How to get your kids involved in automotive projects

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

automotive projects

The idea that kids aren’t into cars or automotive projects is a myth. What is true is that they often get their driver’s licenses later in life and wait to buy their own vehicle simply because they don’t have the available cash that their parents and grandparents did. When they do, the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (SEMA) says they’re significantly MORE likely to spend money accessorizing their cars than any other age group.

automotive projects

In prior generations, a lot of kids learned about cars by watching their parents maintain their own cars, and it happened with great frequency because components like ignition points required regular attention. Today only about 18 percent of Americans do any kind of DIY automotive projects. But it doesn’t take much to get a younger person interested in automotive maintenance. A few hours spent on a Saturday goes a long way. Focus on small projects can foster an interest in taking on more challenging things. Here’s an idea of how to start small with low-risk, low-expense projects.

A note about safety: These are two-ton automobiles with lots of moving parts and the potential for injury. As a parent or guardian, it’s important to assess whether or not the child has the maturity to pay close attention and follow instructions. It’s also important to wear appropriate safety gear, including safety glasses and disposable gloves around fluids, and hearing protection if using tools like impact guns or air compressors.

Fluid Checks: Assigning a younger person the task of regularly checking fluids is the first step on the road to bigger projects. Think of it as learning scales if you’re taking your first steps in learning the guitar.

The best place to start is with the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual. The maintenance schedule includes checking the motor oil’s level and condition, examining brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid (if applicable), coolant, and washer fluid.

With the exception of transmission fluid – which should be checked hot – all of these fluids can be checked at any time, hot or cold. Two important things to think about: If fluids are checked hot, they’ll be hot. Motor oil is fine to check with the engine warm. Coolant expansion bottles can be checked hot using the mark on the side of the bottle. NEVER open a hot coolant expansion tank.

automotive projects

Changing Wiper Blades: Most auto parts stores will now change a set of wipers for you, but where’s the education in that? This is an essential skill for a kid that anyone can accomplish without tools. The hardest part is often getting the package open.

Start at the auto parts store, and have your student locate the proper blades using the catalog next to the blades. Most wiper blades are going to come with just about every possible attachment adapter used on anything sold in the United States over the last decade. If you’re driving something ancient, you may have to order specific blades online.

Follow the instructions on the package and match up the adapter to the style of the wiper arm on your car.

Checking air pressure: You DO have a digital air gauge, right? If you don’t, get one on your next trip to the auto parts store and make it your kid’s responsibility to check air pressure once a month.

Vehicles sold in the United States after 2007 have a mandatory tire pressure monitoring system, but a lot of them will tell you that you have a low tire and not read the actual pressure. A digital gauge is more accurate.

Have your child read the tire pressure with the gauge and then compare it to the recommended tire pressures on the decal affixed to the driver’s door jamb. That will tell you the recommended tire pressures for loaded and unloaded vehicles.

Changing a Tire: Tire changes – or, more accurately, wheel changes – should be a supervised activity and something that older children who can muscle a wheel and tire around can do safely.

Changing a flat tire is a solid life skill. When a young driver has a flat somewhere, it’s good to have a few practice rounds in the driveway beforehand. Swapping a wheel is a pretty simple process. Still, a few things can stand in the way of success: The wheel nuts or bolts can be difficult to remove without an impact gun, and dissimilar metal reactions between aluminum wheels and steel brake rotors can really stick the two together. Be aware of that before you start.

The process is straightforward and spelled out in the owner’s manual. Read the owner’s manual with the student so they know what to expect, where to place the jack, and how to set the parking brake. In the driveway, a jackstand is mandatory as a safety precaution. Your child likely won’t have that luxury if a tire fails on the road somewhere, so explain how to keep out of the way of the vehicle as the wheel is being changed.

It’s also a good time to talk about using the AAA card or calling for help instead of swapping a tire, especially if the tire fails on a busy highway.


Swap a Cabin Air Filter: You’d be shocked at how nasty a cabin air filter can get, especially with the levels of pollen we’ve seen over the last few years. You should toss your cabin air filter like your smoke alarm batteries: Every time you reset the clocks for daylight savings time. At around $15, it’s a cheap investment that keeps the interior air more comfortable.

Most cabin air filters are easy to swap. They’re usually located in the glove box, behind a door. Check your owner’s manual for more information, or search YouTube for your year, make and model. The most time-consuming part of this task is usually the drive to the auto parts store.

Any and all of these items are easy, helpful ways to get your child involved with their transportation. They’ll be driving before you know it, and if you’ve provided a good foundation for auto maintenance, they’ll have the skills to take care of their car when they do.

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