In August it's easy for college students to remember to get new clothes, school supplies and dorm and apartment furniture, but what about preparing the car that's going to haul all that stuff?
Automotive experts remind students and their parents not to overlook Vehicle Maintenance 101.
"Making sure the college-bound vehicle gets a passing grade will give both the student and their parents peace of mind for the drive back to school and the first semester of bombing around," said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. "It's always a good idea to inspect a vehicle and have any repairs done near home, at a familiar repair shop."
Auto experts recommend that the following items be checked before hitting the road:
- Tires and tire pressure.
- Hoses and belts.
- Air filters.
- Exterior and interior lighting.
- Fluid levels, including engine oil, power steering, brake, transmission, windshield washer solvent and antifreeze/coolant.
In addition, a 21st century tune-up should also be performed, which includes inspecting the following systems: battery, charging and starting; engine mechanical; power train control; fuel; ignition; and emissions.
Experts also recommend that college-bound students have important telephone numbers in their cell phone or glove box in case of a breakdown or emergency.
Vehicles should have a roadside emergency kit that includes items such as flares, a first aid kit, a tire-changing jack, a tire pressure gauge, jumper cables and a blanket.
Automotive authorities also offer tips for those needing a car to get to school.
"Families often find the car-shopping process tedious and confusing," said Len Sims, vice president of NADAguides.com.
"For parents, it's about finding a car that's safe, reliable and economical, and for teens, it's about finding a car that fits their image," Sims said. "Often, these two points of view conflict, making the back-to-school vehicle shopping process difficult."
Most automotive technicians, however, recommend for first-time drivers large or midsize vehicles with the newest safety features.
Trucks or SUVs with a high center of gravity might prove to be more difficult to maneuver for less experienced drivers. Smaller cars don't have the safety ratings midsize or larger cars.
When shopping for a car for a teen, experts suggest keeping in mind these golden rules:
- Do your homework. Be sure to research as much information as possible before you visit your local dealer. Help narrow the search by answering the following questions: How will the car be used? What are the driving habits of the teen? Consider the following factors - price, options packages, incentives and rebates, reviews, safety information and dealer inventory. By doing your homework, it's feasible to find a vehicle that satisfies a teen's need for style as well as a parent's need for safety, affordability and reliability.
- Check the vehicle's history. If you opt for a used car, be sure to learn about its past by getting a vehicle history report. A vehicle history report can help consumers avoid costly hidden problems, including major accident and salvage history, odometer fraud, flood damage, recalls and more.
- Take a test drive. Before you sign on the dotted line, parents and their teens should take their prospective vehicle for a test drive. Driving it on various road surfaces and at different speeds will help gauge the overall performance and comfort of a vehicle. Buyers should beware of engine knocks and pings, squeaking or grinding brakes, steering that pulls to the left or right, sluggish acceleration, malfunctioning gauges, unevenly worn tires or unusual vibrations. Buyers also should look for rust, differences in paint color, and unevenness or welded spots in the body and frame. They should smell for musty odors, which might indicate flood damage. Excessively worn tires, gas and brake pedals, and seats on a low-mileage car may suggest an odometer rollback.
- Vehicle inspection. If you opt for a used vehicle, take it to a certified mechanic for inspection prior to purchase. A trained professional will either pass it for purchase or alert you to any potential problems and estimated repair costs. Inspections give parents peace of mind knowing they're purchasing a vehicle that's reliable, safe and free of existing mechanical problems.