Know Before You Go: Car Care Tips for College Students

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UPDATED: Mar 1, 2020

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By performing routine maintenance on your vehicle, you can decrease your chances of getting into an accident, which in turn will help keep your insurance premiums and auto repair costs low. It’s common knowledge that it’s important to change your car’s oil regularly, rotate your tires, and keep your gas tank above empty. While those are all important ways to keep your car running smoothly and safely, you might be surprised at these less common maintenance practices.

Windshield Wipers

One of the most basic maintenance procedures is making sure your windshield wipers are still in good shape. On average, windshield wipers should be replaced every six months to one year. You can tell it’s time when your wipers stop pushing rain or snow off your windshield, causing streaking instead of clearing the glass. Replacing windshield wipers is easy — you can do it yourself — but failing to replace them will affect your visibility and can cause you to crash.

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Lights

Another basic check that you should perform on your vehicle on a weekly basis is a light check. Turn your lights on and walk around your vehicle to ensure that they all work. Be sure to take a look at your brake lights, hazards, and blinkers as well. All of the lights on your vehicle are important for visibility — both for yourself and for other drivers. If you avoid driving with a bad bulb, you can avoid an accident.

Tires

Tire safety is another important issue. To reduce your chances of a collision, check your tire pressure and make sure that the reading on your gauge matches the threshold provided in your vehicle’s manual. Most vehicle manufacturers also post the recommended tire pressure for front and rear tires on a sticker commonly located in the door jamb of the driver’s door, or on the edge of the door itself. Just as important as tire pressure is the amount of wear and tear on your tires; you can check the condition of your tire tread using a penny.

Here’s how: Hold the penny at the bottom, at Abe Lincoln’s shoulders, and insert the penny into the tire’s tread so that Abe’s head is pointing into the tire towards the center of the wheel. If you can fully see the top of Abe’s head, your tires are very worn and should be replaced; if the top of Abe’s head is covered up by the tire tread, you still have some miles left on your tires.

Make sure to check each tire on your car at multiple different points around the tire, so that you can be sure there’s no uneven wear or a flat spot on your tire. If you’re unsure, check with a tire shop or local auto mechanic. If your tires are in poor condition, or if there is uneven wearing, then you could be at risk for a collision.

Brakes

Keeping up with your brake system is important as well, according to the state of Califonia’s Motor Vehicles Driver Education Curriculum. Brakes should be inspected regularly by an auto professional, especially after collisions, to ensure that they are operating properly. Be sure to ask your mechanic to check your brakes during regular oil changes, or if you have your car repaired after a collision.

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Steering & Suspension

Additionally, the curriculum also recommends including the steering system as part of regular maintenance checks. If your car “pulls” or drifts slightly to the left or right, have your car inspected with a mechanic who specializes in steering, wheels, and suspension work. Any steering system that doesn’t work properly can lead to a breakdown or a collision. Keeping up-to-date on maintenance will avoid costly repairs and spikes in insurance premiums.

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