Do You Know the Quick Fix for Everyday Car Disasters?


By: Dave Davis

7 Min Quiz

Image: Henry Rose/Photodisc/Getty Images

About This Quiz

The modern car is a lot of different parts and pieces working together in harmony — so much so that we rarely notice the complex interplay of components when everything is working together nicely. 

When things stop working nicely together, however, we notice it in a hurry.

While there are repair or maintenance tasks that most of us will need the skills of an expert to take care of from time to time, there are some problems that we can fix by ourselves, by either putting in a little sweat equity, breaking certain behavior patterns or engaging in some preventative maintenance to avoid the problem altogether This quiz will test you on your ability to sidestep issues that could leave you stranded, stuck or otherwise immobile.

While people are tested on their knowledge of the road when taking a driving test — and that's an important part of car ownership, to be sure — the realities of keeping a vehicle in top shape are usually never officially taught. Automotive knowledge is passed down from parent to child in some families, and not at all in others. Knowing what to do, and what not to do, is an important part of operating a motor vehicle. Do you know what to do when things go sideways (perhaps literally, in some cases)?

What would you do if you were stuck in ice and snow? Know how to fix that super-annoying squeak that happens every time you open the door? How's your jumpstarting game? This quiz will let you know if you know the finer points of owning a vehicle, or if you need a refresher course in the day-to-day experience of car ownership. Let's see what you've got!

You pop the hood and notice corrosion around the terminals of your car's battery. What should you do?

Corrosion around the battery terminals is normal, but they should be cleaned regularly so that they maintain their connection. They can be cleaned with a wire brush, and the corrosion can be neutralized with a mixture of baking soda and water or with battery terminal spray cleaner.


How many items should you have on your keychain?

It's not an "on fire" problem, but the more items you have on your keyring, the better the chance of something going wrong in your ignition system as the tumblers get worn from the extra weight. Save yourself the hassle down the road by lightening your ring or having a detachable ring for only your car key.


Why should you repair a chip in your paint as quickly as possible?

In addition to making the car more attractive, paint performs the vital role of protecting the metal underneath from rust. When a rock or other debris chips your vehicle's paint job, you should get a tube of touch-up paint in your car's color to heal the coating.


True or false: Once a windshield gets a chip taken out of it, it's time to get a new windshield.

There's nothing more jarring than a rock flung up from a vehicle ahead of you impacting on your windshield. It's even worse when that rock leaves a chip in your windshield. While you shouldn't let it go, it's probably not necessary to replace the entire glass; a repair shop can often fix the imperfection, or there's even do-it-yourself kits if you're game and the chip is small enough.


Which of these symptoms will tell you that the aftermarket alarm you've installed in your car needs more work?

When installing something that runs on your car's electrical system, a mistake can cause a lot of problems that might seem unconnected at the time. Unless you REALLY know what you're doing, best to let a professional install aftermarket devices in your car (and, if there's a problem, you know who to track down to make it right).


True or false: You should change the oil filter when you change the oil in your car.

When you change the oil, you need to change the oil filter. The filter can hold up to a quart of oil, so not changing this leaves a bunch of dirty oil in the system, which kind of defeats the purpose of the change. They're cheap and their essential, so change them out!


Which of these solutions will defrost your windshield quickly?

A solution of one-third water and two-thirds isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol sprayed on the windshield will take the frost off in a matter of seconds. This is because the freezing point of rubbing alcohol is -182 degrees Fahrenheit. This is also a good solution for frozen door handles and locks, as well.


The snow and ice really have you locked in place. Which of these driving techniques can help you out of this situation?

When stuck in the snow, one technique to try is to rock the car back and forth by going into the low forward gear, lightly applying the gas, and then shift into reverse and do the same. Once you've done this a few times, you might have enough traction to get going. DO NOT spin the wheels; you're just digging yourself in deeper.


One of the first steps to fixing a car problem is figuring out just what exactly the problem is. Which of these devices can help?

First introduced in the early 1980s, on-board diagnostics are a huge help in finding out what's going on with your car. Even more helpful is OBDII, which came out in 1996. The car's computer will output a code that the OBDII scanner can read and give the mechanic — or you — the information needed to take action!


You hit the defrost button for the rear window and ... nothing. What should you do?

The defroster grid is made up of the lines running across the glass that heat up to remove frost or fog, and if the line is broken, the defroster won't work. Fortunately, kits are available that will allow you to easily fix this problem and defrost like a champ!


If your car starts to skid on ice, what should you do first?

It's a terrible feeling when your car begins to skid on ice and gets out of your control. The impulse is to hit the brakes, but this will only make matters worse. The first thing to do is take your foot off the accelerator and steer gently. If the back end has gotten away from you, steer gently into the direction you are sliding.


Which of these activities can lengthen the life of your fuel pump?

In addition to keeping any possible sediment from the bottom of the tank out of the fuel filter, not letting your car's fuel tank get too low allows the gas to cool the fuel pump — which is submerged in the fuel tank — giving it a longer life. Also? It's not great for your car to run out of gasoline for any number of reasons.


When replacing a bulb in your car, why should you never touch it with your bare skin?

They're usually easy to change, but car light bulbs, especially the headlights, get extremely hot, and if there's an area of glass that reacts differently than the rest of the surface because it has oil from your skin on it, it could make the bulb shatter. Never handle the glass of the bulbs with your bare hands!


You see the tanker truck at your favorite gas station filling the tanks. What should you do?

The tanks can't go empty, of course, but it's not always the wisest course of action to fill up your tank right after the gas station has filled its own. Impurities and sediment can get stirred up right after the tanks have been refueled, which could lead to a plugged-up fuel filter or fuel injector, depending on how good (or bad) the station's own filters are.


Which of these quick maintenance fixes could save your water pump and heater core in the mid- to long run?

Your antifreeze won't last forever, and as it wears out, your water pump, radiator, heater core and other components will pay the price — as will you. Make sure that you or your mechanic change out the fluid on a regular basis.


Which of these is one of the best things you can keep in your car?

An old blanket can come in handy for times when you have to occasionally haul wood or other oversized cargo and don't want to leave a scratch in your paint. Also, if your car breaks down in winter, a blanket could make the wait for help much more comfortable. It can also be used as a traction aid, although that might be the last time you use it.


Which of these substances is good for getting odors, such as pet smells, out of your car?

When mixed with equal parts water, white vinegar is great for getting unwanted odors out of your car. Spray it in the cabin and, as it dries, it should take much of the odor with it. It's also good to vacuum the vehicle from time to time to help with the odor situation.


If your air conditioning system isn't cooling as well as it used to, what should you try first?

Over time, the refrigerant used to cool the air that comes out of your A/C can lose its effectiveness. There are kits available that will allow you to recharge your air conditioner with new refrigerant and allow you to keep your cool.


Your car is misfiring and not wanting to accelerate when you step the gas. What could be the issue?

The spark plugs provide the fire that ignites the fuel/air mixture within your engine's cylinders. If these plugs are sparking like they should, it's time to change them out. Fortunately, this is a fairly easy operation with most cars.


Drat! You're stuck in the snow. Which of these could you use to provide that bit of traction you need to get out of this mess?

It's easy to get stuck in snow in parking lots, alleys, side roads or streets that haven't been plowed. Basically, anything you can use to get a better grip on the road can help you get out of an icy trap.


What is the first thing to check when your "Check Engine" light comes on?

There are a lot of reasons why the "Check Engine" light will suddenly come to life on your dashboard. It could be a bad oxygen sensor, a failure of the catalytic converter, bad spark plug wires or more. The first thing to check, however, is to make sure the gas cap is on tight and not damaged. A loose gas cap is very fixable, even if you're not mechanically inclined!


You go to turn on the headlights and ... nothing. Neither of them will come on. What's the first thing you should do?

If both headlights go out at the same time, chances are it's not the bulbs but the fuse that controls the system. Check the owner's manual to determine which fuse is responsible for the lighting system and where it is located and see if that's the problem.


True or false: The air filter in the engine is the only air filter in the car.

The cabin air filter is usually located behind the glove compartment and cleans the air that is coming into the cabin through the ductwork. If this filter gets too dirty, it can make the A/C blower run harder and shorten its life. This filter is usually easy to change out in most vehicles. Note that not all vehicles have them!


Which of these items is essential to keep in your glove compartment?

When you get a "low tire pressure" warning light on your dashboard, it can sometimes be hard to tell which tire is the culprit just by looking. Tire pressure gauges are inexpensive, easy to use and can tell you which tire needs airing up. It's also good to check your pressure occasionally, especially when the weather changes with the seasons, to make sure you're properly inflated.


You try to clean your windshield but no spray comes out. What should you do?

The humble blue windshield fluid (or whatever color you've chosen) is dirt cheap but performs a valuable function of keeping your visibility as clear as possible. When you run out, don't fill it with water, especially in winter; it won't do as good of a job and if it freezes it could crack the reservoir. Also, if you try to run it when it's dry, it could damage the pump. Spring for the good stuff!


Which of these will best take care of door and window seals around your car?

If your door or window seals start to deteriorate, they can't do their job of keeping water out of the car. The best way to maintain their integrity is to use silicone grease or spray; oil-based products will damage the rubber and lead to leaks and heartache.


What's the best type of radiator fluid to use when you need to top off the radiator?

When you mix orange and green antifreeze, you'll get more than a really ugly color of coolant; you'll get muddy gunk because they are actually two different chemicals that don't react well to mixing with each other. Since a gel won't flow through your radiator, it also won't help your engine cool.


Your car's temperature gauge is on the rise! What should you do?

You shouldn't drive a car that's overheating very far, but if you can make it to home or the garage, a way to draw off excess heat is to turn on the heater. The heater core is a mini-radiator and can take a bit of the load for a while. This isn't a permanent solution, of course, but it could get you to where you're going in a pinch.


Congrats on your new car! Which of these tips will help your vehicle live a long, healthy life?

A new car has a new engine that requires a period of "breaking in" (usually about 1,000 miles but could vary depending on the make and model). By keeping the speed and the RPMs down, you allow the car's engine to settle into what should be a long, healthy life.


When your seat belts are sticking or otherwise not acting right, what's the first thing you should do?

Over time, your seat belts can become dirty and not want to work as well as they did when the car was new. Often, simply washing them can make them snap back to their former responsiveness!


If one of your doors or your hood latch is creaky and doesn't want to open, which of these substances should you use?

WD-40 is not a lubricant but is instead a rust penetrant. Thus, it's only the first step of fixing a creaky hinge or latch. Spray the penetrant on it first, let it soak in for a bit and then use lithium grease to lubricate the part. On its own, WD-40 will silence the noise for a bit, but it will also attract dirt and other debris and cause a worse problem down the road.


When jump-starting a car, where do the cables go?

When you are giving or getting a jump start, it's very important that the terminals are connected properly. Making sure both cars are off, connect the positive jumper cable to the positive terminals (they are usually red), and then the negative (usually black) cable to the dead car's negative terminal and to the live car's bare metal chassis.


What is a mistake that many drivers are guilty of in the winter?

Between the dirty snow, the road salt and the general lack of direct sunlight, it's easy to let your car get dirty and just clean it once spring has sprung. The problem is, however, that dirt and salt can attack the paint and corrode the metal leading to rust. Sure, that "clean car" look isn't going to last very long, but it's good practice to keep your car as clean as possible, even in winter.


What could be the problem if your engine is misfiring, your gas mileage is taking a hit and you're smelling gas fumes?

All the air that comes into your engine to mix with fuel for combustion first goes through your air filter. If it gets dirty to the point that enough air isn't making it through, it could cause all the symptoms listed here. It's an easy fix on the vast majority of cars, so change the filter and clear the air!


In cold weather, which of the following is best for your vehicle?

In cold weather, the engine will reach its optimal temperature quicker when you drive it at moderate speeds after starting. Letting it idle cold can actually damage the engine and leave deposits on the cylinder walls. You should let it warm up, however, before putting a strain on it, such as going highway speeds.


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