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Don't know how to fix a flat tire? Thought so

Is this your “Nightmare on Elm Street?” You’re driving on a desolate road on a rainy night when suddenly you get a flat tire. Do you know how to change it?

Almost one in four people surveyed by Cheap Car Insurance said they were “clueless,” while others were “somewhat, or not very confident.” Only 42 percent said they knew what to do.

Entitled “America’s Car Confidence: A Total Wreck?” the survey analyzed the responses of 2,000 people nationwide. Here’s one roadside surprise: Drivers in states with the most cars know the least about them.

People in the Southern states of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee came out on top of America’s car culture, with Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas finishing right behind. These eight states scored above 80 percent on this survey of car-related questions.

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Overconfident New Englanders came in fourth, despite the fact that when they assessed themselves, they came in first.

Coming in at the bottom  of this auto intelligence spectrum -- people who didn’t know much about what was under the hood -- were East Coast residents of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, with West Coasters in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington not far ahead.

Of course, any survey has limits, depending on who answers and whether their answers are truthful. The poll didn’t say whether everyone who responded even had a driver’s license. And matching up urban and rural states could also be a problem. Rugged, do-it-yourself Alaskans might resent being included with wine bar Californians.   

But some findings certainly seem to hit the mark. The survey found shortfalls in the areas of parallel parking, adding fluid to an overheated radiator without scalding yourself and driving a car with a manual transmission. “Lessons such as these would be taught in a driver’s education class, but these are becoming harder to find in schools,” the survey said.

It should come as no surprise that in a car crisis, the most valuable tool for many people is their cell phone. More than one-third said their first call would be to the AAA or a repair/towing service provided by the car company where they bought the vehicle.

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But nearly half of younger millennials would call daddy first, which isn’t surprising because boomers scored the highest in terms of car knowledge, with men scoring top in every category.

And guys in their twilight years, who still lust for the glory days of Steve McQueen and his Mustang, make the best shade-tree mechanics. The scale slides downhill from there to young millennial women born after 1991, who scored lowest on car-repair knowledge.

But the generation gap works both ways. Nearly 20 percent of older drivers had “no confidence” in their ability to hook up their cell phone to their car’s speakers and were only a little bit surer with a navigation system. In contrast, virtually all the younger millennials knew something about these two subjects.

The survey’s most disturbing finding was that things for younger drivers will only get worse. Public schools facing revenue shortfalls have eliminated driver-ed courses, so even more people will be on the road with less training in the future.

And when you call the repair shop because you can’t fix a problem yourself, you may wait interminably due to a serious shortage of mechanics able to work on today’s tech-laden cars and trucks.

So should younger drivers be concerned? Maybe not, said Cheap Car Insurance. “With the advent of Lyft and Uber ... owning a car seems unnecessary.” And for those who have to have one, self-driving and self-diagnosing cars can’t come soon enough. Perhaps self-repairing will come next.

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