Congratulations! Reaching the age of driving - and having your parents entrust you with their car or a car of your own - is a major milestone in life! Driving and having a car isn't just about looking good behind the wheel and being able to go places on your own, however. Driving is also about being responsible and safe. We've put together the following videos to help you get started with car ownership - and who knows, if you take care of all these things, you'll probably even impress your parents with your skill and knowledge!
How to check your oil : Perform this before you drive your car so that the engine is cool. Park on level ground, open the car's hood, and find the dipstick. Pull the dipstick out from the engine entirely, and using a clean paper towel, wipe any oil off its end. Then reinsert the dipstick back into the tube and push it all the way in. Now, pull it back out and look at both sides of the dipstick to see where the oil is on the end. The dipstick will have some sort of mark to indicate the proper oil level - two holes, the letters L and H for Low and High, the words MIN and MAX, or simply an area of crosshatching. The top of the oil on the dipstick should land somewhere between the upper and lower marks or within the area of crosshatching. If the oil is below the minimum mark, it is important to fill to an appropriate level before driving.
How to check your tire air pressure : Perform this before you drive your car so that the tires are cool. Look in the owners' manual or on the inside of the driver's side door for the standard tire inflation pressure number. Unscrew the valve stem cap (the valve stem is a black pencil-sized extension near the hubcap). Press the air pressure gauge onto the valve stem and note the reading given. If you hear a hissing sound, the gage is not on tight enough for an accurate reading. Remove the gauge and try again. If the reading is lower than the owners' manual's specification, ask an adult to help you air up the tire. Replace the valve stem cap.
Check tires for tread depth, gouges, punctures, etc. : Take a quarter, and hold it upside down (with your thumb right under Washington's chin) and insert it between the treads of the tire. Do this in several places across the tire. If at any point, you can see all of the top of Washington's head, you should remind your parents that new tires are on the shopping list. While you are looking at the tires, take a look for nails, screws, or anything else that has punctured the tire. Look at the sides of the tires for unusual looking lumps or bulges.
Signs your brakes need checking : Brakes are one of the most important parts of the car. If the brakes feel different or make a different sound than you are used to, have an adult check them IMMEDIATELY. You don't want to be without brakes! Some signs your brakes may need work are: an illuminated brake warning sign on the instrument panel, the brakes feel like they are "grabbing", you have to push the brake pedal nearly to the floor, the brake pedal feels hard to push, the car vibrates when you are braking, or there is a squealing noise when you brake.
What to do if you see a leak under your car : Fluids are very important to your car. However, some leaks will allow you to drive a few miles with no problem, while others are a sign you need to keep the car parked. If you see a spot under your vehicle, note the general location (front or back, right side of left) and the color of the fluid. A good illustration of the most common fluid leaks can be seen here.
What to do if you hear an unusual sound from your car : Cars have the ability to make all sorts of noises - pings, clicks, ticks, bangs, and pops. The hard part is knowing whether it's serious or not. The most important thing is making sure that you are in a safe place before you begin searching for the source of the noise. No matter how serious the cause of the noise, it is not worth an accident. When you can safely do so, pull off the road, getting as far away from traffic as possible. If it is night, stop only in a well-lit area where there are other people, such as a parking lot or store. Next, you can start focusing on the noise. Determine if the sound stops when the car stops. If possible, determine what general area of the car the sound is coming from - front or back, driver side or passenger side. When you call for help, be descriptive about the sound - is it a pop, a ping, a bang, a clunk? An interesting article can be read here that will have you prepared.
What to do if your battery is dead : Without the battery, your car simply won't be going anywhere. Unfortunately, battery lifespan is typically only a few years, and in extreme temperatures, that lifespan is even shorter. If the battery is weak or dead because a light was left on, it can typically be jumped from another car or a jump box. Watch this video to learn how.>
So, now that you know the rules of basic car care, print out this Teen Driver Contract and have a visit with your parents!