“I’m driving my parents’ 2008 Subaru to college in Ohio.”
The daughter of some regular customers was pretty excited when she told me about the drive she’ll be making next week. “And then, I’ll have a car once I’m there, too!”
I get the thrill of a road trip, especially after all these months of isolation and limitation. But I had to break it to her that you can’t just get in a car and drive it halfway across the country without having things checked out first.
That advice goes for anyone heading to one of the colleges that is actually hosting classes in person this fall — and for those of you who are trying to take a socially distanced summer driving trip to the far reaches of Maine. People are feeling safer this summer traveling in their cars. But they’re forgetting that happy bubble they’re creating will burst if their car breaks down in a place where there’s no familiar mechanic. Or maybe no mechanic at all.
I know this because my lot is full of cars that belong to summer visitors. And what’s interesting is that most of them have problems that stem from the cars simply not being properly serviced. Batteries do give out after a few years. Tires need to be changed. So does oil. This stuff is simple, but not taking care of it can leave you stranded.
And as a health precaution, AAA is not inviting drivers to ride along in their trucks when a tow is needed. You’ll have to arrange separate transportation for yourself in case of a breakdown.
Something you need to know if you’re about to take over your parents’ old car and take it to college: cars need to be serviced a couple of times a year. Servicing means looking over the basics that make your car work. That is, brakes, tires, filters, the battery, and fluids. It also means whatever needs work has to get fixed.
Expect to spend a couple of hundred dollars on the servicing. And, especially if the car is older, there will be things that cost more. Plan to spend about $2,000 to $3,000 of your hard-earned campus job money on maintaining that car your folks just gave you. Like they say, there’s no such thing as a free car.
Wherever you’re headed, you’ll need to create a relationship with a mechanic. Get recommendations from someone you trust. And six months into living and driving in your new home town, when you have your car serviced, expect to hear from the mechanic afterwards — before he or she does any work. No trustworthy mechanic will fix things without talking the repairs through with you, giving you an estimate of the costs, and helping you sort out priorities. Because while you’ve got to maintain your car, some fixes can wait.
Whether your road trip is for college or for a vacation, add a couple of items to your car’s glove box — hand sanitizer and extra masks. And get your car checked out a couple of weeks before you go.
Do you have questions about auto maintenance or repairs? Send them to [email protected] and we’ll have our resident mechanic, Kevin Sturtevant, give his diagnosis in a future column.