Summer is upon us. And as shelter-in-place orders begin to relax across North America, stir-crazy drivers will be eager to hit the road for a much-needed vacation – with social-distancing measures in place, of course.
In fact, 76% of Americans said they miss being behind the wheel, according to a recent Hankook Tire survey. As drivers get ready to hit the road, counter professionals as well as repair shops are on the front lines when it comes to educating consumers about vehicle maintenance. Encouraging your customers to perform a pre-trip inspection minimizes the chances of a roadside breakdown, and shows that you care about their vehicle and their safety.
So, what do your customers need to know before they hit the road? The checklist below should help you out.
Lights and Wipers
Drivers should double-check that the lights work and are visible for turn signals, headlights and emergency flashers. They also should replace worn wiper blades so they can see clearly when driving during precipitation. That might sound like a no-brainer, but windshield wipers are among the most neglected wear items on a vehicle, and some (perhaps many) motorists aren’t aware that they should be replaced at least once a year.
Check all fluid levels on a cool engine, including engine oil; power-steering, brake, transmission and windshield-washer fluid; and coolant. With summer driving comes a higher risk of engines overheating. Regarding fluids, summer is the perfect time to remind DIY customers to follow the recommended service intervals for their vehicle.
HVAC and Filters
During the summer, the last thing a driver wants is for their vehicle’s air conditioning to fail. Proper cooling performance is critical for interior comfort. Other items that may need to be inspected include the air filter, cabin air filter and the positive crankcase ventilation valve (PCV).
Drivers should make sure their tires are filled to the recommended inflation pressure found in the owner’s manual and on the car-door placard. If loading their vehicle with more weight than normal, vehicle owners also should check the tire’s load-carrying capacity – the amount of weight the tire can support safely – and adjust tire pressure accordingly. In addition, inspecting the tread on tires is important to spot any uneven wear, which could mean the vehicle needs a wheel alignment. Tires also should be checked for bulges and bald spots and repaired accordingly, and should be rotated based on the recommended service intervals.
Manufacturers recommend changing the brake pads when they wear down to between 2 and 4 millimeters thick. But the lifespan of brake material depends on factors such as miles driven, braking frequency, driving style, brake temperatures, environmental conditions and friction-material quality. If the driver hears grinding noises or unusual vibrations in the brake pedal or steering wheel, or if the vehicle pulls to one side, they should check the vehicle’s brake system. Other warning signs for brake wear include a low, sinking or spongy brake pedal; a pulsating brake pedal; burning smell or smoke during braking; and low brake fluid at the master cylinder or brake fluid sprayed onto the wheel. Parking-brake operation as well as the brake’s chambers, hoses and drums also should be inspected.
Belts and Hoses
A belt failure is a serious problem, as most engines use a serpentine belt to turn the water pump, alternator, power steering and air-conditioning compressor. It’s the same story for older vehicles that use V-belts to power various accessories. High temperatures make belts, hoses and other vehicle parts degrade faster. DIYers should check serpentine and V-belts for looseness and their overall condition, and replace V-belts when cracked, frayed, glazed or showing signs of excessive wear. Hoses should be inspected for leaking, cracks, discoloration or any other visual sign of wear. Squeezing the hose is another way to tell if it needs to be replaced. Any hose that feels rock-hard or mushy should be replaced.
Battery or Charging System
High temperatures, whether ambient or underhood, increase the evaporation of water from the cells, which is why it’s important to inspect the condition of the battery and charging system before a summer road trip. The mixture of heat plus extra demands on the battery – like the engine cooling fan, A/C and stereo running all at once – can contribute to battery failure. If the battery is weak, be sure your customer replaces it with the correct size for their vehicle, with enough cranking amps to start in hot or cold weather.
Another way counter professionals can help motorists get ready for summer road trips is to check if there are any parts recalls on their vehicle. Technical service bulletins from the OEMs can be helpful as well. And as always, the vehicle’s owner’s manual is the ultimate source of information for service intervals and other maintenance items. If this article was published last year, we wouldn’t be making the following suggestion. But in light of the coronavirus pandemic, you might ask your customers if they’re stocked up on hand sanitizer, face masks and even protective gloves. When it comes to the health of a customer’s vehicle – and the health of their passengers – it’s better to be safe than sorry, as the old saying goes.