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Here are the basics when preparing your car for any sort of road trip – and that includes bugging out. Running these checks will minimize your chances of failure:
Always have the owner’s manual and registration with you
If you’ve lost the owner’s manual, order a new one. It’s very important to have one in handy at all times, so don’t rely on your knowledge only. When you’re dealing with extreme conditions, you might be too stressed to remember everything and that’s when the manual can prove to be lifesaving.
Get major repairs done asap
If there’s something wrong with your car and you’re aware of it, don’t sit and wait for it to break down. If you don’t have the money to take it to an authorized service, search the Internet for a handyman in your area to come take a look at your car, identify the problem and estimate the cost. If it doesn’t burn a hole in your wallet, have it repaired asap. You may never know when you’ll need you car to bug-out and you might regret not fixing it for the rest of your life.
Take a look under the hood
You can easily do this yourself. Just check to see if everything looks right, if there are any leaks, if the battery terminals are clean and if the drive belt presents any cracks. If there’s something – anything! – that looks fishy to you, have a professional take a look at it. It might be nothing serious, but it’s better to rest assured.
Now since you’re at it, you’ll want to check the fluids, as well. It’s very easy and it doesn’t take you a long time to do it, so don’t forget to check them regularly. I’ll show you exactly how to do it, with pictures and everything (via www.samarins.com, where I found a really great article on checking your own car):
#1: The engine oil
To check engine oil, park the car on a level spot, warm up and stop the engine. Wait for a minute allowing oil to drain down the oil pan. Pull the engine oil dipstick out, wipe it with a clean rag or a paper towel and insert it back fully. Pull it out again and check the level – it should be close to the “FULL” mark on the dipstick.
If engine oil appears too black, it’s better to change it now. If the level is low, you can top it up using the same type of oil as you already have in the engine.
If you notice that your car consumes a notable amount of engine oil between oil changes, it’s a good idea to take some spare engine oil with you on a trip.
#2: The automatic transmission fluid
Here is how to check the transmission fluid if your car has a transmission dipstick (some cars don’t have a dipstick):
Warm the car up. Place the car on a level surface. Set the hand brake. With the transmission in “Park” position and the engine idling (this procedure may vary on certain cars, refer to the owner’s manual) pull the automatic transmission fluid dipstick, wipe it off with a lint-free paper or cloth and insert it back fully. Pull it out again and check the fluid level and condition. A conventional transmission fluid has a red or pinkish-red color when it’s new.
Over the time under high temperature and load, the transmission fluid loses its qualities and oxidizes becoming more brownish. If the transmission fluid appears too dark, it’s better to change it.
#3: The engine coolant (antifreeze) in the overflow tank
Visually check the engine coolant level in the overflow tank. Your owner’s manual has the directions. The level should be between “Low” and “Full” marks.
Don’t open the radiator cap or the pressurized overflow tank cap when the engine is hot!
If the coolant level is just a bit low, you can top it up using recommended type of coolant mixed with water. Again, your owner’s manual has the proper way to do it. If the coolant level is well below the “Low” mark, have your cooling system checked for leaks. Any leaks should be fixed before a trip, as lack of coolant on the road may cause the engine to overheat which may result in serious damage.
#4: Other fluids
Check the brake fluid level. Low brake fluid level may indicate worn out brake pads – have your brakes checked.
Check the power steering fluid.
Top up the windshield washer fluid.
Check the battery
Take a look at the battery. If you see any cracks, leaks or other damage, have it replaced. Now check the battery terminals to see if they’re tight. Any corrosion is a clear sign that you should have it replaced.
Another factor you should take is life expectancy. A battery usually lasts 3 to 6 years, so if you’ve used it for more than 4 years, you should probably get a new one or at least have it tested.
Check the windshield wipers
There’s nothing worse than driving through a storm without windshield wipers. The chances for you to get in a serious accidents are so high, you’d be safer parking right next to a tree or a pole in the middle of a hurricane. Unfortunately, many people forget about this important detail and risk their family’s survival. Hopefully, you’ll make sure your wipers function perfectly at all times. Just in case.
Check the spare tire, wheel wrench and the jack
Check the spare tire pressure. If it’s a full-size (the same size as the others tires) spare, the pressure should be the same as in the other tires. If it’s a small temporary-use tire, the proper pressure is indicated on the sidewall of the tire (usually 50-60 psi). Check the owner’s manual for the exact data. If your car has a spare tire that is secured underneath, make sure it can be easily removed; the mechanism could be rusted. Check if the jack is still operable. (www.samarins.com)
Check the tires
Make sure they’re always inflated to the proper pressure. Low pressure in tires can put an end to your getaway when you least expect it. It causes extra heat buildup and, if you’re in a hurry and step on it, it can lead to a blowout.
And since you’re at it, make sure the tire tread is fine, as well. Here’s how you can check tire tread, according to cars.about.com:
Put a penny, edge on with Lincoln’s head pointing down, in one the grooves of the tire. If you can see the space above Abe’s head, it’s time for new tires.
Always keep maps in your car
Even if you have a GPS (which I wholeheartedly recommend), keep some maps in your car, too. This way, if technology backfires, you can get back on track the old-fashion way.
Fill the gas tank
This one seems like a no brainer, but how many times have you really filled your gas tank “just in case”? Most people don’t even think about the possibility of a disaster, but since I know you’re not one of them, I advise you to keep a decent amount of gas in your tank (one that can fuel your whole way to your safe haven).
Keep a survival kit for every member of your family
Pack only what’s necessary and according to the your family’s needs. Check the kits regularly to see if the items are past their expiration dates or if they’re getting close. Add or take out items anytime there’s a change in your needs. For example, if you discover your spouse has a heart condition, don’t forget to add specific pills to the kit.
Have your car professionally checked-up twice a year
If you’re not an expert, you might miss some errors that could cost your life. Have your car inspected at a service every once in a while. Better safe than sorry, right?
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