The Essential College Readiness Automotive Checklist for Parents

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It’s back-to-school season and you’re about to hand your college bound son or daughter the keys to the old family car. It’s been a trusted car for many years, but it has over 100,000 miles on it! How can you ensure it’s safe for your college student to drive? For peace of mind, have the car serviced and inspected by a qualified professional. For the parents who insist on inspecting the vehicle themselves, here’s a list of essential items to check.

By having it inspected from bumper to bumper, that’s how. To help out, we’ve comprised a list of essential items to check.

Have the old family car serviced and inspected by a qualified professional before handing over the keys to your college-bound son or daughter.

What to check before giving a used car to your college student

Most college students are interested in parties and pizza – not automotive maintenance. It’s up to you to make sure the family cruiser is in good enough shape to keep your brilliant young mind safe.

To make things easy (and who doesn’t love easy?), we’ve put together an automotive checklist for you to go over with your mechanic. The items included are the bare essentials that should be inspected and serviced as needed before your child hits the road.

Note: the following is for informational purposes only. Have your vehicle inspected by a qualified professional to ensure it is safe and road ready.

1. Fluids and filters

You know to change the oil and filter in your car periodically. But did you know many other fluids and filters need routine service as well?

That’s right – the car you’re about to bequeath your child has a menagerie of maintenance items. Depending on what type of vehicle your family has, and want kind of condition it’s in, you may need to service one or more of the following:

Checking engine oil

Warning: coolant should never be checked while the engine is hot. Personal injury may result.

Many automakers don’t have a recommended service interval for power steering fluid. Some experts, however, recommend replacing the fluid periodically or when it starts to darken.

All of these items (except, perhaps, the cabin filter) are vital to vehicle reliability. And you want your car to be dependable, especially if your child will be traveling a long distance.

Check out this infographic for a quick rundown of all the things you need to inspect in your old family car before handing it over to your college-bound kid.

2. Wheels and tires

The tiny, pizza-sized wheels on your old car might be ugly – but they get the job done. Make sure both the wheels and tires are in good condition before your child departs. Here’s what to look for:

Checking tire tread depth

For example, if the number reads 0314, that means the tire was manufactured during the third week of 2014. Keep in mind, the example given here only applies to tires built after 2000; older models are more difficult to decipher. As a general rule of thumb, tires more than ten years old should be replaced.

3. Brakes

Your young adult, who is often more interested in fiddling with the radio than watching the road, requires maximum stopping ability. Make sure to have your car’s brakes checked thoroughly before handing over the keys.

4. Interior

Pretty soon, your car’s once pristine cabin will be covered in books, homework papers and dozens of fast-food wrappers. But before teenaged disaster strikes, you’ll want to make sure the integral interior components are working properly.

Checking power window operation

5. Exterior

Your family vehicle isn’t an ultra-shiny show car. The exterior only needs to be functional, not pretty. Your mechanic should consider these items while doing a walk-around:

6. Undercarriage

Many undercarriage components, such as those found in the steering and suspension systems, are critical to vehicle safety. Complete loss of control can result from something as simple as a broken tie rod or failed ball joint.

Checking steering and suspension

6. Under the hood

Now it’s time to check the under hood components and take a road test. If you’re like many parents, who don’t know a spark plug from a piston, don’t worry. A good mechanic will be able to spot key issues for you.

7. Miscellaneous

You may have thought we covered everything, but there are still a few odds and ends to wrap up.

You’ll want to check for recalls yourself. And you can do that by either calling the dealer; checking out the manufacturer website or visiting the NHTSA online.

Have the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) ready, as that information will be required. The VIN can be found on the lower left-hand side of the dash or inside the driver’s side door jamb.

See them off with love and support

Ready to send off your kid to college? Make sure to let them know how much you love them.

Whew! That’s a lengthy list. Now that everything has been checked out, your child is ready to hit the open road. Almost. Before they leave, let them know how much you love them. College is a big step but with a little encouragement – and the family car – your child will be ready for the challenge.

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Mia Bevacqua

Chief Mechanic at

Mia Bevacqua is an automotive expert with over 15 years of industry experience. She holds ASE Master, L1, L2, and L3 Advanced Level Specialist certification, as well as a bachelor's degree in Advanced Automotive Systems.

Throughout her career, Mia has applied her skills toward automotive failure analysis inspections, consulting, diagnostic software development, and of course, freelance writing. Today, she writes for companies around the world, with many well-known clients showcasing her work.

Mia has a passion for math, science, and technology that motivates her to stay on top of the latest industry trends, such as electric vehicles and autonomous systems. At the same time, she has a weakness for fixer-upper oddballs, such as her 1987 Chevy Cavalier Z-24 and 1998 Chevy Astro Van AWD.

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