When I was a young mother, I would drive miles out of my way to a gas station where they would pump my gas for me. I would roll down my VW Van window and they would laugh and ask me, "What will it be today, gas or oil?" My answer was usually two quarts of oil and one gallon of gas. That was until I learned that you shouldn't drive with that little red oil light on and the temperature gauge on H for hot. One motor later and out of sheer desperation, I had to learn more about my beloved van.
Just like you, as your teenagers start learning to drive, it's important that they also learn about automobile care and maintenance. Here are the 10 most important things you and your teen should know about your car:
Know where to find the specifications for your vehicle’s needs
Find an owner’s manual for your car and a service manual that matches your vehicle, like Haynes or Chilton. If your owner’s manual is missing, you can order one online or at a dealer. A Haynes or Chilton's manual can be checked out at your library or through inter-library loan shipped to your local library for free. YouTube is an invaluable source for do it yourself videos. For example, a video link for troubleshooting a car that won't start is here.
Learn the location of important items in your vehicle
Using the owner’s manual, learn to open your hood or the cover over the engine and gas cap. Learn the location of the oil dip stick, the air filter, the water or coolant level, brake fluid reservoir, power steering fluid reservoir, transmission dipstick, belts, washer fluid and what your motor looks like. Video instruction here.
Oil is checked when the car is off. Find the dip stick marked oil or the stick marked 710 which is oil spelled upside down. You can also find the dip stick by looking in your owner’s manual. You pull the dip stick, wipe it down, re-dip it and pull it again. Look at the tip. You should see transparent, honey-colored oil between the two lines on the stick. If it is below the bottom line you need to add oil. Normally on the cap or in the owner’s manual it will tell you what kind of oil to buy, i.e. 5W-30. If the oil is black or sludgy looking it indicates it is time to change the oil and the filter. Cars that do a lot of carpooling or short trips tend to burn more oil, because the car hasn't had a chance to warm up thoroughly and a cold engine consumes more oil. A check oil video is here.
Check your coolant levels while checking your oil
Coolant means the water mixed with coolant in the plastic container with a level marked on the side. If it is just a little low, add a small amount of water. If it is seriously low add a 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water. Low water can indicate neglect as motor coolant evaporates, or it can indicate a leak. Video here. If your car is overheating: video linkhere.
Check your brakes annually
The sound of squealing or grinding, difficulty stopping, shuddering while stopping or pulling to the right or left can indicate brake problems which can be dangerous. A video on brakes is located here.
Check tire pressure regularly
Low tire pressure makes the motor work harder and increases fuel use. It also makes your tires wear in a way that causes them to wear out faster. Keep a good quality tire gauge in your glove box. Take off the cap of the valve stem or "pokey thing" on each tire. Put the gauge firmly on it until it stops hissing and read the indicator. The amount of pressure you should have is printed in small print on the side of the tire. It reads something like: 35 to 40 PSI which means pounds per square in. or 35 on your gauge. Video on tire pressure here. Tire replacement information video here.
Most manufacturers recommend every three months or 3,000 miles. Use your trip meter to help you stay on top of it. You can do this yourself, or have someone else do it. Video link here.
Keep receipts and proof of all service in your glove box
This increases the resale value of your vehicle and provides helpful information for anyone who works on your vehicle — it's like a medical history. It will show trends or indicate problems.
Changing a flat tire
Before you get in your car, walk around it and check the tires. If you are driving and your car pulls in any direction, it may indicate a low tire. Practice changing tires and ensure that you have all the necessary tools in your vehicle, including a spare tire with air in it before an emergency occurs. When you get a flat or blow out, do not drive on your rims — it destroys them. Firmly grip the wheel with both hands and steer slowly and gradually while bringing the vehicle to a stop. Watch video instruction on tire changing here.
Keep your vehicle clean
Learn to wash your car by watching the video found here. Use clean car wash mitts and car wash soap when possible. Never use a Scotch Brite pad or a stiff bristle brush (as our friends did on their brand new car), a Scotch Brite pad will destroy the paint. If you can’t afford car wash soap use shampoo. Do not use dish soap. Vacuum your car to keep food and other particles from rotting into the carpet and upholstery. Smoking decreases the value of your vehicle.
Your car is a valuable investment. Proper care and maintenance will help keep you or your teen safe while driving alone at night or far from home. Learn to take care of your vehicle so it will take care of your family. Special thanks to Scotty my husband and mechanic.
Shannon Symonds, Author of Safe House due to be released July 2017 by Cedar Fort, has 15 years experience working as an Advocate for victims of domestic and sexual violence while raising 6 children in Seaside Oregon. She loves to write, run and Laugh