Car maintenance costs can often convince cash-strapped teens to shirk much-needed updates, but thousands of trouble-free miles only occur when a car is well-maintained. Here are 10 basic rules to teach your teen when it comes to car maintenance.
Keep an eye on the gas level and especially keep your tank sufficiently filled in severe weather, says Jeanne Morr, owner of Ron's Car Wash and Oil Change and author of Under the Hood with Jeanne. If the "check engine" light comes on and you continue to drive, the engine could freeze up, requiring thousands in repair dollars. "Read your owner's manual and become familiar with the different lights that may illuminate for service," advises Morr.
Change the oil
"Additives in modern engine oil that reduce engine wear-and-tear break down tremendously after 3,000 miles and affect engine performance," says Morr. Humans don't want plaque in their arteries and you don't want sludge in your car -- so no slacking on the oil changes (recommended every three months or 3,000 miles).
Eyeball the pros
Ensure that you're getting what you pay for and stay with your car for oil changes and basic engine care, advises Morr. "You'll learn which items are routinely checked and eventually know if you're dealing with a subpar or superior center."
"Open the hood of your vehicle and learn where fluids are and what levels they must maintain," says Morr. This education also enables teen drivers to speak intelligently with any technician or mechanic about their car's needs.
Check, check, check
Check fluid levels and tire air pressure weekly, Morr suggests. "Insert a penny into your tire's tread -- if you can see all of Lincoln's head, it's time to purchase new tires." Keep an eye on wiper blades and belts too. "They'll feel worn and rough if either needs to be replaced."
"Other than the horn, vehicle lights are the only communication with others," says Morr. Check lights weekly (preferably at night) – front and rear signals, high and low beams, back-up and brake lights.
Filter and rotate
The air filter will appear dirty when it needs to be changed. A clean filter will improve gas mileage. Also have the tires rotated every two to three oil changes to avoid uneven wear on the tread, says Morr.
Be battery diligent
"'No starts are the number one call to most roadside emergency services," says Morr. The cause? A dead battery. "Warm water and baking soda poured over the connection and rubbed with a brush dissolves corrosion," which is what compromises battery performance. "Have the battery strength tested with every oil change," says Morr.
Put on the brakes
Never add your own brake fluid, says Morr. "Let your car care center do that to ensure integrity of the brake system."
Don't get suspended
"If your car wanders, bounces or bottoms out, the suspension needs to be checked," Morr advises. "During braking, if the steering wheel pulls or severely vibrates, the alignment and brakes should be checked." It's a simple matter of getting to know your car's typical behavior and paying attention to any shifts in the norm.
Read more about teenage driving