All of us would like to shake off the winter cabin fever, right? But before you jump into your car and hit the open road, you should consider a quick vehicle check to ensure your car is as ready for adventure as you are. These are simple things that can be checked at home, but if uncertain, please consult your mechanic.
- Checking your car’s engine oil is one of the simplest and most important maintenance activities. Finding and fixing an oil problem before it damages your engine can save you thousands in repair costs. Running an engine without oil will cause the engine to seize, and you won’t be going anywhere. The best time to check your engine’s oil is when the engine is warm to the touch. To check the oil, locate the dipstick; most dipsticks will be labeled as “OIL.” Pull the stick out and wipe the oil residue off the end. Replace the stick and pull it out again; this time look at the end of the stick that was in the engine. You want the oil to be on the “full” line, if it’s significantly below the line, take your car to a garage for an oil change and ask them to look for a leak. Also, make sure the oil is clear and fluid, not black and jelly-like. If your oil is black and jelly-like or at a really low level, take it to a mechanic immediately to check the engine.
- Transmission fluid is what keeps your car changing gears smoothly, so be sure to pay proper attention to this maintenance activity. Checking the transmission fluid is just as simple as checking the oil. Look under the hood for the dipstick labelled “transmission.” Repeat the same steps as checking the oil. You are also looking for the transmission fluid to be smooth and clean with no metal flakes. If you find chunks or flakes of metal attached to the dipstick, take your car to the mechanic.
- If you have ever turned the key to start your car only to have nothing happen, you know the importance of having a fully charged battery. You are looking for clean terminals with no corrosion build-up. If the terminals have some corrosion, a simple way to clean them is to use a steal brush and a can of Coke. With the car turned off and the battery disconnected, poor some of the Coke on the terminals and let it settle for a few seconds; take the steal brush and start scrubbing. This will remove the corrosion and increase the electricity flow — meaning you’ll get a good cranking voltage.
- The radiator keeps the engine cool, so it’s important to make sure the radiator has water. Make sure the car has been turned off for a while; the radiator cap will be hot if the engine has recently been running. (Newer cars have a plastic reservoir for engine coolant, which should be filled to the “cold engine” or “hot engine” line). Once the cap has cooled, simply unscrew it and if you see water, you are good to go. If not, add some water; if you live in a colder climate you will need to add an antifreeze/water mixture.
- This is a simple but useful task, especially if you are traveling at night. Check all your lighting functions (headlights, brights, taillights, brake lights, both turn signals — front and back — and emergency lights). If you don’t have someone to help you with the brakes, chock your wheels and put a brick or heavy object on the brake pedal while you walk to the back of the car. If you see that a light is burned, your local automotive parts store will have a replacement.
- Your tyres are the only connection you have to the road, so you want to make sure they are working properly. Most petrol stations have air pumps to inflate low pressure tyres, so please make use of them regularly. Don’t forget to check your spare tire as well; make sure it’s inflated and has no damage.
- Always make sure your car toolbox is complete. Also, depending on the length of your trip and time of year, you might want to pack a few extra things. For example, in the winter leave a spare blanket or jacket in the trunk.