Hey, Gearheads! How Much Do You Know About Basic Car Maintenance?

By: Torrance Grey
Image: YouTube

About This Quiz

Cars are getting more complex, with onboard computer diagnostics and the like, but some of us still like to pick up a wrench ... or, for money reasons, have to! How much do you know about keeping your ride running? Find out now with our quiz!

How often should you change your car's oil?

Want to start an argument among car buffs? Ask this question! Once upon a time, the 3,000-mile rule was golden, but newer cars don't need such frequent changes. However, if you drive a lot of short trips with stops and starts, or in inclement weather, you might need to change the oil more often. Every 5,000 miles might be a good choice.

How long should you run the engine before checking the oil?

The best time to check the oil level is before the car's first start-up of the day. That'll give you the most accurate reading on the dipstick.

Approximately how long should you let the engine run before changing the oil?

Five minutes is enough to circulate the oil and thin it out. Any longer, and you risk burning your hands on hot oil and/or engine parts.

Which of these will you NOT need to work under your car?

If you said "jack stands," go to your room! One of the most dangerous things you can do as a shade-tree mechanic is go under the car using only a jack. Always use jack stands as well.

You can get better gas mileage if you, among other things, keep _________.

Don't laugh at that person at the gas station who's always crouched by the air hose, trying to keep his or her clothes clean while adding air to the tires. It really helps with mileage, as well as acceleration when you need to pass. Just don't overdo it -- over-inflated tires can make for a rough ride.

Which of these is useful in checking tire tread wear?

Here's the penny trick: Slip a penny into the tread with Abe Lincoln's head upside down (going in first). In a fresh new tire, his head should disappear. If you can see his whole head, it's time to replace your tire.

How long does your car need to warm up before you drive it?

Today's cars don't need to idle for minutes after the first start-up of the day. This was common practice back in the day, but no longer -- and it just wastes gas and hurts air quality.

What would you use a lug wrench for?

This wrench is for the big lug nuts on the wheel. Don't forget to loosen and tighten them in the right order -- opposite-to-opposite, not going around the wheel in a circle.

Does premium gasoline improve a car's performance?

Here's the skinny from the Car Talk guys, Tom and Ray Magliozzi: "It's true that premium gasoline does contain special or extra detergents, but in our opinion they're of no added benefit." Neither does it give you better mileage. Ignore the sales pitch, even if your dealer's warranty specifies using premium gas in your new ride.

Which of these problems can stop a car in its tracks?

An overheated radiator is a problem, but it's a problem that gives you time to find a freeway exit, maybe even get to a service station. When the timing belt snaps or the fuel pump fuse blows, it's lights out, right away.

Which of these will you only find in an older car?

Fuel-injection systems replaced carburetors, starting in the 1980s. Carburetors are easier to work on at home -- some skilled mechanics even like to rebuild them.

Where do you usually find the fuse box in your car?

It's useful to locate this before you need it; it's not usually difficult to reach. Then carry some spare fuses in the glove box, so you'll have them when you need them.

Which of these is a very complex job for a DIY mechanic?

If your piston rings are loose, you're losing compression and need a "ring job." This requires disassembly of the engine and is not to be undertaken lightly. Happily, it's usually a problem for older cars only.

Which of these is closely related to a ring job (and about as hard)?

A valve job means cleaning carbon deposits off the valves to improve compression. It is difficult and time-consuming, and fortunately, with better-made engines, it isn't often needed in newer cars.

Which of these might actually be the problem when your engine is overheating?

Why should a belt affect the cooling system? According to car expert Deanna Sclar, this is because the accessory belt drives the water pump. Ah... all is becoming clear! This is one of several issues that can cause overheating.

Why does keeping your engine oil at sufficient levels prevent overheating?

As with the other tip on overheating, this one comes from Deanna Sclar. It's one of several reasons to keep a close eye on the level and the cleanliness of your car's oil.

Which of these is used to check the engine oil level?

You'll use a funnel to add oil, but not to check it. To do that, you'll just need a clean rag and knowledge of where to find the handle of the dipstick.

In hot summers, you will need to use ______ engine oil.

In years past, people would put a lighter-weight oil in their car during the cold winter months, to keep it circulating freely, and a heavier weight in the summer. Not anymore; engines are much improved since then. Use the oil your owner's manual recommends, year-round.

True or false: Is it important to buy motor oil from your dealer?

If there is an automaker that also produces its own engine oil, we can't think who it is! The big carmakers are simply re-branding engine oil with their own name. Save some money and go to a regular auto parts store instead.

The air filter should be changed every ________.

Though the idea of a car that runs on air sounds like the stuff of urban legend, it's kind of true! Your car doesn't just run on gas, but on a fuel-air mixture that explodes in the cylinder. So changing the air filter is important. Fortunately, the filters last much longer than engine oil.

Which of these is harder on your engine?

The disconnect here is tha we tend to think of our cars as like our bodies: it'd be much, much easier to jog 5 miles at a medium pace on 20 different days than to run 100 miles at once at a high speed! But cars aren't like bodies; once machines start running, they like to keep running. Stops and starts are actually harder on your car than consistent operation at freeway speed. This is why you might need to change oil more often if you do a lot of town driving.

Under what circumstances should you disconnect your car's battery?

If you're storing your car or going on a long trip, disconnecting the battery will keep various devices (onboard computer, etc) from slow draining it. (And yes, the fourth option is a joke -- we know you can't drive with a disconnected battery!)

How many batteries does a hybrid car have?

A hybrid car has a regular battery of the kind you can pick up at Pep Boys. But it also has the hybrid battery, which is much more complex and expensive to replace. If you need to store your hybrid car, talk to a qualified mechanic about how to disconnect the hybrid battery so it doesn't die.

Which of these should you never do around an exposed engine?

Obviously, a lit cigarette is dangerous in a garage. A cup of coffee and/or a sandwich are actually important accessories to lengthy engine work. That is, if you find yourself getting frustrated with a job that's not going well, take a break before you skin your knuckles, break off a spark plug or something similar.

Which of these will you NOT need to clean your battery terminals?

Corrosion tends to build up on car batteries. Remove it by disconnecting the cables and scrubbing them gently with baking soda on a damp toothbrush. A coating of petroleum jelly finishes the job.

Which battery cable should be disconnected first?

If you have a background in finance, don't get confused here. With car batteries, red marks the positive cable/terminal and black the negative -- the opposite of the financial world, where red means debt and being "in the black" means you're on the positive side of the ledger.

Which of these don't mix?

Technically, these are called ethylene gycol (green) and Dexcool (orange). Mixed together, they will thicken and clog up engine parts -- so don't do it. On the other hand, diluting with water is safe; in fact, with some coolants it's necessary.

Where would you find an idle speed screw?

The idle speed screw, as the name suggests, adjusts the speed (okay, RPMs) at which the engine idles. So if your older car is idling high and wasting gas, tighten up the screw and fix the problem.

Dim headlights can be a sign of ______.

If your headlights seem underpowered, don't replace them until you've cleaned the battery terminals and checked the cables for fraying and wear. If that's not the problem, a new battery altogether might take care of the problem.

When is a likely time for a timing or multi-accessory belt to break?

It's easy to relax after you've replaced a belt: "I won't have to worry about that for a while!" But a new belt, put on too tight, can easily snap. Check it after driving a few miles, and make sure there's a little bit of give (no more than a half inch). This can save you a breakdown.

Which of these is not used in car maintenance?

If this answer surprised you, it was because of the hammer, right? Okay, a hammer isn't an everyday tool in car repair, but "percussion" with a ball-peen hammer actually does loosen up tough nuts and bolts. Just don't go crazy with it.

Which of these can be famously hard to remove?

Spark plugs are notorious for settling into the engine and never, ever wanting to leave. Don't feel like a failure if you have to have your spark plugs replaced by a professional mechanic.

In an emergency, will your cooling system run on just water?

This is true of most cars, though if you have a very recent and high-tech model, you might want to check your owner's manual. For everyday use, coolant is better, because it doubles as antifreeze.

Which of these has a sweet taste, tempting to pets?

Like motor oil, coolant is toxic and should be recycled. But its appeal to cats and dogs is an extra reason that you shouldn't let any spill on the ground.

Will keeping your car clean make it run better?

Okay, you could strain to find ways that cleanliness leads to better function -- like if rust got so out of hand it affected the engine or power train. But generally, the correlation between clean cars and healthy ones isn't causative. It's just that people who like to spend time keeping the engine purring tend to want their ride to look its best, too.

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