For those of us with high school and college students, back-to-school is about more than just purchasing back packs and notebooks. It’s also about making sure your student’s set of wheels stays on the road and they can get safely back and forth to school (and sports games and wherever else they head…). While car maintenance is an ongoing task (throughout the school year), there are steps you can take to ensure that your student’s car is safe and ready for miles of back-to-school driving.
Change the oil.
An oil change is essential car maintenance task that ensures a long-lasting and smooth-running engine. Clean oil properly lubricates and lengthens the life of the engine. Schedule an oil change for your student’s car before school starts, and schedule regular oil changes throughout the school year.
Test the brakes.
Properly-functioning brakes are one of the most important vehicle safety systems. Put simply, you don’t want the brakes to fail when your student needs them most. Have your mechanic do a full inspection of the brakes to ensure that the brakes wear evenly and there are adequate brake pads. Teach your student to look for signs of brake replacement, such as a vibration, squealing, soft pedal, or a pulling to the right or left.
Check tire pressure.
A tire with the right amount of air pressure is not only important for safety but can also can save money on gas mileage. Check the tire pressure to ensure that the air pressure is the same as indicated on the decal on the driver’s side door. Teach your student to check the air on a regular basis (use this guide to teach your teen car maintenance basics). The air pressure should be checked on a regular basis, whenever the tire appears low, or when the TPMS sensor lights up on the dash. Add a tire pressure gauge to the emergency kit for easy access.
Tire rotation ensures that tires wear evenly, contributes to a smooth ride, and lengthens the life of the tires. The pattern of the tire rotation is different for every vehicle; front wheel drive cars are rotated slightly different than four-wheel drive and rear wheel drive vehicles. If a car has different tire sizes, the same size tires are rotated. Schedule a tire rotation every 6-8,000 miles or every 6 months.
Check tire tread.
To make sure your student isn’t driving around on bald tires (which can be extremely dangerous), check the tire tread to ensure there is enough tread for safe driving. There is an easy way to do this; use the penny trick (and show your student how to do so as well). Put a penny into the tire tread. If you can see all of Abraham Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace the tires.
Test the battery.
No parent wants to get an SOS call from their stranded child. Batteries typically fail every 3-5 years; have your battery tested to ensure it is in good enough shape to make it through the school year. If there is any doubt, replace the battery so your student is not stuck with a dead battery. To prepare your student for the occasional dead battery from a light left on, add charging cables to the emergency kit and teach them how to jump a dead battery.
Stock an emergency kit.
A well-stocked emergency kit can be invaluable if your student ends up stranded on the side of the road or in a parking lot. Pack supplies that can be helpful in any kind of weather, such as on a snowy winter day. Place all the supplies into a durable, waterproof container. The car emergency supply kit should contain:
- Roadside assistance card or tow truck phone number
- Jack and lug wrench
- Jumper cables
- Winter boots
- Snow shovel
- First aid kit
- Rags and hand sanitizer