Fluids, tires and more: What young drivers need to know about their cars

Whether you are a high schooler with your first car or you’re heading to college or out on your own for the first time, it’s important to know how to take care of your vehicle. A little bit of attention keeps your car in optimal shape and can keep little issues from becoming big problems.

iStock_000018082651XSmallThere are a number of ways to get specifics about how to perform the basic maintenance tasks all car owners should know how to handle: your vehicle’s owner’s manual, another knowledgeable owner (a parent, maybe?), the Internet or even bringing your car or truck to Auto Lab. We’ll help you learn what you need to know!

Here is an overview of some of the topics you need to be aware of.

Fluids

Keeping track of your car’s fluid levels isn’t very exciting, but without those fluids, you won’t be going anywhere. Your owner’s manual will show you the location of each of these, and most of the reservoirs are labeled. Make sure the vehicle is parked on a level surface and that the engine is cool. (It takes about 8 hours for an engine to completely cool down after a vehicle has been driven.)

Your oil and transmission fluid are checked with a dipstick that indicates whether you are low or not. Power steering and brake fluids usually have markings on the reservoir indicating the correct level. When it comes to wiper fluid, just fill it up to the line!

Use extra caution when checking your coolant level. Follow the instructions in your owner’s manual and adhere to the warning labels under the hood. Ideally, you’ll be able to look through the side of the coolant overflow tank and will not have top open the tank itself. Never, ever open the radiator cap if the car has been driven within the past several hours.

While you’re under the hood, always check for loose wires or connections, worn or exposed wires, or loose or warped belts, all of which need to be replaced sooner rather than later.

Tires

If your tires don’t have the correct amount of air in them, it will affect your safety and fuel economy, and will shorten the life of your tires (and who has extra money for more gas and new tires?). Check the pressure every month and you’ll notice the difference in your bank account. Tip: The correct pressure required is shown on a sticker in the driver’s side door or glove box and in the owner’s manual, not on the tire.

In addition to pressure, you need to check the tire tread to make sure your tires have enough life in them. If you see any uneven wear, get them checked out as soon as possible. your trip. Also make sure the tread depth is appropriate. Legally, you must have 2/32 inch tread on the tires, which you can check with a penny. Place a penny into several tread grooves across the tire. If part of Lincoln’s head is always covered by the tread, you have more than 2/32 inch of tread depth remaining. But a new study shows that it’s safer to conduct the same test with a quarter instead, which provides 4/32 inch tread depth. Don’t forget to check your spare every month, too.

There’s too many steps to explain how to change a flat tire here, but it’s definitely something you need to learn how to do. Even if you have roadside assistance, there might be circumstances where you’re too far away or it would take too long for help to arrive. You can even practice a couple times in your driveway so you are comfortable with the job. If you ever do have a flat tire while out and about, find a safe place to pull completely off the road and turn on your hazard lights. While you may damage your wheel or rim, it’s much safer to make your way to a rest area or an exit vs. pulling along the side of the highway.

Battery

Batteries should be replaced every three five years or so, and if your car has trouble starting or the electrical system (headlights, radio, wipers) seem to be on the fritz, the battery (or alternator) could be the problem. Also look for corrosion, build-up or stains. These are signs the battery is leaking or otherwise on its last legs.

Emergency kit

Every car should have some items that would help in case of a breakdown, bad weather or accident. Some of the basics you should have are a flashlight; a first-aid kit; a warning light, hazard triangle or flares; spare fuses; $20 in small bills and change; and a jack and lug wrench. This Consumer Reports article offers a full list of items you should have in your car in case of emergency.

Make sure you have your license, insurance and registration. And make sure you have the number of your roadside-assistance plan handy in case you need help.

After an accident

Unfortunately, accidents happen. If one happens to you, there are several steps you need to take to stay safe and prevent further damage to your vehicle.

  • If the damage is minor and no one is seriously injured, move the cars to the side of the road to prevent additional accidents and injuries. Turn on your hazards, and put out flares if you have them.
  • Exchange name, address, phone number, insurance company, policy number, driver license number and license plate number for the driver AND the owner of each vehicle (the person driving might not be the one who is insured). Write down the year, make, model and color of each car involved, the exact location of the collision and how it happened.
  • Take pictures of the damage and location (you knew that smartphone would come in handy, didn’t you?!) If there are witnesses, get their names and numbers in case their version of the accident is needed.
  • File an accident report.
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