Back to School Vehicle Maintenance to Teach Your Child

It's okay, you can admit it. Back-to-school season is a mixed bag of emotions—you'll miss them terribly, of course, but you might also feel a tinge of excitement! It's complicated. But don't let an unreliable vehicle create an additional layer of anxiety as summer winds down. Instead, teach your child some important back-to-school vehicle preparations that will be a win for everyone. You'll have greater peace of mind, your child will get a nice boost of confidence and pride at learning new skills, and you'll help that vehicle stay in tip-top shape for the school year.

Luckily, some of the most important maintenance jobs safety checks are great for a beginner skill level. Here's a handy checklist of small projects you can tackle together in just one weekend.

college student in a car

1. Wiper Blades

The sun's UV rays and normal use really take a toll on wiper blades, so you need to inspect them regularly. If you're seeing streaks or smudges when the wipers are in use or if the blades are dried and cracked or are losing strips of rubber, it's time. Install new blades, if necessary. Advance offers this as a free service.

2. Tires (including the spare!)

  • Check the air pressure of the tires, including your spare. Remember to check the tire pressure when the tires are cool (before driving), and refer to the tire inflation info that's on the sticker on the door frame or underhood, rather than the max inflation that's embossed on the tire sidewall. A possibly exception to this is a donut spare, which will have the pressure on the sidewall and is often higher than the other four tires. 
  • Check your tread depth. The penny test is easy and accurate. Stick a penny, Lincoln head down, in one of the center tread grooves. If the top of Abe's head is visible, then the tires have worn below a safe tread depth and should be replaced. Having alignment checked when tires are replaced is also a good idea to prevent premature tire wear and protect your pricey investment.
  • Learn how to install a spare tire. Jack location, spare tire location and the safe jack point for a vehicle can vary a lot from one make/model to the next, so check your manual and make sure that your child knows what to do if they have to change a tire. While you're at it, be sure to inspect the spare for cracking, tread separation or dry rot since tires have do degrade over time. 

3. Exterior Bulbs 

Exterior bulbs like headlights, turn signals and brake lights are important safety features that will protect your young driver and others on the road. The easiest way to check to see that all of the bulbs are working is to do it together. While one of  you operates all of the switches from the driver's seat, the other should walk around the vehicle and check to see that each bulb works. If you need to replace a bulb like a headlight or a taillight, that's usually a fairly simple job, too. 

4. Air Filters

  • Inspect the engine air filter, and replace it if it's dirty. On most vehicles, the air filter is in a box toward the front of the engine compartment, with a duct that directs air into it. Engines need a precise amount of clean air for the best performance, so replacing old filters that are clogged with dust, pollen, and other debris will help performance and fuel economy.
  • Inspect the cabin air filter (usually mounted behind the glovebox) and change it if it has debris visible between the pleats. The cabin air filter traps pollen, dust and particulates that might enter the vehicle's HVAC system, keeping interior air fresh.

5. Fluids

6. Under The Hood

  • Test your battery regularly so that you know that it will be reliable. Advance offers free testing. For a little more on how to take care of a vehicle's battery, click here.
  • Explain what to look for in case of a leak: oil is coffee-colored, transmission fluid is magenta, coolant is green (usually) and a puddle of clear water is just condensate from running the AC, and is completely normal.
  • Put together a car emergency kit. Flares or a reflector triangle, fuses, a good-quality multi-tool, screwdrivers (standard and Phillips), a nice bright LED work light and duct tape are a start. A first-aid kit is a good idea too.

Continue your car maintenance 101 lesson at our stores

Let's say you checked the air filter as one of your teaching lessons. You find that it's filthy. Next, use the Advance Auto Parts app to show your child how to look up the correct filter for your vehicle, and then you could take your child to your nearby Advance Auto Parts store, where you can get all your auto repair questions answered. Then complete your lesson by replacing the old filter with the one you just bought. Again, completing these relatively simple do it yourself auto repair projects can give your child some confidence–and spark a desire to take on more complicated tasks down the road. 

Last updated July 27, 2020