Adulting 101: Taking Care of Your Car

"Adulting 101" is a six-week series to assist with your transition from college to the real world. This week's topic: car maintenance.

One of the greatest hallmarks of starting the process toward adulthood is getting a driver’s license and a car. Whether you’re taking care of the clunker you’ve been driving since you were 16 (don’t worry, I am too) or you’re buying your own car for the first time, it can be a little overwhelming trying to figure out how to maintain that all-important transportation to work or school (and road trips!).

Keeping your car up and running

The most common maintenance you’ll do is having your oil changed. The standard is to have this done about every three months or every 3,000 miles, but this can vary, so take a look at your owner’s manual or ask your mechanic the next time you’re at the shop. You can do oil changes yourself to save a few bucks, but if you’d rather not get your hands dirty, any repair shop can take care of it too. Once a month, you’ll need to check your tire pressure. The recommended pressure is usually in your owner’s manual, as is how often you should change your tires. While you’re at it, be sure to check the coolant and the transmission, brake, and wiper fluids to make sure they’re full enough.

Related: 6 Tips for Bringing Your Car to College

Less obvious things to check

Outside of the physical body of your car, there are a few more steps to take. About every six months, your car insurance should send you a proof of insurance, which you may need to keep in your car in case you’re pulled over (depending on which state you live in). Be sure to swap this paper out when it expires. While you’re rifling through all the papers in your glove box, look through your owner’s manual and familiarize yourself with the meanings of the different lights on your dashboard in case they come on. There may also be other things to keep in mind for your specific car’s make, model, mileage, or age, so ask that one handyman uncle or your mechanic the next time you get your oil changed what you should check up on yourself.

Buying a car and getting insurance

If you’re getting ready to buy a car, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, even if you can save up the grand or two to buy a (very) basic car, the money spent on insurance will add up, so be sure to factor this into your savings before you buy a car. Not all insurance is the same, so shop around and know what is and isn’t covered with each plan.

Related: How to Buy Your First Car: Quick Guide for Students

Is it worth it?

Also keep track of your daily or weekly routine. How often do you drive? This can help you decide what mileage car you’re comfortable buying and whether buying a car is your best option. Are there comparable public transit routes that could save you money and hassle? Is carpooling an option while you save up some extra cash? If you do decide to buy a car, there are loyalty cards at lots of gas stations that can help you save on gas. And consider purchasing small, inexpensive items to make driving a better experience, like a cassette-to-auxiliary cord converter that can bring an older car into the 21st century.

Related: 6 Things Every College Student Should Have in Their Car

Keeping on top or your car’s maintenance can be overwhelming, but once you know what you need to take care of, it becomes a much more manageable task. Whether you’re taking care of a brand-new car or you’re keeping your loyal-as-ever hand-me-down in check, taking care of the “adult” responsibilities for your vehicle pays off down the road.

Last up in Adulting 101: managing your finances. And for more college living advice, check out our Student Life section.

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About Emily Rogan

Emily Rogan is a student at Morehead State University, where she's studying Communications and Theater. When she's not in school, she is an actor, musician, singer, and writer.


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