Essential car maintenance tips for teens

Your teen is driving — and either borrowing the family car or possibly driving one of her own. But beyond filling the gas tank, there are simple maintenance issues that come with the responsibility of driving.

Mother and teen daughter repairing car |

Photo credit: Tetra Images/Getty Images

Your teen couldn’t wait to start driving, but how much does he know about taking care of a car? Learning to keep tabs on simple maintenance items should be one of the responsibilities that parents place on their teens when learning to drive. With a little guidance, your teen can take on a few simple tasks to help keep those wheels rolling safely.

Watch for warning lights

One of the easiest things for teens to miss are the dashboard warning lights. These lights usually turn on briefly when the car is started, then go off. But when these warning lights stay on, it means there is a potential issue that needs to be investigated. Make sure your teen knows what each indicator light is measuring, what could potentially happen to the car if the warning is ignored and what to do if it does happen.

Most vehicles will have warning lights for several different things, but these are the most important three:

  • Oil pressure — Usually displayed as an oil can, the oil pressure warning light is one not to be ignored. If this light illuminates, your teen needs to safely pull the car to the side of the road and turn the engine off as soon as it is safe to do so. Loss of oil pressure can cause serious damage to the engine. The vehicle may need to be towed to a service station for possible repairs.
  • Charging system — Sometimes shown as a battery symbol, this warning light comes on when there is no power being supplied to the electrical system from the alternator. Not as much an emergency as the oil pressure warning light, your teen should still turn off all unnecessary electrical items, such as stereo and air conditioner, and unplug cell phone chargers to decrease the drain on the system. The vehicle should be driven to the nearest repair station or pulled to the side of the road when it is safe to do so.
  • Coolant temperature — This warning light is usually shown as a thermometer symbol. When this light is illuminated, the driver needs to determine quickly how bad it is. If there is steam coming from underneath the hood, pull the car immediately to the side of the road and call for assistance. Warn your teen that coolant is under pressure and can cause serious injury, so she shouldn’t attempt to open the hood when steam is present or remove the radiator cap.

Keep the tires happy

Show your teen how to check the pressure in the tires and how to add air, if need be. Check tires when they are cold for the most accurate reading. Under-inflated tires are a major cause of blowouts, which can be dangerous and cause a serious accident. Tire pressure should be checked monthly and tires filled to the proper pressure according to the owner’s manual. Check tires for wear on a regular basis, as worn tires seriously affect the car’s safety.

Oil and filter

Checking the oil and changing the oil and oil filter on a regular basis are must-do maintenance items. While many people take their car in for servicing to have the oil changed, it’s not a bad idea to teach your teen how to do it properly.

Keep fluid levels in check

Oil and gasoline aren’t the only fluids that are important to your car. Checking the coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid, windshield washer fluid and transmission fluid is important to keep your car running smoothly and safely. Teach your teen how to check these fluids, how to top them off and what the function of each fluid is.

Keep your view clear

The windshield on your car is under great stress every day, protecting passengers from debris and allowing the driver to see the road ahead clearly. Sometimes a small rock or other object can hit the windshield and cause a small hole or crack. Treated immediately, the repair is easy — but left too long, a small nick can turn into a bad crack, which is dangerous. Many insurance companies will send a repair company at no charge for these damages, preventing you from having to completely replace the windshield.

Check wiper blades regularly to make sure they are in top shape. Properly working windshield wipers keep the vision clear and the driver safer.

Think your teen is ready for the challenge? Driving is only part of the ballgame — teach her to keep up on the maintenance of the cars she drives and she will develop a long-term appreciation for the driver/car relationship.

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