When a teen is learning how to drive, the bulk of advice he or she typically receives has to do with safety-related stuff like: come to a full halt at a stop sign, don’t exceed speed limits, turn down the music and don’t text while driving.
But maintenance and safety are intertwined, and many young drivers are only seeing part of the picture because they aren’t taught how to deal with things like flat tires, breakdowns and maintaining proper fluid levels.
So in addition to prepping teens for their driver’s license exam, we are fans of giving youngsters a primer on proper car care, which we like to call “Car Care 101.” And with the start of the school year rapidly approaching, we think it’s an ideal time to prep your high schoolers and college kids for potential trouble on the road.
Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal. After all, most teens are merely a cell phone call or text away. But how about those slightly older teens who drive to college or take weekend trips? Imagine their routes complicated by a flat tire in the dead of night or during the iciest winter day. Perhaps they’ll be outside cell phone range or have a depleted phone battery when a problem strikes.
Basic under-the-hood understanding can go a long way toward ensuring a breakdown doesn’t become dangerous or deadly. Some simple car know-how can also keep a developing situation from turning costly and hazardous.
Check it & fix it
Nasty events, such as tire blowouts, dead batteries, overheated engines and mucked up windshields, can be avoided by regularly conducting a simple six-item checklist. The following should be checked often:
- Oil level
- Tire pressure
- Battery terminals (look for corrosion or signs of fuzzy growth on the terminals)
- Coolant level and condition (be wary of brown, sludgy coolant)
- Windshield wiper fluid and blades
- All lights and turn signals.
While an oil change might be outside the skill (or interest) level of the average driver, important emergency response activities can be accomplished by even the most mechanically challenged individuals. There’s no better time than the present to teach younger drivers how to: change a flat tire, jump start a battery, and replace light bulbs and windshield wiper blades.
Easy-to-remember gimmicks also come in handy, such as checking tire wear using a quarter. Here’s how it works: Grip the coin at its base using the forefinger and thumb so President’s Washington’s head and “United States of America” are visible. Put the top of Washington’s head into one of the tire-tread grooves. So long as any part of the former President’s noggin is covered, the tire still has a safe tread level. But if any space exists above the George’s head or any of the wording is visible, those tires need to be replaced. (Until recently, this test was conducted using a penny. But then Tire Rack conducted a tread-depth study, which gave credence to using a quarter instead. Learn more here.)
Young drivers also would do well to know about the fuse box. Things like car horns and headlights (in addition to just about anything else electrical in a vehicle) can stop working simply because a fuse has blown. Often, all it takes is replacing a fuse to correct the problem. Of course, if a fuse repeatedly blows, you should consult your auto technician.
A flashing Check Engine light is also serious business—typically indicating a misfire that could wreck a catalytic converter. While this isn’t likely to leave you stranded, you do want to take it in for diagnostics as soon as possible. If the Check Engine light illuminates but doesn’t flash and the vehicle still runs OK, it’s probably fine to drive to your destination and make an appointment at Star Auto Authority for service.
Finally, with gas prices not exactly cheap this year, many drivers—young and old—are tempted to top off their gas tanks. Bad idea. Spillage is, of course, an issue. However, jamming as much petroleum into a car’s gas tank can make an engine run poorly. That’s because gas requires space to expand. Filling it to the brim could very well force the extra gas to evaporate into a vehicle’s vapor-collection system, affecting engine performance.
To quote Einstein, a “little knowledge” supposedly is a “dangerous thing.” But when it comes to cars, a little can go a long way and keep young drivers going safely on their way.
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