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The 30 most useful driving skills to learn

From treating a snake bite to escaping a sinking car these essential driving skills will help you out of a sticky spot when you’re in your car

Learning driving skills doesn’t end when you get your licence. An aware and safe driver has an arsenal of skills up their sleeve. From maintenance basics, to survival skills and defensive driving, we’ve put together a list of the skills we think every driver should learn.

General Car Maintenance

1. Change your oil and filter

Learning to change your car’s oil yourself is relatively easy, and can save you money in the long run. First, turn on your engine and run it for a few minutes to warm up the engine and help any gunk to flow out, then shut the engine off. You want your car to be warm, but not hot enough that you burn yourself – so always be careful! Next, pop the bonnet and locate the oil plug. If you’re not sure where it is, consult your owner’s manual. Place a bucket or pan underneath the plug to catch the used oil, then gently unscrew it. Once you’ve drained the oil, unscrew the oil cap at the top and – using a wrench if you’re not able to do it by hand – unscrew the oil filter and remove it and discard. Before you replace your old filter with the new one, moisten the gasket at the top of the new filter with a little bit of clean oil and screw it in until it is secure. Now that you’ve got your new filter in and you’ve emptied all of the used oil, put the oil drain plug back in and top up with fresh oil, being mindful not to exceed the “full” line on your oil dipper. Screw on the oil cap, then run your engine for thirty seconds or so to get thing moving. Turn off the engine and let the car sit for about five to ten minutes, and then you’re ready to go!

2. Wax your car

If you love your car gleaming in the sun, then waxing is essential for that pristine look. Once you’ve washed and polished your car to perfection, waxing will give you that next level shine. Place a small amount of wax on an applicator pad – remembering that it’s better to use too little than too much – then gently apply in a circular motion, doing small areas at a time. Before the wax dries, use a clean buffing cloth to buff off the excess wax. As Mr. Miyagi says, “Wax on, wax off”.

3. Check your tyres

A car’s tyres are the foundation of the vehicle. A safe car starts with tyres that are properly inflated and in good condition. To make sure your tyres are properly inflated, use a pressure gauge and ensure the tyre pressure matches the level recommended by the tyre manufacturer. While you’re checking the pressure, inspect the tyre tread for signs of wear. If your tyres are looking a little bald, it’s time for a new set.

4.Check your coolant

The radiator in your car works hard to keep the engine cool using a combination of water and coolant. If it runs low or empty, you risk overheating your car. In some vehicles, you can check the coolant level without opening the cap. Simply look at the measurement levels on the side and top it up until it reaches “full”. In some older cars, you may need to unscrew the cap and look inside the tank. Be sure to check your coolant instructions to see if you need to add water, or if the coolant comes premixed.

5. Change a tyre

Most cars come with a spare tyre for a reason! You never know when you’re going to get caught out on the side of the road with a flat. While we’re always here to help at Marshall Batteries, knowing how to do it yourself can save you time and money. You’ll need a jack, a wrench, and of course a spare tyre. First things first: find a safe place to stop and put on your hazard lights. Once you’ve safely stopped, make sure you’ve applied your parking brake, then use something to wedge in front of the tyre. Wheel wedges are ideal for this but, in a pinch, a brick or large stone will work too. Next, remove hubcap or wheel cover and loosen the lug nuts. Now you’re ready to use the jack to raise the vehicle. The best place for the jack is usually beneath the vehicle frame alongside the tire that’s flat – if you’re unsure, consult your owners manual. Now you can fully remove the lug nuts, slide off the flat tyre and replace it with your spare and then put the lug nuts back on by hand. Once you’ve lowered the vehicle and removed the jack, tighten the lug nuts again, this time using the wrench. Pop the hubcap and check the tyres pressure, and you should be right to go! If you’re not able to change your tyre yourself, you can always holler for a Marshall on 1300 627 742! Check out our how-to guide on changing a tyre

6.Change a spark plug

Changing a spark plug may sound like it requires a lot of technical know-how, but it’s actually quite simple. Make sure your car is cool to avoid burning yourself, then locate your car’s spark plugs. Remove the spark plug wire and plug, insert a new spark plug and reattach the wire and you’re good to go. This is a great easy-to-follow video to show you how

7. Remove a scratch from car paint

A scratch on your car’s paint work is a drag, but it’s a pretty easy fix with a few items and a little bit of elbow grease. First, you need to determine the depth of the scratch. Once you’ve assessed how deep the scratch is, lightly sand the scratch until it’s smooth. Now clean the area and then apply a rubbing compound. Gently polish the scratched area with the rubbing compound until the the spot where the scratch was is flush with the rest of the car’s paint. Give the area a wash and give it a good wax to seal.

8. Replacing windscreen wipers

Replacing windscreen wipers is another basic of car maintenance that sounds a lot more difficult than it really is. Pull your windscreen wiper out at a 90 degree angle to the windscreen, The wiper assembly has a pivoting hinge that allows it to do this. Now, find the tabs on the wiper and squeeze them to release the old wiper. Once you’ve removed the old wiper, slide the new one in and give it a gentle push until it clicks into place. If there is any excess rubber, this can be carefully snipped off. Now lower your wiper back toward the windscreen – ensuring the rubber blade is flush with the windscreen – and it’s done! See – easy!

9. Jump starting a car

Whether you need to get your own car moving again, or need to help another stranded motorist, jump starting a car is an essential skill for all car drivers. First, put both cars into neutral and get your jumper cables ready. Attach one of the red clips to the positive terminal of your battery and the other to the positive terminal of the battery in the other car. Attach one of the black clips to the negative terminal of the battery in the functioning car, and attach the other end to an unpainted metal surface. Turn on the engine of the vehicle with the flat battery, and you should hear the engine purr!

10.Change your air filter

The air filter sometimes seems to be the forgotten part of car maintenance, but a dirty air filter can fill your engine with dirt and dust and adversely effect the running of the whole engine. First, open your bonnet and locate the air filter. If you can’t find it, consult your owner’s manual. Now, remove the air filter cover, remove the air filter out and give the air filter housing a good clean. Insert a new filter, and replace the cover. It’s as easy as that!

Getting Out Of Sticky Situations

battery is flat

 11.Escape a sinking car

Being stuck in a sinking car is a terrifying prospect and we really hope you never are! But should you find yourself in this situation, keep a cool head and follow these easy steps you may save your life or the lives of others. When a car first hits the water, it will bob for a bit before sinking. Try to stay calm and use this time to unwind the windows. If the car is electric it’s vital to do this now before the water affects the inner workings of the electrical system. If you’re in an old school car, get winding. The idea of water rushing into the car may seem counterintuitive, but winding down even a manual window in a full submerged car would be incredibly difficult, and opening a door would be impossible due to water pressure. Aim to get out of the car while the car is still bobbing but, if you can’t, the open window will provide an escape route for you and others once the car becomes full submerged. It’s also a good idea to keep a tool like a spring loaded centre punch in the car that can be used to smash a window with much more strength than a person is capable of.

12. Unstick a bogged car

It happens to the best of us. Whether you overestimated your traction, or inclement weather struck while you were away from the car, sometimes cars get bogged. It may be tempting to rev the engine, but this is a big no-no, as it will only cause the wheels to spin, getting you bogged even further. To get your wheel unstuck, first dig out around the tyres. Whether it’s snow, sand, or mud, this will help remove some of the debris. You can use your hands for this in desperate times, but it doesn’t hurt to keep a small trowel or shovel in the boot for situations like this. Now, place your car’s floor mat snuggly under the affected tyre, and ease the car slowly onto the mat. If you have a passenger, now would be a great time to get them to flex their muscles and help by pushing the car onto the mat. Repeat as needed, slowly progressing until the tyre is out of the rut.

13. Temporarily patch a radiator hose

When steam starts issuing from the engine, you’re in trouble. You likely have a hole in the radiator hose. If you are somewhere you are able to call for assistance, give Marshall Batteries a call on 1300 627 742. If you’re not able to get help and need your car to get you just far enough to reach assistance, duct tape can come in handy. Allow the engine to completely cool to avoid burns, then locate the hole in the hose. Using the duct tape, wrap the hose tightly several times. Over-tightening the duct tape is better than having it loose, as the hose will be under pressure when the engine is running. Ensure the duct tape extends at least 5cm further than the hole on both sides, then cautiously start your engine and get to a mechanic or roadside assistance service as soon as you’re safely able to.

14. Manoeuvre out of a skid

Skidding in a car can be a scary experience, but there are steps you can take to regain control of the vehicle or at least reduce the skid. If you’re experience a front wheel skid gently reduce the throttle and straighten the steering wheel. If you’re experiencing a rear wheel skid, it’s a little trickier. But with a cool and calm approach, you can recover. With rear wheel skids, apply the CPR method – correction, pause, and recovery. First, correct by steering into the skid, pause by gently applying the breaks, recover by turning the steering wheel back into the direction you want the car to go.

15. Tackle an off-road obstacle

This is one for the 4WD drivers. Approach your obstacle slowly, using first gear and low range in the 4WD system. Position the driver’s or passenger’s side tyre – depending on the location of your obstacle – at a slight angle, so the rubber hits before the bumper or fender. Once the tire finds traction and begins to pull the vehicle up, don’t floor it. Instead, ease off the accelerator and rock the wheel back and forth, which will help your tyres maintain traction.

16. Handle a blown out tyre

If your tyre blows out while you’re driving along, in a moment of panic it can be tempting to slam on the brakes – don’t! This could cause you to lose control of the vehicle. Instead, maintain your speed and steer very gently. Once you’ve regained control, gradually slow your vehicle and pull over in a safe spot.

17. Handling a minor car accident

No matter how safely you drive, sometimes minor fender benders happen. When they do, you want to know your legal responsibilities. Firstly, if you are involved in an accident – whether it’s your fault or not, and even if there’s no discernible damage – you must stop. Leaving the scene of an accident, even if you didn’t cause it, is an offence. If your car is still able to, pull over to a safe spot. Exchange details with the other driver – these vary from state to state, so check out your state’s applicable laws. At the very least, you will be required to exchange names, phone numbers, addresses, registration numbers, and the details of the owner of the vehicle if it’s not the person who was driving at the time of the collision. Never admit fault at the scene, as this could be used against you later even if it is found that you were not responsible for the accident. Obtain information of any witnesses, and report the accident to police if necessary. Police don’t necessarily need to attend the scene, and you may be able to do a report at your local police station. If you are unsure, give your local police station or non-emergency number a call for advice. Take pictures of any damage, and contact your insurance provider.

If the accident takes place in a spot where it is not safe for you to move your car or for you to get out of the car, remain in the car with you hazard lights on and call 000.

18. Safely avoid hitting a pedestrian or animal

Small children and animals by the roadside can be unpredictable. They don’t have the road safety awareness of a human adult, so may not look before running out onto the roadway. Sometimes adults just aren’t paying attention and may step out anyway. In the event of an unexpected living obstacle, it can be tempting to swerve to avoid a collision. This, however, can put you and other drivers at risk. Remember the safety mnemonic “BLT” – brake, look, turn. First, apply the brakes, then look in your mirrors and out of your side window. If safe to do so, turn. In the case of smaller animals, sadly sometimes a collision is unavoidable and is the safest option for drivers.

19.Correcting if you run off the road

It’s estimated that 70% of single vehicle fatal accidents occur when a vehicle runs off the road and the driver panics and overcorrects. This can lead to vehicles spinning out of control or even flipping. If you do find that you are running off the road, release the accelerator, keep the steering wheel straight, and allow the vehicle to slow on its own. Then you can smoothly steer back onto the road.

20.What to do if your brakes fail

A fear of any driver, failing brakes puts you in serious danger. But, there are steps you can take to minimise the danger to you and other drivers. Begin by pumping the brake pedal hard and fast. Next, apply the handbrake – but do so carefully so that the car doesn’t enter into a skid. Drop your vehicle to a lower gear, even in an automatic, then turn on your hazards and use your horn to alert other drivers. If you can manoeuvre into a space safely, attempt to pull off the road into an emergency lane or onto the nature strip.

First Aid and Survival Tips For Drivers

Breakdown on a motorway

21.Packing a first aid kit

An essential in any car, a well packed first aid kit can come in handy in many situations. You can purchase pre-packed first aid kits, such as these ones from St John’s Ambulance or you can pack your own using items easily sourced from pharmacies and apply stores. A basic first aid kit should contain a variety of dressings, gauzes, ointments, slings, and a CPR barrier. Check out Health Direct’s great list of must-haves

22.Using a fire extinguisher

A fire extinguisher is another great item to keep in the car. Whether it saves your own car, or if another emergency pops up, you’ll be ready to tackle it. Fire extinguishers that are appropriate for cars are available at all automotive retailers, or can be purchased online from reputable sellers. If you do need to use your fire extinguisher, first remove the pin that prevents the trigger from being accidentally depressed. Now that your extinguisher is ready to go, stand well back from the fire and aim the stream of the nozzle at the base of the fire and use a sweeping motion from side-to-side. If the fire is too big for an extinguisher to handle, dial 000 for emergency assistance

23. Treat a snake bite

There are a lot of myths surrounding first aid for snake bites, so it’s important to separate the fact from the fiction. Many people believe that lancing the snake bite and sucking out the venom is the best way to tackle a snake bite – this is not true. In the event of a snake bite, minimise physical activity and lightly wrap the arm or leg above the bite site. This minimises swelling and slows the circulation of venom. The most important thing you can do for someone who has been bitten by a snake is to call 000, and help them remain calm while help is on the way.

24.Treat a burn

As with a snake bite, the best thing you can do for someone who has experienced a burn is to immediately call 000. While awaiting assistance, run the burn under cool running water, apply an antiseptic, and lightly dress the wound with a fresh, non-adhesive gauze and bandage. In the past, it was believed that oil based products were the best first aid for burns, but these are no longer encouraged.

25. Help for someone having a seizure

There is very little a bystander can do to provide first aid to a person having a seizure, so the best thing you can do is remove any hard or sharp obstacles from their immediate vicinity and roll them into the recovery position once the seizure has subsided. Attempting to restrain a seizing person can cause injury to them or yourself. Despite what a lot of people believe, it is virtually impossible to choke on your own tongue, so do not place anything into the mouth of a person having a seizure as this does pose a choking hazard or may cause injury. Call 000 as soon as you are able to.

26. Perform CPR 

CPR is a great skill that everybody who is physically able should learn. Many organisations provide CPR accreditation training, and it is especially important for those with or working with children. St John’s Ambulance run courses, as well as many state ambulance services and private training organisations. For a quick guide, check out this video

27. Finding drinkable water

If you find yourself stranded or lost for an extended period of time, you will need to find potable water. If you are in an area with watering holes, aim for water that is moving, as stagnant water is more likely to harbour nasty bacteria. For the same reason, avoid water that is nearby to deceased animals, as a carcass can pollute drinking water and make it unsafe. Having said that, if it is your only option, it’s still better than nothing. Bacteria can take days to affect a person, whereas dehydration can kill in less than 24 hours. Even in drier areas, like the outback, look for any form of greenery. If something is green, that means water is nearby. Remember, if you are lost, it is safest to stay put. Wandering off – even in search of water – can make it harder for search and rescue services to locate you. Water purifying drinking straws can be purchased online, and are a great item to keep in your car if you’re planning on off-roading or visiting remote areas.

28.Basic knot skills

You never know when you’ll need to tie something down. Whether it’s securing a load, or an emergency fix, it’s good to have some knot knowledge in your arsenal. Check out this awesome guide to the four knots everyone should know.

29. Find your Latitude and Longitude using your smart phone

If you find yourself in need of assistance, and need to provide your latitude and longitude coordinates to emergency services, these can often be located in your smart phone. This is handy if you’re four wheel driving, travelling on a remote stretch of road, or going off-road. If you have an iPhone, your latitude and longitude coordinates can be found in your compass app. Simply open the compass app, and the coordinates should be located at the bottom of the screen. If you are using an Android, or have the Google Maps app, open the map and hold your finger down on the screen to “drop” a pin. Once dropped, the pin should be able to provide you with the lat/long coordinates of your location. Before you leave on a remote adventure, be sure to find out how to access this on your phone first.

30. Know who to call!

Should you find yourself in an automotive pickle – be it a break down, a flat battery, or just needing a fuel top up – remember that you can always holler for a Marshall on 1300 627 742 and our roadside assistance service will get you moving again. Marshall Batteries road side assistance service has no ongoing membership fees and no road side sign ups. With Marshall, you simply pay for what you use!

In the event of a non-automotive emergency, dial 000 for police, fire or ambulance, or the call the SES on 132 500.

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