Preventing the Summertime Blues

When it comes to automobiles, safety and reliability are the two most important factors for most of us. This is especially true now that spring has arrived and we start planning for summer trips. Some preplanning can lead to peaceful, safe trips. Many people, however, have no idea what to check and what to replace on their car to make this happen. So let’s walk through the process.

Winter always takes a toll on our cars but this past winter has been worse than any I can remember. The ice and cold were brutal which means more things need to be checked and to be checked more carefully than usual.

To assure safe operation start by checking the brake system. This will include having a technician test the brake fluid for moisture content. The test is performed with a tester, which is immersed in the brake fluid at the master cylinder. Using electronic circuitry it measures the percent of moisture in the fluid. If the fluid fails, it will be necessary to flush the brake hydraulic system and install new brake fluid. This operation is vital to safety because excessive moisture can boil during a panic stop leading to momentary brake loss. If you really want the best for your car and yourself, have the brake system flushed once every year.

Next is the physical measurement of the brake pads and shoes as well as a thorough check of the hydraulic parts. Have your technician pay particular attention to the steel brake lines and rubber brake hoses which may have been damaged as a result of the extreme quantities of salt used this winter.

The tires need to be carefully checked for proper wear and pressure. Check the tire sidewalls and tread for signs of cuts that may be the result of ice damage. If the tires haven’t been rotated for a while now is a good time. Have the tires rotated every 6,000 miles to get the best tire wear.

Constant velocity joint boots should be carefully inspected for damage. I’m seeing many damaged boots this year as a result of the ice.

Axle and wheel bearings need to be looked at; again ice and salt may have taken a toll.

Inspection of the exhaust system is definitely recommended. It’s a common misconception that you need to be more careful of exhaust fumes in the winter than in the summer. That was correct before the advent of auto air conditioning because we used to drive with the windows rolled down for ventilation. Today most of us ride with the windows rolled up and the air conditioning turned on which means an exhaust leak can be deadly in the summer too.

Check all lights for proper operation. You should get in the habit of turning the lights on and walking around the car before driving. Only under safe conditions of course!

The car should be run over a “scuff’ gauge to determine if the front end is out of alignment. This is the quickest least expensive way to check alignment.

Fuel lines, hoses and filters need to be looked at. Many late model cars use metal or plastic fuel lines and fuel line fittings which can he damaged by ice and road salt.

The cooling system should be pressure tested for leaks. Check the condition of the radiator hoses, heater hoses and fan belts. These rubber parts typically have a usable safe life expectancy of four years or fifty thousand miles. Have your technician check the pH level of the coolant in your radiator too. The pH should be no lower than 9 if it is have the cooling system flushed and new coolant installed immediately. I recommend yearly flushing of the cooling system to prevent expensive damage.

The battery is another area of concern during hot weather. I recommend you have a heavy load test performed on the battery, which will give you a good idea as to its general condition. Be sure the battery cable connections are clean and tight and are coated with a corrosion preventer. If your battery is at or very near the end of its warranty period, replace it! Most battery manufacturers have a good idea how long their product will last and guess what? It’s usually about to the end of the warranty.

Check the items related to performance. This is best done by having a good technician hook up a diagnostic tester and run the full test on your engine. This will disclose the condition of parts like spark plugs, spark plug wires, distributor cap, distributor rotor, fuel injectors or carburetor plus many other important parts. Look for a highly qualified technician or the results may be marginal. Always select technicians who are ASE certified. In this case the technician should have an ASE engine performance certificate.

A scan of your cars computer system is also a good idea. The scan is easy and inexpensive and will tell the technician if there are any fault codes stored in the computer’s memory. The scan procedure will also let the technician know about the operating condition of the computer sensors. Critical: there is no such thing as a fault code that tells what part is defective it only tells the technician what diagnostic procedure to follow.

Last is a general check of small items such as windshield wiper blades, washer fluid, transmission fluid, etc.

Lubrication of the door weather-stripping will make your car much more enjoyable to drive. It does away with those annoying squeaks that emanate from dry rubber. Use high quality spray silicone from your auto parts store.

By following a good preventive maintenance schedule you will avoid most of those annoying highway problems.

Copyright 05/94 Pat Goss all rights reserved

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