Road trips to the beach, mountains, desert, or popular American cities present opportunities to see the country, catch up on the radio's top tunes, and bond with family or friends. But they can also be a strain on vehicles that are not properly prepared for such trips. Car trouble due to neglected preventive maintenance can add unexpected expense to and deduct valuable time from vacations, often bringing a getaway to an abrupt and undesirable end.
A long, sustained drive, coupled with the severe environmental conditions of popular summertime destinations, can be a recipe for disaster if a car is not checked out in advance. Simple preventive measures, such as having the oil changed, properly inflating the tires, and checking the cooling system, can prevent unnecessary breakdowns that can ruin a vacation. And, because well-maintained vehicles are more fuel-efficient, basic pre-trip checks can also keep vacation expenses down.
Different types of climates and road conditions affect a vehicle's operation in particular ways. So, depending on if it's a drive to the beach, mountains, desert or a major city, there are specific things motorists should do to condition their cars.
Level terrain and warm temperatures in most coastal areas provide a smooth, low-stress, fuel-efficient cruise to the shoreline. However, salty sea air and sun-drenched roads require that some special attention be paid to the vehicle.
Wash and wax the vehicle with a protective product to guard the finish, which can fade and rust from the sun and salty air.
Similarly, thoroughly clean the underside of the hood and what lies beneath. Chances are, there's still salt and grime build-up leftover from winter, and added beach salt may damage electrical connections and fuel and brake lines.
Clean the car's interior with a UV protectant to shield vinyl and plastic surfaces from the sun's harsh rays.
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Check the tires for proper inflation pressure, as under-inflated tires consume more energy, and be sure to coat them with a UV-blocking gloss.
Steep, narrow, winding roads, high altitudes, and unpaved surfaces make mountain driving a challenge, and can put a vehicle through rigors it is unaccustomed to.
Check the vehicle's brakes and replace worn pads to prevent brake fade when descending steep hills.
Have the engine, transmission and final drive checked according to the owner's manual to lessen the strain mountain driving will put on them. If fluid service is required, consider using synthetic fluids to protect the engine under variable weather conditions and produce better fuel economy.
Inspect the wiper blades, and replace them if necessary, as mountain climates are subject to sudden and severe rainfall.
Check the battery for corrosion and remaining charge, as high engine temperatures caused by climbing steep terrain with heavy loads can wear a battery down.
Long drives through the desert's hot, dry climate, sandy roads, and intense sun can put extreme strain on any vehicle. Avoid getting stuck miles from the nearest service station. The leading cause of on-road engine-related breakdowns is a cooling system failure.
Prevent cooling system failure by having the system flushed and refilled with fresh coolant before heading to the desert. Used coolant loses many of its protective properties and may cause the car to overheat.
Visually inspect the serpentine belt and have it replaced if it shows significant cracks. High hood temperatures and long drives can cause weak belts to fail.
Have the HVAC system's performance tested. Driving through the desert without air conditioning or ventilation could be extremely uncomfortable, or even dangerous, especially if you have small children or elderly passengers.
Inspect the tire tread wear and maintain proper air pressure according to the owner's manual. Extreme heat can damage both old, worn tires and brand-new ones.
Heavy traffic, short trips, and stop-and-go driving can make visiting a popular city a daunting task not only for the driver but for the vehicle as well.
Have the engine oil changed, using synthetic oil for added protection against the stress created by long periods of idling in city traffic and short trips.
Check the car's air filters when you have the oil changed and replace them if clogged. A dirty air filter may cause the car to idle or run roughly.
Have a fuel system treatment performed to clean intake valve and combustion chamber deposits, which can form faster under stop-and-go driving conditions. Doing so will help to eliminate rough idle, reduce emissions and restore maximum engine power and fuel economy.
Inspect the suspension system and replace the shocks if worn to ensure a smooth ride through uneven, pot-holed city streets.
Not Going Anywhere?
For those motorists whose summer plans may not include a driving vacation, prepare for the vehicle stress of day-to-day warm-weather activities, such as driving the kids to and from games, practices, and activities. Take the time to perform basic maintenance checks.
Even if you're not planning any out-of-town trips, summer is much more enjoyable when you don't have to worry about breakdowns or major vehicle repairs. Basic maintenance checks on your car don't need to be an expensive, time-consuming or daunting experience.
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