Check That Your Vehicle is Ready for the Highway Before You Embark on Your Summer Vacation
Review the following auto safety checklist before you pack up the family and head off on your next summer adventure
Whether you'll be headed to the beach, the lake, the mountains, or anywhere between, make sure your vehicle is safe and ready to roll this summer before you pack up the family and hit the asphalt. Review the following safety checklist and fix anything the needs fixing. After all, prevention is much easier than dealing with the consequences of an unexpected highway breakdown or even a deadly 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
Improperly tire pressure is the leading cause of tire failure, so the best way to avoid a flat tire or a blowout is to check your vehicle's tire pressures, including the spare, at least once per month. All tires naturally lose some air over time, which means you don't need a puncture to lose pressure. You can find the correct pressure for your tires listed on a label inside the driver's door frame. The correct pressure is NOT the number listed on the tire itself.
To get an accurate tire pressure reading, check the pressure when the tires are cold, meaning the vehicle hasn't been driven for a minimum of three hours. Make sure the tires aren't in direct sunlight, which can artificially inflate your reading. When pumping your tires, it's a good idea to get an inexpensive air pump and do it at home as opposed to driving to a service station since driving more than a mile to inflate your tires will affect the pressure readings.
Take a few 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 vehicle needs an alignment.
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 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.