Car Maintenance 101: A Guide for Student Commuters
College is expensive enough without the cost of maintaining a car. Unfortunately, the high price of campus housing means that commuting is way of life for millions of students. At Arizona State University, Arizona’s biggest public institution, 78% of the student body live off campus. That means, approximately 32 thousand students have an average daily commute of 23.8 minutes per day. Young commuters expect machines and technology to “just work,” but in reality, vehicles require care and maintenance to stay in working order. If you’re a college commuter, follow these tips to help your car live a long and healthy life.
Tire Treads, Sidewalls, and Pressure
Your tires are constantly being worn down. At least once per month, inspect your tire treads for depth. You can do this with this penny test. Just insert a penny into a tread with Lincoln's head facing down. If you can see the top of Lincoln's head, you need new tires immediately! You should also inspect the tire sidewall for cracks and punctures. Finally, remember to check your tire pressure monthly, and don’t forget the spare. You can usually find information about the vehicle’s ideal tire pressure on the inside panel on the driver’s side door.
Engine Oil and Other Fluids
Motor oil keeps your engine’s parts lubricated. If you wait too long between oil changes, tiny metal particles will accumulate in the oil. When this happens, additional friction can cause parts of your engine to heat up, warp, and wear out. If you wait too long, the entire engine can shut down. Change your oil regularly to keep your vehicle running. You should also keep an eye on these six important fluids:
- Radiator fluid - keeps your engine from overheating
- Transmission fluid - keeps your transmission lubricated
- Power steering fluid - makes your steering wheel easier to turn
- Brake fluid - pressurized fluid that makes your brakes more efficient
- Coolant - helps your air conditioner cool the air
- Washer fluid - soapy liquid that cleans your windshield
Most newer vehicles come with alert systems that help you keep track of these fluids. However, these alerts aren’t foolproof. Check your owner’s manual to find out how long your car can go between fluid changes, and follow a set schedule. Last of all, never ignore a leak.
Yearly Check Up
In addition to these routine fluid changes, there are also a number of mechanical issues that should be handled each year. Your owner’s manual has the complete list, but these are some of the most important items:
- Engine air filter - keep air flowing into your engine
- Brake pads - slow your tires to a stop when you hit the brakes
- Car battery - powers your car’s electrical components
- Spark plugs - channels electricity within your engine
You should also consider keeping a vehicle maintenance spreadsheet to help you keep track of the work done to your vehicle over the years.
Interior and Exterior
While a car wash may seem like a luxury, it’s actually an important maintenance item. Over time, dirt and fluids can build up on the exterior of your vehicle and corrode the paint. By washing and waxing your car, you’re actually ensuring the longevity of your paint job. You should also keep the inside of your vehicle clean and tidy. An empty car keeps petty thieves from breaking and entering.