The ‘walk around’ check: basic preventive maintenance

Most car owners and drivers sail through the back door with a piece of toast in their mouth, a mug of coffee, the newspaper and a briefcase. They go directly behind the wheel, start their car and back out the driveway. This amount of stress and tension really is not very good for your own health or for your car’s.

If you keep pets around your house, you know better than just start the ignition and get out the driveway in the morning. You know you have to check out your tires to see if the cat has sharpened its claws on it and has caused tears on it, or the dog has chewed down that nozzle that sticks out of the tire where the tire is inflated. These simple irritations might just cause your car to break down while on the road, or worse, it might lead to an accident.

If you suddenly find yourself with a flat tire in the middle of traffic, you would have to push your car to the side and you can be sure that you will get a ticket for obstruction and get towed for it. If the tire blows out while you are on the interstate doing 50mph, it’s not only unpleasant, it’s downright scary! You will struggle to keep your car from weaving. You will have to apply the brake gently, move your car slowly to the side and avoid colliding with another vehicle on the interstate at all costs. Not a very pleasant scenario, is it?

To prevent little irritations such as these from becoming life-threatening accidents, you must make it a habit to do a simple “walk around” check before you start your car in the morning. Beginning at the front of the car: check the lights, the tires, the wheel fixings (the nuts and bolts and the rim of the tires) as well as the body.

Make sure that the lights are all intact (no broken lights). Look and see if the tires are standing and not flat. Check to see that the nuts and bolts that keep the tire attached to the car are tight. Look to see that the rim of the tire is round and not dented in some parts. If you see stains on the rim of the tire, it could just be mud, it could be your dog’s pee, or it could be brake fluid leaking. Check behind the rim of the tire if there is any moisture there. Look at the doors and see that they close and open well.

If you have time, pop the hood and check the dipstick and the level of the motor oil. Check that there’s water in the radiator. Check the level of brake fluid in the reservoir. If you still have time, start the car with the hood popped open; and listen for any unusual sounds: check for loud grinding and squeaky noises. A grinding noise might mean there’s something loose somewhere which is causing the engine to vibrate too much. A squeaky noise might mean there’s something wrong with the fan belt that drives the alternator or the air conditioning or the car’s cooling system.

Turn the headlights on and off to see that they are working fine. Turn on the signal lights to see if they are working. If on the dashboard there are flashing lights, it might mean that your gasoline tank is nearly empty, it might mean that your car is overheating – flashing lights on the dashboard are not a good sign. If on the dashboard, the signal lights are blinking faster than usual, check to see that outside, the signal lights are blinking as well. It might mean that something is off in the electrical wiring. Faulty electrical wiring might lead to a fire in the engine or inside the car.

If your car does not pass the “walk around” test, you might have to call a mechanic and borrow your wife’s or husband’s car for the day. It will be inconvenient, for sure, but at least, you won’t find yourself miserable in the middle of lonely stretch of road without any cell phone signal and without any way to call on a mechanic. Or worse, find yourself in the middle of a road wreck.