For many of us, our first lessons about tires and auto maintenance come from one dependable, knowledgeable source: our dads. So in honor of Father’s Day, we asked our fellow TireBuyer employees to share some of their very own dad-approved nuggets of automobile wisdom.
One thing to keep in mind — when it comes to this sort of knowledge, all dads may not be created equal. While some of our dads can fix anything on wheels, others fall into the “don’t try this at home” category.
What did your dad (or grandpa, mom, next-door neighbor, etc.) teach you about tires and cars? Feel free to comment and share.
Brad, product management:
As far as I know, my dad didn’t know a thing about cars but man, did he love his tractor. He had a big riding mower with a grass catcher in the back that ran off its own motor — the whole rig sounded like a 707 on takeoff. My big brother and I would sit on the flared wheel fenders and ride with him while he manicured the lawn twice a month. I liked taking some credit for the cool green perfection of the grass when it was done.
Over the years the tractor occupied huge swaths of his weekend time as he tried to keep both motors, the transmission, and the blades running. Truth is I resented the tractor just a little for keeping him so engrossed on sunny weekends. Why not just replace the dumb thing and come out to play with me? But I also admired my dad’s ability to learn as he went, carefully diagnosing problems and deconstructing systems to their component parts. I think he even made new parts when the machine was so old he couldn’t buy replacements anymore.
I learned a few mechanical nuggets from all his work but I also absorbed his confidence that if it came apart, it can go back together. He loved the process of investigating how things worked, and a healthy dose of that rubbed off on me. I’m generally not afraid to start tinkering with a household project (although I stay away from plumbing) because I know I’ll figure it out eventually. I love taking stuff apart, learning on the fly, and feeling the satisfaction of getting it all back together better than before.
But let’s face it: there’s the occasional project when I crash and burn and get in way over my head. From my dad’s years of working under his greasy lawn mower I also learned there’s a time to throw in the towel, pay a professional to fix it, and go out and play with the kids.
Back in the late ‘90s, my future father-in-law taught me that you don’t need to replace the headlight of your 1980s Pontiac station wagon — you can simply zip-tie a clear 2-liter bottle to the grill instead.
Susan, customer experience:
My dad loved cars and driving but wasn’t really a “car guy,” in that he had no idea how to diagnose or fix any problems. So his advice was to observe the maintenance schedule and always consult a trained professional for car repairs.
He was kind of a paradox when it came to cars. On the one hand he was all about safety; he was a volunteer paramedic for the fire department in our town and once took me to the scene of a horrible crash where an older kid we knew had died, to impress on me the importance of wearing your seat belt and not driving under the influence. It worked – I wasn’t even old enough to drive at the time but I still remember what that wreck looked like, and I still hear my dad’s voice when I’m tempted not to wear my seat belt because I’m just going around the block.
On the other hand, he also taught me how to drive hands-free (with your knees) and how to coast to save gas. And once, I was holding my beloved stuffed Snoopy out of the sunroof in his car and let go…he pulled over and ran back to get it for me. Yep, on the freeway. I guess these were “Do as I say, not as I do” moments!
Heidi, customer experience:
The most important thing I learned about cars from my Dad is that when a light comes on, just pull over and call someone. Once I was with my sister and she was driving my Dad’s Volkswagen Rabbit. The oil light came on and she kept driving even though I told her to pull over. When we got home, Dad discovered no oil … and a ruined engine.
Jason, customer service:
In the winter, always pack in the car:
- Tarp (to kneel on and/or wrap up wet muddy chains)
- 1 2x4x6 (halved in length)
- Bag of kitty litter
- Collapsible Army shovel for chipping out ice chunks
- Pair of rubber gloves (for non-slip waterproof grip)
- Pair knit gloves (to wear inside the rubber gloves)
- Grubby jacket
- Set of chains
Odds are, you’ll have to change a tire or dig yourself out of some mud/snow/ice at the most inopportune time, and you’ll probably be wearing nice clothes. It will never go the right way for you, so be prepared to make it as quick and easy as possible. Throw the small stuff in a duffel bag so it’s always in one spot.
For changing a tire, always carry:
- A 2-3 foot galvanized plumbing pipe. This will help you use physics to easily loosen lug nuts, instead of injuring yourself (ripping a bicep, falling on your bum, hurting your back)
- 1-2 cans of Fix-A-Flat (1 can isn’t always enough to get every tire to a gas station)
- Portable electric air inflator (with cigarette lighter port and wall plug adapters)
- Tarp (to kneel on, and use to wrap muddy, dismounted wheel when putting in car)
- A pair of rubber coated knit gloves (for grip)
- An all-purpose emergency kit in a bag containing:
- Emergency flares
- Rain poncho
- Jumper cables
- Mini lantern
- Whatever else seems handy
#1 tire-changing tip: Line the jack stand up with a rail on the car frame or you’ll have a nice hole in your floor.
And finally, Jason’s dad’s eloquent take on proper tool etiquette:
“Put them back where they belong when you’re done, or I’ll tan your hide, boy!”
- Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey on the bolts when changing your tires
- Never check your anti-freeze when the car is hot; use a mix of 50% water and 50% coolant
- If you have tso think about it, don’t do it (like pulling out in front of someone, changing lanes quickly, etc.)
- Avoid potholes on the road
- Track your mileage each time you fill your tank so you can notice shifts in your gas use
- Look in the direction that you want to turn (on a motorcycle)
My dad taught me that when you’re changing a tire, loosen the lug nuts while the car is still on the ground (i.e. not jacked up yet) – otherwise the wheel will spin when you try to loosen the lug nuts. Once they’re loose, jack up the car until that tire is off the ground (make sure you set the emergency brake first!), then loosen the lug nuts and remove the tire/wheel assembly.
Then, put on the replacement (spare or maybe a snow tire/wheel), put the lug nuts back on and get them hand-tight, but alternating every other lug nut (i.e. 1-3-5-2-4, or 1-3-5-2-4-6). You can tighten with the lug wrench to make sure the wheel is completely seated (but again, the tire will likely spin a bit). Then let the jack down all the way so that the new tire is now fully on the surface. Tighten the lug nuts the rest of the way, again alternating. Don’t over-tighten — you may never get them off again!
Proper car-drying technique
When it came to washing the car, my dad was a fanatic about drying it off with a chamois to prevent water spots. He had a real deerskin chamois, and he would wring it out in an old-fashioned laundry wringer to make sure it was very dry before wiping down the car. After it was dry with no water spots or streaks, he would apply a coat of wax.
Checking the oil
When checking the oil, he would make sure the car was on a flat surface, then pull out the dip stick, wipe it off, put it back in and then pull it out again to make sure the oil level was accurate when checking.
I was taking a girlfriend in college out on a date when the interior of the car filled with smoke. It didn’t smell oily or like melted plastic, but was more the sort of smell you get from a campfire. We were near her father’s house so I took it over to him. He and I popped the hood and started digging around. After 45 minutes we found the issue: a squirrel had built a nest of pine needles in my engine. The nest was fortunately empty and I learned not only how my air vents are connected to my car, but also that I should stop parking in the same spot by the woods after work each day.
Growing up in the northeast my dad taught me a lot about driving in the winter. The best way to sum it up is: take it easy. Punching the gas or overcorrecting in a slide is a great way to end up in a snow bank. It’s easy to overreact when you start to skid but it’s better to apply your brakes gently than stomp on them — the last thing you want on an icy road is your wheels locking up.
The one tip that was the most helpful though was the simplest: always keep a phone charger in your car. This came in handy one winter night when I got a flat in the middle of nowhere and it was so cold that I couldn’t get the lug nuts off my wheel. Being able to call someone for help meant I didn’t have to hike 15 miles to town on a deserted road in subzero temperatures.