Yep, I am actually posting about car maintenance, you guys. I know that this is totally out of my usual fashion/beauty/books/travel/"Hey, look at my cats!" genre, but go with me here!
I had some car issues last week and while I ultimately did end up having to take it to a shop to get fixed, I discovered through my infinite Google-ing that there were a lot of steps for figuring out what was wrong that I could totally take myself. I thought I'd share this part of what I learned to hopefully save you guys some money in the future!
So let's start with the basics: Cars have fuse boxes! (Who knew, right?) They control all kinds of crazy things, so when one of those things stops working, it's totally possible that you can check to see if the fuse is blown and replace it yourself in a matter of minutes and for (at most) a couple of bucks. Most mechanics charge upwards of $80/hr and many mark up the prices of the parts they use, so this is handy stuff to know!
One thing to note - Every car is different, so I'm just showing you the details of mine for this post. Things might be located somewhere different in yours, but I can pretty much guarantee that a quick search will turn up the info you'll need.
So, if you want to know if the problem you're having might be caused by a blown fuse, it would be handy to know what your fuses control, right? Most cars (maybe all?) have two fuse boxes: One is under the hood near the battery, and the other is inside the car a little bit below your steering wheel. (I'm focusing on the latter one in this post.) You can learn what each fuse in the box controls by checking out your owner's manual - most are easily accessible online now. (Ford has everything for my 2004 car in pdf's on their site. Yay!) If your manual is somehow NOT online, there's still a good chance you can find the fuse box diagram for your car. Some fuse boxes also have this info printed on their cover or somewhere nearby.
Here's what my diagram looks like:
So, for the sake of example, let's say that the little indicator that tells me a door is ajar suddenly stopped working. According to the chart, that's controlled by fuse #19. The problem might be caused by a blown fuse or it might not, but it's totally worth taking a couple of minutes to check!
Here's where the fuse box is located in my actual car. (Pardon my rust and cobwebs.) Like I said, it might be different in yours, but it's most likely going to be in this general area. You don't have to remove any paneling or anything to get to it, but the location can be a little awkward to reach. I suggest putting a towel on the ground/driveway next to your driver's side door so you can sit there and reach up.
To get into the box, you need to pop off the plastic cover. Most have two little tabs that you just squeeze together to get it to release, and then you pull. If your cover hasn't been removed in a while, you may have to wiggle it a bit and put some muscle into it. Despite the blurriness of the above pic (this is not an easy spot to get photos in !) you can hopefully see the squeezy tabs in the center of the cover.
Ta da! Cover off. Mine comes with a funky little plastic tool that you can use to remove fuses with, but I went with pliers since I just find them easier to handle.
Fuses, yay! You'll notice that there are a whole lotta numbers and colors here. The numbers printed on the fuses themselves tell you the amperage of that fuse. If, for example, I needed to replace the one I have circled at the top left, I'd want to make sure that I replaced it with another 15 amp fuse. They're also color coded so if that number had somehow worn off, I'd be able to know it was a 15 amp because it's blue. (My owner's manual lists what amperage each color is. Handy!) The numbers that are printed directly on the red part here (sorry they're pretty impossible to read in this pic) are the numbers that identify the fuses. Remember the above example where we needed to check #19? I could either grab a flashlight and contort myself to be able to read the numbers, or check the diagram at the top of this post to see where #19 is and go from there.
Once you find the fuse you're looking for, you just pop that sucker out! Again, you may need to tug at it a bit.
This is what mine looks like once it's removed. See that little loop in the middle that looks like a rollercoaster hill? (Do I spend too much time in theme parks?) It's in great shape, so I know in this case that the fuse isn't what's causing my problem.
image from newprotest.org since I didn't have a blown one to show you
On the other hand, if it looked something like this, then the mystery is solved and we know what's causing the trouble!
Replacing the fuse (whether you're putting back one that was okay or putting in a new one) is basically just the reverse of removing it - line it up with the slot it belongs in and poke it in. I found that it was easiest to push it about halfway in, then let go with my pliers and use them to push it up from the bottom.
That's it! Seriously! Why don't they teach these things in school? I love that I know have a first step I can take when something malfunctions, rather than having absolutely no clue what might be wrong. This obviously isn't going to solve every car problem ever, but it definitely comes in handy. (And if you do end up having to take it to a garage, you can feel all cool telling them "I already checked to see if the fuse was blown...")
On a larger scale, I hope this makes people like me who have basically zero car knowledge see that there ARE things that you can totally handle yourself. For some reason most car maintenance has always seemed almost taboo to me - I've always heard things like, "Oh, cars are so complicated these days that it's almost impossible to do repairs yourself." So not true! I mean, I'm not going to be taking my entire engine apart solo anytime soon, but I do definitely feel more confident that there are things I can easily handle!