There are essential items that must be checked before you make your annual pilgrimage to the beach. Some are safety and maintenance related while others may prevent you from getting a ticket in some revenue-starved small town that you may pass through on your way to your favorite vacation spot. Here is what you should do.
Check your fluids
Fluids lubricate and cool your vehicle and must be kept adequately full and clean to be effective. You can check your vital fluids in only a few minutes and avoid hours or days of frustration or ruined vacation time.
Checking your oil
Your vehicle must be on a level surface and be shut off for at least ten minutes before checking your oil level. The dipstick for checking the oil is located near the front of the engine compartment.
Pull the dipstick from the tube and wipe it clean with a paper towel or rag before reinserting it fully and retracting it once again to read the level. This will ensure an accurate reading.
The dipstick will have an "add" line closer to the twisted bottom of the stick and a "fill" line located closer to the middle of the stick. If the oil is coating the area between the two lines, the level is adequate. If it is below the "add" line, you can add one quart of the type of oil recommended by the manufacturer of your vehicle.
After adding one quart, check the level again before attempting to add additional oil. Overfilling can cause seals to rupture when the oil heats and expands beyond storage capacity.
The oil should be light brown, almost transparent, and of a fluid consistency. If it is dark brown or black, with a thick consistency, the oil and oil filter should be changed before embarking on a trip. Dirty oil reduces efficiency and contributes to engine wear.
Checking your coolant
Coolant keeps your engine from overheating, so it is especially essential to check the level in the summer. You can do this by inspecting the plastic overflow tank that is located on the left side (facing the engine) of the engine compartment. This expansion tank allows the coolant that flows from the radiator as it is expanded by heating to be stored instead of being dumped onto the ground.
The transparent tank will have "add" and "fill" lines on the side. Check the level when the vehicle is cool to get an accurate reading, and add enough coolant if needed to reach the midway point between the "add" and "fill" lines. This allows for additional heat expansion and reduces overflow onto the ground. Use only the grade of coolant that is recommended by the manufacturer of your vehicle, not a cheaper substitute.
Spilled coolant from overfilling contaminates the environment, wastes money, and is poisonous to pets and small children, who are attracted to its sweet smell and taste, so also make sure there are no leaks in your system.
Check air filters
If your engine's air filter is dirty, the engine will be forced to burn more gas to maintain speed. It may become dirty enough to shut down the engine altogether.
Replacing the air filter is simple. However, you must get the proper filter for your vehicle. Your local auto parts or department store will have guides to help you make the right choice.
The air filter compartment is a small rectangular plastic box to the side of your engine. The top of the box is held in place by metal clips that can be pushed aside. Simply remove the top, take out the old filter and replace it with a new one. Replace the top of the box and secure it with the side clips and you're finished.
The cabin filter, which cleans the air that you breathe, is located behind the dash. While not impossible to reach, it is difficult, and may be more easily replaced at a facility that performs auto repair services.
Check the lights
You may be stopped and ticketed for lights that are inoperable. Get a helper and inspect all of your lights, not just the headlights and turn signals. This includes rear license plate lights, emergency blinkers, and all of the small running lights around the vehicle that might precipitate a traffic stop and ticket.
Checking your brake lights is extremely important. Inoperable brake lights can cause vehicles that are behind you to slam into your vehicle if you stop suddenly.
Replace any burnt out bulbs or fuses that may be putting your life in danger by limiting your visibility to other drivers or enhancing your visibility to small town traffic enforcement officials who must make a large portion of their town's annual budget from traffic tickets.
For more information and assistance with inspecting your car before a road trip, consider taking your car into a local auto service shop, like Oak Hollow Tire Car Care Center Inc.