Back To School Car Maintenance & Emergency Tips for Your College Student

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As your college student is stocking up on Ramen noodles and extra long twin sheets, don’t forget to take some time to go over their car’s back to school list before sending them back to campus this fall. With the help of a few key car maintenance tips, your student’s car will stay running properly, minimizing the risk of breakdowns or failure-related accidents. This list provides some essential vehicle maintenance tips and check points everyone needs to know—especially young adults living away from home for the first time.

-Test your battery and know how to use jumper cables. Most batteries today can last 60-72 months, which is a long time. We tend to forget that they are there and need some TLC as well. Check the battery’s connection, ensuring that it is clean, tight and corrosion-free. Even a small amount of corrosion can cause your car not to start. Have your battery tested for its cold cranking amps (CCAs) to ensure that there is enough power available to start your car, based on vehicle manufacturer specs. And make sure that you are familiar with where the jumper cables go and how to use them in the event that you leave your headlights on or find yourself with a dead battery.

-Replace your wiper blades. This is an easy, low-cost maintenance tip that you can do yourself! Wiper blades should be replaced every 6 months. Check for signs of wear such as discoloration, splits or worn rubber. A good rule of thumb is to change your blades when the clocks change with Daylight Savings Time. So this fall, change to a winter blade if possible, as a Teflon blade will wear better when they’re continuously coated in ice and snow.

-Check to make sure your spare tire is properly inflated and in good condition. This is especially important if you spare tire is located on the exterior of your vehicle and is exposed to weathering. Make sure you know where the tire is as well and that you can access it in case of an emergency. If you don’t feel comfortable changing to the spare yourself, consider keeping a can of Fix a Flat tire repair in the car or get a AAA membership for peace of mind.

-Check to make sure your vehicle’s coolant reservoir has enough antifreeze. Your car’s radiator keeps your engine running cool so it doesn’t overheat. Radiator coolant or antifreeze raises the boiling point of the water in your radiator, which allows it to carry more heat away from the engine. If you’re running low on coolant during the freezing temperatures, that water can freeze, which prevents it from being able to flow freely and cool the engine. As a result, your engine can overheat and lock up, causing costly damage to your vehicle, including a radiator or engine replacement, costing in the thousands!

-Ensure all vehicle lights are working. With autumn’s longer and darker days ahead, your headlights are sure to get a workout. Be sure your vehicle is safe with the proper lighting, including all interior lights, as well as headlights, taillights, and turn signals.

-Keep current with oil and filter changes to keep your car’s engine well lubricated and running smoothly with the vital oil. Doing so will help your car run longer and prevent the need for a new engine. Check your car’s owner’s manual for the right interval for your specific vehicle. Also, make sure you are using the OE-specified grade and weight of oil, for example 5w30 and synthetic or semi-synthetic.

-Regular tire rotations and alignments will make your tires last longer. When your tires are out of round, they wear unevenly. When the tire has uneven tread, this hampers your vehicle’s ability to grip the road and maintain control, especially on icy or snow-covered roads.

-Rely on technology to stay current on vehicle maintenance and service intervals. Everyone is busy and can easily forget when their last oil change was. There are apps and websites available such as those on carcare.org that will allow you to create a free account where you can enter your vehicle’s VIN to receive customized alert notifications of when it’s time for your car to be serviced, including oil changes, fluid flushes, and more.

Our experts at Smyth also suggest that you create an emergency kit to keep inside a new driver or college student’s car. In case of emergencies, we have assembled some of the most important devices and life-saving tools that anyone can use in emergency situations:
Back to School Emergency Crate Contents:
• Roadside Emergency Kit (WIL60220)
• Battery Terminal Cleaner (WILW3302)
• All Makes/All Models Pre-Diluted 50/50 Antifreeze (P/PAF3100GL)
• 1 Quart of Motor Oil (WOL5W30)
• Washer Solvent (SAWWS)
• 1 Gallon of Distilled Water*
• 2 Wipers Blades
• 1 Can of Fix-A-Flat (SNA07455)
• Rolled Up Fleece Blanket
• Crate to Keep it All Together, Strapped in with the Bungee Cords from the Emergency Kit

Emergency Crate Image

*- You should carry distilled water in your car, as opposed to just purified or spring water. Not only can it be consumed in case of an emergency, but if you suspect your car is near overheating or low on antifreeze, you can add some of the distilled water without the water rusting your car’s radiator, due to the absence of rust-forming mineral deposits usually found in plain bottled water.

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