Getting the car ready to go back to school

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5 min read

Parents—we REALLY hate to break it to you, but the summer vacay is almost over. And just when you're starting to feel relaxed, it’s time to say ta-ta.

But with the new school year rushing up now’s a good time to hit the to-do list before life goes back to normal (AKA chaos).

And if you’ve been on some summer road trips with the clan, your car has most definitely clocked up some more miles than usual. Which means a bit of auto maintenance is in order.

Let’s take a quick look at your end of summer/back to school car maintenance checklist.

check your oil level

This keeps the engine running smoothly (important!) and needs to be replaced every few thousands miles. In the meantime you should keep an eye on the levels, in case it needs a top up. To check your engine oil, pop the hood and locate the dipstick. Remove the dipstick, give it a wipe, then push it back in to check the oil level. The oil level should be between the min and max marks on the stick.

check your headlights

Your headlights are one of the most important safety features on your car. If one is broken, this should be obvious—turn on your car, put on the handbrake and give it a walk around. If any lights aren’t working, replace. You can also check the headlight alignment, if you are concerned that you may be blinding other drivers. To do this you need to aim your headlights at a wall, or garage door, and check the level of the beam—here’s a handy headlight alignment tutorial to show you the drill.

check your brakes

If you’ve been hearing a screeching noise, or notice a slower response time when you brake, it’s time to switch up the pads. If you’re not sure you can have a peek through the wheels to see if the pads are wearing thin. Brake pads usually need replacing every 3,000-7,000 miles.

check your tires

There’s an easy trick to check your tire tread. All you need is a penny. Slot the coin into the tread groove, with Lincoln’s head facing down. If you can see all of his head, it’s time to change the tires.

check your wiper blades & washer fluid

Signs you need new wiper blades are squeaking sounds and streaking on the windshield. The washer fluid also needs regular top up—find it in a translucent plastic reservoir near the back of the engine, close to the windscreen. If it’s looking low, simply fill it up.

top off fluids

Other fluids that need regular top up include coolant, which keeps the engine from overheating. You’ll also find this under the hood in a translucent container. Keep it topped up between the min/max marks with a 50/50 mixture of coolant and antifreeze.

Then there’s the brake fluid, in a container at the back of the engine in the master cylinder. Just make sure to top it up with an appropriate fluid for your car. If in doubt (as always!) check the user manual!)

test your batteries

You can do this with a multimeter. Just touch the red probe to the positive terminal (usually red) of the battery, and the same with the black probe and the negative terminal (usually black). The voltage on a resting car battery should be no lower than 12.6v. A car battery that is 50% charged will show 12.2v. Below 12v is considered flat.

check proof of insurance, registration, and drivers license

A bit of paperwork never hurt anyone right? If your license and insurance are reaching the end of their term, why not take a beat to order a replacement, or shop for better deals.

build a car emergency kit

A roadside emergency kit should have everything you need to handle roadside blowout, breakdown or snowstorm. A properly inflated spare tire, car jack and lug wrench are non-negotiable. Blankets and energy bars are a bonus!

check jack & spare tire

See above! Even if a full emergency kit feels too much, make sure you’ve got a spare tire and jack in the trunk. If you used your spare on a road trip breakdown, now’s the time to replace it.

Summer break feels good, but you know what feels awesome? Rolling into the school year with a car you can depend on. Tick off our ten tips and you’ll be in good stead, but if you’ve taken a proper look at your car and don’t think it’s worth the sweat, it could be the moment to buy a new one (check out this list of Best Cars for Parents). Sell your old car to Peddle and put the cash towards a car that can keep the summer dream alive a little longer.