Everything You Need to Know to Take Care of Your Own Car Emergencies
Picture this, you’re out cruising down a dark windy back road at 2AM on the hunt for that mystical 24 hour diner with the most delicious french fries, and suddenly you hear a POP. Your steering suddenly seems wonky and it becomes apparent your tire has blown. It’s fine, you’ve got AAA, so you grab your cell and discover you have no service. You look around and there’s no one around except a sketchy noise coming from the woods. You’re on your own here and if you want to get home (or to the diner) you’re going to have to change the tire yourself.
In today’s age it’s easy to think there will always be someone to call or help you take care of an emergency, but too often we’re proven wrong at the most inopportune time. So instead of having to rely on sketchy cell service or someone else, here’s your guide to car emergency self-sufficiency.
HOW TO CHANGE A TIRE
The first step is to turn on your hazard lights! The next critical component in changing a tire is to actually have a spare tire. Now show of hands, who knows where that is? If you have a larger car, chances are the spare is underneath the back end of the car and will have to be lowered to the ground (this guy shows you how). However if you have a smaller car, open up your trunk and look under the upholstery. There you should find everything you need—the spare, a jack, and a wrench. If you cannot find your spare tire and you have a new car, it’s possible it doesn’t exist. Apparently some company’s (Kia and Toyota) have been removing spares to reduce weight and gas mileage. You might find a tire inflator and patch instead, which frankly sucks. I highly suggest you do a thorough check of your car at some point and locate these things so you’ll know where to find them in case of emergency.
Pro Tip: Get your car manual out at the same time. There will be a section on tire changing and will give you any make/model specific details to help things along.
Next you want to loosen up the lug nuts using the wrench. This might require you to remove the hubcabs first which can just be popped out (if not, check the manual). Remember, lefty-loosey, righty-tighty. Then you’ll want to jack up the car (check the manual to find the best place to put it) just high enough to get clearance for the tire.
Pro Tip: Make sure you have your parking brake on and if possible, try to do this on a level surface. A ditch is not the best option.
Finish removing the lug nuts (don’t lose these, put them somewhere safe), remove the dead tire, and replace it with the spare (air valve facing out). Put the lug nuts back in but do not tighten at this point, just lightly secure them. Remove the jack (carefully) and then tighten the lug nuts. Put the wrench and jack back where you found them, and take your dead tire with you.
Pro Tip: Go straight to the auto-shop the next day or as soon as possible to replace your tire. Most factory spare tires are smaller and/or aren’t designed to be run on for long periods of time. If yours is a full size tire, you’ll also want to replace the spare tire so you don’t end up without a spare in the future.
HOW TO JUMP YOUR CAR
If you’ve tried to start your car and all you get is a vague ticking noise that sounds like an episode of “24,” it’s likely your battery is dead. The same could also be true if you have no power (radio, interior lights, etc..) and you can’t turn over the engine at all. It’s now a fairly good assumption that your battery is dead (it could be an alternator issue, but that’s not a DIY fix) and that you’re going to need to jump it.
The first question is do you have jumper cables? These aren’t standard-issue items that come with your car, so it’s something you 100-percent should invest in. If you don’t have one, now comes the tricky part because not only do you need to find another car that can jump your battery, but one that also has jumper cables. Sorry friends, this sadly means you’re going to have to talk to other people.
Once you’ve located your miraculous good Samaritans, park the cars parallel to each other facing the same direction, and quite close together (don’t exceed the length of the jumper cables). Then you’re going to want to turn off both cars and remove keys, and pop the hoods.
Pro Tip: Find your battery (hint, it’s a big rectangle, is generally toward the front edge of the engine and has two Frankenstein monster bolts sticking up).
Now, this is where you need to follow directions:
The cables are marked with red and black handles with + and – signs on them (just like normal batteries). Place the red positive clamp on the + bolt on the battery, then repeat with the black negative clamp on the – bolt.
On the dead battery, attach the other red positive clamp to the + bolt. Place the black negative clamp on an unpainted metal portion of the engine. You might see a bit of sparking, but don’t be alarmed.
Start the working car and let it run for a few minutes, perhaps even revving the engine (make sure you’re in park!), then try starting the dead car. If it doesn’t start, let the battery charge a bit longer before trying again. If it does start you can remove your clamps, starting with the black negative one, then the positive.
Pro Tip: Keep your engine running for a while (wasting gas doesn’t matter here) as you need to let the car charge the battery. It would be a good idea to take the car in and have a meter put on your battery afterwards to make sure it was a fluke (such as leaving your lights on or door open, effectively draining the battery).
Of course there are other emergencies that could arise that can be a bit trickier, such as your car overheating, which require you to be a bit more familiar with the internal workings, but still have a few key tips to help you get through it. Though while emergencies do happen, one of the best ways to keep you and your car safe is regularly scheduled maintenance (checking your tire pressure, oil levels) and having a car safety kit. The more prepared you are with the right tools and familiarity with your own car and manual, the better equipped you’ll be in the case of an emergency.