Preparing Your Car for a Road Trip Part IDecember 12, 2016
As the weather warms up and our thoughts turn to long road trips, it’s important to make sure your car is in good working order–or you may end up at the side of the road. There are some obvious first steps before taking off, like filling up with gas and checking your oil, but read on for the lesser known maintenance checks you should be running before your next trip.
Start with Your Owner’s Manual
Your owner’s manual can tell you a lot about your car–the correct tire pressure, information on how to change a flat, or where to find you car jack, how to jump-start your car, how to react to your engine overheating, and how to change a headlight or taillight. If you can’t find your owner’s manual, many vehicle manufacturers offer a downloadable, electric copy online. Make sure to store your owner’s manual in a safe place inside the vehicle, like the glove box or a back seat pocket.
Check Under the Hood
Pop your hood and take a look at the engine. Even to an untrained eye, obvious leaks, dirty or crusted battery terminals, or worn belts are easy to spot and can save you a lot of headache down the road. Carefully look over the engine, and then move on to your vehicle fluids.
- Engine Oil–Park your vehicle on a level area, like a driveway or a parking lot, and turn off the engine. After waiting a moment for the oil to drain in to the oil pan, pull the dipstick out. Wipe off any oil with a clean rag or paper towel, and reinsert it fully. Remove the dipstick and check the oil. It should be clear, and close to the “FULL” mark. If it seems cloudy, flecked with dirt, dark, or low, it may be time for an oil change.
- Transmission Fluid–Refer to your owner’s manual, as vehicles have different requirements for checking the transmission fluid. Some cars have a dipstick, while others require a visit to a certified mechanic.
- Coolant–Coolant is visually checked in the overflow tank. The coolant level should be between the “LOW” and “FULL” marks, and have a clear, solid color, not clouded or overly watery. If your coolant is well below the “LOW” mark, have your engine checked for coolant leaks, which can cause the engine to overheat and seize.
Check the Battery
The battery can be checked visually. Corroded or dirty terminals will cause issues. If you see any leaks or cracking of the battery, have it replaced immediately. Batteries usually run for about 3-6 years, so if you’re reaching the end of it’s life span, it may be a good idea to have it replaced prior to your trip. If you feel that your car cranks slower than it normally does, that’s a good indication that your battery is nearing the end.
A dirty air filter will cause a loss of power. If it’s been a while since you’ve changed your engine air filter, before a trip may be the best time to have it replaced. If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, your owner’s manual should give you good step by step instructions.
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