Selecting and taking good care of your vehicle is incredibly important. If certain things are neglected, your car could suffer serious damage. In this section of TeenDriving.com, we go over tips for choosing a used car, how to make sure your tires and brakes are at their best, how to change a tire and check your brake fluid level, helpful gas-saving tips, and insurance information.
Buying a Used Car
Thinking about buying a used car? For many teens, it’s the affordable, logical choice to cut your driving teeth on. However, it’s important to know what to check for when shopping for a car that has been previously owned.
Do Your Research
- Use a good car review site to check out reviews of past make and models.
- Avoid cars that have major issues when hitting 100K miles.
- Check out the insurance costs for that particular car before buying.
A Good Checkup
- Check out the horn, lights, heat, seats, air conditioning, brakes, seat belts, and steering to make sure these all work properly.
- Have a trusted mechanic go over the car and alert you to any potential problems, and to especially check that the airbags are in place and working.
- Look for any evidence that indicates that the car was in a major accident, or ask the previous owner about this. You may also be able to find out from the DMV if the car has been in accidents if you have the car ID number.
- Check the car for any evidence of tampering, such as marks on the odometer or numbers that don’t line up. Also be sure to see if the odometer miles are more than mileage entered on oil stickers, inspection stickers, or tire warranty cards.
- Look at the tires. If the odometer reads less than 25,000 miles, the car should have the original tires. The tires should all be the same brand, and probably radials.
Tires & Brakes
Tire safety is very important, and learning the basics can help prevent certain accidents. Putting these simple tips into practice can save you lots of trouble, time, and money.
- Always know the right pressure for your tires, and keep that number handy so you won’t forget it. Tires lose pressure over time, so check them regularly—at least monthly. Be sure to measure the tire pressure when the tire hasn’t been driven for awhile.
- Tire makers list the “maximum permissible inflation pressures” on the tire sidewall. This number is the greatest amount of air that, under normal driving conditions, should be put in your tires.
- If you have to replace a tire, make sure it’s the same size as the other three.
- Tires should be in good condition when teens drive family cars. Teens who will be driving an older car should consider having a new set of good tires put on.
- Check the tire tread and replace tires before—or at least when tread is worn down to—1/16 of an inch. You can also place a penny in the tread with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to get new tires.
- Keep a tire gauge in the glove compartment.
- Rotate tires according to your vehicle’s owner manual recommendation. Some tire companies throw this in for free when you buy a new set of tires.
Protect Your Tires
- Carrying heavy loads in your vehicle can put a strain on your tires, so be aware of the load limits for your tires.
- Watch out for potholes. They can destroy or greatly damage tires.
- Watch out for newly-paved roads with uneven shoulders. Uneven shoulders can slice into your tires.
- Watch out for curbs. Hitting a curb or scraping your tires on one can damage the tires. Be careful of curbs when you’re backing up as well.
- Buy road hazard insurance on your tires. It’s usually only a few dollars more, and the tire company will repair a tire or replace it if it’s beyond repair.
Do You Know How to Change a Tire?
- You’ll need a jack, a lug wrench, and a spare tire. A screwdriver may also be helpful for prying off the hubcap.
- If possible, a flat surface is best for changing a tire.
- Make sure your car is in park and the parking brake is applied. To keep the car from rolling, block the tires at the opposite end of the car from the end that is to be raised with something heavy, like a big rock or a brick.
Changing the Tire
- Use a jack to raise the car. Place the jack under the frame near the tire that needs to be changed, and be sure that the jack is in contact with the metal portion of the car’s frame. If the jack is placed in the wrong spot, you could crack or damage the bottom of your car when the jack starts lifting the car.
- Pry off the hubcap and loosen the lug nuts by turning left. Don’t remove them completely from the tire, just get them loose enough to remove by hand.
- Raise the jack until it’s supporting the car. It needs to be high enough to remove the flat tire and replace it with the spare, but no higher than that. The jack should be firmly in place against the underside of the car. Make sure the jack is perpendicular to the ground. As you lift, make sure the car is stable. If it’s not, lower the jack and fix the problem before going any further.
- Remove the flat tire. Take off the lug nuts the rest of the way by hand, grasp the flat tire, and pull it towards your body.
- Once the flat tire is out of the way (lie it flat somewhere), lift the spare tire onto the lug bolts. Next, replace the lug nuts and tighten them by hand.
- Lower the car without applying full weight on the new tire, and tighten the lug nuts with a wrench as much as you can.
- Lower the entire car to the ground fully and remove the jack. Finish tightening the lug nuts and replace the hubcaps.
- Put your flat tire in your trunk and visit a mechanic.
Do You Know How to Check Your Brake Fluid Level?
- Open the hood of your car when the engine is cool, and preferably on a flat surface.
- Locate the master cylinder. It will have a reservoir above the cylinder itself. Check the fluid level in this reservoir. Most newer cars have a transparent reservoir with lines marked “min” and “max”. The fluid level should fall between these two lines. If the reservoir is metal, you’ll have to remove the cap with a screwdriver.
- Add brake fluid to the reservoir if there’s not enough. Don’t overfill—make sure that the fluid is within half an inch or so of the cap. Pour carefully and wipe up any spills. Brake fluid is corrosive and can damage the engine if not wiped up. Don’t let any dirt fall into the reservoir. Replace the reservoir cap and close you car hood.
- If the brake fluid level was way below the “min” or “max” line, you need to have your brakes inspected by a mechanic.
Keeping your vehicle in top shape is vital practice to safe driving. Below are some tips for making sure your car is well taken care of.
It’s good to keep a maintenance log for your car. Buy yourself a notebook and record your car’s vital stats on the first page. Include the model, make, vehicle ID number, and your insurance information. It’s good to do this so you’ll have everything on hand that a mechanic might need to know. Track your oil changes, the wear on your tires, brake pad changes, and how often you replace the air and fuel line filters. In the event of accidents, record those, too. Take notes on any repairs done as well.
- Have your car inspected every 1-2 years. It’s just like a checkup at the doctor: it ensures that everything is working properly.
- Putting off an oil change can have a huge effect on your car. Don’t procrastinate on doing this! It can vary by model and oil type, but a good guideline is to have it changed at least every 7,500 miles.
- Check the coolant level regularly, and make sure if you refill it, it’s the right type. Typically coolant should be checked on every two years.
- Keep an eye on your brake pad condition, and replace them as soon as they need to be.
- Avoid long idles. If you’re going to be stopped for longer than one minute, turn your car off.
- Avoid heavy loads when possible—they use lots of gas.
- Keep your windows closed on freeways. Open windows increase drag, and result in decreased gas.
- Use the air conditioning sparingly.
- Heavy shoes (like boots) make it hard for you to feel the gas pedal, which can result in more gas being eaten up. Try thinner shoes.
- In the colder months, wait five minutes before turning on your heat. Immediately using the heater or defroster after starting your car can decrease fuel efficiency.
- When possible, park in the shade. The summer sun zaps fuel from your gas tank through evaporation. For this same reason, park your car in your garage if you have one.
- Don’t bother topping off when filling your car’s gas tank—additional gas is just going to slop around or seep out. Also, remember to tighten your gas cap.
- Keep your tires properly inflated. Under inflated tires increase fuel consumption.
- Change your air filter. A dirty filter can decrease your miles per gallon.
Whether you’re taking a road trip or just jumping in your car for a quick errand, you’re at risk for an auto accident. They can happen at any time, in any place. It’s important to be an aware driver to avoid accidents, but it’s also important to have car insurance to take care of the damage that can arise from those unfortunate incidents. Here are some tips on purchasing auto coverage.
- Many auto insurance companies give discounts for good grades- usually A’s and B’s. Check with your insurance company to see if you qualify.
- Some insurance companies also give discounts for taking either their driver training program or other driver education programs.
- If possible, teen drivers should be added as the primary driver/family driver on the oldest and least costly vehicle. This will save you on the rates.
Questions & Research
- If getting new insurance, check the rates at a number of companies. Use a comparison shopping site like einusrance.
- Before buying a new or used car, check with your insurance company to see what the rate will be for the teen driver. Sports cars and other expensive cars may have higher rates, so know what you’re getting into before you buy.
- Check the crash safety rating and average repair cost for any car you might buy. That will impact the insurance rating, too.
If An Accident Occurs
- If you’re involved in a minor crash, you might want to have damages repaired without reporting it to the insurance company. For a teenager, having an accident – even a minor one – may cause rates to increase, maybe even more than the cost of repairing the minor damage. Some states and insurance companies require you to report all accidents, so check with your state.
- See if your insurance company has an app for reporting accidents. Some do, and this makes it easier to get all the necessary information right on the spot.
- Use your smart phone or keep a disposable camera in your car in case you’re in an accident to record the damage to all cars and the actual placement of the cars. But be sure and get out of the traffic when you (or someone else) are taking the pictures. You don’t want to be hit while documenting the accident.
In the US in 2011, more than 3,300 people were killed and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver (nhtsa.gov).