The Student Guide to Car Maintenance

September will be a month of firsts for many high school graduates heading off to college or university — the first time living away from home, cooking for themselves daily, and quite possibly, being the sole driver responsible for maintaining a car.

Parents can be helpful whenever you need to look under the hood, check your tire pressure, or top up your oil, but if you’re packing up your car and heading off to college, regular vehicle upkeep may become a new responsibility.

What to check and how often

If you’re new to taking care of a car, here are a few things to keep in mind to keep your vehicle safe and running smoothly:

Don’t ignore your dashboard lights

The dashboard lights are usually the first indicator that something is wrong with your vehicle, even if it appears to be running normally.

According to, your car’s check engine light will typically display the following depending on the severity of the problem:

  • A steady yellow light indicates an issue that should be serviced soon.
  • A flashing yellow light indicates a problem that may require immediate attention.
  • A steady red light indicates a serious problem. If this appears while you’re driving, it’s best to pull over and call for assistance.

Keep tabs on your tires

Your tires are the only thing between you and the road, so you must perform tire maintenance.

  • Inspect your tires’ tread depth and sidewalls monthly for cracks and punctures.
  • Also, check tire pressure monthly (including that of the spares) — especially during cold weather.

Check your oil

Engine oil is critical to keeping all your car’s parts moving. Without it, your car will grind to a halt.

  • Ideally, you should check your oil every time you fill up with gas or every few hundred kilometres. If you’re low, top it up as necessary. If you notice oil on the driveway after parking your car, take it to a mechanic to check for leaks.
  • From time to time, your oil and other fluids need to be completely flushed and replenished. So, it’s important to get regular oil and fluid changes. Your owner’s manual will tell you how frequently this needs to happen.

In addition to your oil levels, you should also watch your coolant, brake fluid, and power steering fluid levels. If any of these are low, have the system inspected for leaks.

Take care of your windshield

Change your wiper blades every six months and fill your windshield washer fluid regularly as needed. Keep some in your trunk, too. This will come in handy should you run out while on the road.

Clean your car regularly

Corrosion and rust can form as a result of buildup from dirt and damaging chemicals. Protect your finish with regular visits to the car wash or by washing it yourself with auto-specific soap. This chore is vital in areas that use road salt during the winter months.

Resist the urge to use your car as a storage space and keep the inside clean. You’d be surprised what thieves will steal.

Keep a car kit

Prepare a well-stocked car kit and leave it in your trunk in the event of a roadside emergency. Pack items like a first aid kit, non-perishable food, water, a flashlight, batteries, extra clothes and footwear, and a mobile phone charger. Check this kit regularly and replace any items that show signs of wear or food that has expired.

Get regular maintenance from a professional mechanic

Find a local repair shop you trust and keep up with your car’s maintenance schedule as recommended in your owner’s manual.

  • Annually servicing your car is key to ensuring you take care of all major systems. Some items to get checked by a professional include your HVAC system, brake system, fuel system, ignition system, emissions system, spark plugs, hoses, and belts.
  • Have all four wheels rotated and aligned at least once per year or every 10,000 kilometres. When you buy a set of new tires, you should have those aligned as well.

There’s more to vehicles than just filling up on gas. Not tending to certain parts can lead to more significant problems and more extensive — and expensive — repairs. Keep your car running smoothly by completing simple car maintenance at home and schedule regular check-ups with a professional mechanic.

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Give your car insurance a tune-up

Young drivers often pay more for car insurance due to their lack of driving experience and insurance history. However, as you gain more experience and maintain a good driving record, you may be eligible for lower car insurance rates and discounts. Graduates may get alumni discounts from their alma mater, and inexperienced drivers may save with a government-recognized driver’s training course. While eligibility depends on individual circumstances, there are several ways to save on car insurance.