Six Things Every Young Driver Needs to Know
These aren't covered in driver's education classes. Teaching them to your kids might save time, money and possibly even your peace of mind.
An aspiring motorist who makes it through a typical driver's education program should have a good grasp of the rules of the road and basic car control. But the real world is full of other challenges the instructors don't cover in driving school — dead batteries, flat tires and those red-and-blue lights in the rearview mirror.
As a parent who has put three daughters on the road, I've received the teary phone call that follows a parking-lot fender bender, and even answered the door when the police followed my oldest home after a late-night street race. The fourth daughter starts driver training next year (OMG!), and she will not leave the driveway without absorbing the following real-world lessons; i.e., situations that every driver — young or old — should know how to handle.
A Flat Tire
A few weeks ago, my wife noticed the "tick, tick, tick" caused by a large bolt jammed through her left front tire just in time to pull into a miraculously handy tire store. But because your teen driver may not be that lucky, he or she needs to know the tire-changing drill.
Start by cracking open the vehicle owner's manual, which will offer detailed wheel-changing instructions specific to the car your teen is driving. The first step will be to locate the spare tire, the jack and other tools required to change the wheel.
"The spare and tools used to all be in the trunk," says Steve Marsh, ASE master technician and owner of High Country Automotive Repair in Frisco, Colo. "But I just had to go help a customer change a flat because she could not find the handle for the jack in her GMC Yukon. The jack was under the rear deck, but the handle was below the back seat. We found them after checking the owner's manual."
Marsh also likes the idea of a driveway tire-changing tutorial, a requirement for every new driver at my house. Each of my daughters has actually popped off the wheel cover, loosened the lug nuts, jacked up the car and lifted off the tire while I watched and offered guidance, but gave no physical help. The exercise was a confidence booster for both of us.
A Dead Battery
The battery of your vehicle is essential because it supplies the short-term power to start the engine and enables auto accessories even if the car’s engine is turned off. On average, a car battery will last for about three to five years.
"Dad? I left the lights on and went into the mall, and now the car won't start."
This is why jumper cables should be required equipment for every car. Using jumper cables to start a car with a dead battery requires a second car, of course. Coach your young driver to seek help from a friend or law enforcement officer on the scene, but never from a stranger. Again, the owner's manual will provide a jump-starting procedure specific to the vehicle, so make that the next chapter the kid reads. Then practice jump-starting a car in the driveway.
"You can open the hood and not even find the battery on some late-model cars," Marsh says, "because it's under the back seat. In that case, there may be terminals located under the hood to use for jump-starting."
About the only way you can screw up this process is by crossing the cables, Marsh says. What happens? Ask my wife how her Dodge Omni caught on fire. Remember to attach the red cable clamps to the positive terminals of each car's battery (which is usually marked with a "+" sign and a red cable end), and the black clamp to the negative terminal on the donor car and, on the dead car, to an unpainted metal surface under the hood that is not a moving part. A bolt head usually works well. Start the donor car, turn off all lights and electrical accessories on the dead car, and turn the key. Zoom, zoom. If nothing happens, check to see that the black cable is on a good ground on the dead car. If it's still a no-go, maybe the starter is shot. Then you call for a tow truck.
Marsh says a portable jump starter (like the $67.25, 900-amp Jump 'n Carry 300XL, which is essentially an enclosed battery with two cables, is a good alternative to jumper cables.
"That's what we carry on the tow truck," Marsh says. "There are consumer models that are compact enough to carry in the trunk, and with the jumper pack you don't need anyone to help you with a second vehicle."