July 14, 2016
Summertime means road trip time, but before you jump in the car, you’ll want to be sure it’s in tip-top shape. A minor car problem can turn into a major car problem after driving hundreds of miles—so check it out now, before it becomes a vacation-destroying disaster.
Even if you are not mechanically inclined, there are a few basic things you can check to see if your car is ready for the open road. Some are easy DIY fixes, but, depending on your car knowledge, others are best handled by a mechanic. Let’s walk through them.
Read your manual
Though it isn’t a fun summer read, your first stop should be your car’s owner manual. (If you can’t find it, you should be able to look it up online by searching for the make and model.) While there are some maintenance tips that are valid for almost any car, your manual will provide the exact details on how to maintain your car.
What you’re looking for is a maintenance schedule listing how often you should replace specific parts or perform specific types of maintenance. If you’re having trouble finding it in your manual, you can also look it up on Edmunds. Though it sounds like a chore, doing these basic maintenance tasks can save you breakdowns and big repair bills. If you don’t remember when you last did some of these maintenance tasks, it’s probably time to do them again. If you have not done so in the past, this would be a great opportunity to start keeping a maintenance record.
Change your oil
Most cars recommend getting an oil change every three months or 3,000 miles—and most oil change shops will put a sticker on your windshield so you don’t forget to come back. If it’s past time to change your oil, now is a good idea to do it before you hit the road. If you take it to a mechanic, they may suggest some other routine maintenance at the same time. It’s easy to be upsold here—especially if you are not a car expert—but knowing your car’s maintenance schedule will help you know what you really need right now.
Check your fluid levels
You may not feel confident changing every fluid your car needs, but you don’t need to be an auto expert to check fluid levels. You can check most by pulling out a dipstick in the fluid container, then look to see if the fluid is near the FULL line. If the fluid is low, then it’s time to replenish it.
Other fluids may be in a container that you can visually inspect to see fluid levels. Again, check your manual to see what’s where, how to check it, and what the right levels are. Especially important for summer is your engine coolant. This keeps your engine cool in the heat, and you want to be sure you’ve topped it off before you tackle any summer driving.
Some of these fluids—like wiper fluid—are as easy to replace. Others—like oil—are a little more complicated and you’re likely to want a professional to handle them for you.
Replace your wipers
No, really! It may seem like a minor thing, but if your wipers are streaking your windshield, it’s time to replace them. If you get caught in a rainstorm during your travels, you’ll want to be able to see, which is all about having good windshield wipers. You can pick up new wipers at any auto store and many big box stores, and they’re simple to replace—check for instructions in your car manual or on the wiper box.
Make sure your tires are ready to roll
Before doing any serious driving, you’ll want to check your tires’ inflation and wear. When the car is cold, check the air pressure in each tire with a gauge. Compare that to what the manual says is the appropriate pressure. If it’s too low, add air to your tires. If you don’t have access to an air compressor, many gas stations have coin-operated compressors for easy top-offs.
You’ll also want to give your tires a physical inspection. Is the tread worn? That typically is a sign that your tires need replacing. If the tread is unevenly worn from tire to tire, that could be a sign that your tires are out of alignment, as well. If your tires are out of alignment, you’re likely to feel the car pulling to the left or the right when you drive. Whether it’s just a single worn tire or the whole set, take your car to a shop to see if it’s time to replace them, rotate them, or balance them.
On top of improving car safety, having properly inflated and balanced tires means better gas mileage—which means more cash to apply towards fun rather than fuel.
Does anything feel off?
If there’s anything that’s just been bothering you about how the car drives—maybe the brake pedal feels a little squishy or there’s an odd sound—it’s best to take the car to a mechanic before your road trip. A mechanic can be an expensive fix, but it’s better than having an accident on the road.
Is it time to buy a new car?
At some point there’s no amount of maintenance that will get your old car ready to tackle the next summer road trip. When that happens, it’s time to think about upgrading to your next vehicle—and PenFed can help.