Help Your Car Cruise Into Summer

Firas Ahmed is treated for his wounds after a bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 22, 2009. Deadly bombings hit the Baghdad area on Monday as Iraqi officials braced for new violence ahead of a planned withdrawal next week of U.S. troops from major cities and urban areas.
AP Photo/Adil al-Khazali
With the hot weather approaching, you may be thinking of taking your car out for a long summer drive or a family vacation.

Before you go. there are some simple things you can do to your car to help avoid problems on the road. Jack Nerad, editor of Driving Today.com, visits The Early Show on Tuesday to explain these tips.

Hoses & Belts

These items are very important for the operation of the engine. The hoses take the coolant through the car to keep the engine cool and the belts run the fan to bring the air in to keep the coolant cold. If one of your hoses breaks or disconnects, your radiator will run dry and the car will overheat and die. Same thing will happen if the belts break.

You should check the hoses to see that there are no cracks or splits. You can also touch them to see that they are not spongy or jello-like - you want them hard and firm. Remember, rubber ages, so they will get soft. Also check the o-ring connectors to make sure they are secure. If they are loose, the hoses could disconnect.

For the belts, it is more of a visual check than a touching check. The obvious sign of belt wear is the fabric coming through the housing of the belts.

Radiator & Coolant Level

The hoses connect to the radiator, which of course has the coolant in it that keeps the engine from overheating. You should first check that there are no leaks in the radiator - just look under the parked car for any puddles where the radiator is.

Check the radiator cap - make sure it is on tight. Check the rubber o-ring that is under the cap and make sure the rubber is not aging. This helps seal the cap to the radiator. And remember, always check this when the car is not running; do it after it has been sitting and has cooled down. You could get a bad burn if all the hot steam comes out.

To check the coolant level, cars today have an overflow reservoir, which will have marks on it to show the level of the coolant. This is very easy to check under the hood to make sure there is coolant in the car - you just have to look.

Oil

This is so easy and it can help the life of your car year round. Check the oil by looking at the dipstick. The car should be parked on a level surface and the engine should be warm (let it run a few minutes, turn engine off and check).

Obviously, you will see the level of the oil, but also look to see if the oil is dirty. If is very dark, not a bronze of gold-brown color, then the oil needs to be changed. Oil needs to be clean so dirt particles don't get in the engine and cause problems. Today, most car manuals say to change the oil around every 7,500 miles, but if you do some hard driving, you should change it more often.

You can change the oil by yourself by reading your owners manual (take drain plug off and let it drip into a container and then replacing). Or just bring it to the Jiffy Lube type places; takes less than 30 minutes and they will check other fluids in the car).

Battery

People are used to having tough starts and battery failures in the extreme cold of winter. What they don't realize is that extreme heat is more brutal on a car battery. Heat speeds up all chemical reactions, and a car battery works by producing a chemical reaction that produces electricity. Extreme heat can make the chemical reaction go too fast, burning out the battery and preventing it from producing current so you cannot start you car.

You should check to see if there is any corrosion on the battery terminals - you can just clean that off with a rag - a dirty connection will prevent electricity from flowing. Make sure the battery cable connections are tight. Also check the ground wire to make certain it is tight, because if it is not making a good connection, you will be stranded.

If your battery is old and it may not be fully charged, you can go to any service station and in about 10 minutes they can do a load check on the battery.

Tires

Today's tires are so good, most people tend to ignore them. A Roper survey found that more than half of all motorists don't check their tire pressure often enough. And what is most amazing is that when motorists do check tire pressure, 48 percent don't know how to determine their vehicle's recommended pressure correctly.

All people have to do is go to any auto parts store or discount store and invest in a simple tire pressure gauge. It shouldn't cost more than $5. You should check your pressure in each of your tires at least once a month. Doing it when you are getting gas is a convenient time because you will be close to a ready source of compressed air at the gas station.

To find the recommended pressure, check that little under-utilized book that is in the glove compartment - the Owners manual. Also, on most cars today, the tire-pressure amounts can be found on a sticker inside one of the doorsills.

Tire pressure can be a dangerous situation. If a tire is under inflated, especially in the hot summer heat, the tire is handling a heavier load. When the tire is working harder it creates more friction with the road, which builds up more heat. This can put stress on the tire, which can cause blowouts and tread separation that can cause a life threatening accident. Actually, most flat tires are caused not by potholes or nails, but from the wrong pressure in the tire.

Also, check the tread. With less tread on the tire, you will have less traction especially in a rainstorm, where the car will hydroplane (drive literally on the water instead of the road) and you could loose control. A quick way to check tread is take a penny and put it in the tread of the tire - if Lincoln's head disappears - your tread is good.

One other thing that is easily forgotten is the spare - make sure it has air in it, too.

These are things that should be looked at year-round. It will save you many headaches and some inconveniences; it will prolong the life of your car, and it will save you money in the long run.

Once you get ready to go on the road, there are a few things that you should have in your car in case you have a breakdown. They are:

  • Jack and wrench - Now that you have checked your tires, make sure you have your tire jack and tire wrench in case you have a flat tire.
  • Fix-a-flat can - This could be just enough to fill your tire up and get to the nearest service station.
  • Jumper cables - In case your battery does die on you, this can restart it.
  • Emergency reflectors or flares - In case you break down on the road, it's a warning to other drivers and can help protect you.
  • Tools - A screwdriver and wrench can help you change a belt or take a wheel cover off.
  • Blanket & towel - These come in handy when you have to lie on the ground changing tire or need to take off radiator cap, or just to clean up some.
  • Water - This culd be a quick fix for the radiator or even a quick fix for yourself if you get stuck.
  • Extra belt - If you can't replace it yourself, at least you have the right one for your car when you go to a service station.
  • Flashlight
  • Gloves

About Jack Nerad:

Jack R. Nerad began his writing career at 17 as a sportswriter for three Chicago-area newspapers and he quickly moved into the magazine field. He has served as editor of Motor Trend magazine, Automotive Age magazine (now Dealer Business), Home Center magazine and J.D. Power and Associates' The Power Report. Nerad has won numerous awards and honors for his writing, including a Maggie nomination for Best Feature Article of the Year, the magazine industry equivalent of an Oscar nomination.

Nerad is managing editor of Driving Today, an Internet entertainment and information program created and syndicated by Studio One Networks. He is also co-host of "America on the Road," now heard on more than 320 stations nationwide. In 1999, "America on the Road" was honored by the International Automotive Media Conference as the best automotive program or publication in the nation.

He has written several books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buying or Leasing a Car. And he is working on a screenplay adaptation of his book Fatal Photographs, a true-crime examination of the notorious bathing suit model murder case.

Nerad lives with his wife and three children in Manhattan Beach, Calif.