The At-Home Auto Safety Inspection That You Can Perform
By Ken Phipps, Director of Career Services at Lincoln Tech in Denver, CO and ASE-Certified Master Auto Technician
Summer is near and as temperatures rise, we begin to take measures to protect ourselves from the heat. We apply sunscreen, drink copious amounts of water, seek shade when possible, and take frequent breaks when working outside. We should protect our vehicles during the summer with a similar level of concern. By following the recommended maintenance schedule and performing a few simple checks, we can prevent breakdowns and keep cool as we travel or commute.
5 Point Auto Safety Inspection
Performing the following auto safety inspection is a good starting point for keeping our cars running smoothly, all while keeping us happy and healthy throughout the summer. Follow these five simple steps:
- Drive Belts – The drive belts or a serpentine belt are used to turn engine pulleys, which provides power for critical functions like the water pump; this moves coolant through the engine and turns the air conditioning compressor. These keep our cars and us from overheating. There are numerous other accessories driven by these belts as well. If they fail, you will quickly experience overheating and risk serious engine damage. Belts should be checked for cracking, glazing, wear, and proper tensioning on a regular basis.
- Radiator – The radiator provides a large surface area where heat is extracted from the coolant circulating through the engine. It’s location at the front of the vehicle is chosen for maximum airflow across its fins. You should periodically check the fins to make sure they are clear of leaves and debris. Clogging reduces the effectiveness of the radiator and can lead to overheating. This is especially important during warm summer months and when driving speeds are slower due to heavy traffic volume. You should also check the coolant level inside the radiator in addition to the level in the overflow tank. Remember; NEVER remove the radiator cap from a hot engine. You may be seriously injured or burned.
- Radiator Cap – The cooling system is under pressure to increase the boiling point of the coolant contained inside of it. This insures that the maximum amount of heat can be absorbed from the engine without boiling. The radiator cap is designed to vent pressure to the overflow tank at a specific pressure and to allow the vacuum created inside the system to pull coolant from the overflow tank back into the radiator as it cools. To function properly the cap must provide an airtight seal. Radiator caps frequently fail and are often the cause of overheating or leaks. Pressure test the radiator cap using a pressure tester* to compare the result to specifications.
- Filters – The engine oil filter should be changed with every oil change. The engine air filter should also be changed when it shows signs of clogging or as recommended in your owner’s manual. The cabin air filter or “pollen filter” should be changed at least annually. This filter reduces the amount of fine particles from outside air entering the vents when using the climate control system. Have your repair shop spray fungicide into the cabin filter opening after removing the filter to help eliminate odors coming through the vents. This odor might be due to condensation of water on the evaporator fins due to debris blocking the drain underneath the floorboard. This drain should be checked periodically, especially if you are experiencing odor from the vents.
- Tires – We often think of replacing our tires as winter approaches, but worn tires are equally as dangerous in the summer. Severe tread wear can lead to hydroplaning on wet roads and may lead to tire failure in extreme cases. Check the tread depth with a penny. Insert the penny into the tread of the tire. The tread should hide the top of Lincoln’s head down to his nose or you should consider replacing them. You should also check the air pressure regularly. Tires lose air pressure slowly over time even without damage like nail holes. Keeping your tires properly inflated will increase their life as will keeping the wheels properly aligned. Have the suspension checked and aligned each time you replace your tires. You should also have the suspension checked if you experience an off center steering wheel or pulling to one side while driving.
Preventive maintenance is necessary to keep your vehicle running properly. Taking the time to have it inspected and maintained regularly will save you from more costly repairs as your vehicle begins to age. Take good care of it this summer by treating it as another valued member of your family.
*available at your local autoparts store.