We’ve all seen the old paintings of dad showing his kid all the basics of car maintenance. Surprisingly, even with all the modern car technology, the need for that heart-to-heart talk in the painting is still alive and kicking today. When your teen gets their driver’s license, don’t just let them take off in the family car without talking and discussing the car maintenance basics—and all the reasons car maintenance is so important if they want to stay on the road.
Where all the “important stuff” is & what the lights mean
- Start by going through all the lights and warning lights on the dashboard. Discuss what the lights mean and the specific warning lights that mean they should pull over immediately.
- Open the hood. Show them where the oil dipstick and battery is located.
- Show them where to add windshield washer fluid.
- Give them the number for the tow truck or roadside assistance. Have them add it to their cell phone if they have one.
- Discuss the importance of regular car maintenance, like regular oil changes and checking tire pressure.
Checking tire pressure
- Get a tire pressure gauge.
- Remove the cap from the tire stem. (The tire stem is a small rubber piece sticking up from your tire.)
- Insert the tire pressure gauge into the tire stem. You will feel the gauge fit in there correctly. (If you have a gauge with a knob for deflation, you will know if you are using the right end if you DON’T hear air escaping.)
- The end of your tire pressure gauge will register a number electronically or the white numbers will rise at the other end of the tire pressure gauge.
- Repeat the process for your other tires and flat tire.
- Make sure you pull your car completely off the road.
- Take out your spare tire and tire jack.
- Use a screw driver to pry off the hub cap (if your tire has a hub cap).
- If your car has a lug wrench (it’s a t-shaped tool), put one end of the wrench on a lug nut. Loosen the lug nuts slightly.
- Position your tire jack and pump until your car is at least 6 inches off the ground. To determine where the jack should go, check in your owner’s manual for the right spot for the right location on your car.
- Use your lug wrench to completely loosen the lug nuts. Make sure you don’t lose any of the lug nuts. Remove the flat tire and put it in the trunk; depending on the size of the hole, the tire may be able to be replaced.
- Put the spare tire on. Put the lug nuts on and start tightening them by hand. Tighten the lug nuts with your lug wrench.
- Don’t drive indefinitely with the spare tire on; a spare is not manufactured for long distances. Make an appointment to get your flat tire fixed or to locate a new tire for your car.
Jumpstarting the battery
- Park another car near the front of your car and turn the cars off. Make sure the cars are secured, and use your parking brake if necessary for safety.
- BE CAREFUL! Remember, you are touching an electrical system, and you could get hurt. Be cautious.
- Locate the positive and negative terminals on your battery. A “+” means positive and a “-“ means negative.
- Attach the positive clamp of the jumper cable to the positive terminal on the dead battery.
- Attach the other positive clamp of the jumper cable to the positive terminal on the live battery.
- Attach the negative clamp of the jumper cable to the negative terminal of the dead battery.
- Attach the other negative clamp of the jumper cable to a non-moving metal part of the engine. Do not reach into any areas with moving belts or parts.
- Turn on the car that starts for a few minutes. Lightly rev the engine by pressing the gas pedal.
- Start the car with the (formerly) dead battery.
- Remove the jumper cables.
- Enjoy a car that starts.
- Get your battery checked and replaced if necessary.
If you have to charge your battery often, make an appointment to have a new battery installed. A repeated dead battery is a sign of car battery failure—and eventually you won’t be able to charge it enough to start your car.
Checking the oil
- Turn off your engine and grab a paper towel.
- Open the hood of your car and locate your dipstick.
- Pull your dipstick out and wipe off the end with the paper towel.
- Put the dipstick back in and pull it out.
- Look at your dipstick closely. Your dipstick has lines on it toward the end; make sure your oil level is between the two lines (and not above the max line).
- If your oil level is low, add oil. Make sure you add enough oil by checking the oil again when you are done.
Car engines need lubrication to keep running; that’s why it’s so important to make regular appointments to get your oil changed, and to check it periodically between appointments. If you find your oil level is consistently low, ask your mechanic at your next appointment if your car has a leak or other issue that could be causing a consistent low oil level.
Packing emergency car kit
Take the time to pack an emergency car kit for those situations where your car breaks down or you end up in the ditch. Your emergency car kit should include:
- Roadside assistance card or tow truck phone number
- Jack and lug wrench
- Jumper cables
- Snow shovel
- First aid kit
- Rags and hand sanitizer
If your teen has any questions about your car maintenance, have them email their question or schedule an appointment to have the car checked. Show them the Tire-rifik website, which allows them to schedule a car maintenance appointment (or car repair) when needed.