Do You Know Enough to Keep Your Car Out of the Garage?

By: Dave Davis

Do You Know Enough to Keep Your Car Out of the Garage?
Image: PeopleImages/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

The average automobile is made up of more than 30,000 parts, and with that level of complexity, it’s challenging to keep everything running in harmony. You — or a mechanic — will have to work on it from time to time to keep the system going. But how much of it are you willing — and able — to do yourself? How long can you keep your vehicle out of “Service Bay 3” and in your own driveway? Here’s a quiz to separate the “self-sufficient drivers” from the “customers.”

One of the keys to keeping your vehicle in your own garage and out of the mechanic’s is preventative maintenance. It takes some effort and a little money at that moment, but those who know how to care for their automotive baby properly will save themselves considerable time, money, energy, inconvenience and grief by doing a little work now to avoid a lot of misery later.

Another crucial skill is understanding what your vehicle is telling you as your travel together. Which sounds are normal “road” sounds, and which ones are more serious? Every vehicle has its own quirks, but certain signs should never be ignored. Can you tell one from the other?

So, which type of driver are you? Do you stick your head in the sand and have your trips rudely interrupted by flashing lights on the dash, grinding sounds from the wheels and steam rising under the hood? Or are you the kind of owner who’s not afraid to go into your favorite auto supply store, get your hands dirty and take pride in a finely tuned automobile that’s living its best life? This quiz will reveal all! Gather your tools, get your maintenance schedule synced and let's get this show — and your car — on the road!

1 - The owner's manual What is one of the best sources of information about your vehicle and its needs?
Your friends
The owner's manual
Each make and model of car or truck has its own needs when it comes to maintenance, and the source of this knowledge is as close as your glove compartment. The owner's manual will give you a schedule of recommended maintenance, along with other valuable information.
Online forums
The neighborhood mechanic

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4 - check tread What is an easy — and cheap — way to check the condition of the tread of your tires?
Use a penny
This tip will only cost you $.01 (actually, not even that, because you can keep the penny)! Take a penny and place it, Lincoln's head down, in the tread groove. If you can still see all of Abe's head, your tires have less than the legal 2/32" tread, and it's time to get them replaced.
Use a ruler
Use a caliper
Eyeball it

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11 - puddle under car It's a hot day and you noticed that a puddle of water forms under your car when stopped for a bit. Which of these is most likely true?
It's a sign of a blown thermostat.
It's a sign of a leaky radiator.
It's a sign of a bad water pump.
It's condensation from the AC compressor.
Water is a side effect of the cooling process used by your air conditioner, and it's normal for a car to leave a puddle if the AC is running while the vehicle is stopped (or for a time after you've turned it off). If the water is coming into the cabin, however, something is wrong, and you should get it checked out.

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12 - tires weather When deciding on what tires to get for your vehicle, which of these is the most important factor to consider?
The price
The weather you drive in the most
The area/climate you drive in the most should be a major factor when deciding what tires to buy. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, for example, a wet-weather tire should jump to the top of your list. Driving in Toronto? Consider getting snow tires. All-weather tires are generally good options (and better in winter than "all-season" tires, just to add that bit of confusion to the mix).
The brand's reputation
Word-of-mouth reputation

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16 - change spark plugs Spark plugs are something owners can change themselves on most vehicles with a minimum of fuss. Which of these is a sign that your plugs need changing?
Decreasing fuel economy
Difficulty starting the engine
Slower acceleration
All the above
While some of these symptoms could have other causes — bad sensors, primarily — taken together, these are signs that the plugs need changing. Depending on what type of spark plug you use, these devices need to be changed between 30,000 and 100,000 miles. With a few simple tools, this can be a quick and satisfying DIY job.

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3 - key fob Your key fob has stopped working. What should you do?
Change the battery
It's irritating when your key fob stops working, but it's most likely a quick fix. Most fobs can be unscrewed or pried open with a coin or a small Phillips head screwdriver. See which battery it uses (if you don't already know), put a fresh one in (make sure you don't put it in upside down), close it back up, and you should be back in business!
Hold it under your chin
Reprogram the fob
Get a replacement key fob

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21 - buy tires Time for new tires! Which of these is the most useful metric when comparing two different tire options?
Uniform Tire Quality Grading rating
The Uniform Tire Quality Grading, or UTQG, is a government rating that measures a tire's treadwear, traction and temperature resistance. Treadwear is measured by a number (the higher, the better); traction is a letter grade (AA, A, B or C), as is temperature resistance (A, B or C). This grade can be found on the tire's sidewall.
Price
Friends' recommendations
Gut feeling

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13 - car starting What's a simple step you can take to make sure your car starts when you turn the key?
Clean the battery contacts
Although it's a bit rarer in newer cars, mineral or corrosion build-up (that white substance) can form around your battery contacts, which might prevent the electric current from going where it needs to be. Battery contact cleaner (or white vinegar) and an inexpensive battery terminal brush will take that right off and keep the current flowing!
Check the alternator
Check the spark plugs
Replace the timing belt

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7 - oil change Which of these is a sign that it's time to get the oil changed in your car?
The oil is dark on the dipstick.
Increased engine sounds
Mileage since last oil change
All the above
Oil is the lifeblood of your vehicle's engine, so make sure you change it as often as the owner's manual recommends. Low oil volume or dirty oil can cause damage to vital components because of increased friction and, as oil thins, the engine might make knocking or ticking sounds. Don't wait for that to happen — treat your engine right!

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19 - change fluids Which of these fluids is easiest to change?
Brake fluid
Transmission fluid
Windshield washer fluid
It's simple to change, and it's cheap, but keeping your car's windshield washer fluid in good supply can be vital. Visibility can be drastically affected by mud, bugs or other debris that may come into contact with your windshield, and it also acts as a lubricant to help your wipers do their job more effectively.
Power steering fluid

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31 - changing oil You're changing your oil and the oil filter doesn't want to come off. Which of these tools do you need?
An oil filter wrench
There's no substitute for the right tool, and when you've got a stubborn oil filter, the right tool in this case is an oil filter wrench. This specialty wrench has a band on a handle that loops around the filter and then cinches tight, giving you all the leverage you need to get that thing off without coating yourself in dirty oil.
A long screwdriver
A hammer
A second set of hands

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23 - windshield wipers How can you tell when your car's windshield wipers need changing?
It's been six months since the last change.
They're starting to make noise.
You're seeing streaks.
All the above
When driving in rain or snow, one of your vehicle's most important systems is the windshield wipers. If they're not working, you're not going anywhere because you can't see the road ahead. They need to be changed out regularly, but they're simple to replace. After a five-minute operation, you can see the road better than ever!

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15 - tire pressure Other than the owner's manual, where is the most common area you can find the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle?
On the wheel well
On the inside of the trunk
On the inside of the hood
A sticker on the doorjamb
Along with the owner's manual — where all sorts of good information can be found — most vehicles have the recommended tire pressure information printed on a sticker on the doorjamb. It may also have stickers in other places, but the door jamb is the first and easiest place to check first.

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8 - rotate tires What is the purpose of having your tires rotated?
To even out tire wear
To maintain balanced handling
To maintain a smooth ride
All the above
Because of different conditions and the role of tires in different positions (the back tires tend to wear evenly while the front tires wear the outside edges more quickly), it's a good idea to have the tires rotated (change positions on the car) to prolong their life, maintain balanced handling and keep the ride smooth.

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28 - chipped paint You're checking out your vehicle when you notice a bit of the paint is chipped. What should you do?
Get it touched up.
Paint does more than make your ride look pretty — although a classy job will do that, as well. Paint protects the metal underneath from rust. Touching up a bit of chipped paint can be easy and inexpensive — kits are available — and it'll keep a small problem today from metastasizing into a much bigger one down the road.
Ignore it. It's no big deal.
Wait until you get a few more and then take care of them all at once.
Get your car repainted.

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34 - headlights Which of these are factors when it comes to replacing your car's headlight bulbs?
Light color
Brightness
Energy efficiency
All the above
When it comes time to replace a headlight bulb, the modern consumer has a lot of choices. Some bulbs burn brighter with the same energy but must be replaced more often, while "long-life" bulbs only put out the factory-recommended amount but last longer. Some bulbs put out different color lights to varying ranges for better visibility. The choice is yours!

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37 - grinding brakes There's a grinding noise when you apply the brakes and grinding is never a good sound. What should you investigate to make this stop?
The shock absorbers
The driveshaft
The brake lines
The brake pads
The brake pads, which make contact with the rotors and stop the car by creating friction, will wear out over time and with use and will let you know their time has come by emitting a grinding, squealing, or otherwise obnoxious noise. If they're not replaced, they could warp the rotors and cause more pain. The pads can be replaced by DIYers ready to take on the job.

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5 - spark plugs You've changed your car's spark plugs (good for you!) but the engine is running very rough. What have you probably forgotten to do?
Put the cables on tightly
Gap the plugs properly
The gap between electrodes at the end of the spark plug must be exact, and that space is small — no more than .055." If the gap is set to the wrong length, the car will not run well, if at all, because the timing will be off, and the fuel/air mix won't combust properly. Fortunately, the tool for the job — a spark plug gapper — is inexpensive.
Screw them in tightly enough
Reset the breakers

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38 - driving What is one of the best things you can do to keep your car running its best and out of the garage?
Get the most expensive car you can afford.
Cover it at night and when not in use.
Keep the number of passengers to a minimum.
Monitor your driving habits.
If you're hard on your car — jackrabbit starts, quick braking, riding the brakes or the clutch, and so on — your car will be hard on you when it comes time to pay the mechanic to replace its various parts. Driving smooth and not putting the vehicle through unnecessary stress will keep it in good shape.

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25 - Cabin air filter This part is generally easily replaced and can make your ride more comfortable. What is it?
AC compressor
Strut
Shock
Cabin air filter
The cabin air filter, usually accessible either under the hood or behind the glove compartment, makes sure the air coming out of the vehicle's vents is clean, making the trip more comfortable for both you and your passengers. The location is usually mentioned in the owner's manual.

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6 - Brake light You might need a friend to help you out for this one, but which of these should you check regularly?
Headlight alignment
Brake light functionality
You should check the conditions of your car's lights regularly, but the brake lights can be tricky to check by yourself. The brake lights communicate your actions to the vehicles behind you on the road; a busted light sends the wrong signal by sending NO signal. It also might get you pulled over, so it's best to check them regularly with your buddy's help.
Dome light condition
Front turn signals

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40 - car kit Which of these should a proactive car owner keep in the vehicle?
Tool kit
Flashlight
Heat resistant waterproof tape
All the above
You never know when you might have to do a quick on-the-road repair, so it's best to be prepared. Fixing a leak now, for instance, rather than trying to "just get it home" might save a ton of money by keeping the damage to a minimum. In addition to these items, you should keep a tire pressure gauge, thick gloves, wire cutters, a knife and other universal tools with your vehicle.

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32 - fuses These are responsible for a lot of things you don't think about in your car — until one of them fails. What are they?
Fuses
Your car has a lot of electronic systems, and when one of them suddenly stops working, the first thing to check is your vehicle's fuse box. Check your manual to see where the offending fuse could be (there are generally fuse boxes under the hood and below the dashboard). It could be a very easy fix that you can brag about later!
Control chips
Microprocessors
Engine sensors

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9 - brake pedal The brake pedal feels soft — slightly "spongy" — when you stop. What's this a sign of?
Bad brake pedal
Warped brake disc
Air in the brake line
The only thing that should be in the brake lines is brake fluid. When there's air in the line, the pedal will not have the tight feeling that it is supposed to have, and instead will feel soft and spongy. Worn brake pads are a common cause of this, or there might be a problem with the brake system. Get it checked out!
Tire wear

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20 - antifreeze mixing True or false? You can mix different color antifreeze fluids.
True — it's just a brand thing. It's all the same stuff.
It depends. If it's the same brand, color doesn't matter.
False — mixing different antifreeze fluids is bad news.
Although there are other colors, antifreeze generally comes in orange (Dex-Cool) and green (ethylene glycol) varieties. You should never mix the two because they are different chemicals, and when mixed, they react to form a gel instead of a liquid. When this happens, the antifreeze doesn't flow, and your engine will overheat.
It doesn't matter because you never have to add antifreeze.

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27 - touching lightbulbs True or false? You shouldn't touch bulbs in your car's lighting system with your bare hands.
True — you'll get them dirty.
True — the oils on your hands can shorten their life.
Never handle bulbs — headlights, side markers or fog lights — with your bare hands. The oils on your skin can coat that part of the bulb and cause uneven heating on the surface, which stresses the thin glass and can cause a failure. Wear gloves when changing them out, and you won't have to change them out so quickly!
False — it won't hurt anything.
It depends on the make and model of your car.

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26 - Hood gas lifts If you've got your head under the hood, you'll want to make sure which part is in good working order?
Windshield fluid reservoir
Air filter
Air conditioner
Hood gas lifts
Some hoods are hinged so that they stay up once lifted, but if your vehicle uses pneumatic hood lifts/struts, you're going to want them to be in good shape. Fortunately, if yours aren't doing the job anymore, they're a fairly easy component to change out. Your head will thank you!

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2 -  check air Unless you notice a problem, how often should you check the air pressure of your tires?
Once a day
Once a week
Once a month
Unless one of your vehicle's tires is visibly low or the "tire pressure" light comes on in your car, you're OK with checking the pressure on each tire once a month. Use the same pressure gauge (keep it in the glove box) and check it in the morning before first driving the vehicle. You'll be all set!
Once a year

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14 - oil filter How often should you change the oil filter on your car?
Every other time the oil is changed
Whenever the oil is changed
If you change the oil in your vehicle and not the filter, you're keeping about a quart of dirty, used oil in the system, and that's no good. Professional oil change facilities will include this in their price, but if you're changing it yourself, be sure to take care of this part, as well.
Every 15,000 miles
Every 30,000 miles

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29 - check engine light Drat! The "Check Engine" light just came on. What's the first thing you should do?
Take it into the garage. This is an emergency!
Check your gas cap.
There are a lot of things that can trigger a "check engine" light — anything from a bad sensor to a catalytic converter failure. The first thing to check, however, is to make sure your gas cap is locked down. If it's loose or has a crack, that can trigger the warning, and it's the easiest thing to rule out.
Ignore it and hope it goes away.
Check online forums for advice.

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22 - radiator flush Do you really need to flush your radiator?
Yes, every five years or 100,000 miles
Flushing the radiator — changing out all the fluid and replacing it with fresh coolant — gets all the dirt, rust and other potentially harmful debris out of the cooling system and keeps it in top operating order. The rule of thumb is to change it out every five years or every 100,000, whichever comes first. Consult the manual and keep your particular driving habits in mind, however, when setting your own schedule.
Yes, before every winter
Yes, before every summer
No, it's sealed and self-cleaning.

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33 - car overheating Your engine is overheating, but it's erratic. What's the likely cause?
A blown vacuum hose
A leaky radiator
A busted fan belt
A bad thermostat
The thermostat in a car is a valve that keeps the coolant from flowing until the engine gets warmed up. At that point, the valve opens and puts the cooling system into operation. When the thermostat breaks or gets stuck, the cooling system can work erratically, if at all. Fortunately, it's a simple repair and can be done in your own garage rather than your mechanic's.

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18 - change air filter How often should you change your engine's air filter?
Every 30,000 to 40,000 miles
Every 50,000 to 70,000 miles
About every 12,000 to 15,000 miles
The air provided to the engine for the combustion process is scrubbed through the air filter first, keeping it pure from dirt and debris and burning better. Keeping the filter clean can also prolong your engine's life. If you drive in dusty conditions, you might have to change the filter more often, but for the majority of vehicles, it's an easy DIY job.
It's self-cleaning, so you never have to change it.

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10 - vehicle walk around What is a simple action that can help you find issues before they grow into MAJOR issues?
Take it to a mechanic
Do some online research on your particular vehicle
Do a walk-around of the vehicle
It's a good idea to give your vehicle the once over regularly and give it an informal inspection. Are there any issues with the body you haven't noticed? Are there any fluids collecting under it after it's been parked for a while? Are the tires properly inflated? Do all the lights work? It's simple, it won't take much time, and you could catch a problem before it really gets started.
Compare notes with an owner of the same vehicle

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35 - OBD2 Scanner Your car WANTS to tell you what's going on with it. What device do you need to speak its language?
An OBI-wan scanner
An ODB-II scanner
Since the early 1980s, cars have come with on-board diagnostic (OBD) systems; OBD-II systems are a later improvement of the system. With an OBD-II scanner, an owner or mechanic can plug into the OBD port, usually located under the dashboard near the steering wheel, and read the diagnostic codes to get a better feel for what's going on with the vehicle.
An ODIE scanner
An ID-10-T scanner

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24 - automatic transmission fluid How often should you have the automatic transmission fluid changed in your vehicle?
It varies, depending on your car.
This is a job for your owner's manual! Older cars required more frequent changing of this vital fluid for a long and healthy life of the transmission, but manufacturers of modern automobiles have pushed it back to 100,000 miles or longer. Consult your manual or a trusted mechanic for your particular automotive situation.
Every 15,000 miles
Every 50,000 miles
Every 100,000 miles

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36 - power door locks One of your power door locks suddenly stops working. What's the most likely culprit?
The door lock's fuse
The lock actuator
The door's lock is powered by a device called an actuator, which is a small electric motor. When it stops working, so does the lock. Depending on the make and model of your car and how handy you're feeling, you can replace this component yourself and save a trip to the garage — or you can just live with having to open the door with a key as our ancestors did.
Your key fob
Something is stuck in the mechanism.

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17 - brake rotors Which of these is a sign of a warped brake rotor?
Burning smell when applying the brakes
Spongy-feeling when applying the brakes
Vibration through the brake pedal
The brake rotor, which slows the car when put into contact with the brake pad, can become warped over time, especially if you've had to do sudden braking or are otherwise hard on your brakes or haven't changed the pads often enough. This can cause a pulsing that can be felt when the pedal is depressed. Depending on how badly the rotor is warped, it can sometimes be smoothed back into proper working order.
All the above

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30 - dirty oil You check your oil and notice it seems dirty, even though you just had it changed recently. What does this most likely mean?
You got ripped off at the quick-lube.
It's normal for your engine.
It's something to keep an eye on.
Some oil will remain in an engine after an oil and filter change, so this might just be the ghost of oil past. You might want to get the oil changed again in a shorter interval if you're worried and see if that makes a difference. If you see metallic bits or foam, however, it's time to get to the garage because something is going wrong under your hood.
You should wait until the engine is completely cool and check it again.

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39 - serpentine belt About how often should you have your serpentine belt checked?
Every 30,000 miles
Every 60,000 miles
The serpentine belt weaves its way along the engine (thus the name) and runs a lot of engine systems. Most manufacturers recommend having the belt inspected at 60,000 miles and replaced if it's showing signs of wear. If the belt breaks, it could damage engine components and add up to a much more expensive repair bill.
Every 100,000 miles
Never. It's actually a chain and should never go bad.

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