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Inspiring the Next Car Generation: 12 Kid-Friendly Projects

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Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Teaching your kids how to work on a car is an excellent hands-on learning opportunity. Not only are you able to pass on important — potentially life-saving! — real-world knowledge, you also get a unique chance to bond. But children can sometimes get overzealous when it comes to their abilities and know-how, so it’s important to keep them within their safety limitations.

We’ve outlined 12 projects for you to work on with your child of elementary, middle, or high school age — whether you’re an avid car lover hoping to pass on your passion to your offspring or an auto newbie hoping to make it a joint learning experience. Keep in mind that some kids may need a little more time, skill, or maturity before trying more complex projects, while others may catch on and advance quickly. Keep your specific child’s needs and limitations in mind at all times, and always provide direct supervision. Together, the two of you can polish up your maintenance and repair skills and have a blast!

Elementary

 

Check tire pressure and fill

Tire-related auto crashes are quite common and many are preventable, so the sooner you can teach your child safe practices, the better. It’s also a great place to start his or her car knowledge: it’s simple, quick, and gives them a chance to really try something without much risk of damage. Show them the ropes for the first tire, and make sure you take out the manual to point out where they can find the car’s recommended tire PSI. You might want to consider holding your hand over theirs while they fill their first tire so they can get a feel for holding the hose steady.

Fix a paint scratch

Kids like to be able to see their progress, so fixing a paint scratch is a great opportunity. It’s easy enough that he or she can do most steps without much help, and they immediately see the product of their hard work. Make sure they protect their clothing with an apron and have a rag nearby to wipe any excess paint from hands.

Fix a windshield chip

Using a windshield repair kit to patch a chip is still relatively simple but will require close supervision, and you’ll probably be better off demonstrating each step yourself. Have them put on gloves before helping clean out the excess glass, and be sure they know not to put too much pressure on the area around the chip.

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Fix a dent

Repairing dings or even large dents can actually be quite simple with the right skills, and all you need is some compressed air and a hair dryer. This will be a cool project for your child because it’s secretly a physics lesson that will undoubtedly come in handy throughout their lives. It’s also another clearly visible fix for them to see and proudly show others.

Middle school

Change a headlight bulb

Bulb changes are pretty basic, but the step forward into this kind of a technical repair requires a respect and understanding of the dangers, so make sure your child is ready. Inform him or her before beginning the project not to touch the bulb directly with their fingers; they’ve probably only dealt with household lights, so they won’t expect this kind of limitation without a heads-up. Take the opportunity to explain why it’s important — for both safety and legal reasons — to keep headlights clean and replace burnt out bulbs as soon as possible.

Flush the radiator

Flushing out the radiator is an important part of regular car maintenance, and it’s a great way to give your child more advanced skills. First, though, have a serious conversation about working with poisonous chemicals, and make sure he or she knows the danger of ingesting or coming into contact with them. (And if you have pets, emphasize the need to keep them out of the work area and the importance of cleaning up spills quickly.) Go over the proper ways to dispose of car chemicals, and since this may be your first project where you’ll need to turn on the ignition, be sure to talk about proper ventilation and the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Change a tire

Learning to change a tire certainly kicks the difficulty level up a few notches, so don’t rush into it before your child seems somewhat confident in his or her skills. Go over the location of the spare tire and tools, as well as advice on where to find items in cars generally — he or she probably isn’t aware some cars have special trunk compartments, for example. Go through this process somewhat slowly to keep the mood calm and focused. First, they should worry about knowing how to do it right. Then, you can move on to picking up speed.

Note: If you happen to get a flat by chance, only take the opportunity to show your child the steps if you’re pulled safely into a private driveway far from traffic; if you’re stranded on the side of the road, skip the lesson and focus on getting your family to safety as quickly as possible.

Patch a tire

Patching a tire is a good supplemental lesson to changing a tire since you’ll already have the wheel removed, but it’s enough work to be a separate project on another day, too. It will even be a brush-up on how to inflate a tire and check the pressure one you’re done! Make sure to emphasize that while a home patch is a great temporary fix, it should always be double-checked by a professional.

High school

Change the oil

If your child is ready to really get his or her hands dirty, an oil change is a great way to do it! Your very first point should be an emphasis on safe ways to raise and secure the car, with an emphasis on never working beneath a vehicle supported only by a jack. And don’t forget to put on protective gear like safety glasses and gloves! Cover details like why the oil needs changed in the first place and how to inspect a drain plug. Be sure to reference the car’s manual for specifications on oil levels and grades.

Jump start a battery

Before you even touch the jumper cables or lift the hood, go over all safety precautions involved in jump starting a car — cars should both be turned off, parking brakes should be on, and never allow the jumper clamps to touch — and emphasize that this can be a dangerous process if not taken seriously. Go over the jumper cables and their gauges, cleaning the battery terminal, and what to do if a jump fails. Practice together on more than one occasion so you know he or she has it down before granting permission for them to do it in an emergency situation unsupervised (if a friend’s car breaks down at school, for instance).

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Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

Clean an engine

Cleaning the engine is a great way to take a closer look at all of its components and learn what they do, how they operate, and why they’re important. Check to make sure the battery cables and tray don’t have corrosion, and that there are no oil or coolant leaks. Cleaning under the hood completely can be a tedious, somewhat overwhelming project for someone inexperienced, however, so it might be best to save this project for a car you don’t need to use regularly so you can spread it out over a few days.

Change the spark plugs

In some cars, spark plugs need replaced more often than many realize, so check your car’s manual for your purposes and go over the warning signs that they might be failing. Show your child how to properly clean away dirt and debris as you work. Make sure he or she keeps tools and any removed parts organized and out of the way. If you don’t have the necessary tools on-hand, take your child with you and go over the different kinds of spark plugs. Note why it’s important to follow manufacturer directions on what to use and why different cars may call for different equipment and installation.

Remember: you’ll be the best judge of when your child is ready to progress to more advanced projects, so extend and repeat lessons as needed. If you’ll both be learning something new, have a friend or relative with experience show you the ropes. Be enthusiastic about teaching and learning, and if he or she seems to be getting burnt out on the auto lessons, take a break. If you’ve thrown enough kindle on the fire of learning, they’ll be ready to get back under the hood.

 

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