Table of Contents:
1. Preparing Your Car For Winter
2. Preparing Your Car For Summer
3. Preparing Your Car For Travel
4. Tips for Prolonging the Life of Your Vehicle
A car is not only a way to get from one place to another, but it is also a huge investment; not only in terms of monetary value, but also as it pertains to safety. A well maintained car performs better and is cheaper to run. It is also vital in ensuring that the driver and his passengers are safe.
All drivers should know the basics of car maintenance. This guide was written with that goal in mind. It will cover topics of routine and seasonal maintenance, and explain what you need to inspect before taking your car on a road trip. It will also provide you with a list of additional equipment you might need depending on climate conditions. Finally, the guide will detail the steps you can take to prolong the life of your vehicle.
1. Preparing Your Car For Winter
Battery and electrical system
Cold weather not only makes your electrical system work harder due to the increased demands on the lights, wipers and heater, but it also causes your battery to deplete faster than it would in warmer weather. Therefore, it is very important to make sure that car’s electrical system is running at peak performance.
The first thing that needs to be checked is the battery. Cold temperatures can reduce its life by up to 50%. If the battery is 5 or more years older, then you are probably better off replacing it.
Unless your battery just came from the automotive store, it’s probably going to need some light maintenance to ensure that it will function all season. Follow this procedure: the battery should be properly filled with acid and the battery connections should be free of dirt and corrosion. If your battery terminals aren’t clean, then they can be easily cleaned with a solution of baking soda and water and a toothbrush. Also, a dirty battery is harder to charge than a clean one, so you should make sure that the outside of the battery is clean.
After the battery and terminals have been cleaned up, make sure that all connections are tight. As an extra precaution, after tightening the connections, smear a little petroleum jelly on the contacts. This will slow future corrosion of the terminals.
Oil and oil filter
Cold temperatures will influence the internal temperature of your engine, so you should make sure to use the proper oil. Check the owner’s manual for the right oil for your vehicle, but keep in mind that thinner, less viscous oils work better in cold weather conditions, because they circulate easily and lubricate your engine.
Winter is tough on all of your vehicle’s components, but it seems to hit the cooling system the hardest. That is why it is important to make sure that it is up to standards. Taking the vehicle to a qualified mechanic to check all of the following systems is good insurance against getting stranded by the cold weather.
The first thing that needs to be checked is the antifreeze. If you haven’t changed your antifreeze in the past two years, or if the antifreeze is a rusty or cloudy color, then you may need to flush your entire cooling system. Antifreeze can not only become ineffective over time, but it also becomes acidic. Acidic antifreeze can cause damage to your hoses, gaskets and cause corrosion in your radiator.
When flushing the coolant system, make sure you use a good radiator flush compound and that you put the correct antifreeze into your system. You should always consult your owner’s manual to ensure that you are putting the correct antifreeze into your coolant system.
You should also check that your coolant systems fluid is a 50/50 mixture of water and antifreeze. This can be done either by buying a premixed antifreeze or mixing your own using purified water and antifreeze. If your system doesn’t need to be flushed, you should still check your antifreeze mixture with a tester that can be purchased at any automotive store.
It is important that your car’s antifreeze doesn’t deviate from the 50/50 mixture. If the percentage of water is too high, then the antifreeze will boil during warm weather and freeze during cold weather. Likewise, if the amount of pure antifreeze is too high, it too will freeze during cold temperatures. A 50/50 mixture is your car’s best bet to keep the engine within acceptable limits.
Radiator, heater hoses and radiator cap
After you have checked the antifreeze quality it is time to move on to other parts of the coolant system. Examine both of the radiator hoses and ensure that they are in proper condition. Make sure there aren’t any leaks, tears or splits. You should also check to make sure that your hoses are firm to the touch and not spongy, but also aren’t hard. If they are, they need to be replaced.
The next thing to check is the heater hose. This can be easily checked by turning the heater on high, allowing it to heat up and opening the hood. If you smell coolant or notice leaks around the heater hose, then you should immediately replace it.
While you are checking your hoses, it is important that you check all of the connections. If they are loosing their grip or appear to be old, then they need to be replaced. Cold weather will only put extra pressure on them and cause them to fail.
The last part of your coolant system that needs to be checked is the radiator cap. If the radiator cap is worn out and doesn’t maintain the proper pressure of your coolant system, then it can cause serious problems down the road.
If your heater isn’t working, then you might have one of several possible problems. One, there might be a hidden heater hose leak or the heater core may be malfunctioning. If it’s the former problem, that is easily remedied by either replacing the heater hose or making sure the connection is tight. If it’s a malfunctioning heater core, then you will have to replace that unit. Fortunately, a qualified mechanic can replace the heater core quickly and fairly inexpensively.
Before determining that your heater core is defective, however, you might want to check your car’s thermostat. A bad thermostat can cause a number of problems, including the loss of heat from your vehicle’s heating system. To check a thermostat, remove it from the car and place it in a pot of water, ensuring that it doesn’t touch the sides or the bottom. After that, place a cooking thermometer in the water with the thermostat. Now slowly heat the water on your stove. The thermostat should remain closed until it reaches about 190 degrees. Then, it should begin to open. When the water reaches 195 degrees, then the thermostat should be fully open. If it isn’t, then it probably needs to be replaced.
If your heater heats up but doesn’t blow air, you should check the fan or the switch to the blower. You can also check to make sure there aren’t any obstructions preventing air from coming out of the vents.
Cold temperatures, as well as extreme hot ones, can cause aging belts to fail. Check your V-belts or serpentine belt to ensure that they don’t have any cracks, tears or fraying. Also check them to ensure that they fit properly on the pulleys.
The water pump
Check to make sure that there aren’t any leaks around the water pump. While big leaks will be obvious, you might have to get creative to find smaller leaks. In order to find these small leaks you might have to place a piece of cardboard underneath the car where the water pump is located. If antifreeze shows up on the cardboard, then you might have a faulty water.
The next thing you should do is check the pulley. Try to push the pulley back and forth. If it gives or seems loose, then that might be an indication of the water pump bearing going bad.
Your water pump is probably becoming faulty if it produces a low-pitched grinding noise while the car is running with the hood raised. Also, your water pump might be going bad if your thermostat warning light comes on.
Tires and tire pressure
Ensuring that your tires are in good working condition is one of the most important things to consider in winter weather. You want to make sure that they are in good condition and have the proper tread depth. If possible, consider getting snow tires for your vehicle during winter weather. This will increase your car’s grip on the road and provide better handling.
Tire pressure is another important thing to consider during colder temperatures. During cold weather, tires need to be kept within 5 PSI of recommended pressure levels. Those that aren’t properly inflated present a severe safety concern on snowy or icy roads. They simply don’t provide the adequate grip to keep the car on the road in these conditions and will severely hamper your car’s stopping ability.
Keeping tire pressure within acceptable ranges during the winter, however, can be quite a challenge, due to the cold air. For every ten degree drop in temperature, your tires will lose approximately 1 PSI of pressure. Therefore, it is important to monitor tire pressure frequently during cold weather: several times a day, or at least once in the morning and then once later on in the day, due to the nightly temperatures being significantly lower than daytime temperatures.
For instance, suppose you fill your tires in the morning after the temperature has been below zero all night. If the temperature than rises to about twenty degrees, then your tire pressure is also going to rise, therefore you are going to have to compensate.
It is important that you ensure that your brakes are in good working condition before the start of the winter driving season. Take the vehicle to a mechanic and have him go over the entire system thoroughly. This includes brake pads, brake hoses, rotors and the master cylinder. You should also ensure that you have the recommended amount of brake fluid in your car and that it is clean and free of contaminants.
Headlights, brake lights and turn signals
At the start of every winter season you should check to make sure that all the bulbs in your headlights, brake lights and turn signals are in good working condition. Headlights you can check yourself, but turn signals and brake lights will probably require the help of an assistant.
Have you assistant check all of the bulbs while you turn the associated accessories on. Start with the front turn signals, both driver and passenger side, then have him/her move around to the sides and back of the car. Your assistant should not only inspect the marker lights, headlights, turn lights and brake lights, but also the license plate light to ensure they are all functioning properly.
Windshield, wipers and wiper fluid
Check to make sure that the windshield is clean and free of pits or cracks. If the windshield has any defects, they can become even bigger due to the combination of cold and vibration. Therefore, it is important to either fill in any cracks with an approved windshield repair kit or have the windshield replaced.
The wipers should also be checked. They should be defect-free and work correctly. If they stick or move awkwardly, then they need to be replaced. If you can’t turn the wipers on at all, then that may indicate a problem with the windshield wiper motor. Fix it promptly because while it is not only illegal to operate a vehicle without wipers, it is extremely unsafe. Also, keep in mind to switch the wipers off when your car is parked to prevent the blades freezing to the screen, which could lead to serious damage of blades or wiper motor when the ignition is turned on.
Next, inspect the wiper blades. The wiper blades need to be in good condition and free of any defects such as tearing or cracking. If they aren’t replace, them promptly, preferably with a pair of winter-rater windshield wiper blades that can handle ice and snow better than normal blades.
The last thing you need to check is the wiper fluid system. Make sure that all of the spraying hoses and drains are free of debris and work correctly. Also, make sure that the wiper fluid reservoir is clean and free of cracks. Once all of this has been inspected, fill the reservoir with a winter-certified wiper fluid solution. Do not use summer fluid or water as those can freeze during cold temperatures.
Check that your rear defroster is working well. If it fails to come on, then check to make sure that the fuse is in good condition and isn’t blown. If it still doesn’t work, try checking the relay.
Other problems that can cause rear defrost problems include the switch and the rear grid. Either of these problems will probably require the services of a mechanic.
If your front defroster is causing your windshield to become foggy, then you might want to check the air seals around the door. Faulty seals can allow too much air into the cabin and cause the windows to fog. If necessary, have the seals replaced.
It is important to always keep at least a half a tank of gas in your vehicle. Not doing so can cause a number of problems, among them causing your car’s fuel pump to work harder, thereby reducing its lifespan. Running your vehicle with less than a half a tank during cold weather can also cause additional problems. It can cause water to condense in your fuel tank and mix with the gas, making the gas lines more susceptible to freezing.
Additional Equipment For Winter Driving
Sand and salt mixture – A sand/salt mixture can be a lifesaver if your vehicle is stuck in the snow. The sand provides traction and the salt melts snow and ice from around your tires. The extra weight is also useful to have in your trunk, especially if you have a rear-drive vehicle.
Shovel – An essential piece of equipment to dig your car out of snow banks or remove ice from around your tires. If the standard snow-shovel can’t fit in your trunk, consider buying a small one.
Ice scraper – A very necessary tool for winter driving to help keep your front and rear windshields clear of snow and ice.
Old rug remnants – Pieces of old shag rug can be a useful tool. They can be placed under stuck tires to give them the traction they need if your car is stuck in snow.
Car toolkit – A good car toolkit should consist of ratchets, pliers, wrenches, screwdrivers, a hammer, tire gauge, duct tape, paper clips, wire cutter, razor knife, extra fuses, funnels and some bungee cords.
Spare tire and jack
– Necessary to change tires in case of a flat. Make sure that the spare tire is in good condition and is properly inflated. You should also ensure that the jack is in good condition and you have the proper lug wrench for your tires. An emergency tire patch kit and inflatable sealant should be kept in the vehicle in order to deal quickly with unexpected flat tires.
Lock defroster – Necessary if your locks get frozen.
Emergency winter kit – Same as the summer emergency kit with some slight additions. It includes flares, a flashlight with extra batteries, matches, a water bottle or canteen and a basic first aid kit. Your first aid kit should contain bandages, antiseptic cream, adhesive tape, cold pack, disposable gloves, petroleum jelly, safety pins, first aid manual, eye-wash, thermometer, scissors, bulb suction device, aspirin or other pain reliever, antiseptic soap and hydrocortisone cream. It should also contain a pair of hand warmers, a lighter and 3 candles. Lighting a candle in a dead car in cold conditions can raise the temperature enough to keep the occupants from freezing.
Oil and antifreeze – You should also carry extra oil and antifreeze in your vehicle. The extra premixed antifreeze is particularly important.
Extra serpentine belt – Belts become extremely brittle during cold temperatures and are more likely to break.
Cell phone and charger – If possible keep an extra set, wrapped in plastic, in the event of an emergency. That way it will be protected from crash and won’t get wet.
Blankets and clothes – It is absolutely essential to keep at least one or two spare blankets in your vehicle during winter. They can literally keep you alive in extreme temperatures. Extra clothes or an extra coat can also keep you warm should you end up stranded alongside the road. At the very least, keep a spare pair of gloves, an extra pair of socks and a warm hat in the vehicle at all times.
Snacks or non-perishable foods – This can include crackers, chips, condiment packages, beef jerky or anything else you can eat if you are stranded. Some prepared motorists pack dehydrated foods or even military MRE’s (meals-ready-to-eat).
2. Preparing Your Car For Summer
Oil and oil filter
A car can really take a beating during the heat and humidity of summer and that is why it is so important to have your engine checked thoroughly to make sure that it can stand up to these rigors.
The oil, and oil filter, must be changed at regular intervals . This interval differs from car to car, but it can easily be ascertained by checking your vehicle’s owners manual or scheduled maintenance guide.
You should also check the type of oil needed in your vehicle. In more temperate climates it is usually advantageous to switch to a higher viscosity oil. However, it must be emphasized that it is always best to use the type and weight of oils recommended by your vehicle’s manual.
Some vehicle manufacturers have begun to use a system called Maintenance Minder, and these system does a great job of letting you know when your engine oil needs to be changed and when a maintenance is due, by constantly monitoring your vehicles engine and adjusting its calculations based on climate and driving conditions. The system calculates the life of engine oil, transmission fluid, air and micron filters, coolant, spark plugs, timing belt, and rear differential fluid. Because the computer is calculating the life span of the different items, a scheduled maintenance list based on mileage is no longer used.
The air filter also needs to be inspected on a regular basis and replaced, if necessary. This is especially important after winter because road salt and other debris often clog this filter. Most manufacturers recommend replacing the air filter every year or every 15,000 miles, but if you travel over a lot of gravel roads, then you might have to replace it more often.
The battery is another component that must be checked on a regular basis, especially during the searing heat of summer. Heat can have a detrimental effect on a battery in several ways. First, it speeds up the chemical reaction within the battery which can cause it to overcharge. Second, heat can cause the battery fluid to evaporate. Both of these conditions are capable of damaging the battery, or at the very least, shorten its lifespan.
Checking a car battery is pretty straight forward. The first thing you need to do is check that the battery has enough fluid in it to operate properly. This can be checked by lifting up the panels on the top of the battery and visually inspecting it. If the battery fluid level is low, then you can bring it back up to level by adding water to it. However, make sure that you use purified water and not tap water. Tap water can contain minerals and contaminants which can corrode the metal plates inside the battery and shorten its life-span.
You should also make sure that the contacts and the outside of the battery are clean. Remove the terminals and check for corrosion. If there is one, clean the contacts off with a toothbrush and a solution of baking soda and water. Make sure that not only are the terminals clean but the battery posts are well. This is also a good time to clean the outside of the battery, as a dirty battery can have problems holding a charge. After that has been done, dry it off with a dry towel and reinstall the terminals, making sure they are tight. A light coating of battery grease or petroleum jelly can then be added to the terminal ends and posts to slow down future corrosion.
Coolant Level and Condition
One of the greatest causes of summer breakdowns is a poorly maintained cooling system which inevitably leads to overheating. This can be be prevented by thoroughly checking the cooling system and making sure that it is in top condition.
Many car manufacturers recommend that you change your antifreeze every two years. Other manufacturers advise changing your antifreeze on a yearly basis. To determine your particular case, you should always consult your vehicle’s manufacturer guide to be sure that you meet recommended coolant maintenance times. Replacing the antifreeze requires draining all of the old coolant, flushing the system out and replacing it with a coolant recommended by your car’s manufacturer.
Whether you flush your cooling system each year or every 2 years , it is still important that you check your antifreeze levels and condition on a regular basis. You should make sure that the antifreeze is within levels indicated on the reservoir overflow and that it isn’t cloudy or rusty, conditions which indicate that the antifreeze needs to be replaced. You should also check the coolant concentration on a regular basis to ensure that it is a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water.
This is also a good time to inspect your air conditioning system. A qualified mechanic can quickly and easily inspect the entire system for you.
The air conditioning unit’s condenser should be checked to make sure that it isn’t clogged. Also, the drive belt should be checked to make sure it is in good condition and isn’t frayed or cracked. The last thing is making sure that there is enough refrigerant in the system.
Tires and tire pressure
Tires normally lose about about 1 PSI every single month, but this can change according to the temperatures your car is exposed to. For instance, for every ten degree rise in temperature, the car’s tires can lose an additional 1 to 2 PSI. This can not only negatively affect fuel mileage but can also cause the tires to become unsafe. Therefore, it’s very important to check tire pressure on a regular basis; every month on average, more often during wild temperature fluctuations.
Tire pressure can be checked with a tire gauge purchased at any gas station or automotive store. Tires should be checked while they are cold and haven’t been driven for more than two miles. The PSI readings should be checked against the recommended readings that are found in your driver’s auto manual or on the inside door jamb of the vehicle. You should never inflate tires to the PSI levels shown on the tire’s side wall because these are maximum PSI levels that the tires can theoretically withstand and aren’t recommended levels for your vehicle.
Tire tread and condition should also be checked as well. The tread can be done by using a tread meter. After the tread has been measured, check the results against the original tread ratings for the car. If the new reading is 60 percent or less or the original reading, then it is time to replace the tires.
After you have inspected your tires, it is usually a good idea to take care of your spare tire. Visually inspect it to make sure it is in good condition and that its tread is intact. Also, make sure that the spare has enough air in it. Do this even if you’ve never used it because all tires lose pressure over time. This is true whether they are mounted on the vehicle or they are in your trunk. Make sure that your car’s jack is in good working condition as well.
If you car is currently equipped with winter tires, now is the time to switch to your summer tires. You don’t want to drive on your winter tires during warmer months for two reasons. One, winter tires are heavy and decrease your vehicle’s fuel efficiency. Two, you don’t want to wear down the tires prematurely and have to replace them sooner. Also, keep in mind that in some States it may be illegal to have your winter tires mounted during summer months.
Belts And Hoses
Checking hoses and belts on your vehicle is an important maintenance chore that should be done on a regular basis. If your hoses begin to leak or a belt snaps, then your vehicle will quickly overheat and fail to run.
Most people simply check the back of the belt(s) and look for cracks, but that is only part of the inspection process. You should also pinch and twist the belts to look for brittle areas, fraying or splits. If any of these exist, then the belt should be changed immediately.
You should also check the belt or belts for slick areas or signs of glazing. A slick spot on a belt can be a precursor to belt slippage. A belt that is slipping can not only make a car become harder to drive, but it can also heat buildup and the inevitable failure of the belt. Another thing to check is the pulley system. You should inspect the pulley system to make sure that there is no rubber buildup and that the pulley is in good condition. Clean or replace the pulley as needed to keep it running correctly.
The last thing you will need to check, as far as your belts are concerned, is the tension on the belts. Pull on the belt and make sure that there is no more than ½ to 1 inch of give. If the belt gives more than that, then it is time to replace the belt, the belt tension pulley or realign the belt.
The hoses also need to be checked. Look for leaks, cracks or swollen parts of the hose. If any of these exist, then it’s time to replace the hose in question.
Windshield wipers should be checked at regular intervals. Most manufacturers recommend replacing them every six months or so. Windshield wiper blades deteriorate for a number of reasons beyond the simple mechanical act of going back and forth across a windshield. Sunlight, airborne debris (such as rock salt, sand and gravel dust), car wax and salt water can cause the blades to deteriorate faster than every six months, however.
You should make sure that not only the blades are in good working condition, but that the arms working properly as well. After all, wiper arms wear out and eventually become ineffective in clearing water from your windshield. Usually this is due to the spring located in the arm losing its ability to adequately press the blade against the windshield.
When inspecting the wiper arms you should look for the following problems: broken arm frame, metal corrosion, sticking of the arms or skipping of the arms during wiping. If any of these conditions exists, then it is time to replace the arm.
Also, don’t forget to get plenty of windshield washer solvent and fill up wiper fluid reservoir.
Summer thunderstorms and rain tend do influence the brakes as wet brakes can be less responsive. Make sure to have them checked at regular intervals, as suggested by your vehicle’s manual. However, there are instances when you should check the brake sooner to ensure that it is doing its job correctly.
One of the signs that your brakes need to be checked is a mushy pedal. A brake pedal that is too soft to the touch of your foot can be an indication of a number of problems. It could mean that the pads are worn, that there is air in the brake’s hydraulic system or that there is a system leak. Another sign that your brake system has a problem is a pedal that is too stiff. This could indicate that the brake fluid is contaminated or that the rotors are worn unevenly.
If your vehicle vibrates while you are decelerating or stopping, then this can indicate that the rotors on your vehicle have become warped. If this is the case, the rotors should be checked to make sure they are in good condition and don’t have any scratches or grooves.
Other signs to look for when considering replacing your brakes is if the vehicle clutches during braking, squeals or if the car takes longer to stop than anticipated. If any of these occur, then the brakes should be serviced immediately.
Headlights should be checked on a regular basis. You need to make sure that all of the lenses are clean and aren’t damaged. You want to make sure that the bulbs aren’t burned out and you want to check the headlight wiring.
Headlight wiring consists of the wiring harness and the fuse. Check the wiring harness to make sure that is doesn’t have any cracks or stress marks. After you have done that, check the fuse and make sure that it is in good working condition and isn’t blown out.
Additional Equipment For Summer Driving
Extra towels – Towels have a variety of uses. They can be used as picnic blankets, for swimming or for drying off after that unexpected summer shower.
Sunscreen – Always consider taking sunscreen with you. It is not only useful for when you are out of the car, but can also be used to protect yourself against damaging UV rays that might enter the vehicle while driving.
Umbrella – An umbrella really comes in handy. It can be used not only for unexpected summer thunderstorms, but also to help you protect yourself from the sun.
Bug repellent – Packing a travel-size bug repellent will help protect you from ticks, biting flies and mosquitoes.
Water – You can never have too much water. It is not only necessary to drink, but can also be used for your radiator.
Snacks – Make sure that you have plenty of snacks for your trip and that you either have a cooler or mini-fridge to store them safely.
Cell phone and charger – A fully charged cell phone and charger is necessary equipment for your road trip. It will keep you in contact with help if your car breaks down or you face some other emergency.
Emergency tool kit – You should never leave home without a basic car repair toolkit. This kit should include things such as screwdrivers, wrenches, ratchets, wire cutter, razor knife, duct tape, tire gauge and a hammer. It will come in handy if you need to make a quick roadside repair. You also want to make sure that you have jumper cables, a spare tire, gas can, funnels, extra fuses, and a jack.
Tire patch kit – 9 times out of 10 you won’t need a tire patch kit, but when that time does come you’ll be happy you didn’t leave home without one.
Extra serpentine belt – Packing an extra serpentine belt can be a lifesaver if the one in your car breaks suddenly.
Oil and antifreeze – You should also carry extra oil and antifreeze in your vehicle. This will ensure that you have the correct type and quantity in case you need it.
Emergency kit – A proper emergency kit should include flares, a flashlight with batteries, matches, a water bottle or canteen and a basic first aid kit. Your first aid kit should contain bandages, antiseptic cream, adhesive tape, cold pack, disposable gloves, petroleum jelly, safety pins, first aid manual, eye-wash, thermometer, scissors, bulb suction device, aspirin or other pain reliever, antiseptic soap and hydrocortisone cream.
3. Preparing Your Car For Travel
two (or more) weeks before trip
Do any major repairs – If you have to do any major repairs on your vehicle, make sure they are done at least a month before taking your car on any long trips. This way you have plenty of time to see if the repair was successful.
Check fluid levels – Make sure that your engine oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, antifreeze, brake fluid and windshield wiper fluid are at the recommended levels.
Check the tires – Make sure that tires are in good condition; they should have the proper tire tread depth and not have any noticeable defects. Also, it is important that the tires are properly inflated. Tires with low pressure can build-up excessive heat that can cause a blowout at higher speeds. Remember, your tires should be less inflated in winter, and more inflated in summer. Be sure to follow the instructions for checking tire pressure in your owner’s manual.
Check that the spare tire is in the trunk and that is has the proper tread and proper tire pressure. Also, make sure that you have a suitable lug wrench for your tires, a sturdy jack, and other tire-changing bits. If possible, bring jack-stands as well, to make the tire changing process safer.
Check air filter – Check the air filter and make sure it is clean and free of debris. Also, make sure the air filter housing is clean. If the air filter hasn’t been changed in the last 10,000 miles, now is the time to replace it.
Inspect hoses and belts – Make sure all of the hoses and belts are in good condition and don’t have any defects. Look for cracks or fraying in the belts, and soft or sagging hoses. Also, keep on the lookout for any potential leaks.
Check all necessary documents – Make sure that you have a copy of your owner’s manual, registration and insurance papers. Check for the expiration date. Put all these documents in your glove box, so you can access them at all times.
One week before trip
Double check the tires – Check your tires again and make sure the tire pressures are the same as they were the last time you checked them. If one or more of the tires have less pressure than your previous week’s reading, then you might have a leak. Have the tire checked before driving on it.
Check the lights – Make sure that all the bulbs for your brakes, headlights, running lights and turn lights work correctly. Also, make sure their housing and lenses are free of cracks or other signs of damage. Faulty lights present a danger for other drivers who will have a hard time assessing the distance from your car on the road, and they are also a great risk for being pulled over by the police.
Perform a seasonal check – Make sure that you perform your summer/winter check. In the summer, make sure the air conditioning is working. In winter, make sure the heater is functioning correctly.
Clean out the car – Make sure that your car is cleaned out completely. This will not only provide a better atmosphere for you and your passengers, but it will ensure that the car doesn’t have trash that could present a hazard during driving. Also, less load means burning less fuel.
Join AAA – Join a roadside assistance program. These programs really come in handy during an emergency. Not only can they provide towing services for your vehicle if it breaks down, but they can also change tires, jump start your car in the event of a dead battery and bring essential fluids for your car, such as oil, antifreeze or gasoline.
Check road map and GPS – Make sure that you have a paper map in your vehicle, even if you have a GPS system. This way, if your GPS goes out, you will have a back-up. Also, make sure that your GPS is properly functioning and it has been recently updated with the latest maps.
Pack car travel and first aid kits – Make sure that you have your roadside maintenance kit and roadside emergency kit packed in your car. Also, inspect your first-aid kit and ensure it is complete and that all the items are up to date. If you have removed things from your kit, or they have expired, then promptly replace these items.
The day before trip
Wash and vacuum your car – Make sure the interior is thoroughly vacuumed and that the exterior is properly cleaned.
Check the tires again – Check the tires once again and make sure they are properly inflated. Be advised that vehicle manufacturers have two ratings for proper tire pressure; one for light loads and one for heavy loads. If you are taking the entire family, then you will want to adjust your tire pressure for heavy loads.
Fill gas tank – Make sure your vehicle’s gas tank is filled with high quality fuel.
The day of trip
Keep an eye on load capacity – Vehicles don’t have an unlimited load capacity, so you should be careful not to overload. Check with your owners manual and find out the particular load capacity for your vehicle. Make sure you don’t exceed it. Also, remember to spread the load evenly across the vehicle.
Pack snacks and water – Make sure you have water, soft drinks and snacks for you and your entire family. Also, a jug of water might come in handy if needed for the radiator at some point.
Provide entertainment – Make sure that you bring along music for your trip. If you have rear DVD players, make sure you have movies available for everyone to enjoy. Also, make sure the car is stocked with crossword puzzles and other games your family can enjoy.
4. Tips for Prolonging the Life of Your Vehicle
Here are some additional tips that will ensure that your vehicle lives up to its full life expectancy. Following these tips will ensure that your car maintains performance levels and remains safe for the entire length of its life.
Properly break in your car
If you want your car to reach its full life-expectancy, then you need to properly “break it in”. Breaking in a car refers to driving it properly for the first 1,000 miles. This allows all components to settle and perform in the manner in which they were designed. It also ensures that you keep in compliance with your new car warranty, which usually requires the consumer to properly break in their vehicle in order for it to be fully covered.
Breaking in a new car is not complicated. Make sure that you avoid high RPM throttling of your engine during this period. If you are driving normally in city traffic, then this is not a problem. Also make sure that you don’t brake suddenly or make sudden turns. Finally, make sure that you don’t use your vehicle to do any towing during the break in period. This will ensure your vehicle is properly broken in.
Pay attention to manufacturer’s service recommendations
Manufacturers set service recommendations to ensure that your car lives up to its full potential. Make sure you read through your entire owner’s manual and make sure that you have your car serviced at the recommended times. Following those steps will help you avoid costly problems with components and ensure full benefits of the manufacturer’s warranty.
Keep an auto log
Every time you add gas, change the oil or have a system serviced, write it down along with the mileage. This is your auto log. Keeping an auto log will prevent you from guessing when your vehicle needs service, and it also helps you spot potential problems. For instance, if your car is using more gas or oil than usual, then it might tell you there is a problem with one or more of your car’s systems.
Take care of oil and oil filter replacements
It is very important that you change your oil and oil filter on a regular basis. Failure to do so can seriously damage your engine or even bring it completely to a halt. With that being said, however, most vehicles no longer need to have their oil changed every 3,000 mile.
Different car manufacturers have different time frames in which you should change your oil. These range from 5,000 to 7,000 miles. Some models can even go 10,000 miles in between oil changes. The best way to determine your recommended schedule for oil changes is to check your owner’s manual. Just make sure you follow its recommendations and change your oil and filter at the scheduled times.
It is important that when you change the oil you use the correct type and weight. If you don’t use the correct motor oil, it can cause problems that may range from mild to severe. This includes everything from reduced gas mileage (up to a 2% reduction in fuel efficiency), all the way to damaging critical engine components, such as the drive train.
Another thing to consider is that not all oil filters are created equal. Standard, or basic, air filters don’t have the critical components that good quality OEM oil filters have. Quality OEM filters have pleated filter material and external gaskets. The pleated filter material does a better job at cleaning contaminants from the oil and the external gaskets prevent sudden oil filter leaks. The most important parts of a good oil filter, however, is the relief and anti-drainback valves. The relief valve is a safety component that prevents oil starvation in the engine if the filter becomes clogged. The anti-drainback valve retains oil in the oil filter so that it the engine gets oil quicker during a cold-start condition.
Maintain air filters
Engine’s Air Filter
It is important to change your air filter on a regular basis. A dirty air filter can reduce fuel efficiency and cause engine damage by blocking air flow or allowing contaminants into the engine. It is usually recommended that you change you air filter at every oil change, or every 10,000 miles. Make sure to check with your owner’s manual for the correct replacement schedule.
Cabin Air Filter
The cabin air filter is one of the most critical, and often overlooked, filters that needs to be changed on a regular basis. This filter cleans the air coming through the heating and A/C systems and strips out unhealthy particles, such as pollution, pollen and mold. It also prevents foul odors from entering the passenger cabin.
To keep this filter working effectively, it should be replaced every 25,000-30,000 miles or according to manufacturer recommendations. You can check the condition of the cabin filter by removing it and holding a flashlight behind it or holding it up to the sun. If you can’t see the light through the filter, then it is probably time to have it replaced.
Most cabin air filters are either charcoal or Ionic, but other variations are available as well. Below are some of the more common ones:
When considering an air filter for your vehicle, you have a number of options available to you. Depending on your type of car and manufacturer recommendations.
Ionic air filter
Ionic air filters use a slight negative electric charge to modify air particles around the filter. This charge then attracts positively charged particles and removes them from the air.
HEPA air filter
HEPA is an acronym that stands for high-efficiency particulate absorbing. These air filters are capable of removing around 99.7-99.8 % of all particulates from the air. They are generally made of fiberglass fiber mats that cause particles to become trapped in its matrix. The effectiveness of a HEPA air filter depends on the thickness of the filter and the diameter of the fibers.
Carbon air filter
Carbon filters work in much the same way as HEPA air filters, but they use activated carbon in place of fiberglass. The activated carbon doesn’t give this filter the high particle removal rate that HEPA air filters do, but they do have the added benefit of removing odors and gases from the air stream and neutralizing them.
UV light air filter
UV light air filters use a photo-chemical process to remove harmful particles from the air stream. These include mold and bacteria.
Replace fuel filter
You should also make sure that you change your fuel filter on a regular basis. Every two years is usually recommended but check with your owner’s manual to be sure. Changing the fuel filter on a regular basis helps your car maintain its fuel efficiency. A clogged or dirty fuel filter may cause your fuel pump to fail prematurely and may cause other fuel system problems.
Check your car’s fluids
It is important that you keep an eye on your car’s fluid levels, not only to make sure they meet the minimum levels, but also because their color can tell you a lot about the condition of your engine.
For instance, oil should be relatively clear or have a light amber color. If it is dark, then your oil needs to be changed. If your oil is white, however, that can mean that water has entered the system. This usually points to a antifreeze leak, perhaps even a crack in the intake manifold.
You should also check your transmission fluid. Ideally, transmission fluid should be bright red and free of debris. If the transmission fluid is a darker color or has a burnt smell, then that could indicate a potential problem with the transmission. If the fluid has metal in it, then there is serious damage in your transmission.
It is also important to check your antifreeze. Antifreeze comes in a variety of different colors, but they are not interchangeable. Only use the color antifreeze that your manufacturer recommends. If you don’t know this information, then use a universal antifreeze.
You should also regularly flush your radiator, power steering unit and your brake system. Usually this is done every two years, but be sure to check your maintenance schedule to make sure.
Change timing belt
The timing belt is often overlooked until it breaks. A broken or thrown timing belt can literally destroy your engine by sending a piston flying into an open valve. This can not only damage the cams, but can also damage many other major components of your engine. Therefore, be sure to replace your timing belt according to your manufacturer’s recommendations. This is usually necessary every 100,000-160,000 miles.
Prolong the life of your tires
If you want to make sure your tires live up to their full potential, then you need to check them on a regular basis. Make sure that tire tread depth doesn’t fall below 60% of original tread depth. If it does, replace them.
You can check tire tread with a penny. Place the penny with Lincoln’s head down into several of the tire’s tread. If you always see Lincoln’s head, then it is time to replace the tire. If 2/3 of his head is covered by the tread, then your tires are in good condition and don’t need to be replaced.
It is also very important that tires are properly balanced and mounted on the vehicle. If tires aren’t properly balanced, then this can cause premature wear of the tire and may also cause problems with vehicle stability.
Over and under inflation of your vehicle’s tires can not only make them wear faster, but may also cause safety concerns. Tire pressure should be monitored with a tire gauge, while the tires are cold, and you should never rely on your eyes to determine if the tire is properly inflated. Tires should never be inflated according to the maximum rating printed on the side of the tire. They should be inflated according to the manufacturer’s recommendations that can be found in either the driver’s manual or on the tag on the inside of the door jamb.
It is preferable to inflate tires while they are cold. If that is not possible and the tires have to be driven to a station to be filled, then allow for an extra 3 PSI of pressure due to the heating of the tire.
Before you fill your tires, always check the air hose first by depressing the tip of the hose with your thumb. If it leaves moisture on your thumb, then alert the station manager and go to another air pump immediately. That’s because the air hose in question will add water into your tire. Water inside the tire not only prevents proper air pressure within the tire but also may corrode the rims.
Tires need to be rotated on a regular basis to keep them in good condition. Each tire on your vehicle performs a different function. Therefore, they wear differently. Rotating them ensures that this wear is spread over the entire surface of the tire and isn’t concentrated in one spot.
Most manufacturer’s recommend that you rotate your tires every 6,000 miles or twice a year. Proper tire rotation involves moving the back tires to the front in a diagonal pattern and bringing the front tires straight back. For instance, the back passenger tire should be moved to the front driver side, while the back driver tire should be moved to the front passenger side. The front tires are simple moved straight back.
Keep the front end aligned
Bumps, potholes and curbs can cause serious alignment problems. Therefore, it is very important that you have your front end aligned twice a year. However, if you notice the front end shaking, then you will need to have the front alignment of the vehicle serviced sooner. This will not only help with vehicle stability and steering, but also will prevent excessive tire wear.
Keep air condition and heater in good condition
Every month, you should run your air conditioner for at least five minutes. Doing this will keep the air conditioner well lubricated and in good running condition. This will result in a more efficient system when you run it during the summer.
You should also run your heater for five minutes a month. This will not only ensure that everything is running properly, but it will also prevent important components from seizing up.
Don’t ignore service engine light
If your service engine light is on, then you should take your vehicle in for service as soon as possible. Failure to do so can result in expensive repairs or even permanently damage your engine.
Keep your engine cool
Heat is the enemy of your car’s engine. Nothing will cause it to fail faster than overheating. Therefore, it is very important that you look for things that may contribute to excessive heating of the engine.
Overheating of the engine can certainly cause performance issues, but is can also cause excessive wear to the engine, shortening its useful life, or even cause a catastrophic failure of the engine.
Usually an engine begins to overheat because of two problems. One, the engine oil has deteriorated to the point that it isn’t properly lubricating the moving parts and is causing friction. Two, your car’s coolant has degraded to the point where it is no longer doing its job.
The solution for both of these problems is simple. You should check the engine on a regular basis to ensure that it is in good condition. Make sure that you change your oil and oil filter on a regular basis and confirm there aren’t any oil leaks. Next, completely check through your coolant system. You should inspect all radiator and heater hoses and make sure there aren’t any leaks. Also, check your water pump to make sure it is running correctly and isn’t leaking. Finally, make sure that coolant levels are kept at the recommended levels and be sure that you flush your radiator and fill it with clean antifreeze at least every 15,000 miles.
Keep an eye on fill-ups
It is important that you fill your car up with the best possible fuel possible to prevent any future problems with your fuel system. You should also avoid filling up at a gas station that is currently being filled by a tanker. That’s because this process stirs up sediment in the bottom of the gas station’s tanks. Sediment which can then clog your fuel filter or damage your fuel injectors.
Don’t overload your car
Hauling around excess weight in your vehicle not only results in lower fuel efficiency, but also causes your car’s engine to work harder than it should. The EPA estimates that reducing your vehicle’s load by 100 pounds results in an increased fuel efficiency of 1-2%. Therefore, it’s important to remove all non-essential items from your vehicle.
You should also avoid towing cars or other large items such as boats or trailers if you are driving a small or compact car. However, even if you are driving a bigger car or sedan, you should pay attention to the loads you are towing. If you are unsure of what you can and cannot safely tow, then consult your owners manual.
Drive in the correct gear
If you drive a stick or manual transmission, it is important that you drive the vehicle in the correct gear. If you drive in too high of a gear for your speed, then your vehicle will begin to “lug.” This can not only cause vehicle to handle improperly, but it also puts a large amount of strain on your engine.
You should also try to keep engine braking to a minimum. Engine braking involves a downshift from a higher gear to a lower gear and removing your foot from the gas. This is often used to slow down the car without applying the brakes. While this is useful in some situations, it is almost always better to use your brakes, because engine braking puts a strain on your clutch and transmission.
When to use your parking brake
It is recommended that you set your parking brake whenever you have parked the vehicle. This is especially true if you are parked on an incline or hill. If you own a manual transmission car, you should always set your parking brake before you release the service pedal brake. This will keep the vehicle’s weight off of the transmission, and therefore make it easier to pull out of park.
However, if you own an automatic transmission, then you should also set the parking brake to ensure that your vehicle does roll away. It is also important to use your parking brake on a regular basis, whether you own an automatic or manual transmission, to keep it in good working order.
Parking brakes that are used infrequently often develop corrosion and rust on the brake’s cable. This can result in the cable snapping unexpectedly and causing damage to your brake system. Using the parking brake on a regular basis, however, will ensure it stays in good working order.
The only time you shouldn’t set your parking brake is when the weather is cold outside. Cold weather can cause the parking brake to become frozen and fail to release. If that happens, then you will have to wait for it to thaw before you can disengage it or thaw it out with a hair dryer.
You should also never drive with your parking brake engaged. This can cause sever damage to your brake pads and rotors, as well as other parts of the brake system.