Parenting: Kids and car repair

David Murphy installed an 8-track player in his first car. OMG, he was so way cool.
David Murphy says teen drivers should be familiar with cars and how to do a few minor repairs.
November 23, 2011 6:35:13 AM PST
In the Murphy household, dad teaches the kids to drive. And by example, they know that not every auto-related problem necessarily requires a trip to the mechanic. Last week, I talked about how certain maintenance duties should accompany every teen driver's education (checking their tires' air pressure and tread wear, cleaning the battery terminal, etc.). This week, I want to focus on minor repairs and parts replacement that they should be made aware of. As parents, you can instill a little owner's confidence in your kids by encouraging them to solve some of their car's minor problems on their own, as well as put them in line to save some money over their car-owning years.

Think about taking your kids to the local auto parts store, or at least letting them know where it is. Here, they'll be able to buy certain parts cheaper than they'll be charged at some repair shops, and if they make the installation themselves, there's no labor cost. I'm aware of some shops that charge as much as $50 to $75 an hour for labor, whether it's a hard job or an easy one.

Hand me that screw driver

You can also reinforce this idea of thrifty car ownership by asking the kids to help when you've got a simple job to do. The next time the windshield wipers need replacing, include your kids in the job. The same goes for blown headlights or taillights. Air filters are usually changeable in about two minutes and you can switch out the old for the new right outside the auto parts store. Many stores will even throw-out the old filter for you. Instructions for replacing most of these items are included in the owner's manual of the vehicle or available online. Most have easy-to-interpret diagrams. In last week's post, I also mentioned cleaning any powdery build-up from battery terminals with a solution of warm water and baking soda to improve battery performance and starting reliability.

Kids should also know where the spare tire and jack are located and how to safely change a tire. Again, instructions are in the manual.

Clean machine, clean owner

Have your teen drivers keep a blanket in the car, not only for use should they become stuck in cold weather, but to lay out on the ground to protect clothing while working. A couple of clean rags or old t-shirts are also a good idea, because car work is always a dirty job and the hands pick-up most of the dirt. Some rags and perhaps some moist toilettes come in pretty handy when it's time to clean-up.

There are certain, more intense repair or maintenance jobs that leave me less interested. I've known some people who swear by changing their own oil and filters. To me, the time and grime involved in this activity isn't worth it, especially with the profusion of one-stop, quick-serve oil change outfits these days. But if your kid is interested, please make sure he or she has a plan for getting rid of the old oil correctly. Some auto parts stores have drums where oil can be deposited, as do some service centers. But make sure you work that out ahead of time. And be certain your kid is equipped with the right tools for the job, including that special oil filter grip-wrench. You can have mine if you want. I was 20 the last time I used it.

---David Murphy

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