought it would be great to teach women about their vehicles so that they wouldn't feel like they're getting ripped off.

I contacted Missy and she was thrilled to have me on the show to give some advice to women. It was a great show and we had a lot of fun. Stay tuned...she may even have me back to take call-in questions. Thanks for having me Missy!

Radical Wrencher

Friday, January 22, 2010

Car Maintenance: Can You Really Do It Yourself Anymore?

For most of you, when you open your hood, all you see is a big plastic cover that keeps you from seeing anything pertinent related to your engine. Remember the days when you could see the spark plug wires, there was enough space to see around under the hood, and you thought you recognized a few things whether you knew how to fix them or not?

Today, it’s not so easy. Opening the hood, you’re met with very little exposure to anything that would allow you to do maintenance yourself. I have a theory about this, and it’s the idea that the manufacturers think you shouldn’t touch anything you don’t know about. Vehicles are so technologically advanced today that you need a degree just to work on them. Gone are the days when a big wrench and a couple of screwdrivers could fix anything. Automobiles have so many computer systems now that your main tool is usually a computer or a scan tool. I know many technicians who do not even get their hands dirty because their skill is in the area of being able to diagnose problems.

Sure you still need to have brakes, alignments and tires changed, but the real skill is in diagnosing engine problems, and this can be difficult. So that brings me to the point of, what can you do yourself? If you open your hood and look closely you will see that there are a variety of things that are marked with words or symbols to tell you what they are. These are the things that you are free to do yourself. You can also look in your owner’s manual to find the items that the manufacturer feels are safe components for you to fix yourself.

The most common items under the hood are the washer fluid bottle, power steering reservoir, oil cap, oil dipstick, battery, fuse box, coolant/antifreeze reservoir, and the brake fluid reservoir. Some automatic transmissions may still have a dipstick as well, but more and more manufacturers are getting away from even providing those. Make sure you look closely at these symbols before you ever add any fluids to a reservoir. I will never forget how unhappy the person was who added antifreeze to their washer solvent!

As always, I will tell you to consult your owner’s manual before you attempt to do any maintenance yourself. Many manufacturers require that you buy your products from them. This means items like coolant/antifreeze and power steering fluid must be bought from the dealership. You may find that your vehicle will not operate properly if you choose to use something else and it may void your warranty.

Always use windshield washer solvent and not plain water. Not only will it do a better job at cleaning, but it won’t freeze in colder climates. Freezing can cause the bottle to crack and break and ruin the sprayer motor. Power steering fluid is in a closed system. This means you can add it if it is below the “full” line, but you need to get it looked at because you probably have a leak. 

Oil should be checked when the engine is not running. The engine can be hot or cold, but may need to sit a moment if it has just been driven. When you shut off the engine all of the oil drains back down to the oil pan. The dipstick is checking the level of the oil in the pan, so we want it all to be there. While the engine is running the oil is circulating through the engine and the dipstick will not give you an accurate reading. On the dipstick there will usually be 2 notches, holes or a hatched area to read the oil level. Pull out the dipstick and wipe it off. Insert the dipstick in a second time and see where the oil is on the stick. It should fall between the marks. If it is below the bottom mark, then oil should be added. Be careful when adding oil. Only put in a little at a time and continually check with the dipstick. You do not want to overfill the oil. You should see a cap with an oilcan or the word oil, on the top of the engine. This is where the oil is added. Make sure that you check in your owner’s manual as to the type of oil your vehicle requires.

Coolant/antifreeze can be added as well. Make sure that you never open the radiator cap even if the engine is cold. This system is pressurized and when you open the cap you introduce air into the system, which can cause it to overheat. You should always add coolant to the reservoir bottle. This will be a plastic bottle with a small hose connecting it to the radiator. Again, check your owner’s manual as to the specific type of coolant/antifreeze for your vehicle and always make sure it is a 50/50 mix of coolant and water. Only add to the full line and have it checked if you find yourself adding coolant often. You may be leaking or burning coolant if the reservoir is frequently empty.

Battery maintenance is important as well. The terminals should be clean at all times. If you find that there is a white powdery build up, this can be cleaned with a toothbrush and a 50/50 mix of water and baking soda. Don’t use the toothbrush to brush your teeth afterward however! If you need to remove the cables to clean them, always disconnect the negative terminal first and then the positive. This will prevent any sparks. When re-connecting, attach the positive cable first and then the negative. Otherwise these batteries are pretty much maintenance free. The days of adding water are gone. A well maintained battery may last 4 to 5 years.

Oil changes are best left to the shop. I only say this because it can be dangerous to lift the car properly. Under no circumstances should you use the jack for the vehicle as a way to hold up the vehicle while changing the oil. They are not safe enough to use while climbing underneath a vehicle. They should strictly be used for changing a tire only. You must also be careful not to spill oil and it must be taken in to be recycled. You also need the proper tools to remove the drain plug and the oil filter. I tell people that for $25-30, it is worth it to let someone else do it!

Air filters are usually easy to change yourself however. Locate is under the hood, usually under a big plastic cover with clips or screws holding it closed. Go to any automotive store and by looking your vehicle up in the product book or by asking for assistance you should be able to find it. You can always go to the dealership to purchase the filter as well. Check the filter about every 15,000 miles or so. If it looks dirty, replace it.

If you find that an electrical item is not working in your vehicle I would always advise people to check their fuses first. Look in your owner’s manual to find out where the fuse is for the component. Remove the fuse and check to see if the filament is broken. Replace the fuse if this is the case. Make sure to only replace it with the size fuse that is recommended. If the fuse blows again or the fuse is found to be okay, then you will need to take the vehicle in for service.

While this may not seem like as much as you would like to be able to fix yourself, it is probably all that you “should” do. Doing something today on your vehicle that you do not understand can become a costly lesson. If you can read about it in your owner’s manual, most likely it is something you can do on your own. Don’t be afraid to get dirty once in a while, but leave the technical stuff to the trained professionals.