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There’s a right way and a wrong way to take care of your car, and this is somewhere in the middle.

Car Maintenance for College Students Who Don't Care

Practical, Mediocre Car Maintenance

There’s a right way and a wrong way to take care of your car, and this is somewhere in the middle.

By Molly Burke, University of Texas at Austin


If you’re like me, you’ve learned most of your auto maintenance lessons the hard way: on the phone with Mom and Dad while eyeing your steaming mess of a vehicle from a safe distance.

Maybe you ignored everything your parents taught you about cars. Maybe they didn’t teach you anything but were annoyed nonetheless when you asked for help, as if you were supposed to be born the Hyundai Whisperer or something. Maybe as a child you picked dolls over Tonkas and everyone always assumed you wouldn’t care.

Whatever your reason for being mechanically inept, it’s best to learn the basics now so your trusty steed doesn’t end up a premature clunker. Here are four tips to keep things running buttery smooth despite picking up late-nite Uber shifts.

1. Keep Your Tires filled

You should make a habit responding with more than just an expletive when the low tire pressure indicator light flicks on in your dash. Force yourself to head to the nearest gas station right when the ominous little exclamation point pops up, or you’ll spend the rest of the day (ok, week…month) wondering when you might get a flat.

Cars don’t always come with tire pressure gauges, which is odd since they’re so cheap. Like would it kill you to put mints on my pillows, Ford Motor Company?

Car Maintenance for College Students Who Don't Care

Anyway, they’re sold for a few bucks at auto supply stores, so might as well get two in case you lose one in the center console crevice of doom. And don’t buy the digital kind; you’re paying a 400 percent premium for a tiny LCD screen. If there are two things I hate more than checking my tire pressure, it’s the dead double-As in my Accutire Pistol Grip.

Besides, with the old-fashioned analogue version, you’ll feel kind of steampunk, but not in the sad Halloween-is-life kind of way. At the end of the day, you want to avoid using the gauge attached to the air hose at the gas station because it’s usually very tired from overuse and in no mood for accuracy.

2. “Premium” Gas Is BS

Actually, premium gas is chemically different from your standard-issue unleaded, in that it contains proportionally more of the hydrocarbon known as octane.

Higher octane levels allow high compression engines to squeeze more power out of every drop of gasoline. In lay terms, what they don’t tell you is if you’re not calling Michael Caine every time you want to go for a spin, your car probably doesn’t have the kind of engine that demands premium fuel.

Just like with your failed experiments in pre-workout supplements freshman year, dosing a modest four-door with high-octane fuel won’t give it more muscle. Premium gas does nothing to enhance a regular, possibly underweight and decidedly not jacked car’s performance.

If you’re determined to waste your money on superfluous automotive luxuries, go for something more conspicuous, like chrome truck nutz or a totally not tacky aftermarket Spirit of Ecstasy.

3. Alert the 5-0 and Never Admit Fault

Take it from someone who’s been burned by post-crash gentlemen’s agreements before: if you get in an accident, call the police.

Yes, you’ll make a scene, and it’ll feel indulgent if it’s just a fender-bender. But having an officer sort out the damage for you is your best defense against getting screwed over with false information when tempers fly between you and the other driver.

When the cops arrive, be cordial, try not to have any drugs in your glove box, and remember the golden rule: never, ever say the word “sorry.”

For the next hour or so, consider this word and any other admission of fault stricken from your vocabulary, as any utterance of it will hurt you in the claims process.

In fact, you should get the insurance and contact information from the other driver as robotically as possible, then proceed to give them the coldest shoulder you can muster and let the police do their thing: languidly pursue justice as you run increasingly behind schedule for your job interview.

Speaking of cold, take a super pro tip from the justifiably paranoid drivers of Russia and invest in a dash cam. It’ll record the audio and visual of every car ride, including your off-key T.A.T.u. renditions and a play-by-play of that asshole’s illegal left-turn.

4. Wash the Darn Thing

Driving around with bird poop on your car is the automotive equivalent to hitting up WalMart with ketchup stains on your hoodie. Anyone who sees it doesn’t care and probably looks the same, but you avoided Target for a reason.

Plus, did you know that bird poop erodes car paint? The birds do. Darwin’s finches may have evolved specialized beaks, but Austin grackles developed sniper scopes in their rectums.

Those acidic little turd bombs will eat right through your resale value in a matter of hours. For this reason, experts advocate for thorough scrub-downs between once a week to twice a month, depending on local avian vitriol.

But um, excuse me, does that sound affordable for college students? Since we tend to live in dorms and apartments, we typically lack regular/legal access to water hoses.

The only option then is to either support hugely overpriced gas station laser washes or drag our butts to a $2 self-service. We all know that the latter is unrealistic given the quality of Netflix Originals these days.

So, broken down in terms of opportunity cost: a monthly pro-approved wash routine costs the same as ten Whataburger Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwiches, although the former provides low-level ambient peace of mind about the appearance of a machine that will soon be rendered obsolete by fully electric self-driving vehicles. I think it’s pretty clear which is the better deal.

My advice is, instead of paying up every time you park within 1000 feet of a tree, splurge once a month on a full-service car wash and keep a spray bottle of water and a microfiber rag in your trunk. That way, you can spot clean your paint and your conscience without breaking the bank.

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