My son and I just returned from a four-day road trip. We logged 790 miles, drove through five states, visited three colleges, and paid as much as $4.19 for gas. That last one really got to my son who reminded me, as we were driving south on I-91, to fill the tank before we left Massachusetts. Unfortunately, I misjudged the distance to the border and ended up paying 34-cents more a gallon in Connecticut.
While the price on the pump is enough to make anyone grimace and hold on to their wallet, I did take solace in the fact that my teenager who has never had to pay for gas (that day will come once he’s driving solo), was taking note of how much it cost to fill the tank. That prompted a discussion about what it costs to own and operate a car these days. It’s more than just gas—there’s regular maintenance, insurance and a monthly car payment, I quipped. Those three things alone can really add up. Plus, a car depreciates the minute you drive it off the lot (my vehicle is now over a year old) so you have to factor that in as well, I added.
Ironically the day before we set out on the final leg of our trip, USA Today ran a story on driving costs. According to AAA, while cars are retaining more of their value (certainly good news for people like me, my last car was 11 years old before I traded it in), the cost to fill the tank and replace the tires is up. Overall, the auto club found that based on 15,000 miles of driving, it costs 59.6 cents a mile
or $8,946 a year to own and operate a car. Certainly not chump change and for a family with two or more cars that figure can really take a bite out of the household budget.
Getting back to my son, this was a golden opportunity to broaden his driver education to include a topic that every novice driver needs to know. My dad wasn’t shy about telling me or my two siblings that if we wanted to drive one of the two family cars we not only had to fill the tank, but help maintain them. He taught us how to check and change the oil and air filter, as well as a tire, flush and fill the antifreeze, top off the windshield wiper reservoir, replace wiper blades, fill the radiator (remember those days), keep the battery terminals clean (plus how to jump start a car), and even check the power steering fluid. While my dad didn’t expect us to become mechanics, what he instilled in us was a basic understanding of what it takes to maintain a vehicle and why that investment of both time and money is so important.
In late March, I had the opportunity to attend a teen driver safety clinic at the DCH Toyota dealership in North Brunswick (I have to give a shout out to DCH for their commitment to teen driver safety). In addition to learning about the risks for novice drivers and how to address them, the teens and their parents (about 50 strong) spent about 45 minutes looking under the hood of several vehicles.
They then participated in a scavenger hunt where they had to find the location of the spare tire, tire placard/sticker and jack; the location of the oil dipstick and washer fluid reservoir; and where and how on the instrument panel you can tell on which side of the car the gas tank is located (you’d be surprised how many parents didn’t know this). The teens admitted that they knew little about the mechanics of a car and instead were focused on driving, while their parents said they hadn’t addressed the topic with their teens since they rely on their local mechanic to service their vehicles.
What’s the lesson here? Clearly, ensuring that teens understand that driving isn’t free, but comes with a price is important. Educating them about all of the costs associated with owning and operating a motor vehicle is an important life lesson that should be an integral part of their driver training experience. And having them contribute to those costs, whether it’s by filling the tank, helping to offset the increase in insurance premiums, or changing the oil every 5,000 miles can go a long way in ensuring that they understand what it truly means to be a driver.
As I’ve done for the past few months, let me end with a plug for the 2nd annual, statewide Teen Safe Driving Summit, GDL4U: Good Driving for Life, on May 12 in Freehold. The event, which is designed for teens 14-16 years of age and their parents, will feature interactive teen and parent workshops as well as a hands-on distracted driving course. Two of the parent workshops will focus on vehicle selection and insurance, both topics that compliment this week’s blog post. If you’ve got a soon to be driving teen in your house, I hope you’ll register. The cost is just $15 per teen and one parent; $25 per family and includes lunch and giveaways. My son and I hope to see you there!