Back-to-school car care checklist

There are plenty of things students are happy to do to get ready for a new school year – like reconnecting with friends, shopping for back-to-school gear and perfecting their fashion statements. But let’s face it – for young adults who are driving to high school or college, ensuring their car is problem-free isn’t likely at the top of their list.

So, it’s up to parents to get their students involved in making sure they drive to school in a car that’s well-maintained and understand how to keep it that way all year. Remind them that car maintenance is an important part of their driving responsibilities. As school starts this fall, keep these car care basics in mind.

Why did that light come on? Most of today’s vehicles can help alert us to a potential problem via their warning or indicator lights. It’s a good idea for you and your student to review the owner’s manual together so you know what these lights mean and what the vehicle manufacturer suggests you do about them. If any of these lights stay illuminated on your dashboard when you’re driving, it’s your car’s not-so-subtle way of telling you, “Hey there, I need some attention!” So don’t ignore them.

• Classroom under hood. It’s nice to know that cars can alert us to potential problems, but it’s still a good idea to open the hood and take a look with your student. Your owner’s manual will explain how to check fluid levels, like engine oil, coolant and transmission fluid. Also, check the battery to make sure the cables and terminal post connections are tight and clean. Find the date code stamp on top of the battery. If it’s more than two to three years old, Consumer Reports suggests that you have it tested. Some repair shops and auto parts stores may even check it at no charge.

The strange noise test. Start the car, turn on the fans and listen for any strange noises while the hood is open. It’s not a foolproof way to identify potential problems, but you might notice a screeching belt or an especially noisy fan. Make sure the air conditioning and heat are working, too. Also, drive down the street (close the hood first!) and engage the brakes a few times. If they feel spongy or squeal, it could be a sign that the pads need replacing soon.

• The old Abe test. Road & Travel magazine suggests this simple test of tire tread life: Grab a penny and place Abe’s head into a groove. If you have a clear view of his entire head, the tires are worn out.    Check the pressure on all four tires, too, and ensure the spare tire is inflated and a jack and lug wrench are in the trunk.

• Gunk on ground. Another DIY maintenance test is to look on the garage floor or ground where the car is usually parked. Are there any spots of oil or antifreeze? If so, it’s a sign of a potential leaking problem for an important fluid.

• Pick up the junk. Being messy can present two potential dangers. For one, garbage – like an empty soda bottle – could become lodged under the brake or gas pedal. Second, leaving valuables in sight also puts students at higher risk for car break-ins.

After your DIY diagnostics, if you’re still concerned with anything, have a mechanic give the vehicle a thorough check. Then your student can get back to the important stuff, like deciding what to wear on the first day.

For more back-to-school car maintenance and safety tips, check out this Allstate blog.

Presented by Pamela Reyhan, Allstate Auto Insurance. Pamela is the Manager of Digital Content Strategy at Allstate and the mother of twin girls.

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