Taking a road trip can be an unforgettable experience, but failing to perform a proper vehicle inspection before leaving can quickly turn what should have been a pleasurable experience into an unmitigated disaster. Here is how to prevent that happening to you.
Light the way
If you don't often drive at night, you may not have noticed that your headlights are not as bright as they used to be. Any vehicle inspection should always include a check on the condition of the head light lenses, since the lenses become clouded and pitted over time. If your headlight lenses are in a less than perfect condition replace them, and have the focus adjusted to make sure you can see what's ahead of at all times.
Keep the engine cool
As with head lights, a vehicle inspection must include a proper inspection of the engine cooling system. Cooling system problems are the second biggest cause of road side breakdowns, so make sure that the coolant contains fresh anti-freeze, that the coolant level is up to the mark, and that there are no fluid leaks anywhere in the cooling system. Repair all leaks well before departure to give you enough time to confirm that repairs had been successful.
Service now, rather than later
Schedule a multi-point vehicle inspection before you leave. This type of vehicle inspection can uncover multitude of defects, or issues that you may not have been aware of, and if you have the vehicle inspection done early enough, you can get all faults repaired in good time. Choose a vehicle inspection plan that includes checks on the following as a minimum;
- suspension rubbers/bushings
- condition of the shock absorbers
- all hoses
- all drive belts
- wipers and windshield washer
- battery/charging system
- brakes- including the parking brake
If your vehicle is nearly due for and oil change, you may as well have it done during the vehicle inspection. There is no harm in changing the oil and oil filter a few hundred miles early; moreover, you will have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your engine is lubricated with fresh oil.
Check the electronics
Not all fault conditions will trigger a warning light on the first failure, which makes it very important that the vehicle inspection includes a thorough diagnostic check, since some fault conditions only become apparent after several fault cycles. In these cases, the fault may be stored as a pending code, which means that the fault can become active at any time. Be aware that some pending trouble codes can immobilize, or seriously affect the drivability of a vehicle when they become active, so schedule a diagnostic check-up for your vehicle to make sure that this does not happen to you.
Check the rubber
Of course, no vehicle inspection can be complete without a thorough inspection of the tires, including the spare tire. Just checking the outside of the tires is not good enough; have the wheels removed from the car to properly inspect the inside sidewalls for signs of damage like cuts, bulging, or tread separation on the shoulders.
Also, be sure to check the tread depth, but make sure that the tread is evenly worn over the entire width of all the tires. Uneven tire wear is a sure sign that something is out of alignment, bent, worn, or broken. Replace all tires that are not in perfect condition, and rotate the tires to make sure that all tires share the load equally.
Service the transmission
Your transmission may be working fine, but bear in mind that your vehicle will be a lot heavier on the road trip that it normally is just driving to work and back. Many transmissions develop issues when the load suddenly changes, so your vehicle inspection MUST include a transmission check and/or service, and especially if you are going to be towing a boat or trailer. However, do NOT ask for a transmission flush- many manufacturers prohibit flushing because the process has the potential to cause more problems than it is supposed to solve.
As a final item during your vehicle inspection, make sure that you have some emergency supplies such as the following:
- spare headlight bulbs
- spare bulbs for other exterior lights
- spare fuses
- some basic tools
- jack, and lug wrench
- first aid kit
- reflective vest (to make you visible) if you need to stop at night
- one or two blankets
- flashlight and spare batteries
- bottled water and snacks
- contact details for your dealer and insurance company.
Being prepared can mean the difference between an enjoyable, trouble-free experience and an expensive nightmare that you will never forget. So spend some time and money on a proper vehicle inspection to ensure that you arrive at your destination safely, and that you make it back home in one piece.