MEDINA, Ohio - The young drivers in the line of cars funneling into Medina High School's football stadium parking lot today waited patiently for their turn to have their vehicles inspected.
Three lanes of AAA-certified mechanics and seniors from the Medina County Career Center's automotive technologies program put the cars and trucks through their paces to check for safety and maintenance issues.
"It's all about safety," one young driver said. "Safety first -- and a little bit about the food."
Each driver who brought a vehicle down for inspection also received a free lunch at the Dan's Deli food truck.
This is the fifth year that the high school has teamed up with the Medina Police Department and the AAA Ohio Auto Club to offer the free vehicle maintenance inspections to students.
During the 15-minute inspections, technicians inspect vehicle belts, hoses, tires, lights, fluids and batteries. They discuss any problems they detect and provide the drivers with maintenance checklists to share with their parents.
Mike Wesner, the Police Department's school resource officer at the high school, said more than 150 vehicles were expected this year.
"Year after year, the kids hear about it. Every year, we get more that come out. I expect we'll have a fantastic turnout, like we always do," Wesner said.
"It's a wonderful event, just to make sure that their vehicles are safe," he said.
That's important, since more than 49,100 teenagers were involved in crashes in 2016, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
Of those crashes, there were nearly 14,000 injuries and 127 teen deaths.
Courtesy inspections such as the one at the high school are designed to help avert roadside breakdowns and help prevent maintenance-related accidents.
Kellie O'Riordan, traffic safety program manager for AAA, said the inspections can give kids and their parents more peace of mind.
"It's something we've done for a long time to make sure that these teenagers' cars are roadworthy," O'Riordan said.
The AAA technicians review safety issues and teach students how to spot potential problems, such as burned-out headlights or low tire pressure.
"We give them a one-year free AAA membership to start them in the right direction of maintaining their vehicle and having access to roadside assistance. We also give them tire gauges - and providing lunch is always a bonus," O'Riordan said.
Doug Dix, head of the AAA's automotive division, has pretty much seen it all. He has been conducting these types of maintenance inspections since 1990, and will retire in September after 30 years with AAA.
"Every once in a while, a battery will go dead," he said.
Today, one car wouldn't restart after the inspection. Dix had the students push it over to the side, went to his own vehicle for his tool kit, and fixed a faulty wire leading to the battery.
For many students, these inspections are their first hands-on experience in dealing with maintenance issues or talking with mechanics, Dix said.
"A lot of kids don't know how to pull the hood release," he said.
Some in more modern cars with automatic headlights are baffled when asked to turn on their headlights or flash their high beams, he said.
"I remind them about their license plate lights. They have to be illuminated, or they could get pulled over. Once in a while, we find one where the license plate has expired," he said.
Dix said he appreciates the help of the Career Center students. Medina's inspection is the largest of the 24 visits that AAA makes throughout the year.
"With the sheer volume, we couldn't do this without them," he said.
Darin Lewis, automotive instructor at the Career Center, said he has brought his seniors to help with the inspections for the last two years. This year, he brought 11 students.
"They have a lot of fun and it works out well for us in terms of our curriculum," he said.
All in all, the annual inspections make Wesner feel a little better as spring prom and graduation season approaches.
"It's just an extra safety measure. Anything to make the kids safer," he said.
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