Ease road-trip wor­ries with prop­erly main­tained ve­hi­cle

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - JIM KERR

LONG week­ends and sum­mer hol­i­days will soon be upon us. 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 prepa­ra­tion can help pre­vent frus­tra­tion at the side of the road.

There are many rea­sons for break­downs, but over­heated cool­ing sys­tems, burned-out 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, wiper blades, brakes, steer­ing, sus­pen­sion, tires (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 and usu­ally ve­hi­cles over­heat be­cause they have lost their coolant or lost pres­sure in the cool­ing sys­tem. Cool­ing sys­tems are pres­sur­ized 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. Re­move dirt, bugs and leaves that may be block­ing air­flow through the con­denser 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 hol­i­days that much bet­ter.

AP PHOTO/ FORD MO­TOR COM­PANY

Know­ing your ve­hi­cle is in good op­er­at­ing con­di­tion makes en­joy­ing the hol­i­days that much bet­ter.

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