Under the Hood: Tips and Red Flags for Non-Mechanics

 

Some people seem to know everything there is to know about their car. They talk knowledgeably about ‘miles to the gallon’, ‘limited slip differential’ and torque. Others, to put it mildly, are less interested in what’s under the hood.

But whether you’re a wannabe mechanic, or if you prefer to let the experts sort things, there are times when knowing the basics can be invaluable. Like, for example, the time my car battery died during a torrential downpour when I was gridlocked…

No matter what car you drive, it’s more than likely that there’ll be a glitch at some stage. Most cars these days have computer-based diagnostic systems that stop tinkering, so you can’t always fix the problem yourself. But, there are a number of basic issues that everyone can fix safely.

Oh no, my battery’s dead!

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You’ve woken up late and your car’s dead. Oh great, the battery’s dead. This can be fixed quickly and easily using jump leads. You’ll need a second car for this fix.

  1. Position each car so the hoods are facing each other. They should be close enough so the cable stretches easily between the engines.
  2. Open the hood of each car.
  3. Look at the batteries on each car. Are they cracked? If so, then it’s not safe to continue. Make sure you can see where the positive and negative terminals are.
  4. Connect one end of the positive jumper cable (the red one) to the positive terminal on the dead battery.  Connect the other end of the red jumper cable to the positive cable on the working battery.
  5. Connect one end of the negative jumper cable (the black one) to the negative terminal on the charged battery.
  6. Connect the other end of the black jumper cable to a metal part of the car that has the dead battery. This could be the frame, chassis, or another part that’s clean and hasn’t been painted.
  7. Next, start the engine of the car that’s working. Your car is now charging. This takes at least 5 minutes.
  8. Without taking the cables off, try to start the car with the (hopefully no longer) dead battery. If it doesn’t start, keep charging for another few minutes.
  9. When the car does start, turn the engine off again. Disconnect then remove the black jumper cables, then the red cables (it’s best to do it in this order to prevent sparks or even explosions).

I’ve got a flat tire, help!

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Flat tires are a pain, but the good news is they’re easy to fix. You’ll need a spare tire (make sure it’s in a good state of repair before doing anything) and a car jack to lift the car. This repair should only be undertaken on a flat, level surface.

 

  1. Place a heavy rock or the spare wheel in front of the front and back tires.
  2. Remove the wheel rim.
  3. The car jack will be positioned near the wheel that needs changed. There will be a small notch just behind the front wheels or in front of the rear wheels where you should put the jack. If you have your handbook in the car, this will show you exactly where this place is.
  4. Extend the jack until the car has just started to lift off the ground.
  5. Using the wrench that came with the car, loosen the nuts slightly by turning counterclockwise. This might take some force.
  6. Making sure the car is stable, crank the jack so the tire is lifted off the ground. If you feel the car isn’t stable lower the jack and reposition.
  7. Remove the flat tire and put the spare tire in its place.
  8. Put on the nuts using your hands first, then the wrench. It’s a good idea to do this in a star pattern so they are equally tight and the tire is balanced.
  9. Lower the car until it’s just touching the ground. The full weight shouldn’t be on the tire yet. Tighten the nuts again.
  10. Lower the car fully and remove the jack. Make sure the nuts are as tight as possible then put the hubcap on.
  11. Take the old tire to a mechanic who will either repair or replace it. This should be a priority as you don’t know when you’ll need it again!

Omigod the engine light just came on!

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This can be worrying as you don’t know what the specific problem is with your car. It could be a minor fault, or something serious that’s about to make your wallet feel significantly lighter. The only person who will be able to tell you what the problem is a car mechanic, as you need to plug a device into the car’s diagnostic connector to read the error code that turned the light on.

Computers: can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.

The good news is you can use your common sense to give you an indication of the seriousness of the problem. If the engine doesn’t have any strange smells or sounds coming from it, and there are no other lights on, the issue is probably fairly minor. Either way, it’s not a good idea to delay a visit to a car mechanic in case the issue worsens.

 

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Remember, all cars that are sold through TRED have a comprehensive 150-point-inspection carried out by an expert mechanic.

If you’re interested in trouble-free driving, take a look at what we do to ensure you and your passengers have a safe, trouble-free journey. See you on the road!

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