Before you roll down the windows and crank the tunes, you’ll want to make sure your ride is ready for adventure. Car trouble can bring your fun to a screeching halt and leave you with a hefty repair bill. While you can’t prevent every mechanical breakdown, you can help to reduce the possibility of spending quality vacation time in the repair shop by ensuring the following items are in good working order. As always, know your limitations and consult a professional as needed.
Check the battery to be sure the connection is clean, tight and corrosion-free. If your battery is three or more years old, National Tire and Battery (NTB) suggests to have it checked to see if it needs replacement. Some auto parts stores and service stations may do this at no charge.
Belts and hoses are critical to the proper functioning of the electrical, air conditioning, power steering and cooling systems. Inspect belts and hoses as they can become cracked, brittle, frayed or loose as they age. If anything seems suspect, have those items replaced. Check your owner’s manual for recommended service intervals as some belts and hoses require replacement in as little as 40,000 to 50,000 miles, according to the Car Care Council.
Check engine coolant (antifreeze) level in the overflow tank, adding more fluid as needed. If your vehicle is due for a coolant exchange or flush, do this before your trip. Inspect the radiator cap and water pump for leaks. Leaks should be fixed immediately as a lack of coolant can cause the engine to overheat and potentially cause serious damage. Remember, never open the radiator or coolant reservoir cap if the engine is hot! Some manufacturers recommend changing the coolant more often than others, sometimes as often as every 30,000 to 50,000 miles, says Cars.com. Consult your manual for the manufacturer’s suggestions.
Check the condition and level of engine oil and automatic transmission fluid. Also, don’t forget to check the brake fluid, power steering fluid and windshield washer reservoirs. If low, top off with the proper fluid. If you’re due for an oil or transmission fluid change, have this performed before you leave. Change the air filter if you haven’t done so recently. A dirty air filter can impair engine performance and reduce fuel economy, according to Cars.com.
Make sure that all interior and exterior lighting is functioning properly. Don’t forget your brake lights. Replace burned-out bulbs or blown fuses. Replace wipers if they don’t clean well, leave streaks or chatter. Check the horn and air conditioner too. If the a/c isn’t blowing as cold as it used to, have it serviced by a qualified mechanic.
Squealing brakes or a brake with reduced responsiveness are signs that your brakes need service, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Have a mechanic inspect the brake pads and rotors to determine if they need replacing. Check your owner’s manual to see if it’s time to flush the brake system and refill it with fresh fluid.
Tire inflation effects fuel economy and vehicle handling. Check tire pressure while the tires are at ambient temperature (cold) and adjust the pressure as necessary. Don’t forget to check the spare too! Also, inspect your tires for adequate tread depth, cuts, nicks or side wall cracking. If the tire tread depth measures less than 2/32 of an inch, it’s time for new tires. Uneven wear across the face of the tire can indicate worn suspension components or the need for a wheel alignment. Your local mechanic or tire retailer can help with your inspection and recommend corrective action.
While many maintenance tasks can be easily performed at home, some are best handled by trained personnel. If you’re uncomfortable working on your vehicle, leave the work to a professional mechanic.