Now that 100-degree-plus temperatures have arrived and are here to stay, having piece of mind and confidence that your car is in good shape will keep you cool.
Whether you’re staying in town for the summer and just need a reliable commuter, traveling across the desert to the beach or heading north to escape the heat, it’s important to have your car inspected by a professional or at least check the basics yourself.
Being proactive with the care and maintenance of your car keeps you in the driver’s seat, so to speak. When you have a breakdown the circumstances may force you to make decisions that you otherwise wouldn’t. Maybe you won’t be able to get to your regular shop and mechanic that know your car, maybe you’ll find yourself under pressure from a road side battery peddler in a parking lot late at night or buying a replacement tire that does not match, maybe…who knows what? Perhaps the wrath of interrupting the family vacation is the worst consequence.
In most cases having a relationship with a shop and having them do a pre-trip inspection or comprehensive inspection is the best bet. It’s best to plan and have service done weeks in advance of any planned trip. Going in for an oil change the day before you load up and head out is not a good idea.
Here’s a list of the basic, minimum items that should be inspected, some can be checked your-self.
Tires: Visually inspect for any cracking (dry-rot) on the side walls and tread area, look for even tread wear across the tread of the tire. Unusual, choppy or uneven tread wear can be a sign of a worn steering part or suspension issue. Set the tire pressure to the specification found in your owner’s manual or the placard that can typically be found on the driver door jamb. All tires have a date code. If you can determine they are more than five to six years old, they should be considered for replacement.
Brakes: Brakes are typically not a “breakdown” issue, however should be inspected at regular intervals. It is best to have this done by a certified technician.
Battery: Ensure that the battery is properly secured and held in place. Make sure the connections are tight, clean and free of corrosion, including the top of the battery and tray area. If the battery has removable caps, you can check the acid level and adjust with distilled water. The battery does NOT need to be full! It takes specialized equipment to electronically load-test a battery and check its charge level and predict its expected life. If the battery and tray area are dirty, it can be cleaned with a solution of baking soda and water and then rinsed thoroughly. Always use eye protection! The expected battery life in Phoenix is about 30 months.
Belts and hoses: Because of changes in belt material, simply looking for cracks will not be enough to tell you a bet is worn out. Shops have gauges to measure belt wear. It is not uncommon to have a tensioner pulley or belt idler wear out and cause a belt failure. Check with your shop or owner’s manual for the timing belt replacement interval if applicable. Hoses can be squeezed to see if they have soft spots or crunching. Look for seepage or swelling around the clamps.
Radiator: NEVER OPEN A HOT RADIATOR. Check the coolant level in the radiator and overflow or expansion tank. It is usually ok to fill the radiator to the top, however expansion tanks and overflow bottles have high and low marks to indicate the proper fill level. Inspect the radiator cap gasket for cracks. Always use the proper coolant for your car; there are many different types and colors. For example, just because two are pink, it does not mean they are the same or compatible!
Lights and wipers: Have someone in the car operate the lights. Check all the signals, headlights, back-up lights and license plate light bulbs. Inspect the wiper blades for torn edges and even wiping while, at the same time, squirting the washers to see if they are working and aimed properly.
This list is just the basics and is the minimum that should be done heading into the summer.
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