August 18, 2016 - Updated August 20, 2018
Give your car a good pat on its back (or hood). It made it through the summer and deserves (now more than ever) the auto version of a spa treatment. Summer can be rough on vehicles: heat, dust, stop-and-go traffic, and road trips can take their toll on cars.
This Top 10 End-of-Summer Vehicle Checklist includes a number of items you’ll want to consider - especially if you have student drivers in your household heading back to school.
1. Tire Pressure
Make sure all the drivers in your house know to check the guidelines in the vehicle owner’s manual or tire sticker attached to the inside of their vehicle’s door to determine the correct tire and air pressure for their vehicles. New drivers in your household may not know that their vehicle’s optimal tire pressure is NOT the tire pressure listed on the white walls of their tires.
2. Tire Tread
Checking tire tread depth is easy. Keeping in mind that the tread on your tires should be greater than 4/32” (especially if you'll be driving on wet roads), go grab a quarter. The old penny test only lets you know if you have 2/32” of remaining tread, which isn’t good enough if you plan on driving in rain or snow. The quarter test is a better indicator of tread depth:
- Place an upside down quarter between the tread ribs on your tire.
- If the top of Washington’s head disappears between the ribs your tread is still above 4/32 of an inch, which is good.
- If you can see Washington’s entire head it’s about time to replace that tire.
* The quarter test is just an indicator. If you think your tires need replacing, have them checked by a licensed mechanic.
3. Spark Plugs
Check your car’s spark plugs. The spark plugs provide the continuous ignition that keeps your car moving. Signs that the spark plugs might need cleaning or replacing include a rough idle, trouble starting the car, high fuel consumption, engine surging, engine misfiring, and lack of acceleration. New spark plugs help keep your engine at peak performance, can improve cold starting, and can minimize the risk of catalytic converter failure.
4. Headlights, Brake Lights, and Turn Signals
In addition to providing signals to other drivers on the road around you, your vehicle's lights allow you to see and your vehicle to be seen. Headlights, tail lights, brake lights, turn signals, and side view mirror signal lights all require periodic inspection and replacement Check all the vehicle’s lights to make sure they function properly and that the bulbs are all working. Dim lights are dangerous lights. Replace headlights and tail lights with high-quality replacement lenses and bulbs for restored clarity and improved lighting for night driving.
5. Cabin and Engine Air Filters
Cabin air filters trap the dust and particulates from the air that feeds into your vehicle’s ventilation, heating, and air conditioning systems - and thus into your passenger compartment. A clogged cabin air filter can’t filter the incoming air as effectively as a clean filter and can restrict the flow of air to your heating and cooling systems which can then affect the effectiveness of your systems.
The engine air filter is responsible for cleaning the air that your car’s engine uses to mix with the fuel. A clogged engine air filter will smother the car’s engine by not allowing enough clean air to reach it. Without the proper amount of air to mix with the fuel, your car will experience less combustion power and less horsepower.
Change your filters regularly (every 12,000-30,000 miles) for increased fuel efficiency, reduced emissions, prolonged engine life, and optimal airflow.
6. Fluid levels
Hot weather can be especially draining (literally) on your vehicle’s fluids. Review with all the drivers in your household how to check the fluid levels in their vehicles: engine oil, windshield wiper, coolant, transmission, brake, and power steering fluid.
7. Battery strength
On average, a car battery might last three to five years - but driving habits and other factors (such as exposure to extreme elements) can shorten battery life. The car battery provides the jolt of electricity needed to power all of the electrical components in your vehicle. Signs that it might need replacing include a slow engine crank, check engine light, a rotten egg smell around the battery, and low battery fluid level. Also, if the battery is over three years old you may want to check it annually to assess its efficiency - especially if you live in an area that experiences cold winters.
Your vehicle's brakes are its most important safety feature. Does your car stop quickly and immediately? Do you hear any grinding or squealing during braking?
Brakes should be inspected on a regular basis by a trusted repair facility that can measure pad and shoe thickness, check for even wear of the pads and shoes, check rotors for run out and hot spots, and check hardware to ensure proper adjustment and functionality. They’ll also make sure that the wheel cylinders, brake lines, and brake master cylinder aren’t leaking, inspect calipers for wear, and check the level and condition of the brake fluid.
Did you know that every brake system is designed for a specific combination of rotor/drum and pad/shoe? You can guarantee the best quality and fit for your vehicle by using only original manufacturer brake components, like OEM brake pads and OEM brake rotors, designed and engineered specifically for your vehicle by its automaker.
9. Proof of insurance
Check to make sure that everyone’s proof of insurance is up to date. Proof of insurance shows you have met your state's car insurance requirements & financial responsibility laws.
10. Emergency Kit
Having roadside assistance is essential, but every car owner should also have the following items in their vehicles:
- Jumper cables
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Reflective warning triangles
- First-aid kit (include adhesive tape, gauze pads, aspirin, antiseptic wipes, antiseptic cream or ointment, and anything particular to you or your family)
- Duct tape
- Multi-purpose utility tool
- Foam tire sealant
- Tire gauge
- Snow shovel
- Windshield ice scraper
- Rain poncho
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