Car basics for beginners

On the Road 3 min read

With the amount of money we spend on car payments, maintenance, and repairs, you’d think we’d have a better relationship with our vehicles. But understanding things to know about cars for beginners — how cars work, how to care for them, what repairs can cost — can feel overwhelming. All the parts, fluids, guidelines to follow, and things that can go wrong make cars and repair garages seem intimidating. But they don’t have to be. Knowing a few car maintenance tips can boost your confidence and help your car run better.

5 things to know about cars for beginners

You don’t need to know everything about your vehicle, but you should have a handle on some of the car basics for beginners. To help you feel more confident as a car owner, here are five things you should be familiar with about your ride:

1. Know your vehicle’s year, make, and model

The first thing you should know about your car is the year it was manufactured, the make of the car, and the specific model. This seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at the amount of people who don’t know this information. They may be mistaken on the year or the car make and model, which can lead to big problems. Fluids, parts, and the accessories to repair and maintain your car are all based on its year, make, and model, so it’s critical to know this information. Design, construction, and models of cars can change significantly from year to year.

2. Get familiar with the VIN

Your vehicle identification number (VIN) is your car’s fingerprint. It’s a 17-digit code that identifies your car’s manufacture date, place, make, model, engine size, and other information. The VIN stays with the car throughout its life. You need to know where to find this code, but you don’t need to memorize it. The easiest way to find it is to stand outside of the vehicle on the driver’s side and look for it at the corner of the dashboard where it meets the windshield. Your VIN is useful when talking to mechanics and insurance companies, which use it when issuing auto insurance policies. You can use the VIN to look up information if you want to purchase a car or buy parts for it.

3. Keep up with the maintenance schedule

A good way to keep your car running well is to stick to your car’s specific maintenance schedule. Your schedule will tell you things like when to change your oil, when to check your fluids, and when to rotate your tires. Each car has its own maintenance schedule that should be followed to maintain optimal performance, health, and longevity of your car. Your maintenance schedule is in your owner’s manual or an accompanying booklet. Read it and strictly follow the recommendations for checking and replacing those parts or fluids in your car to keep it healthy.

4. Tire pressure is important

Proper tire pressure might be the most ignored maintenance concern on our cars. A lot of us tend to dismiss the warning light when it comes on or put off checking the tires because we don’t want to take the time. However, not addressing low tire pressure can decrease the life of our tires and require us to buy new ones sooner than we otherwise would have to. Tires are expensive, but some can last you over 50,000 miles if you take care of them correctly. On the flip side, make sure to never overfill your tires either.

5. Don’t ignore dashboard warning lights

While we may experience anxiety when dashboard lights such as the check engine light come on, they are a window into our car’s health. Dashboard lights vary among car manufacturers, so check your owner’s manual to find out what they mean. However, manuals may not express how important or insignificant certain lights are. It can be helpful to separate dashboard lights into three categories:

  • Red: Get help now! These are sometimes related to passenger safety.
  • Yellow: Check this out as soon as possible.
  • Green or blue: For informational purposes. No action is needed.

Understanding these car basics for beginners is your first step to feeling in control of your car, talking to a mechanic with confidence, and making better choices for your car’s maintenance. Now grab your maintenance manual and stay up to date.

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