If you’re planning to go on a trip soon, you better make sure your car is running smoothly. You don’t want a mechanical failure in the middle of a deserted road, so go through this list of things that should be checked out before you set off.
1. Fluid levels
Oil, coolant and brake fluid levels have to be sufficient so that it doesn’t cause an accident or lead to a breakdown. In case that clutch fluid is fitted to your car, check it too. Use the manual to find out where every fluid reservoir is located. It’s not just about that – insufficient levels of any fluid will definitely damage your car to a certain extent even if nothing major happens on the road.
2. Air pressure
Air pressure is supposed to be printed in the manual or a sticker where the driver’s door shuts. You will see the pressure marked on the side on the tire, which is the level that shouldn’t be exceeded. Spare tire pressure should also be checked, otherwise, it could turn out that your spare tire is unusable just at the moment when you most need it.
Rubber hoses, when often exposed to high temperatures, will wear out much faster than expected 10 years when unused because the plasticizer in it is sensitive to high temperatures. So, you need to check both input and output radiator hoses that are attached to the radiator and the engine. Hose typically fails at those two spots. Heater hoses, running from the engine into the firewall also need to go through the check. Bulger and blister usually indicate weak spots in their walls, so if you notice them, it’s better to replace the hose. Just to be safe, take a hose-patch kit with you on the trip.
Engine belts are checked by turning them on the side so that the friction surface is visible. If it’s ragged, cracked or has fiber cords visible, it’s time to replace them. One big belt, called serpentine, is usually put in newer cars, so if you haven’t driven your car more than 50,000 miles, it’s probably safe to leave it. However, if your car has traveled more than that, it probably has more than one belt. In case you hear a loud screech while you’re pulling away from a stoplight, you will probably have to tighten up a belt. Of course, it’s the best policy to replace an old and worn out belt.
Not enough visibility could easily cause a road accident, so make sure you have properly cleaned the car, especially if there’s snow. All of your vehicle windows should be clean, and there shouldn’t be any cracks in the windshield. Lastly, the windshield washer fluid should be filled up.
6. Brake system
As the brake fluid ages, its color turns into the color of maple syrup, which also means it will start rusting the brake components. That’s why you need to check the brake reservoir for the fluid’s color and fill it up to the marked level. If it’s been two years since you’ve last had a flush, do it before you set off. If the fluid is water-laden, not only will it damage brake components but it will also lower its boiling point, which leads to a squishy brake pedal. In case you own a newer car, it could be running DOT5 silicon-based fluid, which isn’t susceptible to water absorption but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be flushed before the trip.
You need somebody’s help for this check. Ask the person to monitor the lights while you turn each one of them individually, both lights and signals. A burnt out light means a big fine or even an accident.
8. Tire pressure and tread
Many people think that the appropriate tire pressure is listed on the tire, but it is actually the maximum pressure the tire can hold, meaning that amount of pressure, combined with high heat and speed, could cause a blowout. The recommended tire pressure can be found in the glove compartment, on the driver’s side door or on the fuel filler door. Low tire pressure will cause the car to spend more fuel and the tire itself will run hotter because low pressure leads to larger friction.
The tread needs to be checked on all four tires, especially if you often go on long trips, like drivers in Australia, Canada or the USA. Their tires wear out much faster. Most tires have around 10/32” of tread depth, but if the tread-depth gauge of your tires is less than 2/32″, it is time to get new ones and make sure they are of excellent quality and longevity. For example, Goodyear tires in Australia are used for their endurance as people travel frequently and the trips are long. Also, if you notice a bubble in the sidewall, it would be wiser to replace the tire because it could get completely worn out during your trip.
If it’s been a couple of years since you bought a new battery, it’s time for a detailed check. The terminals need to be free of corrosion, while the positive and negative leads mustn’t be loose. If you notice that the starter sounds a bit sluggish, the corrosion may be causing it or it could be a sign of a dying battery. In case your battery isn’t maintenance-free, take your car to a gas station to test the electrolytes. If it’s sealed, it’s possible to check the output voltage. If there’s any corrosion, it can be cleaned off with a wire cable-brush easily found in any parts store. If the leads are not tight, they could cause a “voltage dump”, which could completely damage the alternator.
Be thorough during the check and every time you’re unsure what to do – opt for replacing the part in question – it’s better to be safe than sorry. And of course – drive safely.