Whether your children are pre-school petrolheads or they're in their early teens, teaching them about cars can be a great way to spend some quality time with them that's productive and informative. And when the time comes for them to be able to own and drive a car, they'll have more than a head start when it comes to all kinds of motoring issues, from basic car maintenance and safety to knowing how the inner workings of a vehicle function.

Rather than simply waiting for them to pass their test before they get to know their car inside and out, knowledge is power. If your kids have expressed an interest in cars to you in the past, then now is a great time to get them started on all-things motoring. Here, we've come up with a range of topics that you can use to pop the bonnet and teach them the basics.

How does a car engine work?

When you're driving your child to school, the park or a friend's house, they may have sometimes wondered how a car actually takes them from A to B. But, explaining how an engine works can be tricky, so to help you get it right, we’ve put together this quick guide:​

When the engine runs, it goes through a cycle of four strokes:

  • Intake: During the intake stroke, a valve opens and the cylinder fills with air. Then, fuel injectors spray fuel into the cylinder, where it mixes with the air.
  • Compression: At this stroke, the piston moves towards the top of the cylinder, where the piston creates pressure by squeezing the fuel and air into a smaller and smaller space with both valves closed.
  • Combustion: Then, the spark plug ignites the fuel-air mix, causing a controlled explosion which forces the piston back down. The energy this generates is transferred to the drivetrain, which is connected to the wheels.
  • Exhaust: Next, a second valve opens and the piston rises up. It pushes the hot gases from the burned fuel out of the cylinder.

Teaching them about car maintenance

As well as the basic science of how cars work, there are some practical car care tips you can teach them which are not only handy to know, but are also a productive way to spend time together.

Though they won't be able to deal with some of the trickier tasks, there are still some easy car maintenance jobs you can get them well versed in before they even learn how to drive...

Cleaning and waxing

A good one to get started with, keeping the exterior of a car at its best protects the vehicle and maintains its value in the future. Plus, it halves the time it would usually take to clean your own car too.

Show them the right way to shampoo, rinse, and wax the car, before moving to the inside of the vehicle.​

Topping up screenwash

A simple but essential piece of car maintenance, topping up the screenwash has many benefits for them. Not only does it let them know about the importance of routine (you should check your screenwash levels once a month), but by showing them where the reservoir is to fill it up, you can teach them about opening and propping up the car's bonnet too.

Tyre pressure

Inspecting your car's tyres is crucial for safety reasons. Let them know about tread depth and how to check it's at the legal level by using a 20p coin. Have them place a 20p coin into the main tread grooves of your tyre. If the outer band of the 20p coin is obscured when it is inserted, then your tread is above the legal limit.

From here, you can teach them about tyre pressure too with the following steps:

  • Start by finding the valve on the wheel trim. Remove the valve’s cap by screwing it anti-clockwise, and place it somewhere it won’t get lost.
  • Next, attach a foot pump to the valve by pushing the adapter onto it and depressing the lever.
  • Check the air pressure gauge.
  • Use the foot pump to bring the pressure up to the correct level.
  • Quickly remove the adapter from the valve and replace the cap back on the valve.


Once they're familiar with propping up the bonnet, you can then teach them about checking a car's oil level. With the engine cooled and the bonnet propped, remove the oil dipstick and have them clean it with an old rag then let them put it back in place.

You can also show them how to check the maximum and minimum oil levels using the stick's indicators, which is another important safety tip!

Gauges and warning lights

At some point, they've probably wondered what the lights and gauges in your car actually mean. Using the owner's manual, why not go through with them what the gauges and warning lights mean? You could even make a quiz of it once they've become more familiar with things too.

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