Being a parent means that you get to teach your daughter or son a variety of life skills, ranging from tying shoes to preparing a simple meal. Once your child is old enough, you’ll also want to introduce them to the fundamentals of car care so that they know how to maintain a vehicle.
Keeping a car in good working condition is an invaluable skill that fewer and fewer drivers seem to have. Since auto shop 101 is not a requirement (or sometimes even an option) in high school, it’s up to you to teach your child the basic automotive skills they need to take good care of their car and remain safe on the road.
10 Basic Automotive Skills to Teach Your Child
Vehicles are incredibly complex these days, making it almost impossible to service them from bumper to bumper without a formal education. Still, the basic automotive skills that you learned from your parents or grandparents as a young person remain essentially unchanged. Now, it’s up to you to pass that knowledge on to the next generation.
Once you start to dig in, you may find that you need a refresher in some areas—and that’s okay. There are plenty of resources available to help you and your child learn together.
During your journey, you’ll want to teach your daughter or son to be comfortable with the following:
1. Checking the Underhood Fluids
Your child (and anyone else who drives a car) should know how to check the underhood fluids. Ensuring the fluids remain full and clean is one of the first steps in preventing unnecessary repairs. Low fluid levels are one of the leading causes of failures in major assemblies, such as engines and transmissions.
Most modern cars have only a handful of underhood fluids that you can check, including the following:
- Engine oil
- Brake fluid
- Washer fluid
On some vehicles, you can also access the power steering fluid (if the car has hydraulic power steering) and the automatic transmission fluid from the engine compartment.
The owner’s manual specifies which fluids are present and how to check them. You and your child can use that information to inspect all of the underhood fluids together and top them off as needed.
2. Consulting the Manufacturer’s Maintenance Schedule
Remember when you were a first-time driver who was clueless about car maintenance? Your child will be coming from the same place when they get behind the wheel, which is why it’s important to introduce them to the vehicle manufacturer’s maintenance schedule early on.
The manufacturer’s maintenance schedule tells you exactly what services a vehicle requires and when. Following the schedule is of utmost importance when it comes to caring for a car. You’ll find the schedule listed in the owner’s manual or supplemental service booklet.
3. Changing a Flat Tire
No one wants to be stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire. The situation is inconvenient—and it can be downright dangerous if you’re stuck on the side of a busy freeway.
By teaching your child how to change a flat tire, you’re giving them the knowledge they need to get back on the road safely. Get out the car’s owner’s manual, locate the spare tire and tools, and practice going through the process of changing a tire together.
Also, here’s a tip: The tools that come with the car may not provide enough leverage to break loose the lug nuts to change a flat tire. Consider purchasing a breaker bar or torque multiplier wrench (both of which provide additional leverage) for your child to keep in their car in case of an emergency.
4. Replacing Wiper Blades
Wiper blades typically need to be replaced bi-annually or annually. If you teach your child how to replace a set of wipers, they won’t have to rely on someone else to do the job for them, which can save time and money.
Of course, you might have forgotten (or never learned) how to replace a set of wiper blades yourself. But not to worry—nearly all wiper blades come with a set of installation instructions. There’s also plenty of information available on YouTube.
5. Checking Tire Pressure and Condition
Tires that are worn or damaged can be a major safety concern. What’s more, tire pressure that is too high or too low can lead to rapid treadwear and unsafe driving conditions.
Take a few moments to show your child how to inspect the condition and pressure of a set of tires. Start by performing a visual inspection—check each tire for damage (e.g., cracks and bulges) and use a dedicated gauge to measure the tread depth. Then, check the tire pressure and compare it to the specifications listed on the placard inside the car’s door jamb.
6. Replacing Light Bulbs
Much like the light bulbs in your house, each of a car’s light bulbs has a tendency to eventually burn out and require replacement. You’ll want to teach your child how to replace a typical automotive light bulb so that they’re prepared to tackle the repair.
In some cases, the owner’s manual will provide information on bulb replacement. If that doesn’t work, YouTube has a wide array of instructional videos covering the subject on various makes and models.
Keep in mind, however, that some light bulbs (particularly headlight bulbs) can be tricky to replace. As such, you’ll want to look up the replacement instructions before diving in so that you know what you’re getting into.
7. Jump-Starting a Car
Nearly every driver has dealt with a dead battery at some point. You’ll want to make sure your child knows how to jump-start a car so that they’re prepared to deal with the situation.
To get started, locate a set of jumper cables and demonstrate how to connect them between two cars. Don’t forget that:
- The dead vehicle’s positive (+) terminal needs to be connected to the positive (+) terminal of the working battery.
- The working battery’s negative (-) terminal needs to be connected to a good ground (unpainted metal surface) on the dead vehicle.
If you need a refresher on how to jump-start a car, you’ll find instructions in the owner’s manual.
8. Replacing Air and Cabin Filters
Most air and cabin filters are easy to replace with basic hand tools. You can help your child save time and money by showing them how to replace these filters themselves. If necessary, you can reference a YouTube video for guidance.
9. Locating and Replacing Fuses
The average car has many different electrical circuits, each of which is protected by a fuse. Fuses are designed to “blow” to protect the circuit when there’s excessive current flow.
It’s helpful to be able to know how to locate and replace the fuses in a car. The owner’s manual indicates where the fuses are located and which fuse is which. You can go over locating and replacing fuses with your child so that they’re prepared to do the job themselves should the need ever arise.
One thing to keep in mind is that a blown fuse often indicates an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. When a new fuse blows shortly after being installed, there’s an issue somewhere that you (or your mechanic) will need to diagnose and repair.
10. Knowing How and When to Find a Good Mechanic
Speaking of which, you’ll want to explain to your child the importance of knowing which jobs to tackle and which to leave to a professional. Whenever there’s any doubt, it’s best to find a good mechanic to complete the repair.
However, finding a dependable mechanic is a skill in and of itself. Consider checking online reviews from sources, such as Google and the Better Business Bureau, which can tell you a lot about a repair facility and how it operates.
You can also do some background research to determine whether a shop has been in business for a long time. If the company has been around forever, there’s a good chance it provides top-notch service.
Another option is to ask friends and family for advice. If someone you know has had an exceptional experience with a repair shop, you probably will as well.
Consider Taking an Automotive Repair Class Together
Everyone can learn something when it comes to automobile maintenance and repair. If you and your child would both like to expand your automotive knowledge, consider taking a class together.
Community colleges often let high school students enroll in basic automotive courses right alongside adults. Of course, there are also many online automotive classes to choose from these days.
Find the program that’s right for you, get registered, and enjoy the parent-child learning experience!