For the safety of everyone aboard, it is vital to keep up on routine car care—especially during the vacation season. Here are some basics that every driver should know. For more information, consult your owner’s manual.
Car Care Basics to Keep You Safe
- Test tire pressure at least monthly. The recommended pressure level is on the inside of the driver’s door and in the owner’s manual. Some cars may have it on the gas tank door.
- Examine tire treads at least monthly. Look for bubbles, cracks, worn spots, and splits. Insert a penny into grooves on each tire. If you see the top of Lincoln’s head, it’s time for new tires.
- Replace windshield wiper blades (the arm mechanisms as well as the rubber inserts) when they streak or crack or every six months.
- Check wiper fluid, coolant, and oil levels monthly, along with the condition of belts and hoses. Your owner’s manual shows you how.
If Your Car Overheats
Turn off the air conditioner immediately. As soon as it’s safe to do so, pull off the road and turn off the engine. “Do not, under any circumstances, open the radiator cap or coolant tank before it’s cooled down,” says Dave Melton, director of Transportation Technical Consulting Services for Liberty Mutual. “That system is under pressure, and you could receive a terrible scalding.”
Several factors can lead to overheating, including low coolant, a failed fan belt or a radiator leak. If the problem subsides in 15 to 20 minutes, restart the car and drive to a repair shop. If not, call for help.
If Your Car Won’t Start
Remember that some vehicles won’t start if the alarm system is on, safety belts aren’t fastened or the key isn’t inserted properly. An empty gas tank is another likely culprit.
If you turn the key and hear nothing, a single click or a series of clicks, you may have a weak or dead battery. Using jumper cables is potentially damaging to vehicles’ electrical systems, and some automakers advise against it. Calling for help is usually a better option. If you must attempt a jump-start, be sure to consult both vehicles’ manuals first.
If your headlights, radio, and wipers work, the problem is not your battery. Unless you are knowledgeable about cars, you’ll probably need a tow truck.
When You Need Help
Emergency roadside help may be available from your auto insurer, depending on your plan, or from your auto dealer, AAA, or another source. Be sure you carry contact information with you and call your provider immediately to get the help you need.