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In the past month, a veritable army of students packed up their belongings and headed to university or college. Many carried those belongings in their first car, whether it was a rusting junker bought with summer earnings, a heavily financed newer model or a brand-new vehicle courtesy of the Bank of Mom and Pop.

Regardless of the quality of their rides, most will have one thing in common: A total lack of understanding of car maintenance.

Nothing against students or millennials; it's just a fact of life for those lacking experience. Add in the fact that they're the products of a few decades of computer-driven cars and you've got a serious deficit of maintenance knowledge.

"People don't do any maintenance at home any more, so it isn't being passed on from generation to generation like it used to be," says Angelo DiCicco, general manager for Young Drivers of Canada's GTA division. "Your grandmother was better than you or me on fixing cars."

So, in the desire to bring rookie car owners to at least grandma's level of knowledge, here are a few key things to consider, according to driving experts.


They're the Rodney Dangerfield of auto parts, getting no respect from most drivers. "It's not necessarily new drivers, but people just don't pay attention to tire pressure," says Brett Delaney, assistant manager of OK Tire in Langley, B.C. Delaney suggests checking pressure once a month, making sure the tire-gauge reading matches the recommended pressure listed on the driver's side door post.

If the tires that touch the road regularly get no respect, the spare might as well not even exist. Check that with the other tires, especially since they tend to lose air even faster.

If you do get a flat, don't try to change it on a busy expressway. "Drive off the highway to a safe spot, even if you damage the tire," Delaney says. "It's better than putting yourself at risk on a freeway."

Winter treads

When temperatures drop consistently below 7C, bring out the winter treads. And if budget dictates used tires, make sure they're made for your vehicle and that they have at least 7/32" of tread depth.

"Ideally, it should be 11/32," says Ryan Peterson, manager of automotive services for the CAA. "If it's 5/32 or under, you've lost all traction. So if you buy one that's 7/32, you're almost there."


Oil changes are part of any maintenance schedule, but note that not all cars are created equally. As Delaney points out, some cars need a change every 5,000 kilometres, while others can go 12,000 without new oil.

But if tires are the Rodney Dangerfield of car parts, windshield washer fluid is his uglier step-brother.

"People don't pay attention until they're out," Delaney says. "Then you find yourself driving on a highway with a windshield you can barely see out of."

And don't just pour in any old washer fluid. Make sure it's designed for either cold or hot weather.

Maintenance tips

Probably the most important thing to do to avoid costly repair bills is to learn the basics about your car. For example, understand that those gauges and lights aren't just decorative.

"You'd be surprised how many people, and not just young people, can't identify what all those warning lights and gauges mean," DiCicco says.

"But remember, you can't rely on those gauges and lights totally. Once they come on or send out an alert, you're getting very close to the end. That's dangerous. You need to catch it before then."

The way to do that, Delaney suggests, is to set up a regular maintenance schedule to check oil, wiper fluid and tires. Make it a date you won't forget, such as the first or last of every month.

And don't try to cut corners. You'll pay a hefty price.

"Car maintenance is a lot cheaper than car repair," Delaney says.

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