A surefire way to embarrass your high-school-age or college-bound student is with transportation that’s as cringe-worthy as the Griswold Family Truckster – that pea-green, 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon made infamous by Chevy Chase in the Vacation movie. Just as humiliating is any older vehicle that not only looks terrible, but has an equally offensive performance to match.
Don’t give your kids another reason to be embarrassed by you because of what they drive to and from high school or around a college campus. Instead, follow these 10 tips for sprucing up an older vehicle and sending them off with a safe, reliable vehicle that isn’t going to destroy their social lives or street cred.
- Clean the exterior, the interior and under the hood. Whoever coined the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” probably wasn’t a car-guy or girl. If a vehicle looks nasty on the outside, chances are it’s going to be equally offensive inside and under the hood. If you’re a DIYer and don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty, consider tackling this project yourself. Otherwise, take the vehicle to an experienced detailer.
Start by washing somewhere few people ever see – the engine. Cleaning the engine and under-hood area will help prevent you or your child from getting dirty when checking fluids, make leaks or missing or broken parts easier to spot, and improve the vehicle’s value. Then move to washing the vehicle’s exterior. Remove any bugs, tar or other stuck-on road grime using a bug and tar remover. Then proceed to waxing the vehicle to restore the shine that’s been hiding under years of dirt and environmental contaminants.
Next, head inside the vehicle and remove everything that’s been collecting there – trash, fast-food condiment packets, canvas grocery bags, and anything else that’s going to get in the way of a good vacuuming. Use carpet and upholstery cleaner for the floors and seats, glass cleaner on all the windows and interior mirrors, and wipe down every surface, nook and cranny.
- Restore cosmetic flaws. Now that you’ve restored the vehicle’s paint, it’s time to turn your attention to black rubber and plastic exterior components. Restore these parts’ original deep black color, luster and shine with products designed to reverse the sun’s and atmosphere’s effects. There are plenty of rubber, vinyl, plastic, wood, faux wood, and leather surfaces inside the vehicle too that will look much better once they’re treated with specialized cleaners and restorers. Outside, remove brake dust and restore the shine to wheels with wheel cleaner and the appearance of other metal parts, such as chrome bumpers or tail pipes, with chrome cleaner. Replace broken or missing parts, such as a radio antenna, license-plate holder or mud flap.
- Make minor body repairs. Time, miles, shopping carts and other vehicles’ doors aren’t kind to a vehicle’s exterior. Repairs to major body damage are best left to professionals, but there’s no reason you can’t tackle minor fixes that make a major impact on the vehicle’s appearance. Touch-up paint helps hide any chips and prevents rust from forming. Scratches can be removed with products designed specifically for the job, and dent pullers can help remove minor dents. Replace broken headlight and taillight bulbs and covers with new ones for safety and appearance, and also to prevent water from entering the light fixture through a broken cover and causing costly electrical problems. Restore cloudy or yellowed headlight covers with one of these kits for an improved appearance and increased visibility.
- Give it a tune up. If you know of anything that’s broken, about to break, or just not functioning properly, repair it or have someone do the work for you. It’s a lot easier to take care of problems when the vehicle’s close to home and your garage or trusted mechanic, as opposed to in an unfamiliar city hundreds of miles away. Plus, roadside breakdowns can be stressful, dangerous, and add more costs to the repair when vehicle rental, towing or damage to other vehicle parts or systems are added into the final repair bill.
- Perform preventive maintenance. Follow the recommended service guidelines in the vehicle’s owner’s manual for advice on when to change spark plugs, belts, filters and fluids, rotate the tires, replace shocks, inspect and replace the brakes, and all the things you won’t be able to do when the vehicle’s far from home. And just in case Murphy’s Law does strike, make sure the vehicle is equipped with a roadside emergency kit.
You don’t have to send your child to school with a brand-new vehicle. A clean car that’s looking as good as it possibly can and is well-maintained will remove any potential embarrassment and reduce teen drivers’ anxiety about whether their vehicle is going to break down.
Editor’s note: If you’re prepping your teen’s back-to-school ride, Advance Auto Parts has the detailing supplies and replacement parts you need to save them from any embarrassment. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.