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6 Things Every Car Owner Should Know

Do you know where your spare tire is located? Or the difference between 87 and 91 octane gasoline? We answered some of those questions every first-time car owner might have, so you don't have to learn the hard way what the flickering "check engine" light means.

So you have the car. You have the road trip planned. But how much do you actually know about the vehicle you're driving? We wanted to share some of the most basic tips to help guide you on your journey before you head out on the road for that big summer vacay. You probably have questions, but no worries—we've got you (and your transportation) covered.

Find Where Your Spare Tire Is Located—And Learn How To Change It

According to a 2016 survey by Cheap Car Insurance, 40 percent of people are confident they know how to change a tire... leaving 60 percent of people out in the cold when it comes to surviving after a flat. Yikes. Let's change that.

First order of business is figuring out where your spare actually is. According to, spare tires are typically located under the floor mat in the trunk of your car, but in SUVs or trucks, the spare may be mounted on the back of (or underneath) the vehicle. Take a peek and see if you can locate it now before you need it. Plus, they recommend you check the spare regularly to make sure it's inflated. (Because nothing would be worse than changing one flat tire for another flat tire.)

And read up on our five easy steps for changing a tire—you can thank us later.

Know How (And How Often) To Check Your Oil

Essentially, oil is what makes sure your engine runs like it's supposed to. So how do you know if it's good or bad? Your first step to checking the oil is to be sure the car is parked on level ground. Then, open the hood and find the "dipstick." Pull it out from the engine, and wipe off with a paper towel. Then, re-insert the dipstick and pull it back out. Make sure the oil is at the proper level, as marked on the stick. If the oil mark is topped between the marked necessary area and is a brown-black color, then you're good to go! Be on the lookout for oil that is light or milky in appearance, or has any metal particles floating around. If that's the case, Consumer Reports says you should get to a mechanic ASAP.

Mechanics usually recommend getting an oil change no more than every 3 months or 3,000 miles. Simply keeping track on a calendar every time you have car work done can go a long way to ensure that everything that needs to be checked out is actually getting checked out.

Learn What Gasoline Is Best For Your Car

You probably know that diesel fuel isn't right for your car (unless you drive a diesel truck, or tractor!) But what the heck is the difference between 87, 89, and 91 when you're at the pump? Well, those are octane ratings, which measure burn time. According to Exxon, the octane requirement of an engine varies between cars. Most cars recommend octane 87, but check your owner's manual to see exactly what your car needs. Vehicles typically don't benefit from using a higher octane than recommended, so you might as well pay for exactly what you need.

Understand What The "Check Engine" Light Means

That little light could mean the worst—AKA hundreds of dollars at the dealership. But you shouldn't simply ignore it! Even though it's ~annoying~ to spend money to get it checked, it's massively important—especially if the warning light on the dash is steady rather than flickering. As Edmunds explains, although the light may go on when nothing is wrong with the car (say, when the humidity gets your car out of whack) it could mean something a little more serious. Before you head to the shop, check to make sure your gas cap is on—it's the most cost-effective fix that can mess with your "check engine" light. If that's not the case, check with a professional to see what might be the case.

Get Your Brakes Checked

As you know, brakes are super important. Keep them in mind when you go in for routine maintenance. According to Allstate, there is no clear-cut time for getting your brakes checked since they wear out differently for every driver. For example, if you live in a city where you're stuck in traffic and constantly using your brakes, then you're going to have to change your brake pads more often than someone who lives in a more rural area.

How do you know if you need new brake pads? Your mechanic will usually check out your brakes as part of your car's routine maintenance. If they recommend you get new brake pads, listen to them! Otherwise, the signs are pretty obvious. Allstate says to listen for a sound like "metal scraping in the wheels when the car is moving." Or, you'll likely feel a vibration in the brake pedal when braking, or a vibration in the steering wheel when braking. Keeping an eye out for these small things will help save you (and your coffee).

Know How To Tell When Your Battery Is On Its Last Breath

There is literally nothing worse than putting your key into the ignition and realizing that your car isn't starting. So how can you avoid the situation? Pep Boys recommend you look out for a few different things—one being a "slow engine crank," which means that it takes awhile for your car to start as soon as you put the key in the ignition and turn it. Because it takes a ton of power to get your car started, a difficult to start car is an obvious indicator that your battery is reaching the end of its life. Also pay attention to the parts of the car that run on electrical power—your radio, windshield wipers, power windows, and more. If they start to act up, it might be a sign that your battery is about to act up, too. And keep track of how old your battery is... They typically last one to five years, so around the 4-year mark, consider getting it tested to see how much juice it has left.

The most obvious tip of all? The dashboard warning light. If your dashboard battery light is illuminated, you have no excuse not to get your battery checked out.

P.S. We shouldn't have to say it, but no matter what, never, EVER drink and drive. Grab a Lyft, ladies.

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Maggie Dickman

Maggie is a digital apprentice at Meredith Corporation. When she's not writing trending stories, you'll find her full on blasting One Direction, scanning through her favorite fashion blogs or hitting up any and every concert that passes through her home base of Des Moines.

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