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The Definitive Dad’s Guide to Car Maintenance Lessons for Kids

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One great thing about being a dad is that you also get to be a teacher. All the things you’ve learned in life – how to handle a football, how to read, the fair price of a packet of crisps – suddenly seem like valuable treasures and bonding opportunities.

Of course, there are many lessons you can’t teach right away: how to deal with difficult people, what to do when a friend passes away, what to do on a first date. But unlike other grown-up topics like the birds and the bees, basic car maintenance is something they can learn and understand even at an early age, and even college-bound teenagers can appreciate it. So, here are a few car care lessons you can share for a quick crash course.

Car Tyre

Tyres in Tip-top Shape

You can start your child’s automotive education by focusing on the tyres. Just before a road trip, talk about the importance of tyre pressure, especially the risks of going on the road with a flat. Together with your child, check your manual for the recommended pressure. Use a basic tyre pressure gauge to see if your wheels are roadworthy; most new cars also let the owner check tyre pressure in its infotainment menus. If your child hasn’t done it before, letting him or her take some readings will give them a sense of responsibility.

Tread depth is another issue to go over. You can easily explain how a car with worn or bald tyres can’t grip the road or stop that well. There are three ways to check for the correct tread depth (in the UK, it should be at least 1.6 mm by law):

  • Use a cheap tyre depth gauge (it shouldn’t cost more than a few quid).
  • If a tyre has tread wear indicators (rubber bumps in the treads), make sure they’re not flush with the wheel’s outer surface; if they are, it’s time to swap them out.
  • Place a 20p coin edgewise in the tread; if you don’t see the coin’s outer band, you’re well within safe limits.

Cleaning a car

Keep Things Clean and Clear

Regularly cleaning the family car with soap and water, along with protective wax for good measure, is one of the most under-appreciated car tips for owners. It’s also a good chance to discuss how grime, dirt, bird droppings, and bug splats can ruin the paint job, especially if you live in harsh environmental conditions. Built-up sediments can lead to bubbled paint and pitting over time, which can cost a pretty penny to fix. To make a relatable example, work out how many weeks of your kids’ allowance or how many toys you could pay for with the money!

Windshields and windows are another important area to keep clean. Dirt isn’t likely to ruin the glass on your car, but dirt on your windshield and side windows can obscure your view, putting your family at risk. While cleaning the car, test your windshield wipers; if they leave streaks, it’s time to get new ones. If you’re teaching a soon-to-be driver, you can have them install one of the replacement blades themselves.

Car dashboard

Demystify the Dashboard

Quick: can you remember all the indicators on your car’s dashboard? If you’re like most drivers, you probably can’t name more than five off the top of your head. In that case, you’ll need to review your car’s manual, and it’s a good time to get drivers-to-be involved.

They’re likely already familiar with headlights, brakes, turn signals, and gear indicators. What you must get up to speed on are the warning signals like the “low oil” light, the “check engine” light, the “overheating” light, and so on. Depending on the model, there could be around 20 indicators on your car’s dashboard, and you have to know which ones mean “PULL OVER RIGHT NOW” and which ones mean “sort this out when you can.”

Because it doesn’t involve any real physical work, this will probably be the most mind-numbing lesson of all to teenagers, so be prepared to fight for their attention. When it looks like the kids are starting to tune out dad’s car guide, just remind them: being aware beats hitting the panic button during emergencies, hands down.

Fluids All Topped Up

You can learn a lot from the dashboard lights, but the best way to check your car’s condition is to actually get your hands dirty. That means popping the bonnet and seeing the engine’s condition first-hand. A car maintenance guide for your kids should start with the most basic lesson: checking fluid levels. Of course, your kids won’t listen if they don’t see the point, so start by discussing the purposes of the essential fluids in your car.

Car Battery

Don’t Forget the Battery

It’s also important to teach them how the battery in your car should be connected. Show them how the terminal contacts with the battery cables should be nice and tight; a white buildup of corrosion isn’t a good sign, as it can keep your battery from starting the car or getting charged up by the alternator.

If you see corrosion, it’s time for you and your child to play Dr. Frankenstein and Igor. Ask your young assistant to hand you the spanner and a pair of gloves for safety; you can also mix it up and let them be the mad scientist, provided you can trust them to get things right.

Here’s what you should do to fix built-up battery corrosion:

  1. Loosen the connections with the spanner, then remove the cables.
  2. Thoroughly mix one tablespoon baking soda with one cup water.
  3. Dip an old toothbrush into the mixture and scrub off the residue, taking care not to get any liquid or particles on parts of the engine that could rust.
  4. After that, wipe the battery down with a damp rag, then wipe it off immediately with a dry one.
  5. Rub petroleum jelly on the battery terminals and reattach the cables firmly.

You can’t expect your children to learn about car maintenance from just a single session. Like exercising and saving money, it’s a habit that you’ve got to plant and cultivate in them. It’s a lot of work, but in time you’ll find that it’s totally worth it. Teaching kids about car care isn’t just a great way to bond with them; it’s also important to make sure they’re prepared for the rough road of life ahead.




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