There's nothing more frustrating than spending your vacation fixing your car. Hot weather and heavy loads can push a car to the brink of break down. Even newer model cars need maintenance to run their best. Checking fluids, tire pressure, and lights might just save you a trip to the mechanic.
Follow our tips to give your car a basic check-up before you head out on your next road trip.
Check the Owner's Manual
The owner's manual is a wealth of information. It will tell you everything you need to know about the car and how to fix basic parts like changing light bulbs or what to do if your car overheats. Keep a copy in your glove box for quick reference.
What to Check Under the Hood
Check the oil. Low oil can cause a host of problems, including a locked up engine and timing belt issues. It's best practice to check the oil at least every month but especially before a big road trip. Here's how:
- Make sure the car is parked on a level spot.
- Turn the car on and warm it up. Then turn off the engine.
- Wait a minute to check the oil until it has drained down the pan.
- Pull the dipstick out and wipe it with a clean cloth or paper towel and insert it back fully.
- Pull it out and check the level. It should be close to the full line on the dipstick. If it's low, add the same oil that you already have in the car (check owner's manual for recommended oil type).
- Look at the color. If it's black, change it.
Check Transmission Fluid Levels. Over time, with heavy loads and during hot temperatures, transmission fluid tends to lose its qualities and oxidizes. This puts stress on the engine and it will not perform as it should.
Check Antifreeze Levels in the Overflow Tank. As we enter hot weather, it's important to keep an eye on coolant levels.
Check the Air Filter. A dirty air filter is bad. It can cause a lack of power, which is a problem when you're 300 miles away from home. If it's been awhile since the filter was changed, go ahead and change it before your road trip. You can do this yourself by following the directions in the owner's manual.
Check the Battery. Visually inspect the battery before heading out. Look for things like acid leaks, corroded terminals, or cracks. If you see these signs of damage, have it looked at by a professional. A battery generally lasts anywhere from 3-6 years. If you know your battery is 4-5 years old, it's a good idea to have it tested before a long road trip.
A Few Other Items to Check. There are many moving parts under the hood, and it would be impossible to check them all especially if you are not a professional. But you can check the brake fluid and windshield washer fluid easily. Also, look for leaks, loose hoses and clamps that might cause problems along the way.
Lights and Electrical Equipment
It's important to make sure the horn, wipers and all the lights are functional before you leave. In fact, keeping a couple of spare bulbs in your car in case one goes out unexpectedly is a good idea. Consider changing the cabin air filter if it hasn't been changed in the past year. Experts recommend changing it every 15,000 to 25,000 miles. It is a do-it-yourself project, but check your owner's manual first.
Tire pressure is important for optimal gas mileage. You can find your car's recommended pressure inside the driver's door frame on the manufacturer's label. Fill tires to the recommended levels and check the tread while you're there. If you can see wiring or the tread is extremely shallow, invest in new tires before your road trip. Make sure you have a spare tire, wheel wrench, and jack for the worse case scenario.
Are your windshield wipers having difficulty keeping your windshield clear? It may be time to change them. If the wiper mechanisms are working properly, you may only need to change the rubber refills. If rainy weather is in the forecast for your trip, be sure to bring extra windshield washer fluid with you.
An emergency kit for your car is always a good idea, especially if you intend to go over 300 miles or so. It's best to be prepared, because you never know when a tire might blow out or another inconvenience will happen. Consider including the following items in your emergency kit:
- Jumper wires
- Tire-sealer-inflator can
- Tire gauge
- A couple of rags and work gloves
- Basic tool kit including screwdrivers, pliers, and a set of the most common sockets
- Don't forget to include a few bottles of water, blankets, and energy bars.
We all want an easy and enjoyable vacation. To decrease your chances of an unfortunate car failure, make sure to check your car before you go on that road trip!