Too often, we take for granted that our automobiles will always get us where we need to go. However, cars are like people - they need regular check-ups and routine maintenance if we want them to remain reliable and productive for many years.
Whether it's in your own driveway or late at night in an unfamiliar town, there is never a convenient time for your car to break down. A broken-down car can delay a family vacation and add expensive repairs to your budgeted trip. Taking a little time to perform necessary maintenance before you leave will save you money, time, and aggravation.
Some repairs and maintenance may be covered under your warranty. Be sure to read your driver's manual or contact your car dealership. Other repairs or maintenance can be done at local car care centers. Check the newspapers and websites for money-saving coupons and special deals.
If your headlights or taillights are not illuminated, other drivers can't see you, often until it's too late. Check regularly that your brake lights, turn signals, and headlights are all in working order. Be sure to turn your headlights on at dusk and in inclement weather. If a light appears to be burned out, check the fuses first before buying a replacement bulb.
The entire brake system should be inspected once a year. If it's been more than a year, ask your local car care center to look them over before you leave on vacation. Most centers do not charge for the inspection, only if they perform the repairs.
Belts and Hoses
Your car's belts and hoses are made of rubber, and overtime, the rubber can crack and break. If you notice any cracks or inconsistencies or hear squeaking noises, take your car in immediately for service. Even if you are not having problems, your car's belts should be replaced at regular intervals to prevent engine damage. Check your owner's manual for a maintenance schedule.
If your battery is more than three years old, it may be time to replace it. Before leaving on your trip, check to make sure all the connections are secure and free of corrosion. Be prepared for an emergency and always carry a set of jumper cables in your trunk. When exiting your car, make sure all interior and exterior lights are turned off.
Windshield Wipers and Fluid
Too often, it isn't until we find ourselves traveling in a rainstorm or snowstorm that we realize we need new windshield wipers! Wipers should be replaced at least every six months. If you notice smearing or streaking on your windshield, you should replace them sooner. Check your fluid level at least once a month, more if you find yourself using the washer fluid often. Never use water, only designated windshield washer fluid.
Fluids, like the power steering fluid, antifreeze, automatic transmission fluids, cooling system, and engine oil need to be replaced at regular intervals. Each of these varies depending on your car’s make, model, and year. Check your owner's manual for your car's schedule. Your car will last much longer and be more dependable if you consistently change the fluids as directed.
Suspension and Shocks
If you plan to haul something behind your automobile or carry an extra heavy load, be sure that your car can handle the extra load.
If you live in a northern state and plan to travel south during the cold months, make sure your air conditioning works before you leave. Although it may be cold up north, the last thing you want is to have no relief from the southern heat!
Check your tires regularly for uneven wear patterns, cracks, tears, and worndown treads. Don't take any chances - replace the tires immediately if you notice any of these irregularities. Refer to your owner's manual for the correct air pressure and check it at least every three months. Don't forget the spare tire! Inspect it regularly too and add air pressure as needed.
Download and print our "Call 911" sign and keep several copies in each of your cars. In the unfortunate event that your car does break down or you are having a medical emergency, and you do not have access to a cell phone, post the sign on at least one of your car windows, and lock your doors. This will let passing motorists and emergency vehicles know that you are in need of assistance. If a passing motorist stops, do not open your car door or window and most importantly, never leave with a stranger. Ask the person to call 911 for you.