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Learning about cars

On October 2, 1998, I became the proud recipient of my driver's license. Although I vaguely knew that there would be some great car-and-driver learning experiences up ahead, I had no idea what to expect. Needless to say, I was in for quite a few surprises. For the benefit of other clueless drivers, I decided I should share my tiny fountain of knowledge.


Chapter One: Oil
Lesson One: (I learned this lesson while driving my father's 1988 Ford F150…) Standard cars stall when you remove your foot from the clutch before turning them off and you are not moving.
Lesson Two: In ALL cars, anytime they stall, little lights come on. In this instance, the little CHECK ENGINE light does not necessarily mean you have an engine problem, nor does the OIL LIGHT mean you are low on oil.
Lesson Three: When checking for oil, one uses the dipstick.
Lesson Four: The dipstick IS NOT FOUND in the same place where you add the oil. It's separate...

Lesson Five: Yes, it IS bad to add too much oil to your car... this is why they invented the dipstick in the first place...
Lesson Six: It is much harder to remove oil than to add oil.

Chapter Two: Theft Protection

Lesson One: Many cars are equipped with a rather useless form of theft protection.
Lesson Two: This theft protector is activated when you turn the steering wheel while your car is not running.
Lesson Three: Sometimes, it is good to use force on your car.
Lesson Four: The theft protector, which will not allow you to turn your keys in the ignition in order to start your car, can be deactivated by forcefully and rapidly turning the steering wheel from side to side.

Chapter Three: Painting

When I got my "new" old car, a 1990 Plymouth Acclaim, it had been repainted with one of the lousiest paint jobs I have ever laid eyes on. It was (and still is) a dull, pale blue, with a peeling roof and hood.
Lesson One: For small paint jobs, you can do-it-yourself by buying little spray cans of paint and rust-killer at your local car supply store. Just follow the instructions on the can. But…
Lesson Two: When your whole roof is peeling off, it may be easier and wiser to have someone else give you a cheap paint job.
Lesson Three: If you're looking for a cheap paint job, you don't go to an auto body shop. They give you quality paint jobs. And these are veerrrry expensive… a quality paint job on my car would have cost over a thousand dollars, and the car itself only cost 1,500 dollars.
Lesson Four: For a cheap paint job, get a Maaco paint job. It won't last forever, but it'll do. Unfortunately, due to inflation, these are usually over 500 dollars… not really so cheap, depending on how much money you're willing to spend to make your car look pretty.
Chapter Four: Deceleration

This was my first real fiasco with "my" Acclaim.
Lesson One: Failure to Accelerate When your car fails to accelerate when going up hills, this could be a problem. Do not overlook it.
Lesson Two: Failure to Accelerate, Part II: When your car fails to accelerate while NOT going up hills, this could be an even bigger problem.
Lesson Three: Deceleration When your car begins to decelerate, despite the fact that you are pushing the gas pedal to the floor, and your car is running, and then the little engine light and check oil lights come on, you have a problem for sure. Pull over to the side of the road.
Lesson Four: Coolant If your car goes "ka-thoonk" when you pull over and turn it off, you may think you hit something. But if you go out to see what's wrong with your vehicle, and you see green stuff squirting and oozing out of the front of your car, you just have a really big problem. But I probably don't have to tell you that. For future reference, we will refer to the green, hot (don't touch it) liquid as coolant, a.k.a. antifreeze.
Lesson Five: Driving with Minimal Coolant If you are not too far from home when your car decides to spit coolant everywhere, you may try to make it back to your home. Be very careful to make sure your engine does not overheat by watching the engine temperature gauge (it has an H and a C on it and several little lines in between). You don't want the needle to reach the H. To keep the engine as cool as possible, turn on your heat, and put it on high, because the heat comes from the engine. If you begin to experience a burning sensation because of this heat, open your windows to cool off. Whatever you do, DON'T RUN THE AIR CONDITIONING, because this makes the engine work harder, thus getting hotter. If the needle of the temperature gauge reaches the H, pull over to the side of the road and stop until the engine has cooled. If you don't keep the engine cool, and it begins to steam, pull over and don't be surprised when you experience another "ka-thoonk" and coolant mini-fountain.

Lesson Six: Broken Temperature Gauges Sometimes, watching the temperature gauge won't help. Especially when the temperature gauge is broken. In this case, you will THINK that your engine isn't too hot, when in reality the gauge is simply not working. One way to make sure you always have a properly functioning temperature gauge is to watch it while driving normally, so that you can see the normal range of temperature for your engine. When you notice that your engine seems to not get as hot anymore, your temperature gauge may be malfunctioning. Fortunately, temperature gauges are fairly cheap. Sometimes, a problem you blame on a broken fan may be a malfunctioning temperature gauge. To test this theory, try disconnecting the fan from the temperature gauge, since the gauge tells the fan when to run. If the fan begins to run, you have a deficient gauge. Replacing the gauge may solve your overheating problem. However… the deceleration has other causes…

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Lesson Seven: Cars Which Die in the Night You thought you solved your problems, because you aren't having coolant fountains anymore. Yet as you go driving down your road, your car decides to decelerate once again. You pull over, but there is no coolant fountain. "Good," you think, "It's not malfunctioning…"
Lesson Eight: Flashlights Always keep a functioning flashlight in your car, because in this sort of situation, it comes in handy. You can't see under the hood in the dark, even if your headlights are on. Someone should invent a light on the underside of the hood…
Lesson Nine: More "Ka-thoonk" You try to continue, thinking to yourself, "it's a lousy car, but it can get me there," wherever "there" may be, but your car has decided to decelerate as soon as you can start it, and the little oil light comes on, and the check engine light. Clearly, something bad is going on under the hood. Then, you hear that mysterious "ka-thoonk," just as your car stalls and locks up. Now is a good time to get as far off the road as possible and put on your hazards, usually located on the steering column.
Lesson Ten: Starting Your Car In your panic, do not forget that the car will only start in "P" (park) and "N" (neutral). Sometimes, it also refuses to start in neutral. If it does refuse to start at all, no matter what gear, try shifting into neutral and rolling off of the road.
Lesson Eleven: What Was Causing The Deceleration?? yr gonna hafta help me here, dad...

Chapter Five: Starting Troubles

Lesson One: Shaky Starting In colder weather, cars tend to rebel more with regards to starting. One way in which my car does this is by shaking... the shaking started as a gentle pulse, but now it's like riding a galloping horse. Of course, it goes away once I go faster than ten mph...
Lesson Two: Starting in Cold Weather My father does not agree with this method of starting, but I found it works for me and my little car. I recommend you read your driver's manual before attempting this, but mine recommends that you push the gas pedal, then turn the key to start the engine. Do this ONLY AFTER ATTEMPTING TO START THE ENGINE NORMALLY for 10 to 15 seconds.
Lesson Three: Beatings If you wish, you may beat your car, but it won't help it start...

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