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What Kids Need to Learn These Days


Growing up, I enthusiastically wanted to help my parents pump gas into their cars at the gas station. Over the years I continued to both teach myself new automotive-related skills, and learn them from others. It absolute baffles me when first time drivers, don’t know how to put gasoline in their car or  get what a parking brake is for? I’m puzzled at how many people in their twenties still don’t know how to properly jump start a car, change a flat tire or know what to do if your car needs more oil. “Can I just buy  a bottle and  and pour some in?” Yes, you can. It’s time for a massive intervention.

Adolescent teenagers and even people in my familiar Generation Y, need to start learning basic knowledge of their cars. There’s no excuse to not. If you can teach your self how to download and use SnapChat on your smart phone, you can surely learn how to check your vehicle’s tire pressure. Chances are a basic tire pressure gauge will be cheaper than some mobile apps you download to your iPad. And guess what, if your tires aren’t filled to the right level, you’re in danger both fiscally and personally. There’s this sad, false misconception that you have to be some greased up, gear head to do any kind of work on your car, whatsoever. That’s not true folks. Heck you don’t even need to roll up your sleeves to check your oil at a gas station or unscrew a tire valve stem. The common excuse of”Oh I’ve got AAA,” may be convenient for you, but have fun waiting for three hours.

Sad to say it, but we don’t read owners’ manuals anymore. Now, I’m not saying you need to go out and study Lexus’s 500+ page owners manual for the navigation system, but at least spend a few minutes after you buy your car and study the basic essential sections in the back of that little guidebook. If you can check in to Jimmy John’s on Foursquare, you can check where your spare tire  is and how to get it out of your car, how to find your oil dipstick and what viscosity/type of oil to add. If you can read statistics for your fantasy football, NASCAR (yes that’s real) or baseball team, you can read over a few lines of text that’ll help you in the long end. Learn what fluids go where, don’t pour coolant into your transmission fluid bottle. If you know your car guzzles oil, buy a few quarts at your local gas station and keep them in the trunk. 

Keep your car prepped, it’s beyond easy and inexpensive to do. Jumper cables are not expensive. They’re most likely going to be cheaper than that  Miami Heat snapback hat or cans of Four Loko you just bought.  You’ll probably break even on them at some point if you make a few bucks from helping someone’s dead car start up in the winter. I sure have. A few years back, I made $50 just by changing an elderly couple’s flat tire on a BMW 7-Series. That bought me a nice dinner and some cold beers later that night.

Learn how to be prepared and what to do in tricky, unplanned situations. Then pay it forward.

I’m a strong believer in that there should be a law that drivers education programs need teach students car upkeep 101 before getting that temps. Young drivers need to learn basic first aid too, including CPR. In an ideal world, there’d be a requirement that before you graduate high school and college, you have to complete a course  on this. I’m still surprised to this day how many times I’ve had to be a first responder in a medical emergency –both on the road and off. If your school doesn’t have any kind of  training programs like this, go to your local YMCA or Red Cross. 

There needs to be a stronger emphasis on changing your driving habits in foul weather. It’s common sense, and I lack sympathy for youth who drive too fast and too close in four-inches of snow. We all need to teach new drivers what to safely do after an accident. Especially with the winter months approaching rapidly.

Parents, help your kids out. Teach them or guide them in how to learn these crucial skills. And since we all love social media, share this post and let’s help today’s younger drivers get back on track. Please.

  • craigsu

    No matter what time of day I have called AAA the standard answer is 45 minutes. Sometimes they actually beat that but usually it takes longer. To the tow truck driver's credit though, if he's not going to make it in 45 minutes he does call me with an updated estimate. Since he's not the one giving the original ETA I don't hold it against him if circumstances prevent his arriving at the appointed hour. I've always had good service from their drivers; most will even refuse to charge if the distance is a bit over our 100-mile free towing limit.

  • Dean Bigglesworth

    This was my first thought when I saw a Celica in the snow drift..

    [ UlLa7GL7cOI ]

  • nanoop

    Teach the essential differences between Forza and Real Life ™, and they'll be fine: save/pause/rewind don't exist in both, and nobody will give you a car because you just won a race by rear ending the opponent.

  • Daniel

    The "new cars are computers & hard to work on today" arguement aside, kids today can still do this (also mind you I'm 23 so don't write me off as some old timer.)

    Learn about tire wear, and how to add/deflate & change a tire. (Aside from radial tires or tire monitors, nothing has changed.)

    Learn to top fluids off.

    Learn ALL THE BASICS of your car. Learn what every button or lever does. Period.

    Learn how to spot wear on belts, hoses, etc. Maybe not change them, but at least recognize their conditions.

    & last but certainly not least: Change your own oil. In most cars, except the higher-up luxury brands maybe, it's still 5 quarts, a filter & a wrench.

    • bhtooefr

      And, with modern cars, and an oil extractor, it's actually EASIER to do an oil change than on an older car.

      I can do an oil change on my TDI without even kneeling, much less crawling under the car. Everything's accessible from above.

      • Sjalabais

        What? How is that?


        • bhtooefr

          Modern cars have larger diameter dipstick tubes, so you stick the tube of the oil extractor down into the pan. My extractor has to be pumped up to build a vacuum, but others use motors or compressed air.

          Then, for the filter, my car uses a different design of filter, where the canister is part of the car, rather than part of the filter. I just loosen the plastic element carrier, lift it out of the canister, drop the element off of it, replace a couple O-rings using a pick (OK, that part sucks), and pop the new element on.

          • Sjalabais

            Thanks for explaining! But on first impression, "unscrew bolt, let it drip off, screw tight", a quick filter change do not appear more difficult exactly. To be honest, unscrewing the oil filter has always been a pain with my giant sausage finger hand, but I do have my methods.

            • bhtooefr

              The main advantage is that I can do it while remaining standing, and less parts need to be replaced (don't need to replace the drain plug or washer, no risk of stripping out threads in the pan).

              (Actually, I could do that on my 85 Jetta and 86 Golf, too. Without AC, I could get at the spin-on filter from above, too. That was actually an easier oil change.)

    • Oh god yes to changing your own oil *if you're willing.* Spotting metal and other contaminants in your oil and having your face rubbed in the sludgy mess you created by not changing it soon enough is invaluable.

  • RegalRegalia

    "Blah blah blah, I'm an angry old man" Great story.
    This site used to be so inclusive when it was trying to build a following; now it seems it's about classic weird cars and beaters, which are great, but with that has come a pervasive tone of disdain for nearly any piece of auto culture that doesn't mesh with trends that are at least a decade running. I used to learn; now I get preached at. What the hell, guys?
    Now downvote me to hell.

    • Dean Bigglesworth

      Upvote out of spite. take that, haha!

      Listen to this, lighten up.
      [ 7dPPPXtIFto ]

      • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

        [ 6UQ6QZIGKro ] good song, thanks

  • Let 'em sink if the won't learn to swim. I'm okay with people burning up engines and tires and generally causing themselves headaches. To paraphrase Thin Lizzy, If they don't want to know, *forget* 'em.

    I'm with you on the need for basic first aid and foul weather driving to be mandatory for a GED. But you're not going to inspire anyone to take better care of their car if they're fundamentally incurious. I don't go into other peoples garages and force them to put their tools away; if they don't mind losing them that's their business.

    • rhenry

      This philosophy will provide a large group of customers for those of us who like to work on cars…and get paid for it!

      • Another side effect – cheap used cars that may only need a bit of DIY due to ignorant/cheap/lazy previous owners.

        • Hell yeah. My family never paid for a major appliance, we just went to the dump and grabbed whatever needed a new belt or motor brushes or lockout switch. (And we were the Lace Curtain Irish of our town; god knows what the Shanty Irish were cooking with.)

  • Van_Sarockin

    Good article. I'd add a few things to that, like learning how to change light bulbs and windshield wipers. How to keep your car clean and looking good. How to check for wear items that will cost big if left too long – like oil past its prime, changing the air filter, brake pad wear, etc. Maybe there should be a piece on what those noises your car makes really mean.

  • ptschett

    Tangentially related – picture this if you will: it's 8 PM on a November night a few years back, snow's been falling since mid-morning, and my apartment complex's yet-to-be-plowed driveways are full of 6-8" of snow. I'm out in my garage fiddling with something on my pickup & see one of my 20-ish college-student neighbors get stuck in the driveway's T-intersection outside my garage with his low-slung, 3-season-tire-shod Hyundai Tiburon. I notice he's got a manual and is using a pretty low forward gear as he tries to rock his car out, and ask what gear he's using. The answer: 1st. I tell him to try 2nd or 3rd (knowing that the wheels would break loose long before there would be a risk to the clutch), and it was amazing how much more forward progress that allowed.

    • I hope you followed up that excellent bit of advice with a lesson on the joys of reverse donuts that can be had with fresh snow & FWD.

  • Garland137

    First and foremost, learn how to pay attention to the road. I can't express how pissed I was when I saw a girl that probably hadn't graduated high school driving around a crowded parking lot in a brand new Mercedes with her eyes glued to an iPhone. Traffic accidents would drop drastically if these retards (I know, it's all ages, but young folks especially) would put down their gadgets.

    Secondly, learn how to actually drive. Stop relying on nanny devices and slushboxes to control your car.

    • Mechanically Inept

      And just how long did your attention to the road lapse while you were watching her? Sometimes I get so caught up in spotting texters and watching their pitiful antics behind the wheel that I worry I will end up being the one who causes an accident…

      In all seriousness, though, just be glad you didn't see her pulling that shit at almost 80 MPH on a really busy highway. I saw that about two weeks ago, while hauling ass on I-696: a late-model A4 in the center lane, brake lights coming on at random, and totally unable to keep a steady speed, piloted by a young blonde woman with her eyes and thumbs glued to a pink iPhone. I swear, she couldn't have been more disinterested in driving if she'd tried, and it showed. With visions in my head of the potential carnage that could ensue at anytime I couldn't pass her fast enough, speed limits be damned.

      • Sjalabais

        In such cases, I tend to wonder: Do you want to be just in front of, or just behind such a vehicle? What offers more control and safety?

        My commute happens on a twisty road, just one lane in both directions, nothing but luck and skill keeping people from front-to-front-crashes. It's a narrow road, too, demanding skills of trailer drivers and 50+-year old and scared ladies alike. The former do surprisingly well.

        • I generally like to be overtaking most other traffic when road conditions permit, especially when I'm on the motorcycle – I figure that way, I'm coming up on potential problems, they're not approaching me from behind. Your commute sounds like that's not a workable approach, in which case I'd opt for whatever gives me the most maneuverability (2 wheels good, weather permitting).

          • Sjalabais

            This is my thinking exactly. Maybe I have been watching too many of those DVR-videos, but being behind a car whose driver is distracted, tired, stupid or all three of them is no guarantee to be able to control the situation as opposed to having that same person bump into you. There are three stretches that can be used for overtaking, which I do when it can be done safely.

        • Mechanically Inept

          There are few things in this world that cause me more stress and anxiety than having to ride in a car with a driver who's really nervous and completely unsure of themselves and their control of the car. While I know a few men who drive like this, it does seem to be more of a problem among women; among the guys whose driving scares the shit outta me, they tend to be a lot more absent-minded and distracted behind the wheel, and try to do things like peel oranges or read a map (yes, a real paper map!) while driving through the Smoky Mountains.

          I'm something of a control freak by nature, and while I prefer to be at the wheel of my two tonne death projectile, I at least want to know that the person with my life in their hands feels like they have some control over this machine, as their confidence, or lack thereof, tends to rub off on those around them.

          • BobWellington

            I hate it when I'm in the car with a friend and they sit in the left lane on the highway. I can just feel the stares from other people (even if they are just as clueless as my friend and aren't really staring). It's actually embarrassing for me to be in that car. I don't want to be seen with people who don't use their turn signals and don't understand how to drive.

      • Garland137

        I was a pedestrian at the time, thankfully walking away from the road and into the store.

        Every now and then on the interstate I see an SUV swerving all over the place with erratic speed. At the first available opportunity, I get away from those kinds of people. When I give a quick glance as I power past them, it's always some 20-something on a cell phone.

  • ptschett

    Is it just me or do we need a corollary Atomic Toasters article: "What Parents Need to Learn These Days"?

    Resetting the iPad to factory defaults in order to clear out some unread emails is a wee bit extreme.
    Installing the Adobe Flash Player thrice-weekly updates won't* break the iMac. *probably
    Passwords don't change themselves on a whim. Write them down if you must, but then ensure that you write them down correctly. If you type the same thing 3 times and whatever you're logging in to doesn't accept it 3 times, you're probably typing the wrong thing.

    • Robby DeGraff

      that is brilliant haha!

  • JayP2112

    Since my son is a Scout… This really hits all the points. Add in First Aid and the CPR classes… he might survive. …

    Being my son, he has been around cars, car shows, racing… I hope his appreciation for cars and driving helps him make good decisions when he is on his own.

  • TurboBrick

    What kids need to learn? What everyone needs to learn. Cars are expensive, how insurance works and "affording a car means affording payments, insurance and maintenance".

  • Maymar

    Err, yeah, this isn't exactly a thing kids need to learn, people in general are woefully unaware of this stuff.

  • p33tor

    I just got a job working in an auto store, and the amount of young lads that come in who can't do simple stuff like change wipers or bulbs astounds me. You sell them the part and stand there blinking at it, then ask when I'm gonna fit it.

    I'm not gonna fit it buddy, its your car not mine. I will however go out with them and instruct them, step by step, but i'll be totally hands off.

  • Nuclearspork

    These really are just things any driver should know for their own safety. Sure having AAA is great but there are times you don't want to wait for them. Flat tire during a snow storm that 45 minutes is going to be a lot longer, and while you are in the middle of no where waiting for hours for someone to show up you better hope you have enough gas in the car to run the heater. And waiting around with a dead battery in that same snow storm means you won't have a heater, and its a lot easier to convince a stranger to give you a jump than a ride somewhere.

  • Mikeatx

    Most things I taught myself to do or had someone teach me (including all types of car repairs) was because I couldn't afford to have a pro do it. Nowadays, people spend more per month on a phone than I did in a year when I was in my 20s (15 years ago). What really baffles me is the abundance of how to vids on . I thought the kids were tech savy and coud just lookup how to fix something. Or maybe they grew up expecting others to fix it for them… Or worse, replace it with something newer and shinier.

  • lilred

    $50 to change an elderly persons tire?
    Better make that Robber DeGraff!!

    • Robby DeGraff

      lol, I insisted they didn't need to pay me but they wouldn't let me leave without something. "You're a poor college student."
      Too generous of them. 99% of the time I help someone out I gladly do it for free.

  • Sjalabais

    So…what happened to you exactly that caused this rant?

    In Europe, kids learn first aid in school, several times. I was really good at it at age 20 still. Now that I am responsible myself, I have to admit that my skills have detoriated. Your article is a good reminder to follow that up.

    Regarding cars and learning, I have two things to add: A very good friend of mine is what I consider to be a genius. He has a close-to-autistic devotion to whatever he does, an unhuman learning capability, and he does very well in his career. He is also what you may call a geek. Now he is ready for his driver's license and, following, his first car. I'm his consultant on that purchase. He told me that he could never understand how people couldn't answer the "What do you want?"-question when he was advising them on computer-purchases. Now, shopping for a car, he does. The point is: Generation Y is used to learning, as pointed out above, and will do so when necessary. Probably much later then former generations.

    My second thought on that learning process is how the internet is applied. I am a frequent helper in the car section of a local discussion forum called "the woman's guide". I am not really embarrassed to admit that, simply because there is some actual learning going on there. For lots of people, a google-search or a forum post come before looking for a manual. Lots and lots of rrealy simple information is to be found online – some will laugh about it, but I'd rather applaud people to be willing to learn. Even though "RTFM" or "go to a shop" answers 2/3 of those questions…

  • Corners

    How about learning to drive a stick shift?

    • Robby DeGraff

      definently should have included this 🙂

    • Nuclearspork

      Not saying a bad skill to learn but in the current world a driver is more likely to have to change a flat tire or jump start a car then drive a car with a manual transmission.

  • and get off my lawn!

  • BobWellington

    People also need to learn how to use turn signals and have some common (or rather uncommon) courtesy. I'm probably going to die from a heart attack caused by the anger that comes from me observing how bad most people are at driving. Parents that don't teach their kids anything about the right way to drive (because they don't know how to drive) and crappy driver's education are to blame.