Preparing college-bound kids for life away from home can be an anxious and task-filled time. While many parents will be focusing on diet, laundry and personal safety, they too frequently forget the important subject of car care and repairs before sending their offspring and vehicle off to college.
“Learning the essential points of car care is something that ideally should be part of the process of learning to drive,” said Bob Kazmierczak, operations manager of AAA Car Care Plus. “But often those key points are never taught or only briefly reviewed and never utilized because teens’ vehicles are maintained by someone else while they are living at home.”
Before sending their teen and vehicle off to college, AAA encourages parents to review four main areas about properly maintaining a vehicle and preparing for the unexpected.
Check and maintain tires
The four points where the rubber meets the road are the only things that stand between teens and a crash. They are one of the easiest items on a vehicle to maintain, but frequently are forgotten until something goes wrong.
• Make sure teens have a tire pressure gauge in their vehicle and they know how to use it properly. While there are a variety of gauges, those with electronic readouts might be the easiest to use.
• Explain that tires should be checked at least once a month when the tires are cold.
• Show teens where to find the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended tire pressure, which is located on a label on the driver’s doorjamb or in the glove box. It’s important that teens know they should not use the inflation pressure found on the tire sidewall. That is the tire’s maximum pressure level, but it might not the correct pressure for the tire when used on their particular vehicle.
• Take teens to a gas station with an air pump and let them practice adding air to their tires so they are familiar with how it’s done.
• Make sure teens know they should also check the tire pressure in the spare tire as well as the four tires on the vehicle.
• Explain what to look for when examining the tread of their tires. Inspect the tire for bulges or other abnormalities that would signal the need for replacement.
• Demonstrate how to check tire tread depth by inserting a penny upside down into a tire groove. If they can see above Lincoln’s head anywhere they check on the tire, it’s time to start shopping for new tires.
Know the maintenance schedule
Performing the manufacturer’s regularly scheduled maintenance on a vehicle will greatly extend the life of the vehicle and ward off costly repairs down the road. While it’s a good idea to make sure their teens’ car is current with all maintenance items prior to sending them off to college, it’s possible some items will come up while they are away.
• Make sure the owner’s manual is in the glove box of the vehicle.
• Explain the recommended maintenance schedule outlined in the owner’s manual. Many teens may only be aware of oil changes as regular maintenance, so be sure they see other fluids and items must be regularly checked and maintained.
• Make the teen aware of what their current mileage is and at what mileage mark it’s time to perform maintenance again.
Find a repair facility near college
Depending on how frequently teens return home or how far away their college is located, they might be able to have regular maintenance performed at their families’ usual auto repair shop while at home visiting. However, even if this is the case, it’s important for parents to help teens identify an auto repair shop they can trust near their school in case an unexpected repair is needed.
• If unfamiliar with the area around the college, look for a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility. As a free public service for all motorists, AAA inspects auto repair shops around the country and only approves those that meet and continually maintain high professional standards for equipment, customer service, cleanliness and training. Visit AAA.com/repair to find one.
Prepare for roadside emergencies
It’s important for parents to prepare their teens for a breakdown or other roadside emergency, especially if they are attending college too far away to call home for help.
• Make sure the teen’s vehicle has a well-stocked roadside emergency kit, and it’s updated based upon the season. It should include a flashlight with extra batteries, jumper cables, a first-aid kit, bottled water, rags or paper towels, a tire pressure gauge, a blanket, granola or energy bars, a flathead and Phillips head screwdriver, an adjustable wrench and pliers. During the winter months in areas with inclement weather, add in an ice scraper, snow brush and kitty litter or other material to increase traction if stuck in snow.
• In addition to making sure the spare tire is in good condition and properly inflated, be sure the vehicle has a working jack and tire iron. Also, if the vehicle uses locking lug nuts, explain how they work to the teen in advance and where the key is located.