Teaching Your Teen the Basics of Auto Maintenance -
Girl sits in car driver seat behind wheel and ready to drive away

Teaching Your Teen the Basics of Auto Maintenance

We helped our two daughters practice driving as soon as they got their learners permit. Changing places behind the wheel, we began in an empty parking lot and didn’t exceed 5 miles per hour. Each girl moved through these lessons slowly and took the time they needed to get accustomed to the experience. This was such an important step in their development. However, we weren’t as diligent about teaching them about how to take care of the car they would be driving. For example, the basics of auto maintenance.

Many parents go through this process of helping their kids learn to drive. But they don’t always take the same amount of time to make sure these new drivers actually learn how to take care of a car. Teaching your teen the basics of auto maintenance will help them fully prepare for a life of driving. 

Teen drivers need to know the basics on auto maintenance.

6 Things Your Teen Needs To Know About The Basics of Auto Maintenance

We just had a recent episode with one of our kids and her car, where she just ignored an engine light until it was almost too late. Of course, we immediately launched a refresher class in all the following basics of auto maintenance with both girls. The last thing we need is one of them breaking down somewhere!

Here’s what they need to know regarding basic car care.

1.   Check Your Oil Levels 

When you check to make sure the car’s oil levels are properly measured, this could prevent the oil light from turning on. Sound familiar??? (See above!) Having too little oil in your car can result in catastrophic engine failure. Having too much oil in your car can cause it to overheat, which can also result in catastrophic engine failure. Therefore, it is extremely important to maintain appropriate oil levels.

Can teens do this at home?

Checking the oil is actually pretty simple. All your teen needs is a clean rag and the owner’s manual (which will tell them where the oil dipstick is located). Have them take the dipstick out, clean it with a rag and re-insert into the oil well. Remove the dipstick again and examine it to see where the oil line is indicated. There should be a minimum/maximum line on the dipstick, and anything in between those two lines will work for your car.

How often should this be done?

This is such an easy thing to do, and such a huge problem if it is not done. Encourage your teens to do it rather often. It’s good practice to check your oil levels every time you get gas, or every other week (whichever comes first).

Girl checks under the hood of her Mini Cooper to check fluid levels
Checking the fluids on your car will keep it running smoothly.

2.   Check Your Coolant 

Coolant helps regulate the temperature of your engine so it does not overheat. It resides in your car’s radiator. Not maintaining a safe engine temperature could cause major damage to the car. The amount and type of coolant each vehicle needs depends on many factors, including the age of the car. Check your owner’s manual for the correct specifications of coolant needed for your make and model.

Can teens do this at home?

Yes, with the help of the owner’s manual. The manual can help drivers locate the coolant reserve. Most coolant reserves are see-through containers, which allow you to view the level of coolant without removing the cap. Make sure the coolant is clear and isn’t oily. That may indicate something could be leaking into the coolant and needs to be checked by a mechanic.

How often should this be done?

Check your owner’s manual for the recommendation on how often the coolant should be checked and/or flushed. This is a vital element of the basics of auto maintenance.

3.   Check Your Wiper Fluid Levels 

You know how important it is to have clear windshields. However, part of the ability to have clear windshields is having enough wiper fluid. You need this fluid to clean the windows while you are in the car. Remind teens they should only turn on the wiper fluid feature while they’re parked or at a stoplight. Using this function while driving can be dangerous for the driver, obscuring their vision of the road and conditions. It can also be annoying to anyone who is driving behind them whose car may get sprayed.

Can teens do this at home?

It’s an easy process to check wiper fluid levels. It’s similar to checking coolant levels. Most vehicles have a clear reservoir which holds the wiper fluid. If it looks low, just add more fluid until it reaches the top.

How often should this be done?

You don’t use wiper fluid all the time so levels can vary. Checking every few months is okay. Unlike other fluids, not having enough won’t damage the internal parts of the vehicle. 

4. Check Air Filters (Engine Air and Cabin Air) 

There are two types of filters in each vehicle: the engine air filter and the cabin air filter. Both function in the same way the air conditioner filter in your home functions. They help to catch dust particles and keep the interior air clean and clear. The engine air filter keeps dust and other items out of your engine. The cabin air filter helps clean the air that flows inside the vehicle. Having a dirty engine air filter interferes with the operation of your engine. A dirty cabin air filter can affect the car’s HVAC system (and can trap stinky smells inside your car).

Can teens do this at home?

Yes, and they don’t even need any special equipment. You can tell if you need new filters just by looking at them. If you can see through the filter fairly well and it isn’t covered in dust, leaves and other items, it’s good. Ones that are filled with dust where you can easily see it probably are overdue to be changed. Most filters can be replaced fairly easily by simply opening a compartment and putting in a new one. Check your owner’s manual for more information on the locations of filters as well as the types of filters required. Be sure teens wear gloves and dispose of the filters correctly.

How often should this be done?

Both sets of filters should be changed every 15,000 to 30,000 miles, depending on how much the car is driven and the conditions it is driven in. Replacement filters can be found at an auto parts store, or ordered online. Just make sure you have the car make, model and year handy.

Young woman stands with new Jeep Cherokee from Carmax including big yellow bow of congratulations.
When we got a new car for Sophia to drive, we went through the checklist so she knows where to locate everything.

5.   How To Jump-Start Your Car 

Everyone has that sense of dread when they turn the ignition key and nothing happens. The first thing to do is to see if your battery is dead. The easiest way to see if your battery is dead is to jump-start the car, and this is one of the important basics of auto maintenance.

You should make sure the car your teen is driving has a pair of jumper cables in the trunk. Be sure your teen knows what they look like and where to locate them. Also remind them to only help someone they know – no strangers. After jumping a friend’s car, they should follow the person to the nearest mechanic to get a new battery. Even if you jumpstart a battery, it can die on the road when the car stops at a stop sign or traffic light if the battery is really bad.

Can teens do this on their own?

Teens should practice this with their parents before attempting. Trying to jump-start a car incorrectly can damage the vehicle or cause injury.

8 Steps to Jump-start a Car:

  1. Move the cars so one car stands in front of the other car, nose to nose.
  2. Make sure both cars are in park and the ignition is off. Open the hood of each car and locate the battery.
  3. Take the red clip of one side of the jumper and attach it to the positive battery terminal of the car that won’t start. Some cars have a terminal cover on the battery that will be red to help identify it.
  4. Take the other red clip on the other end of the jumper cables and attach it to the positive battery terminal of the vehicle that runs.
  5. Attach the black clip with the car that runs and to the negative battery terminal of that vehicle.
  6. Take the black clip that is with the car that won’t start and attach it to a clean, unpainted part of the car that won’t start (under the hood or another bolt that’s not on the battery will work). This will help ground the charge.
  7. Start up the working car and let it run for a few minutes. Try to start the car that wasn’t running.  You may need to give it a little gas helps sometimes.
  8. If you get the car running, remove the clips in the opposite order that you attached them. If you can’t get the car running, the battery might be too far gone or there is something else wrong with the car. You’ll need to call a tow truck to take the car to a mechanic.
As soon as your teen graduates from student driver to licensed driver, teach them about their car.

3 Lights to Check Inside Your Car

There are various indicator lights on your dashboard that only appear when something is not going right with your car. Seeing these lights can cause panic, or in the case of some teens, flat out denial. Teaching teens the basics of auto maintenance and what the warning lights mean can help them to take care of the issue quickly, which could save money and lives in the long run.

1.   Check Engine Light 

The car’s Check Engine light comes on when the onboard computer indicates an issue affecting the emissions of your car. The computer also indicates a code that describes the reason the light went on. If your Check Engine light goes on, the car needs to be taken to a mechanic immediately. The mechanic will have technology that will determine the reason the light was illuminated.

Quick tip:

Once the check engine light goes on, make sure your gas cap is screwed on tightly. Modern cars are programmed for the check engine light to illuminate if the gas cap isn’t closed tightly. Try to twist the gas cap on tighter and see if the light goes off within the next 4 to 12 hours.

2.   Oil Light

When your vehicle’s oil light comes on it could mean one of two things. These depend on the type of vehicle you drive. Some cars have a change oil light and a separate oil warning light. If your oil light appears, this could mean it’s time for an oil change. While this is not an emergency, the driver should heed the warning and make an effort to have the oil changed sooner rather than later..

If your oil warning light comes on, it’s an indication the engine’s oil pressure has dropped. This means it is in danger of seriously damaging the engine. The purpose of having the right amount of oil in the engine is to make sure it has enough lubrication to run properly. Without the proper amount of oil, the engine can cease to function. It could overheat and possibly even catch fire.

If the oil warning light appears, make sure your teen checks the oil levels and confirm that the car has been regularly getting the oil changed. If the oil levels are appropriate, the car should be checked immediately by a mechanic to determine the issue and repair it. You should consider this to be an urgent circumstance not to be delayed.

3.   Coolant Warning Light 

The coolant in the car is necessary to help the engine maintain a steady temperature. When the coolant warning light appears, your car is probably overheating. An overheating car can cause a cracked cylinder head, broken head gaskets or other engine damage resulting in very high-cost repairs.

Advise your teen to always monitor the levels of coolant in their car. If their car starts to overheat when driving, they should pull off the road to let the car cool down. They should never try to check the coolant levels in an overheating car, as it could cause severe burns. Once the engine is cooled, the driver can try to restart the car and drive to the nearest gas station to add coolant.This also might be a time to call AAA for assistance. 

Checking the windshield wipers is a good idea too.

Bottom line: Teach your teens the basics of auto maintenance.

Practicing these easy car care checks will help your teens keep a well maintained, smooth running car or truck for years to come. These are skills that can last a lifetime! Teenagers should get in the habit of doing these car care checks on a regular schedule to help their car run well as long as possible. 

And don’t forget the basics of car safety for your pets too.

Happy driving!

man gets into Black Range Rover Evoque with two small dogs on leashes
Make sure the car is safe for pets if you have them.
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