It can be a nerve-wracking experience when your teen gets behind the wheel of their first car. A roadside breakdown can be one less thing to worry about if your teen knows a bit about preventative maintenance. Knowing just the basics can prevent a large majority of breakdowns.

According to the Automobile Association, neglecting car maintenance is one of the top causes of breakdowns. Common reasons for a breakdown include damaged tires, oil levels that are too low, and even putting the wrong fuel in the gas tank.

Vehicle maintenance only requires a few basic tasks that are often relatively quick and easily tracked in a car maintenance schedule.

Use these tips to help ensure a safe and smooth driving experience for your teen.

5 Basic Car Maintenance Tips And A Checklist 

Here’s a quick overview of the most important things your teen should be aware of when maintaining their first car or vehicle. We’ll go into more detail about each one below the checklist.

  • Review the oil levels and cleanliness
  • Check essential car fluids
  • Check tire tread depth and tire pressure
  • Diesel vs. gas: always choose the right type of gas
  • Keep a car maintenance schedule

Check Oil 

Oil is essential for cooling and lubricating the engine. If it’s depleted or low, serious damage can occur. A vehicle can overheat and even catch on fire.

How Long Does An Oil Change Take? 

It only takes five minutes to check the oil and an average oil change only takes about 20-45 minutes. In most cases a teen driver does not even need to make an appointment to get their oil changed. There are many drive through oil changes that will get you or your child in and out without even stepping out of the driver seat.  

How To Check Car Oil (H4)

Open the hood and locate the dipstick, which should be on one side of the engine. Remove the dipstick and wipe off any residue that may be on it with a clean rag or paper towel. Insert the dipstick back into its holder and pull it out again. Check the “oil level” indicator along the stick. If necessary, add more oil as needed to bring it up to this ideal level.*

*Check your car’s manual for specific maintenance instructions.

Of course, vehicle maintenance requires that you or your teen ‌also get regular oil change services to change the oil filter and completely refresh dirty oil.

Check Essential Car Fluids 

There are three other car fluids that are essential to basic car maintenance. Here are general guidelines on how to check each one. Consult the vehicle’s manual for more detailed instructions and make sure the engine is off and the vehicle is safely parked before checking any fluid.

  • How To Check Car Coolant: The coolant level should be at the “full” mark on the overflow tank. If it’s low, add more coolant but be careful not to overfill.
  • How To Check Brake Fluid: Brake fluid levels should be between “min” and “max.” If they’re low, top them off with the correct brake fluid or take your vehicle to a brake shop for service.
  • How To Check Steering Fluid: Locate the power steering fluid reservoir and check the level. It should be between “min” and “max.” If it’s low, add more until it reaches the “max” line. 

Check Tire Tread And Pressure 

Keeping tires properly inflated is an essential part of basic car maintenance. If tires are low on air, they’ll have decreased traction, and an increased risk of a dangerous blowout. Poorly inflated tires can also cause increased friction between the road and the tire surface, leading to more wear and tear.

One of the best ways to check tire pressure is to use a basic tire gauge. If tires are running low on air, make sure to add air right away.

Another important factor to consider when it comes to vehicle maintenance is tire tread depth. Having worn-down tread makes a vehicle less safe in wet or slick conditions and increases the risk of car wrecks due to hydroplaning.

To monitor tire tread depth, regularly inspect the grooves in the rubber of each tire for signs of deterioration or damage. Schedule a regular tire rotation service so that all four tires wear down at roughly the same rate over time.

Diesel Vs Gas: Always Choose The Right Type Of Gas 

Knowing which type of fuel the vehicle needs is important for basic car maintenance. In fact, it’s estimated that between 130,000 and 150,000 people put the wrong fuel in their vehicles every year. And most insurance companies won’t pay for the resulting damage.

Diesel is typically used for heavy-duty vehicles that require a lot of power and torque. Because it has a higher energy density than gasoline, it’s better suited for transporting large loads or pulling heavy trailers over long distances.

Gas, on the other hand, is typically used for standard passenger cars and smaller vehicles. It offers good fuel efficiency and lower emissions, making it a more eco-friendly option for everyday driving.

When your teen is at the gas station, ‌make sure they know which type of gas they need, and that they’re paying attention to what they’re refilling the car with at the gas pump. 

Finally, Keep A Basic Car Maintenance Schedule 

Consider keeping track of car maintenance tasks in a calendar. This will allow you or your teen to stay on top of things. Use a paper planner, a digital calendar, a notebook, or any of the handy apps and online tools to accomplish this.

To learn when the vehicle needs different types of maintenance, make sure to consult the vehicle manufacturer’s manual. Most manufacturers recommend specific service intervals for different types of maintenance, such as oil changes, tire rotation, and refilling car fluids. These guidelines vary and depend on things like vehicle type and mileage.

In addition to these 5 basic car maintenance tips, there are a few other things to be aware of. 

  • Batteries should be checked regularly and replaced as needed. 
  • Check parts like belts and hoses for wear and tear
  • Make sure your teen has a spare tire kit and knows how to use it in case of a flat
  • Make sure they also know how to contact emergency services and roadside assistance.

Regular vehicle maintenance is critical for keeping your teen’s vehicle running safely and preventing serious, expensive problems down the road. We hope these tips for teen and first-time drivers will help your teen stay safe on the road.