Car Care Basics for New Drivers


New drivers must not only learn the rules of the road but how to care for an automobile. But you do not need to be a gear head to care for an automobile. Simple steps like not riding the brakes and taking the vehicle to a mechanic when it makes weird noises or sounds can help you avoid breakdowns and may add years to the life of the vehicle.

Similarly, car tips for new drivers include using the vehicle safely to avoid injuries. In fact, vehicle problems contribute to an estimated 260,000 crashes every year in the U.S. These vehicle problems include deficiencies with tires, brakes, steering, lights, and other critical systems.

Simply put, car tips for new drivers can save lives. Here are ten car tips for new drivers to avoid accidents and operate the car safely:

Understand How Your Car Works

You do not need to become an auto mechanic or have an encyclopedic knowledge of car and truck repair service. However, you should have a general idea of how your car or truck works so you know when it needs service and maintenance.

Many of the parts of a vehicle are easy to understand in principle. For example:

  • Tires transfer power from the vehicle to the road. If the tires are in poor condition, you not only risk a flat tire but could suffer a rollover or collision if the tire goes flat at high speeds.
  • Brakes stop the wheels from turning. If the brakes fail, you will lose the ability to stop your vehicle.
  • The steering system rotates the wheels. A steering deficiency will prevent you from controlling the direction of the vehicle.

Of equal importance to understanding how the vehicle works is learning how to spot problems so you know when to seek repair service. For example, squeaky brakes, rough idle, worn or low tires, and tight or noisy steering, can signal the beginning of a dangerous defect.

Unfortunately, mechanical devices like vehicles do not heal on their own. One of the most important car tips for new drivers is to learn how to identify problems so you can get them repaired before they endanger you and other drivers.

Drive Carefully

While young drivers might assume that driving style has no effect on the condition of their vehicle, they would be wrong. Aggressive drivers who stress their vehicles will inevitably need more frequent auto repair service than drivers that are more careful. Many car tips for new drivers about driving style provide both safety benefits and can keep your vehicle in good operating condition. These tips include:

  • Avoid hard braking: Hard stops can wear down brake pads and brake rotors. Riding the brakes on hills can cause brakes to overheat. Overheated brakes are particularly dangerous because overheating can cause brake pads to glaze and brake fluid to boil away.
  • Rapid acceleration: Fast starts can wear down tires and stress the drive train. Rapid acceleration also wastes fuel.
  • Fast shifting from reverse into drive (or vice versa): When you back out of a driveway or parking space, pause between shifting from reverse to drive. Shifting into drive while your vehicle is still rolling backward will wear down the transmission components prematurely.
  • Driving on an empty tank: Driving while the fuel tank is empty can have two negative effects on your vehicle. First, the fuel pump in most vehicles is in the fuel tank and is cooled by the fuel. When your fuel runs low, the fuel pump can overheat and fail. Second, most modern vehicles have fuel injectors. If you run out of gas, air can get into the air system and cause fuel injectors to malfunction.
  • Revving a cold engine: When a car is parked, the motor oil runs down into the oil pan. As a result, the engine is low on lubricant during the first few seconds after the car starts. Revving the engine before oil can be pumped from the oil pan can damage the engine.

Keep Up with Maintenance

Keeping up with preventative maintenance is one of the most important car tips for new drivers. Routine maintenance reduces the risk of breakdowns and keeps the vehicle operating safely. This includes oil changes, checking fluid levels, and keeping the suspension properly lubricated. Oil change centers can handle basic car and truck maintenance tasks for a reasonable fee. Less regular, but equally important, maintenance includes:

  • Checking engine coolant levels and flushing the radiator periodically.
  • Replacing spark plugs.
  • Inspecting wipers and exterior lights.

Understand What You Can Do Yourself (and What You Cannot)

Servicing and repairing your own car is a good way for new drivers to save money on car care. However, understanding what you can or cannot do safely is one of the car tips for new drivers necessary to avoid injuries, like cuts that require stitches or worse.

Some service tasks can be handled easily and safely by almost anyone. For example, testing tire pressure and adding air, checking the oil and coolant levels, and changing the cabin and engine air filters are relatively easy tasks that almost anyone can perform after reading the owner’s manual or watching an instructional video online.

However, other tasks should only be performed by experienced home mechanics or professionals. For example:

  • Changing the battery: 12 volt of electricity is enough to produce sparks and a serious shock if the battery is handled improperly. Batteries that are not sealed can leak acid if tipped over.
  • Filling fluids: Overfilling or underfilling fluids can leave your vehicle in a dangerous condition. Overfilled fluids can produce excess pressure and cause caps or dipsticks to blow out. Underfilled fluids can leave you with a false sense that your car has sufficient fluids.
  • Mounting wheels: Learning how to mount a wheel is important if you ever need to change the tires. However, other than emergency tire changes, you need to make sure the lug nuts are tightened evenly and to the torque specified by the manufacturer or you risk losing a wheel while the vehicle is in motion.

Have Used Cars Checked

About 6 million new cars are sold every year in the U.S. However, these new car sales are eclipsed by the 40 million used cars sold annually. Whether you buy a used car from your neighbor or you buy repairable salvage cars for sale from a salvage yard, you should always have a mechanic inspect a used car before buying it. Mechanics can identify problems with a car that might pose a safety hazard, but might not be visible to a new driver. Moreover, some defects, like a bent or misaligned frame, can only be detected with special tools.

When someone misses these car tips for new drivers, the used car they buy could pose a safety hazard to them and other drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the mechanical failures most responsible for accidents include:

  • Tire ruptures, bald tires, or wheel failures account for around 43% of vehicle failure accidents.
  • Brake problems were responsible for about 25% of accidents caused by mechanical failures.
  • The remaining accidents caused by mechanical failures occurred due to problems with the steering, suspension, transmission, engine, lighting, or other systems.

Some of these problems were due to defective parts and could not have been identified before the accident. However, a significant number were due to broken or neglected vehicles that should have been repaired.

Having a used car inspected by a mechanic before you buy it can identify these safety hazards before an accident happens. You should also have other types of used vehicles inspected as well. If you’re interested in riding a motorcycle, you will likely be able to find used motorcycles for even less than used cars. However, you need to have it inspected for safety and purchase any necessary motorcycle equipment to get it up to par. Young drivers may be eager to get out on the road as soon as possible, but taking the time to ensure the safety of your vehicle can be a life-saving decision.

Inspect Your Tires

Tires are often neglected by new drivers. Unless they are visibly deflated, most drivers assume the tires are fine. However, tire problems are the most common cause of crashes attributable to a car defect. In fact, the infamous Ford Explorer problems during the late 1990s and early 2000s were caused by tread separation of Bridgestone/Firestone tires which caused drivers to lose control of their vehicle and roll over. Many of these accidents resulted in deaths and lawsuits under personal injury law against Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone.

Among the simpler car tips for new drivers is to inspect the car’s tires. Inspecting both the inflation pressure and the condition of the treads can help identify risks posed by deficient tires. Some of the consequences of deficient tires include:

  • Overinflation: Overinflated tires wear more quickly than properly inflated tires. The resulting loss of traction can cause new drivers to lose control of their vehicles.
  • Underinflation: Underinflated tires flex more than properly inflated tires. The flexing can cause the layers of the tire to separate. Moreover, the flexing and additional road contact can cause underinflated tires to heat up, causing the material to breakdown.
  • Bald tires: Bald tires can hydroplane on wet roads. Moreover, bald tires are prone to punctures and getting a flat when traveling at high speed can pose a danger to you and other motorists.

Listen to Your Brakes

Brake faults are the second most common cause of accidents resulting from mechanical failures. However, many new drivers do not know that their brakes will tell them when they need service. Listening to your brakes can cut down on the cost of brake repairs and ensure that your car is safe on the roads.

Brake pads are deliberately designed to squeak or chatter when they are worn so you know they need to be replaced. If you wait too long to replace them after the squealing starts, you could damage the brake rotors and calipers. This can turn a $100 brake job into a $600 brake job.

Similarly, if you are towing a trailer with a brake controller, inspect the trailer brakes occasionally. The weight of the trailer can often cause excessive wear on both the vehicle brakes and trailer brakes, necessitating service more frequently than you might expect.

Watch for Leaks

Safe cars do not leak and leaks are a sure sign that your car needs repair. Some leaks might not be as critical to fix as others. However, aside from dirtying up your driveway, leaks mean that necessary fluids are not inside the engine where they belong. Often, leaks mean nothing more than a cracked hose or loose automotive hose clamps and can be repaired cheaply and quickly.

For example:

  • Transmission fluid and engine oil: Most people think of transmission fluid and engine oil as lubricants that prevent parts from grinding and wearing out. However, this is only part of their job. They also prevent the engine and transmission from overheating which can fuse or melt parts, or weaken parts to the point that they break.
  • Coolant: Engine coolant is also responsible for keeping the engine from overheating. It also carries engine heat into your vehicle’s cabin heater. If you do not get hot air from your heater, you might be low on engine coolant.
  • Brake fluid: Brake fluid is a hydraulic fluid that carries force from the master cylinder operated by the brake pedal to the slave cylinders on the wheels. This means that losing brake fluid will stop the brakes from working.

Minimize View Obstructions

Although view obstructions might seem like a minor issue, statistics suggest they might be responsible for as many as 18,000 accidents every year. There are a few reasons for this:

  • When moving at high speeds, trucks, trailers, motorcycles, and other vehicles can approach quickly and unexpectedly. Any view obstruction can obscure them and lead to an accident.
  • When driving in reverse, you are already at a disadvantage by having a limited field of vision and view obstructions can enlarge blind spots.
  • Combined with environmental conditions like sun glare, darkness, slick roads, or heavy precipitation, view obstructions may make it impossible for you to see the road and other vehicles.

Simple steps like making sure your windshield wipers work properly, repairing windshield cracks, and replacing broken mirrors are some of the simplest car tips for new drivers to ensure their car is safe.

Minimize Distractions

While everyone wants to customize their first car, make sure not to go overboard. The vehicle is, first and foremost, transportation and some customizations can diminish your car’s ability to transport you safely. Specifically, customizations that distract the driver will inevitably lead to crashes, injuries, and automotive repair.

For example, a bumping stereo system might drown out sounds necessary to drive safely. Exterior lighting packages might distract other drivers.

However, one of the most important car tips for new drivers is to avoid hands-free phone systems. Instead, mute or turn off your phone while you drive, at least until you gain some driving experience.

Statistics show that driver distractions and inattention are responsible for over 40% of accidents and in-car phone use is a major factor. Installing or using a pre-installed hands-free system creates a temptation to make phone calls and check for text messages while driving. Once you have gained some experience, it may be possible to drive while speaking on the phone without too much distraction. However, for new drivers, distractions are unnecessary and can be deadly.

New drivers should rightly celebrate their newfound freedom. Depending on where you live, driving a car might be the only option for transportation. However, driving a car also comes with responsibilities to yourself, your passengers, and other drivers. Maintaining your vehicle in top working condition by checking tires, listening to your brakes, keeping up on maintenance, and repairing it when it has problems, you can do your part to keep everyone safe.

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