With the kids out of school and the sun finally coming out, a lot of us feel like hitting the road. Summer is the ideal season for a little adventure, whether it's just a few hours away to the cabin near the lake or a day-long trip to the beach. However, if you are planning a road trip, make sure to take all the necessary precautions with your vehicle: it's better to be safe than sorry. Because we want to help you have an amazing time, we came up with a few tips on how to properly prepare your car before you leave home.
If you're aware that your vehicle needs an oil change, better wipers, a replacement light bulb or a new windshield, do not wait until the last minute to fix the situation. If one of the warning lights on your dashboard is on or if you are uncertain about the condition of your vehicle, ask for a complete diagnosis at your favorite garage. Otherwise, following these few tips should guarantee you a comfortable trip!
1. Check your vehicle's fluid levels
As you probably know, your vehicle's fluids are necessary for it to function properly. Moreover, maintaining all of them at the required level will extend your car's life and help you save on fuel. Therefore, it's in your best interest to verify the level of each liquid: the engine oil, the cooling fluid, the power steering fluid, the brake fluid and the windshield washer. To proceed, park your vehicle on level ground and wait until the engine cools down. If you have doubts regarding the location of the reservoirs, check your owner's manual.
Engine oil acts as a lubricant; it is absolutely essential to your vehicle's survival. To check the level, remove the dipstick and wipe it with a cloth. Put it back into its tube and pull it back out again to see where the oil is on the end. If the need be, add some oil. But be careful not to exceed the maximum level. If the liquid is black, grainy or under the required level, schedule an appointment with your mechanic.
Cooling liquid (also called radiator fluid) absorbs the heat produced by the engine and dissipates it through the radiator. Driving with an insufficient level of coolant would cause the engine to overheat. Note that it is crucial for your safety that you wait until the engine is cold before you proceed to the verification. If there is not enough fluid in the reservoir, add some. If the liquid is under the minimum level or if you suspect that there is a leak, pay a visit to your mechanic.
Power steering fluid allows you to easily turn the steering wheel; if you're having a difficult time manipulating it, it is likely that the fluid level is too low. Refer to your owner's manual to find the reservoir since its location varies from one vehicle to another. Before you add fluid, check its color; it should be light pink or orange. If it is dark, schedule an appointment with your preferred mechanic.
If the brake fluid level is somewhere between the maximum and the minimum, you are good to go! But if it is under the minimum level or if it's black or brown, you're in trouble! There could be a leak in the reservoir or excessive dirt in the liquid. Call your mechanic!
If you hear unusual noise or have a hard time shifting gears, give your vehicle's transmission fluid some attention. The location of the reservoir and the verification process depends on the car model; in certain cases, only a professional can check the fluid. We suggest you refer to your owner's manual before you do anything.
Last but not least, the windshield washer fluid. Although it has no direct influence on the performance of your vehicle, it is absolutely essential to safe driving. Before you leave home, don't forget to fill up the reservoir!
2. Inspect Your Tires
For your own comfort, security and for fuel efficiency, it is imperative that you check the pressure of your tires before you hit the road. Overinflated tires reduce the quality of handling and traction; underinflated tires cause unstable driving, increase fuel consumption and could explode. Either way, inadequate air pressure leads to premature and uneven wear. Previous to your journey, make sure that your tires are in good shape by measuring their tread. If it is less than 1.6 mm thick, it's time to replace your tires.
3. Make Sure Your Brakes Are in Good Condition
Although you can superficially check your brakes on your own, we suggest you schedule an appointment with your mechanic for a thorough inspection of your braking system. Needless to say that excessively worn brakes are a threat to your safety on the road.
4. Change Your Air Filters If Necessary
Your vehicle is equipped with two air filters: one in the cabin and one for the engine. The first one cleans the air you breathe when the engine is on. In most vehicles, it's easily accessible under the glove compartment. The second air filter has a significant influence on your vehicle's performance and fuel consumption. It is located under the hood in a rectangular box equipped with a large plastic hose.
In theory, these filters (that cost from $15 to $30) should be replaced every year. If they are opaque, it's time to change them. If you're not comfortable changing the filters yourself, ask your mechanic!
5. In Your Vehicle, Make Sure You Have:
- your owner's manual,
- your papers (driver's licence, registration, insurance, passport, etc.),
- a spare tire,
- booster cables,
- a GPS or road maps,
- a first-aid kit.
And that's it! You're ready to go!