If you're heading off to college for the first time this fall, you're embarking on a whole new chapter of your life. Along with your newfound freedom and independence will come a number of new responsibilities. For many college freshmen, one of those new responsibilities will be keeping their car in working order on a limited budget and without the help of a parent for the first time. Take a look at some tips that can help you keep your car in good shape and save money on repairs.
Learn The Basics
If you don't already know how to change a tire, check your fluids, and jumpstart your battery, now is the time to learn. You don't have to become an amateur mechanic, but you should know the basics of keeping your car in good working order, if only because it can save you some money in the long run. Trying to drive to the nearest garage because you don't know how to deal with a flat tire is not only incredibly dangerous, it can also permanently damage the wheel and even the vehicle itself. Driving without oil will cause your engine to seize, and will quite possibly ruin it. Not knowing how to deal with simple problems like a flat tire or low oil can lead to some very expensive repairs.
There are many ways to familiarize yourself with the basics of car maintenance. Finding your car's owner's manual is a good place to start. If you don't have a copy, you can find most manuals for free online. Your owner's manual will tell you how often your oil should be changed, what grade of gas you should be using, and a whole host of other useful information. Also, don't be afraid to ask your mechanically-inclined friends or relatives for a primer, or look up an instructional video for using a jack. Any simple repair or maintenance task that you can teach yourself to do is something that you won't have to pay for.
Decode the Check Engine Light
What makes that ominous "Check Engine" light turn on? It could be telling you that you need a major repair, but it could also be telling you that you didn't tighten the gas cap enough the last time you filled up the tank. Luckily for you, there's a way to find out without having to take your car into the shop. All you have to do is invest in a vehicle diagnostic code reader. Just plug it into the car's computer, and you'll get a numeric code that you can look up, usually on the code reader manufacturer's website. The code will let you know what's going on with your car.
If the problem turns out to be something simple that you can fix on your own, you save yourself the price of a service call. And even if the car needs a more complex repair, knowing what it is ahead of time will allow you to call or search the websites of local mechanics and do some price comparisons before bringing the car into the shop. This way, you can get the best price for the repairs you need. Keep in mind that sometimes the code won't tell you exactly what the problem is, but you'll usually at least get an idea of what part of the car is affected, and this is useful information.
Don't Leave Home Without an Emergency Kit
Every driver ought to have an emergency kit in their vehicle, but if you were previously only driving around in your hometown where help was only a phone call away, your car might not be as stocked up as it should be. But if you'll be attending college far from home where you don't know anyone, you definitely want to be ready to handle a vehicle emergency yourself.
Some things to include in your emergency kit are bottles of water, blankets, flares, non-perishable food items, jumper cables, a flat tire repair kit and jack, a first-aid kit, a flashlight, emergency cash or credit/debit card, a tire gauge, and, of course, a cell phone. You may also want to join an auto club – the price of the membership will be worthwhile if you ever find yourself in need of a tow but short on cash.
Being prepared before you go off to college will help you stay safe and keep your car repair bills under control. Once you arrive on campus, you should also work on finding a trusted local mechanic like Jensen Tire & Auto that you can bring your car to for maintenance and repairs.