Review the following auto safety checklist before you pack up the family and head off on your summer adventure
There are many great things about summer—but few can match the fun of a family vacation or road trip.
Whether you're headed to the beach, the lake, the mountains, or beyond—the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to make certain that your vehicle is safe and ready to roll this summer!
Before you pack up the family and hit the road, take the time to review the following safety checklist. After all, prevention and planning are much easier than dealing with the consequences of a breakdown, or worse, a highway crash.
Vehicle Safety Checklist: Check Before You Go!
- Tires — Air Pressure, Tread Wear, Spare
- Belts and Hoses — Condition and Fittings
- Wiper Blades — Wear and Tear On Both Sides
- Cooling System — Needed Servicing and Coolant Level
- Fluid Levels — Oil, Brake, Transmission, Power Steering, Coolant, and Windshield Washer Fluids
- Lights — Headlights, Brake Lights, Turn Signals, Emergency Flashers, Interior Lights, and Trailer Lights
- Air Conditioning — Check Performance Before Traveling
The best way to avoid a flat tire or an even more frightening experience--a blowout--is to check your vehicle's tire pressure at least once a month, including your spare. A tire doesn't have to be punctured to lose air. All tires naturally lose some air over time. In fact, under-inflation is the leading cause of tire failure.
If your vehicle is a truck, van, or SUV, monitoring your tire pressure is critical to your safety. These vehicles have higher centers of gravity and are more prone to rollover than cars when their tires fail. If your vehicle and/or its tires are older, you need to exercise special care with regard to tire inflation and tire condition (including worn out treads or obvious damage), particularly in warm weather.
When towing a trailer, remember that some of the weight of the loaded trailer is transferred to the towing vehicle. If you are towing, make sure you inflate your tires to the recommended pressure. You can check the tire information placard or your owner's manual for the maximum recommended load for the vehicle, and the correct tire pressure.
Check the air pressure in all your tires, including the spare. To get an accurate reading, check pressure when tires are cold, meaning they haven't been driven on for at least three hours. It's a good idea to keep a tire pressure gauge on hand in your vehicle for this purpose. You can find the correct pressure for your tires listed on a label inside the driver's door frame or in the vehicle owner's manual — the correct pressure is NOT the number listed on the tire itself.
Also, take five minutes to inspect your tires for signs of excessive or irregular wear. If the tread is worn down to 1/16 of an inch, it's time to replace your tires. If you find irregular tread wear patterns, it means your tires need rotation and/or your wheels need to be realigned before you leave. For more information on tire safety and pressure, visit the "Tires" section of SaferCar.gov, a vehicle safety resource from NHTSA.
Look under the hood and inspect all belts and hoses to make sure they are in good shape with no signs of deterioration, blisters, cracks, or cuts in the rubber. High summer temperatures accelerate the rate at which rubber belts and hoses degrade, so it's best to replace them now if they show signs of obvious wear. While you're at it, check all hose connections to make sure they're secure. You don't want a hose to blow off while cruising down the highway.
After the heavy toll imposed by winter storms and spring rains, windshield wipers are likely to be ragged from use and ready to be replaced. Like rubber belts and hoses, wiper blades are susceptible to the summer heat. Examine your blades for signs of wear and tear. If they aren't in tip-top condition, invest in new ones.
Carefully check your coolant level to make sure it's adequate. In addition, if it's time to have your cooling system flushed and refilled (or even nearly time), have it done now. On a long road trip in summer heat, you'll want your cooling system functioning at peak performance to avoid the possibility of your engine overheating.
Obviously, you'll want to check your vehicle's oil level. And as with coolant, if it's time or even nearly time to have the oil changed, now would be a good time to do it. In addition, check the following fluid levels: brake, automatic transmission, power steering, windshield washer, and coolant. Make sure each reservoir is full and if you see any sign of fluid leakage, take your vehicle in to be serviced.
See and be seen! Make sure all the lights on your vehicle are in working order and make any needed repairs before you hit the road. Check your headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers, and interior lights. Are you planning on towing a trailer? Be sure to check your trailer lights, including the brake lights and turn signals. Failure of trailer light connections is a common problem and a serious safety hazard.
If you're traveling with someone sensitive to heat, you may also want to make sure that your air conditioning system is functioning properly. Lack of air conditioning on a hot summer day affects people who are in poor health or are sensitive to heat--such as children and seniors--more than the rest of us.
If the air conditioning in your vehicle is not blowing enough cold air, have the system repaired before you go. Emergency on-the-road repairs can be more costly than those you plan in advance.
It's easy to test your air conditioning with a thermometer. You may even purchase an inexpensive automotive air conditioning thermometer with a convenient clip that can mount in the air conditioning vent. Your vehicle will blow warmer air when idling, but the temperature should improve with speed. Consider having your air conditioning serviced if it blows at a temperature higher than 42 degrees.
Be safe and have a great summer!