What to Teach Your College-Bound Kid About Car Care and Maintenance

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Kids headed to college with cars need to know a few things to stay out of trouble.

Whether commuting from home with a car or having one near campus to get to class and work, a college student is a young driver who needs to know some basics about maintaining that ride they now depend upon. We break down the list in order of importance. Our focus here is “up-time.” By that we mean the things a college kid needs to know in order to keep that car running and avoid wasted time from breakdowns.

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Get AAA

If your son or daughter is headed to college get them AAA. It is cheap insurance against many types of trouble from dead batteries to tire changing. If you have a car towed just once it will more than save the cost of the membership for multiple years. We recommend the premium subscriptions, but at a minimum get the basic plan and explain how it works to your new student.

 

Maintaining Tires

No other single part of a car is more likely to give a college kid problems than tires. Start with showing your student something they should already be used to – a book. Show your son or daughter where the owner’s manual is in the car and have them read the entire section related tires. Then, before they head to school, have them remove a tire and put the spare on (if they have not already done so in the past). If you think that’s a little ambitious, at a minimum quiz them on where the spare is located, where the tools are, and where the jack goes for each end of the car. Discuss the plan if a flat happens. Make a list of tire shops near the school that can be kept in the car. That AAA membership your student now has can be part of the plan, but knowing the vehicle and its parts is the driver’s responsibility.

Keeping tires at the correct pressure is also a priority. Most new cars display the pressure in the tires in the car’s infotainment menus. Make sure your student knows how to access those menus. Also, teach them how to manually check air pressure and send them off to get air at a local station so they have at least done it once before they need to on the road. Here’s all you need to know about how to check tire pressure.  

Checking Fluids

This is one your college student should already know. See our guide to “Car Maintenance You Parents Should Have Taught You” if you have any questions.

Idiot Lights And What To Do When They Come On

Keeping a car running means understanding what to do if something goes wrong. Discuss the various warning lights that can illuminate on a dashboard. There is a world of difference between seeing a “Low Oil” or “Overheating” light versus, say seeing a “Check Engine” light. Explain the differences and explain to your son or daughter which lights mean “Pull over immediately to a safe area” and which means “Get your car checked out when practical.”

Park Defensively

Keeping a car available for use means never having it be towed. Colleges are generally difficult places to find available parking. Make sure you student has the right parking stickers applied in the right place on the vehicle so that they don’t have to deal with getting towed. Impress upon them the importance of factoring in time to park and planning for parking.

Routine Maintenance and Inspections

If your state requires annual safety or emission inspections be sure your student bookmarks those for completion. It is always wise to try to align routine maintenance like oil changes and tire rotations with that inspection schedule to avoid multiple trips to the dealer or service station. Your student can handle these responsibilities, but make sure they understand it is their responsibility so they don’t assume “Mom or Dad will deal with that.”

A Deeper Dive

Those parents who want to teach their kids more about car maintenance can start with two easy things. When it’s time to service the vehicle’s engine air cleaner element and cabin air filter have the student get the parts from a local auto parts store or dealer and show them how to replace them. These are two of the simplest things one can do to their own vehicle and usually don’t even require tools. The next two things you could show them are how to properly rotate tires and change oil, including bringing the old oil back to be recycled.

 

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John Goreham

John Goreham