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Car Basics

The Car Basics Every Driver Should Know Before Hitting the Road

No matter how hard we try to prepare teen drivers for the road, some things are only going to happen after they've been handed the keys. Sure, teen drivers know how to adjust their mirrors, but what about the first time they need gas? Has someone led them through what all their dashboard lights mean so they don't get nervous the first time the "check engine" light comes on?

Explore the tabs below to learn more about some of those expected, and not so expected, car basics.

Car Maintenance

Car Maintenance

If you were to let your computer get too cluttered with files, or didn't regularly scan for viruses, its performance would suffer, right? Well, cars are the same way. Cars are machines that require regular maintenance to continue running properly. Your car's owners manual should have everything you need to know about scheduled appointments with the mechanic, but here are a few simple things you can do between service appointments to keep your car running well - and keeping you safe.

Adjusting Your Mirrors

Liberty Mutual Teen Driving: adjusting car mirrors Steps to adjusting your car mirrors

  1. 1. Set the rear view mirror (mounted on the interior of the windshield) so that you can see your entire back window and the road behind it.

  2. 2. Now, lean over so that your head is touching the driver's side window. While in that position, adjust your left side view mirror so you can just see the back corner of your car.

  3. 3. Next, lean your head to the right side and adjust your right side-view mirror so that you can just see the back right corner of the car.

  4. 4. When you're seated upright, in the driving position, you will not be able to see any part of your car in your mirrors - that's ok. This will help minimize your blind spots. Here's how:

    In this configuration, a car coming up behind you should be clearly visible in your rear view mirror. As it passes you to the right or left, it should seamlessly slide into the side view mirror. This may take some small adjustments after following the steps above, but the end result should be that your blind spots are much smaller.

Pumping Gas

Liberty Mutual Teen Driving: pumping gas Pumping Gas

To experienced drivers, pumping gas comes naturally after years of filling up the tank. But new drivers should be shown the ropes before sending them off on their own. Here are some reminders about pumping gas safely.

»Always turn the engine off before filling the tank - it's a good idea to pocket your keys and wallet when exiting the car.

»Most gas stations expect payment before pumping.

»No smoking, lighting matches or using a cell phone.

»Once you've paid, follow the instructions on the pump to choose which grade gas you would like to use - this varies by station.

»Remove the nozzle from the pump and insert the spout fully into the gas tank. Squeeze the lever on the handle of the nozzle to begin pumping.

»Avoid getting in and out of the car when gas is pumping - this can create static, the main cause of gas station fires.

»Stop filling when the spout clicks off, and allow the last few drops to fall in the tank. Do not "top off" or try to add more gas to the tank as this can lead to spills.

»If there's an emergency, press the "emergency pump stop" button on the gas station's wall, and dial 911.

»Wash and/or wipe away any gas that gets on skin or clothes

In case of fire:

»Do not remove the nozzle

»Press the emergency pump stop/extinguisher button

»Get any occupants out of the car and far away

»Notify station attendant or call 911 for help

De-Fog Windows

De-Fogging Windows

Under the wrong conditions, car windows can fog up instantly, causing limited or even zero visibility. Driving when visibility is even slightly impaired is extremely dangerous.

Fog inside car windows is caused by excess moisture, which can be the result of human breathing (lots of people in the car), wet clothing or hair, snow or water inside the car and conditions outdoors. In addition, windows that are not kept clean are more prone to fogging.

The best time to clear fogged windows is when parked and outside of the garage. But windows will often fog up when the car is moving, and you'll have to respond quickly:

»If necessary, wipe moisture inside the windshield with a towel or anything handy

»Press the defrost button on your car's dashboard; this should turn on the air vents at a high level

»Lower side windows an inch or two to draw in drier air

»Running the heat is much less effective and you may need to turn on the air conditioning even if the temperature in the car is already cold

»When the outside air is very humid, use the "re-circulate" button to use air from inside the car, otherwise, air from outside the car will be less effective and only brings more moisture into the car

»If you're having trouble seeing out, slow down or move to the side of the road until the windows are cleared

Jump Start a Car Battery

Liberty Mutual Teen Driving: jump start a car How to Jump Start a Car Battery

So, you think your battery is dead. Before you go looking for the jumper cables, you should check that your car is in park and that you're not getting power in the car - the lights will not turn on - when you turn the key in the ignition. Ok, your battery is dead. But not to worry, you can either jump start the battery (using the guidelines below) or if you have roadside assistance with Liberty Mutual, you can just give us a call and we'll handle it for you.

First things first:

»Always read your car's owners manual before attempting to jump start your car

»Wear eye protection or eyeglasses and never smoke

»Make sure the cables are clear of moving engine parts

»Never touch the cable ends to each other

»The ignition in both vehicles should be off

Find a friend or family member with another car. The cars must not be touching, but close enough to connect batteries. Both ignitions should be off. Each battery has two metal terminals on it. One is marked positive (+); the other is negative (-).

Step 1:
Attach one end of one cable to the dead battery's positive terminal.
Step 2:
Attach the other end of the same cable to the positive terminal of the battery in the starting vehicle.
Step 3:
Attach one end of the other cable to the negative terminal of the battery in the starting vehicle.
Step 4:
Attach the other end of that cable to the engine block, or frame, of the car with the dead battery. Look for unpainted metal surfaces. Do not attach the negative cable to the dead battery itself, and do not attach it to the frame anywhere near the battery.
Step 5:
Start the car that's providing the jump start. Wait about 30 seconds then try to start the car with the dead battery. If it does not start, stop trying and wait a few moments longer. Try again for no more than thirty seconds.
Step 6:
After the dead battery car is running, remove the cable connections in the reverse order that you put them on. That means that the first disconnection is from the frame, and the last is from the positive terminal of the car that has just been started.

Please remember that improper jump starting can damage the car's electrical components. Consult your car's owners manual. Jump starting a car can be dangerous if done incorrectly; do not attempt to do so on your own if you are not 100% sure you are capable of doing so.

Once you get moving though, you should have your battery checked out by a mechanic to make sure you do not need a replacement.

Change a Tire

Liberty Mutual Teen Driving: changing a tire Change a Tire

Being able to change a flat tire can save you time and money by avoiding a service call or tow. Here's how you do it yourself.

1. Drive as little as possible on a flat tire, to avoid damaging the rim or ruining a repairable tire. If on the road, get as far away from traffic as possible, turn on the emergency flashers and place safety cones if you have them.

2. Make sure the car is in "park" (or first/reverse with a manual transmission) and on a level, solid surface. It's always a good idea to "block" one of the wheels opposite the end being raised with a brick or similar solid object.

3. Consult the owner's manual to locate the spare and jack (usually in the floor or side of the trunk). The manual should also indicate where the jack should be placed for front and back tires.

4. Place the jack where required; there is usually a small notch or mark just behind the front wheels or in front of the rear wheel. The jack must be positioned firmly against the solid steel of the frame to lift straight up and down.

5. Before raising the car, remove the hub cap or smaller section covering the lugs. Use a tire wrench to loosen the lugs about half a turn counter clockwise. This can require some brute strength as lugs can be very stubborn.

6. Raise the car with the jack high enough to remove the flat tire and place the spare. As you lift, make sure that the car is stable. If you notice any rocking, slipping or bending, lower the jack and make sure it's placed properly.

7. Remove the nuts and the flat tire. Place the spare on the rim aligned with the bolt holes. Start the bolts and tighten by hand; they should tighten easily if the wheel is placed properly. Use the wrench to tighten each lug a little at a time until they are all snug.

8. Lower the car and finish tightening the lugs with the wrench. Most spares are only meant to be used briefly, so get the flat tire repaired or replaced as soon as possible.

Checking Tire Pressure

Checking Tire Pressure

Keeping your tires properly inflated is important for car safety and also improves gas mileage. It's especially important as the weather cools, because for every 10-degree drop in temperature, air pressure goes down 1 to 2 pounds. Over time, and between summer and winter months, you could find yourself driving on severely under-inflated tires. Under or over-inflated tires reduce your car's grip on the road which can increase your chance of losing control of your car. Under-inflated tires can also decrease your gas mileage since your car has to work harder and use more gas to travel at the same speed.

Luckily, it's easy to keep on top of your auto's tire pressure. In fact, some newer cars will even provide a warning on the driver's instrument panel.

You can determine your tires' proper air pressure by checking the owner's manual or looking on the driver's side doorjamb. The pressure stamped on the tire only shows the "maximum pressure" and not the "recommended" pressure. Then, get a reliable tire gauge and visit a service station that provides compressed air.

Maintaining optimal tire pressure will reduce tread wear. Check tire pressure at least monthly, and making regular visual checks will alert you to a tire losing air due to damage or a slow leak.

Dashboard Lights

Liberty Mutual Teen Driving: dashboard lights Dashboard Warning Lights

Auto dashboards have multiple features designed to let the driver know how the vehicle is operating, and to warn when something is going wrong. Although some cars display recorded or written messages, most will produce a lighted symbol to alert the driver of both minor and potentially critical problems with the engine or other parts of the vehicle.

Your owner's manual should have a section showing a list of engine light symbols and what they mean. Here are some you should be familiar with.

High-beams - This is often a blue colored light shaped like a headlamp. It's easy to turn on the high-beams when you don't intend to. Oncoming drivers may honk or flash their headlights to let you know.

Brake Light - This may indicate that you are driving with the parking brake on. It may also mean low brake fluid or a serious brake problem requiring immediate attention. If your vehicle has ABS (antilock brake system) a special light may indicate more complex problems.

Oil Light - This usually means that the amount of oil in the engine is too low or that there is no oil pressure due to an oil pump problem. Generally you'll want to check the oil level and add oil if low. If the light remains on, it may be unwise to continue driving and an appointment with a mechanic will be required.

Check Engine Light - This could be almost anything, from "it's time for scheduled maintenance" to a minor issue with the car's computer. Check other indicators, such as the engine temperature gauge, and have a professional take a look.

Air Bag Light - Indicates a problem with the air bags which may prevent them from deploying in an accident.

Battery Charge Light - This light is intended to indicate that the alternator is not charging the battery. Eventually, the battery will no longer operate or be able to start the car, so you'll want to turn off unneeded electrical devices such as the radio and get the problem looked into as soon as possible.

Gas Tank Light - You're going to run out of gas sooner than later, the only question is how soon you can get to a gas station.

REMEMBER, whether you're a new or experienced driver - your car's owners manual should always be consulted to ensure you are adhering to your car's specifications.