This is what you need to do to your car, or your kid’s car, to get the car ready for going back to school. For the next 9 months, this car is going to go places you don’t know and might not see the inside of a garage until Christmas. We went to the experts to find out what you should do to the car before it goes to college with your kid.
You can knock out these quick back to school car tips in an evening or on a weekend morning, and if you find anything that you need to fix, you can do most of it yourself in very little time — even if you aren’t super familiar with your car. A little bit of preventative maintenance will give you peace of mind and will help you avoid a late night call with your kid stuck on the side of the road hours from home.
Here’s what you need to do before you send your kid back to school with a car, and what you should repeat in the spring.
Check the Cooling System
“A problem with the cooling system is the number one reason you see a car stuck on the Side of the road.”Colin Dilley, VP of Technology at Prestone told Gotta Be Mobile.
Having the right mix of coolant and water is important no matter where your kid is going to school as it provides freeze protection up north and keeps the right boiling point protection in the south. Problems with either of these can lead to an engine overheating, which could leave you stuck on the side of the road.
The first thing you need to do is check the fill level of the coolant. In a newer car that is less than seven years old, you can look at a plastic tank near the radiator to see if it is at the marked fill line. You may need to check in the radiator in some cars, and in that case, make sure it is cold. Do not open a hot radiator. In older cars, the coolant has likely been refilled and topped off with a variety of coolant technologies.
It’s a good idea to use a Hydrometer, to check if the coolant is still good. If the coolant is dirty, it needs to be changed and if there is not a 50/50 mix of coolant and water. You can buy a Hydrometer for under $10 on Amazon and you can pick one up at most auto stores.
The video above walks you through how to do this on your own. This walks through a Flush and Fill of coolant. If the coolant is good, you don’t need to take any additional steps in that area. If you need to top it up, make sure you top up with a 50/50 mix of coolant and water. Low coolant can cause air bubbles that lead to other problems, so this is a very important to check.
Check Windshield Fluid
The next thing to check is if you have enough windshield washer fluid and that you have the right kind. This is often overlooked until you run out, and that’s when you need it most.
There is a small fill container under the hood that you can look at to see if there is enough fluid. If not, you can pour more in to top it off, but you’ll want to make sure you have the right kind. Specifically, if you are going to school in a colder climate Dilley recommends a winter or all season windshield washer fluid. The wrong fluid can lead to poor visibility and even accidents.
If you are using a summer fluid, you can drain it with a release under the hood in many cars or by simply holding the windshield spray until it is empty. An all season or winter windshield fluid will not freeze on contact with the window, so it can actually clean and clear your view.
The next thing to do is check the tires on the car. The first thing to do is check to see if the tire tread is still good. The video above shows you how to use a penny or a quarter to see if your tires need replacing. Tires with poor tread are unsafe and won’t grip the street as well.
If the tread is good, check the tire pressure. There is a small sticker inside the driver side door that should tell you the correct tire pressure for your car. Use a small inflator at home or stop somewhere to top them up. Many new cars include tire pressure monitoring, but you can also add this to an existing car with a wireless tire pressure monitoring system if you want to always see the pressure.
Once you have that handled, make sure the spare tire is in good shape with tread and inflation. Now, check to make sure your kid knows how to change a tire and or include an inflation kit or aerosol sealer. If you use a product that seals your tire temporarily, make sure you tell the shop when you go into get it fixed as they will need to clean the inside of the tire before plugging it.
Check and Update Emergency Kit
Dilley recently prepped his kid’s car for going back to school and an emergency kit is one of the top things on his list. This includes a list of who to call (call the police, call insurance, call dad)and what to do in case of an accident or another roadside issue. Include phone numbers, a disposable camera to take pictures of an accident and what information you need to get from other drivers.
It’s important to include a small first aid kit and we recommend putting a $20 bill in the kit in case they run out of gas without a wallet or simply need an emergency stash of cash while on the road. This is a good place to put the tire inflator or sealer and also a good time to include a gallon of winter windshield washer fluid.
Talk to Your Kids
The final thing to do isn’t car maintenance. Instead of doing something to the car, talk to your kid about these items and even have them help you prep the car. You want to build confidence about these simple tasks and take away some of the mystery under the hood.
There are still some places where you can’t call or stream a YouTube how to video on the side of the road. Spending an hour working on these items and making sure your kid understands what to do if they have car trouble is the best way to make sure everyone is safe when something goes wrong.