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Teach College-Bound Students Basic Car Care Before Sending Them to School

(LOS ANGELES, Aug. 10, 2010) — Preparing college-bound teens for life away from home can be an anxious and task-filled time. While many parents or guardians will be teaching and reminding their teens about diet, laundry and personal safety, they may overlook the important subject of car care and repairs before sending their teen 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 Dave Skaien, program manager of the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Approved Auto Repair program.  “But often those points are overlooked or only briefly reviewed because typically the teen’s vehicle is maintained by the parent while they’re living at home.”
The Auto Club encourages parents to review maintaining a vehicle and preparing for the unexpected.
  • Parents should make sure their teens have a tire pressure gauge in their vehicle, know where it is located and how to use it properly. While there are a variety of tire pressure gauges, those with electronic readouts might be the easiest for the teen to use, said Skaien.
  • 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 door jamb, inside the fuel filler flap or in the glove box.  It’s important that teens know they should not use the inflation pressure found on the tire sidewall which is the tire’s maximum pressure level, but it might not be the correct pressure for the tire when used on their particular vehicle.
  • Take teens to the gas station with an air pump and let them practice adding air to the tires so they’re familiar with how it’s done.
  • Make sure teens know they should also check the tire pressure in the spare tire. This tends to be forgotten, said Skaien.
  • Explain what to look for when examining the tread of their tires.  Look for any nails or other objects.  Inspect each 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.  Using a penny is great in a pinch, but easy to use and very accurate tire tread depth gauges can be purchased from a local auto parts store. As a reminder, tires that measure 2/32nds of an inch should be replaced immediately.  For vehicles being operated in the snow, 6/32nds of tread depth is the minimum allowable.
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, said Skaien. 
  • 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 young drivers 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 sure you accurately evaluate the environment your teen will be driving in and be sure to follow the appropriate maintenance schedule.  Many motorists will be surprised to find their driving conditions fall into the severe service category.
  • Make the teen aware of what their current mileage is and at what mileage mark it’s time to perform maintenance again.
It’s important for parents to help college-bound teens identify a reputable auto repair shop they can trust near their school in case an unexpected repair is needed, said Skaien.
  • If unfamiliar with the area near the college, look for a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility marked with an AAR sign.  As a free public service for all motorists, AAA inspects auto repair facilities around the country and only approves those that meet and continually maintain high professional standards for equipment, customer service, cleanliness and training.  To search for a AAA Approved Auto Repair shop nearby, visit
  • If possible, parents should accompany their teen to the AAR shop while they are in town.  Allow teens to meet the shop owner or manager so they’ll be more comfortable with them should they need to return there with a repair.
It’s important for parents to prepare their teens for a breakdown or other roadside emergency--especially if they’re attending college too far away to ‘call home’ for help.
  • Provide teens with a membership that provides reliable roadside assistance, such as AAA, said Skaien. Choose one that will not expect motorists to find their own towing company or pay for service up front and later be reimbursed. Also, ensure they have a large dedicated network of service providers that offers plenty of coverage in and around the college. Be sure teens keep their membership card with them. If they are AAA members, the benefits will follow the teen no matter whose vehicle they’re in, so parents needn’t worry about their teen in a friend’s vehicle lacking roadside service.
  • Make sure the teen’s vehicle has a roadside emergency kit, and it’s updated seasonally.  Include a flashlight, extra batteries, jumper cables, a first-aid kit, 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 winter, add in an ice scraper, snow brush and kitty litter to increase traction if stuck in snow, if the school is in an area that experiences ice or snow.
CST 1016202-80 Copyright © Automobile Club of Southern California. All Rights Reserved.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.