Back to School Car Care
Back to School season is here and with it a flurry of activity to establish a routine that works with everyone's schedule. Supplies have been bought, clothes tried on and it's time to drive the kids to school each morning.
Back to school commutes also means more drivers on the road with potential traffic slowdowns and mishaps. We can't predict gridlock patterns but you can take care of your vehicle with these maintenance tips.
Batteries should be replaced every three to five years. If your car has trouble starting or the electrical system (headlights, radio, wipers) is on the bum, the battery or alternator could be the problem. You also should look for corrosion or stains on the battery. These are all signs of a leaking battery or evidence it's on its last legs. A battery is vital to keeping your car running. Don't skimp on this essential car part.
Need more money for gas and new tires? Then check your tires every time you fuel up or travel to college. Underinflated tires affect safety and impact fuel economy, and will shorten their life. Check pressure regularly and you'll notice the difference in your debit card. Tip: The correct pressure is shown on a sticker in the driver's side door or glove box and in the owner's manual-not on the tire.
You also need to check tire treads to ensure they have enough life in them. If you see any uneven wear, get them checked as soon as possible before your trip. You must have 2/32-inch tread on the tires, which you can check by placing a penny into several tread grooves across the tire. If part of Lincoln's head is always covered by the tread, you have more than 2/32-inch of tread depth remaining. You must have at least 2/32-inch tread on the tires, although 4/32 inch of tread is even better. To check for 4/32, do the same thing, except use a quarter and see if the tread touches Washington's head. Don't forget to check your spare monthly, too!
Learn to change a flat tire because help might not always be available, especially when commuting back and forth to college. Even with roadside assistance, there might be times when you're too far away or it would take too long for help to arrive. To become a tire changing pro, practice a couple of times in your driveway until you're comfortable with the job. If you have a flat tire, find a safe place to pull completely off the road and turn on your hazard lights. While you might damage your wheel or rim, it's much safer to make your way to a rest area or an exit than working by the side of the highway.
Fluid fill up
Monitoring your car's fluid levels is one of the best things you can do to maintain your vehicle. Your owner's manual outlines the location of each of these fluids, even though most reservoirs are labeled. Make sure the vehicle is parked on a level surface and the engine is cool. (It takes about 8 hours for an engine to completely cool down after a vehicle has been driven.)
Engine oil or transmission fluid is checked with level-indicating dipsticks. Power-steering and brake fluids usually are contained in level-marked reservoirs. When it comes to wiper fluid, just fill it up to the line and check every time you stop at a gas station.
Use extra caution when checking coolant level. Follow the instructions in your owner's manual and adhere to the warning labels under the hood. Ideally, you'll be able to look through the side of the coolant overflow tank and not have to open the tank itself. Never, ever open the radiator cap if the car has been driven within the past several hours. The fluid contained in a radiator can become extremely hot and scald flesh.
While you're under the hood, always check for loose wires or connections, worn or exposed wires, or loose or warped belts. All need to be replaced sooner rather than later.
Accidents happen, but are you prepared? Pack an emergency kit so you're well-prepared for almost anything.
Kit basics include:
• first-aid kit
• warning light
• hazard triangle or flares
• spare fuses
• $20 in small bills and change
• tire-changing jack
• lug wrench
Be sure to have your license, insurance and registration. Also make sure you have the number of your roadside-assistance plan handy.