Car Maintenance for Teens
Responsible teens – what Driver’s Ed didn’t teach us!
by Shelby Fix, Car Coach 2.0™
So, you just got your first car – it’s so exciting! You can’t wait to take off on your own. I know how you feel – it’s awesome to have new freedom.
If you took driver’s ed, like I did, you learned the basics of how to drive but not how to keep a car running smoothly. I’ve learned beyond the basics and I want to help you keep money in your pocket too. Here’s some tips to avoid costly repairs, be safe on the road, and prevent getting stuck on the side of the road.
You probably DO NOT care about how a car works or what you need to do to keep it working. Although there are some of you who are real gearheads, most teens have other concerns like friends, sports or their image. They may be fascinated with the car as a symbol of independence or freedom – but that’s it. They want to get in, turn the key, and go.
Just spend a few minutes with me and I’ll show you how to Be Car Care Aware—it will help your wallet, your safety and be cool too.
Car Care Basics
This doesn’t have to be complicated. Just look under the hood with the owner’s manual in-hand or with someone who knows cars. Consider even asking a technician.
- Tire pressure
- Air filter
- Oil dip stick
- Wiper blades
Make sure you know where to watch for:
- Worn belts
- Where the coolant can be added
- Where to add oil
- Washer fluid reservoir
Check the Tires
Inspect the tread for wear, nails or other objects, cracking, or exposed belt material. Check the pressure once a month (put it in your planner). Find the RIGHT pressures on the inside of the driver’s doorsill or inside the fuel filler door. Oh, and don’t forget to check the spare tire too.
Go to an auto parts store and have them install it for free (after you pay for it of course) every 6 months to save 2-3 mpg. They are cheap and worth it.
Check the Oil
Check it at every other gas fill-up. Don’t wait until the low oil light flickers and engine damage has already been done. Make sure you know how to read the dipstick, that the engine needs to be off, and that the car should be parked on level ground. If you add oil – don’t add too much.
A dying battery will most likely fail on one of the coldest or hottest days, especially if a battery is more than a couple of years old. Check frequently for a buildup of corrosion. If you need a new one, go to an auto parts store and have them install it for free (after you pay for the product of course).
Radiator Coolant or Anti-freeze
When you have the hood open, there is something called a coolant reservoir bottle, make sure it’s in the acceptable range. It’s easy to check. If you fail to check and maintain the cooling system, it could leave you stranded on the side of the road, probably at the least convenient time. Plus, overheats are costly and hazardous to you and other drivers.
Wiper Blades – Keep the Windshield Clean
A dirty windshield could cause big problems. If you can’t see where you are going, it’s dangerous to everyone. Get a new set of wiper blades; go to an auto parts store and have them install it for free (after you pay for it) every 6 months – they are cheap and worth it.
Check all the Lights
Check the back-up lights, taillights and brake lights. Run through all the lights– you can get a ticket if they are out (and that wouldn’t be cool).
Have an Emergency Kit?
You should have an emergency kit in your car, no matter how old the car is or if you only drive around town. Make sure you know where the kit is, what’s inside and how to use everything in it.
Is Your Paperwork in Order?
Make sure you have the proper insurance papers and registration in your vehicle. If you have a minor fender-bender, you MUST present the proper documents. It can help reduce the chances of headaches later on when it comes time to make an insurance claim. Make a list or get a form so you know who to call, what to say and what to share.
We all have Cell Phones
Never use it while driving. It’s so distracting to drive while on cell phones (texting or talking). New drivers have more accidents and cell phone distractions add to that risk. Try to limit how many friends ride along – it’s really hard to have a good talk and drive.
Do this every time you get behind the wheel:
Do a Walk-around
Before getting in the car you should do a quick walk around to spot anything unusual, especially eyeing the windows, tires, and front and back ends. You may find a flat tire before damaging the wheel, or an object, child, or pet behind the car.
Check the Gauges and Dash Lights
Some cars come with a set of gauges, while others only have a set of “dash lights” that remind the driver when the engine is already overheating or when it’s dangerously low in oil or oil pressure. If the gauges go out of the normal range or the dash lights ever come on, pull over at the next safe place and call for advice.
Listen to the Engine
When you’re learning how to drive, don’t play loud music. In fact, it’s probably best not to listen to anything for a while but the symphony of the road. No matter the vehicle, it’s important to know what your vehicle is supposed to sound like when it’s running normally. If a driver is familiar with the normal sounds of the vehicle, he or she will be much more likely to recognize when something is wrong and avoid a breakdown or accident.
Get the Car Inspected at Least Once Every Year
Whatever you drive, you should have the vehicle thoroughly inspected and repaired to keep it on the road. An ASE certified mechanic should do all of this. Fix it early and save money – the longer you wait the more it will cost! (NO JOKE!)
If you want to know more – and I hope you do – consider an advanced driving school that teaches new drivers about cars, driving and accident avoidance. I’ve been to the Skip Barber Driving School and it really made a difference.
If you keep your own vehicle in good shape and are prepared for breakdowns, you’ll “Love Your Car.”