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Back To School: Basic Car Maintenance Survival Guide for Teen Drivers

September 5th, 2018

Photo of a teenage driver in West Michigan driving a Ford vehicle from Borgman Ford

The Borgman Service Center in Grand Rapids is always here for your automotive needs, and a part of that means working with you as a team to ensure your vehicle is operating smoothly and safely. Parents with new teen drivers can do the same, and while teaching the basics of auto maintenance with your teen driver will make them a more aware, responsible owner, it can also be a fun bonding experience.

Whether or not you have a new driver in the house, learning to care for a vehicle’s various systems will help everyone stay safe on the road and stave off expensive repairs. Join us in our latest Borgman How To as we go back to school for basic vehicle maintenance!

You can download a printer-friendly version of this article here for the glove box.

#1. Checking Your Tires / Wheels

Ultimately, tires are the single most important safety feature of a vehicle. As the sole point of contact with the road, tires play a role in starting, stopping, and predictable handling. Though it’s an easy thing to forget while going to class or off to the movies, simply doing a quick walk around the vehicle gives you the opportunity to act on any issues before they become dangerous. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Under-Inflated or Flat Tires. To re-inflate, check proper (cold) PSI level for your vehicle’s tires; it’s usually printed on a sticker in the driver’s side doorjamb.
  • Worn-Down Treads or Uneven Tread Wear
  • Bulges or Sidewall Breaches
  • Wheels that look “off” or leaning while they’re parked straight
  • Bent or Misshapen Rims
  • Every now and then, check and make sure the spare is inflated and in good shape

Another thing to know is how to recognize a flat tire while out driving, as well as how to change to the spare. A steady “thwop thwop thwop” noise, pulling to one side, or “sloppy” turning are good indicators that a tire is low. The owner’s manual will be the ultimate authority on changing the tire, but here’s the basic procedure:

Park the vehicle as far over to the side of the road as possible and turn on the hazard lights. Remove the spare tire and jack from the trunk and place the jack under the designated lift point. Don’t raise the vehicle yet; use the wrench to loosen the lug nuts first. Raise the vehicle and remove the tire, then mount the spare on the posts sticking out of the hub. Following a star-pattern, incrementally replace and tighten the lug nuts – this ensures it’s tightened down evenly. Lower the vehicle and tighten them more with the tire on the ground until they’re as tight as possible. It’s important to check them again after a short while to ensure none of them have worked themselves loose. Bring your vehicle and your tire to the Borgman Service Center as soon as possible.

#2. Checking Your Oil & Fluids

Under normal circumstances, the only fluids your vehicle will need regular fill-ups of are gasoline and windshield washer fluid. However, there is a schedule for replacing the other fluids that’ll be specific to your vehicle with engine oil being the most frequent and important. The others include the transmission fluid, coolant, brake fluid, and power steering fluid. (Kids, blinker fluid doesn’t exist. In this one particular instance, don’t listen to dad.) These fluids all play a role in keeping their respective systems lubricated and cooled, so if you notice anything strange happening, this is a good place to start looking for issues.

Do not open the Radiator Cap (not the same as the reservoir) on a hot engine. The system is under pressure and can spray fluid as hot as 260°F if the engine is overheating. Also, never, ever open up the air conditioning system. The pressurized gas inside is harmful and an environmental hazard.

It’s almost always best to check fluid levels on a cold engine to ensure accuracy. Some fluid reservoirs are translucent and have “min” and “max” levels molded into them, so it’s easy to see if they’re low at a glance. Others like the engine and transmission have dipsticks. To check those, remove the dipstick, wipe it clean with a non-fibrous cloth, replace it, then carefully remove it again. The fluid will stick to the tip between marked “min” and “max” areas. If something is low, fill it up with the fluid specified in your manual, taking care not to overfill. Engine oil and coolant can burn up in the engine if you have a bad gasket (burning oil typically makes black smoke out of the tailpipe, coolant makes white-ish blue) but the other systems are closed. That means if you’re losing brake, steering, or transmission fluid, you probably have a leak. You can use Borgman’s online scheduler to make an appointment with our Service Center and have our experts find it.

One more thing worth mentioning: if your engine is overheating due to lack of coolant and you don’t have any extra, distilled water can be used as a temporary replacement until you can get it to Borgman for a flush. Do not throw water on a hot engine to cool it down.

#3. Check Your Belts

Most cars these days have just the one accessory belt or “Serpentine Belt.” As the engine spins to turn the transmission and the wheels, it also turns this belt. This belt spins different pulleys on the accessories, which include the water pump – which circulates coolant, the alternator – which generates electricity, and others like the power steering pump, air conditioner, and more. It’s worth a look while the hood is open to see if it’s cracked or looking worn down.

The other and hugely important belt is the timing belt, but some cars have a chain here instead. This belt or chain ensures that all four cycles in the engine happen precisely when they’re supposed to, and should be inspected regularly by a trained eye. If replacement is needed, it needs to be done as soon as possible. If it breaks, you’ll likely need to replace the engine too.

#4. Battery Care

While the engine is running, the serpentine belt turns the alternator and generates electricity for the spark plugs. To start the engine though, you need stored electricity to get the process going. That’s what the battery is for, and the alternator recharges it while you drive too. To make sure you have enough juice to turn the starter motor and fire the spark plugs, make sure your headlights and interior lights are off before leaving the vehicle. If your battery is drained (it happens to the best of us,) your manual will tell you how to hook up the jumper cables to a donor vehicle. If you keep a set in the trunk, you don’t need to hope someone will have some.

If your vehicle doesn’t start because there’s white buildup on the terminals, this could be something you can fix yourself. Carefully disconnect the battery (yup – read the manual) and mix up a good amount of baking soda with hot water. Put on a pair of thick rubber gloves and safety goggles, then grab an old toothbrush. Dip the brush in this mixture and use it to scrub off the corrosion. The baking soda will neutralize the acid and it’s abrasive enough to remove the buildup. Be extra aware of anything that could complete a circuit between the two posts on the battery, and keep the battery away from heat sources or open flame. Thoroughly dry the terminals and the connectors, carefully reconnect the battery, and see if the vehicle starts. If that didn’t fix it, our experts here are more than capable of finding the issue.

#5. Headlights, Brake Lights, and Turn Signals

The lights mounted around your vehicle aren’t just helpful to you, they alert other drivers of your position and intentions. Making sure they’re all working is a social and legal responsibility. If you have a lamp out, in many cases it is something you’ll be able to take care of yourself. The light bulb you’ll need will be specified in your manual or in a manufacturer-specific book in the supermarket. Your manual will also illustrate where you’ll be able to access the bulb connector to replace it. Fair warning here: some of these may require tools to remove the light assembly, or can just be a total pain to reach. If you’re not comfortable changing the light by yourself or you’re not sure which bulb is the right one for your vehicle, bring it to the Borgman Service Center. We’ll be more than happy to help.

#6. Listening To Your Brakes

For a multitude of reasons, a vehicle’s braking system isn’t something you should tinker with unless you’re a car repair pro. However, if you notice screeching or scraping when you stop, it’s from a metal clip around the brake pad rubbing on the metal rotor. It’s there for the sole purpose of letting you know it’s time to visit the Borgman Service Center for new pads. Luckily, Borgman offers a Lifetime Guarantee on Motorcraft Brake Pads – all you’ll have to pay for is labor.

If you feel your brake pedal getting “spongy” or notice a loss of fluid from the brake fluid reservoir, that almost always points to a leak in the system and you should schedule an appointment with us right away.

#7. Something Not Working? Check The Fuse

Your vehicle has a pretty complex network of wires and electronics, even if it’s a little older. To safeguard against short circuits, they all pass through a fuse box. If there’s too much current going through a circuit, the fuse breaks to stop the electricity from damaging the electronics or getting too hot.

Your manual will tell you where your fuse box is, and which fuses are connected to specific circuits. If something isn’t working, pull out the appropriate fuse and hold it up to the light. If the little metal horseshoe inside is broken, replace the fuse with a new one – making sure the little number on the top is exactly the same. If that doesn’t fix the issue or if your vehicle keeps blowing the same fuse, Borgman has the tools and know-how to find the electrical fault.

Drive Safely in West Michigan with the Borgman Service Center

The Borgman Service Center has been helping drivers in Grand Rapids and West Michigan keep their vehicles running in tip-top shape for decades. Our trained experts will listen to your concerns and repair your vehicle in a timely manner. We’ll use the highest-quality parts available and ensure that the work is done properly so you can get back on the road to adventure.

Whether you need routine maintenance performed or are experiencing issues with your vehicle, we’re here to serve you. Check out our latest Service Specials, Schedule your Appointment Online, and come see why Borgman is the Best in the West!

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