For many of us our cars can be like a second home, used for many things other than just the daily commute to and from our place of work. We use them as storage space, to keep things like our sports equipment, gym clothes, kids clothes, prams, you name it, we all do it to some level, and why do we keep that stuff in there??? Well its the stuff we regularly use, but how mant of us actually check the car itself to try and minimise the chances of it breaking down and needing to call a tow truck? Here are 5 important summer vehicle checks to help prevent break downs and improve your comfort levels during your time in the car.
1.The Cooling System.
No I don’t mean does the air conditioner work, although that does rate a mention later in the article, I mean the engines cooling system. Now even if you aren’t mechanically minded you should still be able to do some minor checks, such as removing the radiator cap and checking the level and condition of the coolant. The coolant should look clean and have no dirt, rusty water, oil or any other contaminants in the radiator. The colour of the coolant should be a strong looking colour, almost a bit like the look of the good old cordial concentrate, not like the watered down version that we mix up and drink. Come on, who right now has started singing the cottees cordial theme song to themselves, I am. There are commonly 2 different types of cooling systems to check and your vehicle will most likely fall into one or the other, the first being the original type with the radiator pressure cap and filler neck attached to the radiator and a subsequent overflow container nearby. With the radiator pressure cap removed look into the filler neck of the radiator, the coolant level should be right up to the top, if it isn’t, top it up, and then replace the pressure cap. At the same time also check the level in the overflow bottle. They have a Full level mark as well as a Low level mark, or the bottle may even have a dipstick with the same Full and Low level marks on it and ensure that the coolant level is up to the Full mark. The second style of cooling system I will detail is one with a header tank type setup. These have the radiator pressure cap on a remote tank which is joined to the radiator via a set of hoses. These system also have a Full level and a Low level mark, so inspect the level in the same fashion as i mentioned with the overflow bottle and adjust it as necessary.
Two tales of caution that must be adhered to, and the first one is vitally important to your health, DO NOT, i repeat, DO NOT remove the radiator pressure cap if the engine is still hot as there will be still pressure in the cooling system or you WILL get burnt and have a visit to the emergency room. Think of it like the pressure cooker that you use in the kitchen, you wouldn’t open that whilst it had pressure in it so don’t open a radiator pressure cap when the engine is hot. Wait until the morning and check the level before you first start the car for the day.
The other precaution that needs to be adhered to, to avoid a hefty repair bill. DO NOT mix coolants, as there will be a likely chemical reaction between different chemical make ups of the coolants. These chemical reactions can cause damage to the cooling system as well as the engine. Currently there are 3 commonly used coloured coolants on the market, those being, Green, Red and Blue. Each have a different chemical makeup, compared to each other, not to mention the difference between the different coolant manufacturers.
So if you are unsure exactly what is in your cooling system, and if the level is low, top up with plain old tap water. If its is still of a concern to you, give your local garage a visit and ask their advice on what to use.
2. The Battery.
There is nothing more frustrating than being stuck because the battery in your car has failed. Some simple checks you can carry out are as follows. Ensure there is no corrosion on the battery terminals, however if there is, fill up the kettle and put it on to boil, why not make yourself that cup of tea or coffee while you are at it. once it has boiled, and you have filled up your coffee mug, pour the boiling water over the corrosion on the battery and watch it wash away. This will remove the corrosion build up and assist in a better connection between the battery and its terminals.
If the battery is a maintenance free battery, check the condition indicator on the top of the battery and then compare what you see to the label that is attached next to the sight panel, and then take the appropriate action.
If there is a sulphur type, rotten egg smell coming from your battery then avoid driving your car and call your nearest garage, your battery is overheating from over charging, and you have more problems than just a dying battery.
If after your inspection you are still unsure about the condition of your battery, call in and have your battery tested by your local garage/battery dealer. A trusted dealer will only sell you a battery if yours has tested poorly.
Summer can get hot and heat kills batteries, so test your battery before summer and avoid it leaving you hung out to dry.
Tyres are always important, no matter what time of year it is, as they are the only point of contact your vehicle has with the road. A bald tyre can lead to a loss of traction in a number of ways. 1-You try to accelerate away from the traffic lights, however the lack of grip that the tyres produce leave you spinning the wheels and placing you in danger of an accident. 2-Driving down the highway and you enter a bend in the road, yet the poor tyre grip means the car starts sliding and a potential accident may arise. And 3-You are driving down a suburban street and a young boy runs out onto the road, chasing his ball, you react in enough time to stop however the lack of grip from your bald tyres means your wheels lock up causing you to lose control of the vehicle hitting the young boy, causing untold misery and heart ache. A few simple tyre checks can help to avoid those and many other potential incidents.
First start by checking tread depth. Look at the tread and carry out a visual inspection, does it have any wire hanging out? Or is there lots of tread left. If there is wire hanging from the tyre, replace that tyre immediately. To check tread depth look for the Tread Wear Indicators, or TWI for short. Most tyres come with these indicators so use them to take the guess work out of tyre wear inspection. The wear indicators are placed evenly around the tyre and are commonly identified by a Triangle or the letters TWI, although other markers have been used for the same job. These marks line up with the position in the tread that the physical indicators are positioned. If the tread is above these wear markers then, happy days, the tyre is deemed to be in a roadworthy condition. However, if the tread is on or below the wear indicators then the tyres require replacement. Other factors that can prematurely end a tyres life are bulges, splits and cracks. The bigger the crack the more danger it presents.
Lastly tyre pressure. A correctly inflated tyre will not only improve tyre wear, it will also improve tyre safety, longevity of the tyre and prevent premature tyre failure, along with the added benefit of improved fuel economy. So either look into your vehicles owners manual for the correct tyre pressures for your car or alternatively call into your local garage or tyre dealer for the correct tyre pressures, heck they may even offer to carry out all these checks for free for you.
4. Wiper Blades.
You may think it is strange that wiper blades make the summer check list, however here in Australia we can get some pretty extraordinary summer storms which can produce quite a bit of rain, sometimes even flooding, Its crazy i know. Now being caught out in one of these storms can be bad enough let alone trying to drive through one with worn out or damaged wiper blades.
So if your wiper blades leave streaks scratches or completely fails to wipe the windscreen, yes that can happen too, then go down to your local auto store and purchase some replacement wiper blades, hey some stores will even offer to fit them for you for a small fee.
Whilst you are in the windscreen and wiper area, refill your windscreen washer bottle and test your windscreen washers to make sure they squirt sufficient cleaner onto your windscreen. Afterall if you can’t see through your windscreen because of all the bugs and dust on there, then you can’t safely drive down the road.
5. Air Conditioner
Whilst not a safety issue, anyone who has travelled in a car during the hot summer months will know that a nice cold air conditioner is like a gift from god.
So to check the air conditioning system, start the engine, turn the Air Conditioner (A/C) switch on, turn the temperature switch to cold and turn the fan speed on High. If after a couple of minutes the air coming out of the air vents is warm, take your car to your local air conditioning re-gassing agent and have them complete a system test and perform an in depth assessment. From there they will advise you to the next course of action.
Also whilst the fan speed is on high, feel how much air flow is coming out of the air vents. If the fan speed is high and the air flow is low then you may have a blocked Cabin Filter. Generally, but not always, the Cabin Filter is located behind the glovebox. Replace that blocked up Cabin Filter and feel the difference to the air conditioning, it may surprise you.
These are only a few of a number of checks that can not only improve vehicle safety but also occupant comfort. Keep following my blog, Facebook page and Instagram pages for more vehicle maintenance tips, stories, reviews and photos. Join me as i explore our backyard.