Family vacations and lengthy road trips are looking like much better ideas now that the days are longer and Spring Break is upon us.
Though a tank of gas is no idle expense, driving remains a dependable method of travel, as long as your car is in good shape. Below are a few items to mark off your spring checklist to make sure your vehicle is in running order before taking a trip.
Check the battery. You can't get anywhere if your car won't start. Winter can wreak havoc on the starter and alternator, while your battery has had to crank out more juice to work in colder, harsher conditions. Signs of a weak battery: dimming headlights or interior lights, power windows that take longer than usual to go up and down.
Check the brakes. Salt left on roadways during the winter can lead to the corrosion of brake parts, with anti-lock braking systems receiving an especially hard workout in wet conditions. Nothing is more crucial to your safety than your brakes, so get them checked. Trouble signs: pulling to one side when you hit the brakes, squeaking or grinding noises and a brake pedal that feels too soft.
Inspect the tires. Worn-down tires make it hard to stop, even if your brakes are in good order. Try the coin test on your tires: Insert a quarter into several grooves across each tire. If part of Washington's head is always covered, you still have 4/32 inch of tread left and can probably drive safely. If you have less tread, it's time to think about replacements. Also make sure your tires are inflated to the pressure listed on the placard visible when the driver's door is open. You can boost your gas mileage by 3% or more and make the car safer as well. To get an accurate reading, check the pressure of tires when they are cold, not after you have been driving.
Check your oxygen sensor. This one is obscure, but it is important to gas mileage. Because the sensor helps set the fuel mix going into your engine, a faulty one can cause too much gas to be used - cutting your mileage by up to 40 percent. Replacing the sensor, which usually costs less than $200, needs to be done every 30,000 to 50,000 miles. And it is the repair problem that most often causes the "Check Engine" warning to light up near your speedometer.
Making sure your vehicle is safe and up-to-date will reduce mileage, increase the chance of making it to your destination safely, and reduce the likelihood of causing an accident or receiving a ticket for defective equipment.