Planning a road trip anytime soon? Whether you plan driving to the next state or the other side of town, keeping your vehicle maintained for any trip is essential. No driver wants a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Pushing your car to the gas station is never a fun time. Regularly checking and maintaining your vehicle is crucial to its longevity and your peace of mind.
Your car is a machine and every machine needs maintenance. All of its parts and pieces work together so you can get to your destination safely. It deserves all the attention and care that you can give which includes cleaning it, tuning up, and testing various fluids, parts, and systems regularly.
Don’t wait for your next road trip to have your car checked – you should do it as often as possible. There will be times when your mechanic is not available or when you cannot go to the shop for some reason. Such situations shouldn’t be a problem, though, because you can always perform a DIY maintenance check on your car. All you need is to know what to do or where to look.
Take Note of the Warning Lights
The first thing that you should check is the warning lights on your dashboard. Pay close attention when you turn the ignition on; the lights will flash for a few seconds. If any of the warning lights don’t flash, this can mean that there’s something wrong with your car, specifically in the electrical system.
If there is something wrong with the electrical system, you won’t be able to receive any warning if other parts of your vehicle need to be fixed.
Problems like this merit the attention of a mechanic so the issue can be taken care of right away.
Pay Attention to the User’s Manual
Most people only scan through the owner’s manual, not really reading or understanding anything. You shouldn’t. Read the manual from page to page. Understand every word that you read, and eventually, the information will be useful to you.
Try to find the section that provides information about maintenance – the schedule and intervals, the parts and items you need to check, and other recommendations the manufacturer has written to ensure maximum vehicle performance.
Check your Tires
Your tires are essential because they help keep your car on the road. If you neglect your tires, sooner or later, you may find yourself in the middle of the road, contemplating what to do with a blown tire.
Pay attention to tire pressure (how much air is in your tire) and the wear patterns on the edges.
If you want to know if your tires are underinflated, use a gauge to check their pressure. If you don’t have one, easily find buy one in a parts store or service station.
Most user manuals specify the required tire pressure; other manufacturers indicate the information on the door jamb of the driver’s side.
Check your Battery
Battery health is vital if you want to ensure that your car remains in good condition. A fully-charged battery is especially important if you travel long distances from time to time. As such, you should find time to test your battery regularly.
Use a battery tester or volt meter to check the health of your car battery. You can also use it to check the charging system and alternator. All you need to do is attach a wire on the negative terminal and another wire on the positive terminal, and the tester will give you your battery’s voltage.
Aside from performing a test, ensure that your battery’s terminals are corrosion-free. If there is any crud, find a clean wire brush, mix a little baking soda with water, and use this solution to clean the buildup on the terminals.
Pay Attention to your Brakes
Ensuring that your brakes are functioning correctly is not only good for your car, but it is safe for you as well. Always pay attention to how your brakes feel and sound every time you use your car.
If you hear some grinding, it might mean rust is on your brake rotors or some other issue. Remember, grinding is never good and you should get those brakes checked immediately. Same goes for the following brake issues:
- A squealing sound may indicate the brakes are worn out.
- A rattling sound likely means you have a rotor issue.
- An unresponsive brake with intermittent sounds may be caused by brake fade as a result of overheating. This is something that you cannot DIY, so it will need the attention of a mechanic or car specialist.
Check the Motor Oil and other Fluids
Your motor oil is your car’s lubricant, so it plays a significant part in ensuring that all parts work together without any issues. As such, you have to check your oil regularly and have it changed according to schedule. Also, low oil levels can be dangerous for your car engine and may even cause a breakdown, so you need to top up whenever necessary.
Aside from the motor oil, pay attention to other fluids as well. The transmission fluid, windshield washer fluid, brake fluid, and power steering fluid must also be checked regularly. Use the indicated dipstick for checking the motor oil and transmission fluid.
For the other fluids, remove their covers and do a visual inspection. Don’t forget to take note of their fill lines.
It’s also good to check under the car to determine if there are leaks, which are indicators of possibly serious problems.
Lastly, you can also find instructions and suggestions in the user’s manual.
These are just the basic DIY checks you can do for your car. If you want a complete and professional assessment, and if you want to make sure that your car remains in excellent condition throughout the year (not just when you’re traveling far), find an experienced mechanic.
Lauren Bricks is the Content Specialist for Streetfighter Motorsports LLC, a family-operated car audio and accessory installation, sales and customization facility located in Phoenix, Arizona. She loves cars and although she spends much of her week writing about them, she still finds the time to hop onto the second-hand Corvette convertible her dad gave her for her 25th birthday and drive to the countryside with the top down.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.