No knowledge of very basic auto maintenance - is this common?

A couple of months ago, I was with a friend when her 19-year-old, in college, macho hocky-player son called her to say that a light had come on on his car’s dash, what should he do? She told him to go to the nearest shop and have them look at it - he was in town so that was just a few blocks. When she hung up, I suggested he might just pull over and check the various fluid levels, since driving a car with no oil or water can wreck an engine. “Oh, he doesn’t know how to do any of that.” What?! Her husband, BTW, is a GM engineer - yet nobody has showed this kid how to check basic fluids and told him what to do what lights coming on might mean. These are not stupid people.

I was with this same friend last week and pointed out that one of her tires was really low. She didn’t know how to air up a tire. I showed her how.

Several months ago another friend called me saying she’d be late for our appointment, because her car suddenly stopped running. I suggested she open the hood and check the battery connection. “Oh, I’ve already called a towing service, I’ll just wait for them.” One of the battery cables had come loose at the post, was all. She sat on the side of the road for 30 minutes, then paid whatever they charged, because she didn’t think to check some of the most obvious things.

I was also with a male friend last year when his tire went flat…he didn’t know how to change a tire.

What’s funny is that I live in SE Michigan, practically the birthplace of the automobile.

I’m fairly ignorant mechanically, but I used to assume that everyone at least knew things like pull over when a warning light comes on, what the different lights mean, how to change a tire and check the vital fluids, how to jump-start a car and so on.

Shouldn’t a learning driver be taught some of these basics? Don’t they cover this sort of thing in drivers’ ed? How does one get to 50-ish and not know how to change or air up a tire? I don’t get it.

Uggh. I feel your pain. Don’t know if its MORE common these days, but it sure does seem to be more common than is reasonable.

Reminds me of a newspaper story a few years back. Some local college or big car dealer or some such had some “car ownership classes”. A few hours where they went over the basics/mechanics of cars.

The disturbing thing in the article was this one lady who was gushing about how she really didnt get these things and how useful the class was for her. Stereotypical “women don’t get cars” stuff. But that wasnt the disturbing part to me.

The disturbing part was the ladies occupation. Aircraft engine mechanic :eek:

I think it’s more common now since cars just don’t really break down as often. A few weeks ago my dad and I changed all four sets of brakes on his Tahoe. After we finished I looked at him and mentioned that in the three years that he’s had the car, that’s the first time we’ve opened the hood. He takes it in for oil changes (mostly due to lack of time and not wanting to crawl around under it) and other then that it hasn’t had any big problems and the small stuff has been covered under a warranty so we don’t even bother troubleshooting it.

Tire changing, air in the tires, adding fluids etc are basic life skills and I would think a parent would teach these type of things to their children.

I learned the basics in driver’s ed, but that was back when it was a class you took in school, during normal school hours, not something extra during the summer.

Anyway, another reason people are going to be increasingly ignorant about their cars as we go on is because they’ve changed. A lot.

How long has it been since anyone here had to check their battery to make sure it had water?
Adjusted their carb manually?

I know an awful lot of people who can jack into their cars with specialized computers and adjust all kinds of things that I wouldn’t have a clue about. Times are just…changing. It’s been over a decade since my mom got a new’ish car and was having problems; my sister and I popped the hood to take a look, since we both know a little bit of this and that. THERE WAS NO ENGINE!!

I mean there was something there, but it looked like a solid sheet of steel, just about. We closed the hood and she took it to the shop and they charged her 100 bucks to adjust something with a computer. UGH!!!

Gimme something I can get my hands into, thanks.

p.s. I’m not afraid to tear my computer apart, either, but the car computers are a whole other deal; I wouldn’t know where to start. (Ok…with Google, probably. :stuck_out_tongue: )

I think so too, along with how to change a light bulb and how to shut off the water in your house in case of a leak event and how to change fuses…

I realise that newer cars are less likely to break down, but they still get flat tires and disconnected battery cables and warning lights coming on.

LOL @ **billfish678’**s airline mechanic anecdote.

First time I got a flat on the road, in the middle of nowhere, I’d never changed a tire before, but I knew where my owner’s manual was, and the directions were pretty clear. It wasn’t fun, but I took care of it.

When it comes to cars, I firmly believe the best tool for the job is a checkbook, but I know enough about my vehicles to know what the lights mean, how to check all fluid levels and air pressure, and what noises and smells are BAD. I’m also lucky enough to have a couple of outstanding mechanics who will talk to me as if I understand what they’re saying. They’ve also scored major points when I’ve asked about doing something and they say “You don’t need to do that.” The most I do myself is change my wiper blades and refill the washer fluid. I’d rather pay for my guys to do the rest.

My daughter is deliberately ignorant about her car. We’ve tried to teach her, but she can’t be bothered. Oh well, if she wants to pay for unnecessary service or ignore possible problems, it’s her car. We tried…

I can change a tire and check tire pressure and run the little air compressor if it’s low. I can check the oil (although I would have to add more by trial and error, 'cause I don’t know how much, in quarts, “half an inch low” would be), check the coolant (and add more, knowing to check the label to see if it’s 50/50 and dilute with water if not) and add windshield fluid. I can change out a fuse if it needs it, but I admit I only learned that in the last year or so (I’m 36). That’s pretty much it, but more than the folks the OP is talking about. ETA: Oh, and I can, theoretically, change a wiper blade, but I cut my hand up pretty badly doing it once, so I’m scared to. Luckily, the guys at Auto Zone will change them for free if I buy them there.

I’m sure I could learn to change my own oil pretty quickly, but I don’t have a driveway to do it in, and Chicago Streets and Sanitation frowns on one doing an oil change in the street. :wink:

I taught my son all the stuff I know before he got into high school, although he never got his license. My SO has since showed him how to swap out a muffler (including cutting and clamping) and something with brakes (calipers, maybe? I dunno) and some other stuff when it needs it. I don’t care if he’d rather pay someone to take of his own car someday; I’d like him to know how to DIY so he doesn’t have to, though.

And yes, my daughter will get the same lessons, but when you’re six, your arm isn’t long enough to pull out the oil dipstick. She’s already the designated car waxer in the family, though. :smiley:

Taomist - I get that. Back in the day, I was taught how to do oil changes, tune ups and basic stuff like that (and I’m a female) and I also did some more complex things, like rewire an old truck and rebuilt a carburetor. I understand that modern vehicles are more complicated - I am pretty much ignorant about the workings and computer stuff on my truck and van.

But what to do about warning lights, low air in tires and some very basic things hasn’t changed that much, surely? A 19-year-old who has to call his mom when warning lights come on, or who doesn’t know how to check engine oil…come on now.

I stopped really understanding what goes on under the hood of my truck when Star Wars ate my carburetor. AAA membership and a cell phone take care of just about anything. Yeah, I know how to check the fluids, change the oil, identify major and minor problems (like finding a crazed opossum under the hood last week!) but why bother? I’m not someone who gets a great deal of pleasure from getting greasy, and since computers control everything I used to be able to adjust with a screwdriver and a mallet, there is no reason for me to ever make the effort.

I can change a tire, and generally do: I’m too impatient to wait. I can put air in a tire. I can check my oil, though I’d have to get out the owner’s manual to figure out where to put more oil in.

I can’t change the damn driver’s side headlight in my car. It’s like you have to take the whole stupid chassis apart to get to it. I got an early oil change so that I could ask them to change the headlight, too, so that they wouldn’t think I was the sort of idiot who couldn’t change their own headlight, but was somewhat vindicated when the mechanic mentioned that it had been insanely difficult to do. I figure it’s only a matter of time before oil and tire changes become as complicated.

My 17 year old grandson just ruin his car engine because he let it run out of oil, only two weeks after he added two quarts to it because it was low.

He did not even think of investigating why it was low, turns out the oil filter was leaking because it was not tight enough, he had changed the oil himself.

Fortunately, it was an old beater and now he’s looking for another one.

Well, I have to check my battery water fairly frequently; most aftermarket batteries are still not sealed-cell batteries, and I had to replace my 2005 pickup’s battery in about 2008, so I’ve had to check the water for a while now.

As for the carburetors… probably about 15-20 years, considering that it’s been a long time since electronic fuel injection became standard.

I think the advent of longer-life fluids and longer service intervals is the biggest driver to a lot of the lack of knowledge. 100k interval for tuneups (spark plug changes these days) and transmission fluid changes, and 10k for oil changes tend to make a lot of the maintenance activities that used to be pretty commonplace for DIYers a once or twice in the lifetime of the vehicle activities, and something many people will pay for.

When my daughter first had her own car, I carefully taught her the basics, even making her change the oil once. She kept protesting that she wasn’t a ‘‘libber’’. I said, ‘‘Never mind, you need to know this.’’ Now that she is married, I think they hire out most of their auto maintenance.

In this day of cell phones, stranded women isn’t the danger they once were. but better to be able to cope.

I’m the daughter of a mechanic and was taught the basics, for the most part - checking the oil, washer fluid, putting air in the tire. I know many of my friends were not.

My husband is always on me to learn more basic stuff too - changing out all the summer tires for winter, changing the oil, etc. I will help him once in a while because really, I should know this stuff.

Wow. I consider myself embarrassingly ignorant when it comes to all things automotive and mechanical and even I know how to inflate my tires, check my oil and do the other various basic tasks elementary to independent driving. If nothing else, this thread made me feel a little bit better about myself for not being able to change my own oil or knowing anything about the technical differences between a rotary engine and piston-fired engine. :stuck_out_tongue:

That’s part of DIY for me. Taking care of things myself means I don’t have to drop my car off at a dealership for a day, and arrange for alternate transportation to/from work (or sit in their waiting room for hours.

A couple of years ago I got a flat tire out on the road. Wife wanted to call AAA and wait. I didn’t want to wait half an hour for them to show up (and then ten more minutes for them to change it), so I changed it and got us back on the road in about ten minutes.

One reason is that DIY is cheaper. Seriously, you can save a lot of money by doing your own maintenance.

Another reason, as described above, is that in some circumstances it can save time.

I realize not everybody thinks the same way, but for me I also find fulfillment by taking care of my own equipment. I feel a greater sense of “ownership” by working directly on my own car and motorcycle, rather than paying someone else to do it. One of my favorite quotes comes from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:”

It is true-modern cars are appliances, that break down rarely.
Whereas, back in 1900, you had to be a mechanic-unless you were rich (and your chauffeur did all the routine maintainence for you).
My present car requires spark plugs changed at 100,000 miles, airfilter at 30,000 miles, oilchanges at about 10,000 miles.
However, I grew up with cars (mostly British) that required daily maintainence (and a lot of luck)!

Sorry, I resemble the OP - I can and have changed a car tire, and I can check the oil and such - other than that, I’m clueless. Thankfully I haven’t needed to do much with our car (usually buy new) and it includes five years free basic maintenance. Haven’t needed to do much beyond that.

Before I was allowed to take my drivers test my father made sure I could change the oil, check all fluid levels, change a tire, replace a fuse and adjust the timing (hey my car was really old).

Now I could probably still do most of that but I never do. I can’t remember the last time I had a flat and in the summer, I don’t even go through enough washer fluid between oil changes to have to top that up.