Think about the worst car you ever drove.

Maybe it was so ugly that it made babies cry. Or perhaps, like mine, it was so mechanically unsound that you couldn’t even trust it out on the roads. You gripped the steering wheel so hard that your knuckles turned white and your teeth clenched until you practically had lockjaw.

Whether you drive a brand-new car or have one that is at the end of your life span, it is important to know the basics of car maintenance. As single women, we must stand on our own two feet and not be taken in by dishonest mechanics.

I’m not saying you have to know how to fix everything in a car, but I have compiled a list of basic things you should be able to do yourself. That way, if your car starts acting up, you can make very basic repairs yourself, or at least be able to identify the source of the problem:

  1. Using your carjack. I didn’t learn how to do this until I was about 28. And by then, I learned the jack that came with my repair kit was woefully inadequate. It was a hard lesson learned, but I know better now!
  1. Changing a tire. I actually learned how to change a tire in high school, but that skill wasn’t helpful at 28 because my terrible carjack didn’t work!
  1. Changing an interior light bulb or headlight. This one is a little trickier, but important to learn how to do, because the last thing you want is getting pulled over for a non-functioning headlight!
  1. Changing oil. I did this – once – many moons ago, but I would not be able to do it now. You could save hundreds of dollars over the course of your car’s life if you learn how to do this yourself!
  1. Charging a battery. Again, I had to learn how to do this the hard way in college. And grad school. And after grad school. A good pair of jumper cables in your trunk is worth its weight in gold.
  1. Changing the battery. You have to be careful when you do this one, because you want to make sure you have the right connections on the right terminal!
  1. Checking your fluids. Checking your oil is something I learned back in high school, and very important if you have a leak anywhere or you aren’t sure when you need an oil change. Learning how to check coolants as well as windshield wiper, brake, power steering, and transmission fluids.
  1. Checking your tire pressure. When I was strapped for cash and had a very slow leak in my tires, it was very important to monitor tire pressure. You can buy a gauge at a hardware or auto parts store for less than five bucks. Money well spent.
  1. Knowing the location of important car parts. If you know where the shocks, struts, alternator, and starter are, you will have a much better chance of identifying where weird sounds come from when things start to go south.
  1. Knowing the signs of when various parts are going out. Speaking of things going south, keeping an ear out for weird sounds, vibrations that shouldn’t be there, noticing a difference in how the car handles, or identifying why your car won’t start (alternator vs. battery, for example) are all great skills to cultivate. Pay attention to your car. If you notice something is off, chances are your intuition is right. 

That’s all well and good, but how am I supposed to know all this stuff if I don’t have anyone to teach me?

Glad you asked. A lot of this stuff I learned from my dad. A mechanically-inclined girlfriend taught me a lot of other points. Feel out your network to see if anyone is willing to teach you how to do this, maybe in exchange for babysitting services, pizza, or another way of bartering.

Some vocational schools will offer classes on basic car care. A really good, patient mechanic may also take time out of his day to teach you. And YouTube is full of video tutorials.

Hopefully you already know how to do at least two or three items on the list, and this will give you an idea what you need to do for basic car care. Knowledge is power, and learning how to do this will give you more independence.

Is there anything I should have added but didn’t? Comment below!