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Ask Mechanic Shop Femme: What Should My Teen Know Before They Get a Car?

Illustration for article titled Ask Mechanic Shop Femme: What Should My Teen Know Before They Get a Car?
Image: Negative Space (Pexels)
Mechanic Shop FemmeChaya Milchtein is an automotive educator, writer, and speaker. She'll be here every other week answering all your car questions. Need to know what engine oil you need? She's got you covered. Wondering what gas your car really needs? She has an answer. Let's untangle cars together.

You’ve reached a major milestone in your child’s life. They have their driver’s license and now it’s time to buy (or give) them their first car. They’ve done whatever you outlined to earn it. So what now? Do you just go buy the car for them? What do you decide to teach them to help them understand car basics independently?

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There is a lot that you could cover so I picked six things I think are important.

What to Do If They Get a Flat

Every car driver should know how to remove a flat tire and install a spare. Take the time to teach your child how to do this before they own their first car. While just watching a YouTube video may help understand the basics, actually walking them through doing it helps with practical application.

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Show them where the spare tire is (it’s not in the same place on every car), how to access and use the jack, how to safely remove the tire etc.

If you have roadside assistance, explain to your teen how to find that information and when to call them. If you’d rather they don’t and call you instead, explain that.

How to Check and Top off Their Fluids

Checking your own fluid levels is essential for any new driver to know and something you can easily teach your teen. Start with showing them how to own their own hood. You’d be surprised how many people never learn how to do this.

Knowing how to check and top off their fluids will help your teen become a responsible car owner. They can catch when the oil level is low and replace the washer fluid when they run out. Basic but important.

How to Jumpstart Their Car

Jump starting your own vehicle is a fairly straight forward if someone takes the time to show you how to do it once. Even if you take meticulous care of your teen’s vehicle, there may come a time when they are stuck with a drained battery. Maybe they left their lights on while at school or the battery went bad, whatever it is, make sure they are prepared. It’s an eventuality.

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Making sure that your teens has a jump starter means they won’t be stuck looking for a stranger to assist them when the time comes. They’ll be able to jump-start the car all on their own.

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What Noises to Pay Attention To

Does your teen drive around with blaring music and not really paying attention to the noise their car makes? Now is a good time to teach them what noises to listen for and of course to listen to them at all. Good rule of thumb is to spend the first few minutes driving in silence.

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Illustration for article titled Ask Mechanic Shop Femme: What Should My Teen Know Before They Get a Car?
Photo: Chad Kirchoff (Unsplash)

Paying attention to the car could save you and your teen lots of money in the long term. This means, tell them that they should pay attention to grinding when they are stopping, loud clunking noises, or even that annoying clicking every time they turn left.

What to Do If Their Check Engine Light Comes On

While sometimes this pesky light can come on for reasons that are unrelated to safety, sometimes it doesn’t. Teach your teen what to pay attention to immediately and then to get it checked out soon if those markers aren’t present.

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If the light starts flashing, pull over. If the car starts shaking, probably a good idea to stop driving too. Sounds obvious? Not to your teens.

And yes, if you want you can get them that little tool that checks the codes. It won’t fix the car but might ease your peace of mind if they can determine what area of the system is having a fault. Better yet, they can just swing by an AutoZone and get it checked out for free.

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What to Do If They Get Into a Car Accident

While the other things I mentioned might seem obvious to you, this one probably isn’t. Be proactive. Explain to your teen what to do if they are in an accident. What is the plan? Where is the insurance card and car registration? Who should they call?

Hopefully you’ll be just a call away if anything ever were to happen, but you might not be. Keep your teen prepared will help them get through the difficult situation with some sense of calm.

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While this list could go on for several more posts, here is a good place to start. Share what’s obvious to you with your teen and they will be significantly more prepared than most.


Chaya Milchtein is an automotive educator, writer and speaker who's made it her mission empower the average driver. She believes that anything is possible and can be done on your own terms.

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