By Jim Kerr
Soon, school will be out and families across the country will be travelling for their holidays. Already, the highways are noticeably busier with weekend traffic to the lakes and campgrounds. For most, a trip to the cottage or to see new sights will be a happy and enjoyable experience, but for some, vehicle problems on the road will interrupt travel plans or even cancel them completely. Here are a few tips to help prevent vehicle problems during your travels.
Checking tire pressures once every two weeks is often enough when near home, but if you are driving long distances, check them every day. A tire that is suddenly lower in pressure may have been damaged or picked up a nail. Often, you can detect a problem before the tire goes flat. Then you can drive slowly to a local repair shop rather than changing the tire on the side of the road.
Keeping your tires at the recommended pressures will increase tread life and decrease rolling resistance of the tire. Lower rolling resistance pays off in better fuel economy. The tire pressures recommended for your vehicle should be listed on a decal usually found in the glove compartment or on the driver’s door post and in the vehicle owner’s manual. Don’t forget to check the spare when you test the other tires. A flat spare tire is worthless. Inspect the tire tread while you are checking the pressure. Tires should be worn evenly across the tread surface but the outside edges of the front tires tend to wear faster due to cornering forces put on them. This is especially true of front wheel drive vehicles. Uneven tire wear indicates the need for a wheel alignment. If you see bands of solid rubber (tread wear indicator) going across the tread of the tire, then the tires are due for replacement. There is only 2 millimeters of tread remaining. Tires with this little tread can aquaplane easily on wet roads, so slow down or get new tires to prevent sliding out of control.
Next, check all the fluid levels. If there is coolant showing in the radiator overflow tank, then the radiator should be full. Never remove a radiator cap while an engine is hot because the coolant may boil when the pressure is released causing serious burns to anybody nearby. Look at radiator and heater hoses for any spots that may have been rubbing and wearing against another part. This could cause the hose to burst suddenly in the middle of nowhere. Look at hose connections for cracks or soft spots. This is the area most hoses fail, so if they look poor, have the hose replaced. Many of the vehicles that have problems on the road are due to overheating or loss of engine coolant.
Engine oil should be checked every day, preferably every fuel stop. Internal engine problems such as worn, sticking, or broken piston rings may not cause the engine to use much oil when driving around town, but can cause oil to be used quickly when driving on the highway. If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself driving a vehicle that uses oil quickly, check for leaks beneath the vehicle and have serious ones repaired. If the engine leaks one drop of oil every kilometer, the engine could run dangerously low on oil in less than a few hundred kilometers. Avoid internal engine repairs while travelling unless absolutely necessary. Even an engine that uses a lot of oil can be pampered enough to get you home. Slow down, check the oil every hundred kilometres, and carry extra oil with you. The cost of the oil used will be far less than the money you can save on repairs when you have the time to shop around at home.
Pull the automatic transmission dipstick out and check the transmission oil for particles or a burnt odour a few days before leaving on holidays. If you find any, take it to a transmission specialist for further diagnosis. By removing the pan and filter, they can often diagnose future transmission problems by the amount and type of debris found. It is cheaper to get it fixed at home than on the road.
Don’t forget other fluid levels such as the power steering, windshield washer, and brake fluid in the master cylinder. Low brake fluid levels may indicate a leak or worn brake pads. Don’t take a chance on your brakes. Some shops will do a free inspection. Any problems they find could save your life. If you inspect the brakes yourself, pay extra attention to the brake hose condition. Cracks or checks on the hose can indicate a potential brake hose failure. Don’t take chances – replace them.
Repair shops are busy and it may take a long time to get emergency repairs done. Checking your vehicle over before you travel will help you enjoy the most of your holidays.