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I’m Not a Mechanic (7 Things Teens Should Know about Cars)

You’ve been eagerly waiting for your turn to drive. You’ve studied for the test. You’ve gone to driving school in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. You’ve earned your license to drive.

But do you know what you need to know about that 1,500 kg of car you’re driving?

We’re sure you–or your parents–know a reliable mechanic. That’s great. But you also need to know things about the machinery of that car. If you know key information, you will spot the warning signs before the car breaks down, and down the road, you won’t be ripped off when you buy a car on your own.

Here are 7 key things you need to know about the car even after you get your license.

1. Don’t Tape Over The Check Engine Light

You learned in driving school that the instruments on your dashboard all are important–including the check engine light. We know it might be tempting to cover it over. Don’t.

The check engine light means that something needs attention. The check engine light covers a range of problems. It could be something minor–the gas cap is loose. It could be something major–the catalytic converter has gone wrong.

A solid check engine light means that you should check it out, but it’s not a major problem. A flashing light, however, means you should get to the mechanic as soon as possible (get to the mechanic when it’s on, no matter what, but flashing means something major).

The light also connects closely with the emissions system–which keeps the air of Nova Scotia clean. The ability to help keep the air clean is a benefit of taking care of the check engine light.

After you tighten the gas cap, just in case it’s as simple as that.

2. Practice Little Acts of Car Maintenance

A lot of car maintenance involves little things–just like taking care of yourself. If you develop habits of looking after your car regularly, you will avoid unnecessary trips to the mechanic. Some of these items may have been covered in driving school.

Keep track of your tire pressure. Pressure gauges are inexpensive, and you will use more gasoline if your tires are deflated–and they will suffer wear more. Especially if you have to pay for the expenses of operating your car, you will be glad of the saved money.

Check your exterior lights regularly. Not only can you be pulled over at night if a light is out, dead bulbs can put you in an unsafe position even if you’re driving perfectly well. Lights at night let others know where you are, and you want them to know that

Check your oil frequently, and look where you park the car to see if you’re leaking oil. Nothing will ruin your day faster than having your engine die because the oil is gone. Because it means your car is probably gone, too.

3. Learn to Change the Tires on Your Car

Changing tires as a practical skill may not be covered much in driving skill, but it is something you need to know how to do. It’s not a particularly difficult task, even if it can be a pain in the neck.

First, make sure your spare is inflated properly. This is something to check occasionally–not every time you fill up the tank. Know where all the tools are in the car. Read your driver’s manual for any tricks your car requires during this process.

Then follow these simple steps:

  • Make sure you’re as safe as possible, off the side of the road and on a flat surface.
  • Turn your flashers on, and flares or reflective triangles to warn drivers that there’s a situation ahead
  • Set the parking break of the car, and put a block of some kind under the wheel diagonally across from the flat–a brick is ideal (not that many people have bricks in the car) or find a log or heavy branch off the side of the road.
  • Take the spare out, lean it up next to the car, and take the hubcap off, using the lug wrench.
  • Loosen the lug nuts, and take off the special “key nut” if you have one; put it in the hubcap.
  • Place the jack under the place indicated by your owner’s manual, raise the jack until it contacts the car. Make sure everything is in place and raise the car.
  • Remove the lug nuts and place them in the hubcap.
  • Take the flat tire off.
  • Put the spare tire on, and finger tighten the lug nuts back on the the car.
  • Lower the car.
  • Tighten the lug nuts with your wrench–at tight as possible. You should tighten them in a crosswise, rather than around the hub.
  • Remove the jack.
  • Put the flat in the trunk and put the hubcap back on the wheel.

Because most cars have “baby spares”, you should get to the mechanic ASAP to fix or replace the tire and get the tire replaced on your car.

4. Know How to Jump Start a Car

At some point your car’s battery will be dead–or a friend’s will be. Or even a stranger’s battery. The ability to jump start a car is an important driving skill, and you should be prepared.

First, make sure your car has jumper cables stowed in a convenient but out-of-the-way place in the car. A good set of jumper cables–3-4 meters long–will serve you well.

Jumper cables will have one red and one black clip at each end. Red is for positive, and black is for negative.

The process for jump-starting a car is simple:

  • Park the active car where the jumper cables will easily get from its battery to the dead battery.
  • Both cars should be in Park; turn the ignition off in both.
  • Attach one of the red clips to the Positive (+) terminal of the dead battery.
  • Attach the other red clip to the Positive terminal of the active car.
  • Then, attach the black clip to the Negative terminal of the active car.
  • Return to the vehicle with the dead battery, and clip the black clip to any unpainted metal surface you can find, but make sure it’s a bit away from the battery.
  • Make sure the jumper cables are away from any fans.
  • Start the working vehicle and let the battery run–turn off fans, A/C, lights, radio–everything else.
  • In the dead vehicle, make sure everything is turned to off. Unplug any devices plugged into chargers.
  • Start the dead vehicle. It should start right away. Do NOT turn it off as you go to disconnect the cables.
  • Disconnect the cables in reverse order. Remove the black cable from the once-stalled car, then the starter car. Remove the red from the starter car, and then from the once-dead car.

Let the once-dead car run for at least 15 minutes to recharge the battery. If the car doesn’t start up after being turned off, then the battery needs to be replaced. You should ask your driving instructor about the jump-starting process during the course of your Nova Scotia driving school training.

5. Keep the Car Clean

Especially if you share the car with your parents, you will want to make sure that your litter leaves the vehicle when you’re done with it. Even it’s your own car, however, keeping in clean will help you maintain the car and project the image you want.

In addition, make sure the exterior remains clean. Going to a car wash occasionally will keep it looking sharp as well as help the exterior last.

If your car has tree sap on it, many products are on the market to remove the sap. Check regularly to make sure that you don’t have spots of sap on the body or windows.

6. Change the Oil and Check the Fluids

If you don’t mind getting a bit messy, you can learn to change oil at home. But you’ll probably want to do oil changes at a mechanics. Take your car in regularly for oil changes–every 5,000 miles for cars less than 8 years old, and every 3,000 for older cars. You will notice an increase in performance.

The coolant needs to be checked regularly also–it can suddenly disappear. Many places will check the coolant along with an oil change, but you can keep antifreeze at home and top-off when you need to.

The washer fluid tank needs to be kept filled, especially in winter when cars get covered in road crud, slush, snow, and mud. You need to be able to see out your windshield while you’re driving, and the windshield becomes opaque very quickly in some winter conditions.

Keeping a spare bottle of washer fluid in the car is not a bad idea, unless it’s going to be cold enough to freeze–check the freezing point of your fluid.

7. Be Smart on Gas

After insurance (and car payments) you biggest ongoing expense for operating your car is gasoline.

Keeping your tank at ¼ full or over will help maintain the fuel systems. The gas also cools some of the internal equipment, and when you let it run low, you make the equipement work harder.

Unless the manufacturer really means it, you don’t need the higher grades of gas for your car. The difference in performance is not that great, especially with the better engineering of newer cars.

Keep your tires inflated! If they’re at the proper pressure, you’ll get 3-4% better gas mileage in all types of driving. You’d rather spend that money for something fun.

Wrapping It Up

As you gain experience driving, you’ll learn a lot more from experience. Couple that experience with your training and practice in your driving school, whether in Halifax, Bedford, or New Glasgow, and you will become the safe driver you want to be.

Don’t be afraid to ask your driving instructor about any of these skills or ideas. Build habits of smart driving and car maintenance in from the beginning, and you will be on your way!