Summer is but a memory now, but for those that take advantage of it, Fall can be the best time of year to travel. It avoids the summer rush and warm fall days, drier weather and good road conditions add to our enjoyment. Whether you are travelling across the continent or just around the neighbourhood, the last thing anyone wants or needs is vehicle trouble on the road. A little pre-trip preparation can help prevent frustration at the side of the road.
There are many reasons for breakdowns, but overheated cooling systems, burned transmissions, and tire problems are the more common reasons vehicles become stranded. A few simple inspections can locate many potential problems. Some are easily done by vehicle owners, such as checking engine oil, and tire pressure. Others take longer, such as checking the brakes or inspecting exhaust systems. Many repair shops offer a vehicle inspection service, where experienced personnel know what and how to inspect.
When performing a vehicle inspection, the vehicle checks can be grouped into three areas: problems that affect safety, problems that could stop the vehicle from working or damage it, and problems that are inconvenient. Safety checks include lights operation, wiper blades, brakes, steering, suspension, tire wear and pressure, and exhaust system integrity.
Low tire pressure or a damaged tire could cause a blowout. Tires need to be inspected carefully, including the spare. Tires with less than 4/32 inch tread depth can aquaplane on wet roads, so worn tires should be replaced.
A vehicle’s brakes may work fine until you need them the most – a panic stop. Cracked brake hoses can rupture. Grabbing brakes can cause the vehicle to dart to one side or even lose control. All brake components must be inspected thoroughly. After having your vehicle inspected, be sure to have safety-related problems repaired before travelling.
Many problems will stop a vehicle from operating, but a broken engine timing belt can cause extensive engine damage. Timing belts are much more difficult to inspect compared to other drive belts, so they should always be changed at the intervals shown in the owner’s manual. Very small oil leaks are usually only inconvenient – they make a mess but do little damage if the oil level is checked regularly. However, even the smallest oil leaks can be disastrous if the oil is leaking on a timing belt. Oil destroys timing belts, so these leaks should be fixed immediately.
During a vehicle inspection, all fluid levels on the vehicle should be checked. Low coolant can cause engine overheating, but many vehicles overheat because they have lost their coolant or lost pressure in the cooling system. Cooling systems are pressurised to increase the coolant boiling point. Even a small leak can cause overheating in hot weather. Heater and coolant hoses may have chaffed where they contact other parts. Hoses tend to flex and crack at their ends where they make connections. Sometimes these weak spots can be repaired by simply shortening the hose slightly, but usually a new hose is required.
Transmission problems can sometimes be identified by looking at the oil. Very dark brown oil, usually accompanied by a burnt smell indicates the oil has been overheated and should be changed. Metal or fibre particles in the oil indicate transmission damage has already occurred. Most vehicles do not require regular transmission oil changes unless there is a problem, but vehicles used to tow medium to large trailers should have the oil changed every towing season. Towing heats the transmission oil much hotter, so installing an auxiliary transmission cooler helps protect the transmission.
Some vehicle options, such as power door locks, are inconvenient if they don’t work, but detract very little from the fun of a well-planned trip. Other options, such as air conditioning, can make the difference between relaxed touring and frustration. Clean dirt, summer bugs, and Fall’s leaves that may be blocking airflow through the condensor and radiator to prevent overheating. The compressor drive belt should be inspected for wear, and many newer vehicles have a/c dust and pollen filters that may need changing.
Preparing your vehicle for travel by getting it inspected and having preventative maintenance done allows you to schedule required repairs at your convenience in a local repair shop that wants your business again. Knowing your vehicle is in good operating condition makes enjoying the beauty of Fall days that much better.