Do you ever wish you knew when you need new tires? Do you know how to check which fluids go in which reservoirs under the hood? Could you change your own tire in an emergency?

We women annually drive more miles in passenger vehicles than men, not only because we’re working but we tend to run more errands, ferry children around, etc. Yet how many of us depend solely on male partners, friends, fathers, or brothers to take care of what needs to be done on the family car or van? In an emergency or during a road trip, would we feel comfortable performing simple tasks like checking the oil (or even know that oil needs to be checked in the first place), jumping a battery, or replacing windshield wiper blades?

Many of us (regardless of gender) don’t know the most elemental basics, and this ignorance puts us at risk of a vehicle breakdown or being taken advantage of by unscrupulous mechanics when a crisis does occur. Knowledge is power, and it can make a huge difference in preventing a mechanical incident, or how to handle one.

The Pacific Northwest chapter of the Audi Club has been offering a technical session for women only for several years now, and it’s a terrific way for women to get to know their cars in a non-intimidating environment. This is important because females often feel embarrassed to even ask questions for fear of being ridiculed in the often all-male, testosterone-charged domains of service garages.

Car Care: Not Just for Guys Anymore

Amanda showing how to check remaining tire tread.

This tech session is held at a Seattle Audi dealership, where service technicians demonstrate how to check and refill vital engine fluids, check for tire wear and tire pressure, and replace wiper blades. They jack up a car and show how to change a tire. They even put a car up on the lift and talk about the undercarriage, that mysterious underbelly on every vehicle that’s full of strange pipes, tubes, struts, and other bits and pieces.

I first visited this two-hour workshop a couple a years ago, and I was amazed at how much some of the attendees did not know. For instance, some weren’t aware of the difference between windshield washer fluid and coolant (and it is REALLY not good to pour the wrong fluid into the wrong place). Many had changed a tire before, but found it very helpful to get a demonstration on how to jack up the vehicle properly and the exact sequence of steps for safety.

Along the way, the participants asked many questions about car care: What does it mean when this light comes on in the dash? When such-and-such went wrong, I took the car to another mechanic, and he told me something different. Why does the vehicle make this noise when I’ve just started it? Questions begat more questions, and animated discussions ensued.

Car Care: Not Just for Guys Anymore

Mike, a service manager at University Audi in Seattle, demonstrating the correct way to install a wiper blade.

As braking, suspension, tires, and lights were demystified one by one, the women became visibly more relaxed, comfortable, excited, and empowered. Now they not only knew better how to care for their expensive investments, but they would hopefully feel less threatened the next time they walked into the dealer service area or talked with their mechanics.

I wish more dealers offered sessions like these. Everyone should get to know their vehicle, ideally first by reading their owner’s manual (which offers information specific to their particular vehicle), then doing some basic research on the resources nearest them. Get a copy of Auto Repair for Dummies from your local bookstore or Amazon. Ask your local dealer or reputable mechanic to schedule a session with you to go over basics on your car. And sometimes car care classes are offered at technical colleges and local service garages.

[Update: A fantastic new book was published in September 2017, titled Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide, by Patrice Banks. Regardless if you’re male or female or other, check it out!]

A huge thank-you to Carrie Stewart of the Audi Club Northwest and University Audi for the use of their photos.