Check your car before vacation

Several aspects of the car's engine should be checked before a long road trip. AP
Several aspects of the car's engine should be checked before a long road trip. AP
Posted: June 15, 2014

With the school year walking offstage and summer waiting in the wings, a family's fancy turns to vacations - and the driving that usually takes a supporting role.

There are ways to make that vacation driving safer, less susceptible to breakdowns, more convenient and cheaper. Let's explore them. First, we'll look at the vehicle safety checks to be done by you and/or your automotive technician:

Tires. You should check tire pressure before you leave, because of the crucial role it plays in tire safety, performance and longevity. Improper inflation can degrade handling and braking. Under-inflation increases the chances of a blow-out by boosting tire heat and the resultant stress, which has already been exacerbated by vacation driving's abnormal loads, summer temperatures, and highway speeds. It also hurts fuel economy and causes excessive wear on the outside edge of the tread. Over-inflation prompts excessive wear at the tread's center and makes the vehicle ride harder.

Also, check the tire sidewalls for cuts, cracks and bulges. Check the treads for damage and wear. You can gauge wear by comparing the tread depth with the intersecting wear bars. If the tread has worn down even with the wear bars, that tire should be replaced.

If you will be loading the vehicle heavily, add two or three pounds to the recommended tire pressure.

Suspension and steering systems. We're looking for excessive wear in crucial suspension joints and the steering system's tie-rod ends, components whose failure could prove quite dangerous. This check should be done by a professional.

Exhaust system. The entire system, including the header pipe, catalytic converter, muffler and tailpipe ought to be checked out. We don't want this plumbing leaking carbon monoxide into the cabin.

Here are some breakdown-fighting checks to make:

Cooling system. The radiator hoses should be examined for leaks and signs of weakness such as bulges and flabbiness. Check the hose connections with the engine and radiator, as well as the radiator itself, for evidence of leakage. Also, look over the heater hoses.

Engine belts. If your car isn't equipped with a belt-tensioning device, the belt should be checked for proper tension, as well as for cracks and tears.

Battery. Your battery's health should be evaluated with a cell tester. But even if it passes the exam, I would consider replacing it before a long summer trip if it's in the neighborhood of four years old. Squeezing a little more use out of an aging battery just isn't worth the possible vacation aggravation.

Engine filters. If you aren't sure whether your air and fuel filters are within their recommended lifetimes, I would replace them. A clogged fuel filter will shut off your engine. A dirty air filter will hurt fuel economy and make your car run poorly.

Fluids. Check the fluid levels in the brake and cooling systems, as well as the level of the engine oil and the windshield washer reservoir.

Some towing tips:

Before loading the trailer, check out its lights, connections and tires.

If you got a big trailer for a big job, make sure the side mirrors extend out far enough that you can see past the trailer.

Make sure your trailer and towing system comply with the laws in the states you will visit.

Know the weight of the loaded trailer and whether it is within the recommended maximum for gross trailer weight and tongue weight.

Also, keep in mind that there are free phone apps that can provide you with savings and convenience. Apps such as GasBuddy will tell you where to get the cheapest gas. If your car doesn't have a navigation system, you can choose from over 250 GPS apps at Google Play Store or the Apple Store.

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