Car Maintenance: Baby Steps

In theory, I’m an adult. I’m twenty-five and thus entirely allowed to have a quarter-life crisis. I can see rated-R movies without parental supervision. I can buy my own alcohol. I have a job. I pay rent. I’m mostly successful at feeding myself like a healthy human being.

That said, my face keeps breaking out. I get carded at rated-R movies and bars. I’m still not sure how to make chicken stock. And I’m pretty sure I just paid $6 to put air in my tires. Six. Dollars. I can’t help some of those things and only practice will stop me from calling my mom to ask, really, you just boil chicken bones to make stock, but I can get better at car maintenance and not spending a ridiculous amount of money on pressurized air. Don’t worry; if I can work it out, so can you.


Initial things to get out of the way:

Don’t panic.

Maybe don’t wait two weeks after your car’s “check tire pressure” light comes on and, if you have a Mazda, starts beeping at you really aggressively.

Periodically Google how to add air to your tires. Google what happens if you drive with low tire pressure. Google what happens if you drive around with too much air in your tires. Watch some how-to videos and mutter, yeah OK, I could do that. Definitely walk around your car and stare at all four tires, poking at them randomly, trying to tell which one is low.

If you have an air pressure gauge (likely a gift from your father, likely never used before), check the air pressure in all four tires and tell yourself that everything is fine and that the tire pressure sensor must just be crazy sensitive.

When you do decide to be a grown-ass woman (or man, whatever) and take care of that obnoxious warning light, think very carefully about all the gas stations around you. You want one that’s not on a busy corner so that there are fewer witnesses to your ineptitude.


Actually doing the deed:

Once you’ve reached the gas station that will best hide your attempt to add air to your tires, get out of the car and check your surroundings. Hopefully it’s not busy and there’s no one staring directly at you as if they know you have no idea what’s about to happen. Read what minimal instructions are available. It definitely won’t provide enough clarity, but it will make you feel better.

Check the hose length. If it doesn’t look long enough to wrap around your car to get the tires on the far side, plan on doing the two closest to you and either doing the other two at a later time or at a different gas station to spread out your shame as much as possible.

Remove all four valve caps from the tires. This will help expedite the process and hopefully help keep you calm.

If you know which tire or tires are low, good for you, you hideous overachiever. If you’re like the rest of us losers, plan to scramble around your car adding air to each tire and hope for the best.

If you’re lucky enough to have quarters on hand with which to pay for pressurized air, then you definitely won’t find yourself overspending. Congratulations. You clearly listened to your father about keeping spare change in the car (probably in a mini m&ms container) and didn’t spend that spare change at Sonic on the dollar menu. Your grand total will probably be $1.

If the air dispenser has a credit card option—it’s probably more expensive per minute (at least, at this gas station it was), but don’t lose your cool. Just because the dispenser makes a very intense sound and you can’t tell how much time has passed or how much you have left doesn’t mean you should push random buttons on the air dispenser. There is no off switch; your time simply runs out. (And that right there was my problem. I wanted an off switch.)

If you paid in quarters like a sensible person, your time will simply run out, the scary rumbling noises will cease, and you’ll feel a vague sense of accomplishment.

If you’re paying with your credit or debit card, in theory the same applies, unless you panic and worry that the air will just run and run and jack up the charge since it already has your card info. In which case, push the button marked “AIR” several times and keep wandering around your car adding air occasionally to a tire until the noises actually stop. Then pause, hose in hand, and think, my God, I’m an idiot.


The cleanup:

Calmly put the hose back on the air dispenser, screw the valve caps back onto the tires, get in your car, and rejoice that the warning light has vanished. You have done well this day and surely a badge of some sort is in the mail for you.

Later in the day, look at your bank account and make a solemn oath never to tell your father about this.

And then, if you’re like me, put it all on the internet for everyone to see.

Jessika Rieck

Jessika Rieck

Jessika disapproves of nametags, a certain Dido song, period piece films (except for Belle; that can stay), British literature, and many other things that probably bring you joy. She loves the phrase "tire fires," and wild owls flock to her wherever she goes, assisting with her daily chores. If you want to make her laugh, just mention "prancercise."

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