To head off possible hazards on the road, you'll want to check your car very carefully before leaving on vacation. Whether you plan to do the maintenance yourself or rely on an auto mechanic, allow time to order necessary parts and to perform unexpected procedures.
Examine all tires, including the spare, for cuts, unusual bulges and excessive tread wear. Rotate tires if necessary and replace if tread depth measures 2/32 inch or less. Inflate properly and periodically check tire pressure while traveling.
If your car wanders a bit, pulls to one side or vibrates at high speeds, or if you notice any unusual signs of wear, have the wheels balanced and aligned.
Fill the radiator or coolant recovery tank to recommended levels with a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water. Rusty-colored fluid indicates dirt that could clog and cause engine overheating.; flush the system.
Check with your mechanic if you see any signs of wetness around the thermostat or water pump housing.
Look closely at every hose you can reach, and replace any that are cracked, brittle or soft. Slightly twist the V-shaped belts that operate your fan, water pump and other critical accessories and replace them if you notice cracks, fraying or any smooth, shiny spots. Press in on each belt at a point midway between the pulleys, and tighten any belts that "give" more than 112 inch or so.
If your car starts with difficulty, idles roughly, stalls, spews smoke on acceleration or chugs after being switched off, or if you detect, a decrease in gas mileage, the car probably needs an engine tune-up.
Examine the battery for frayed cables, loose clamps and corrosion around the terminals. Remove all corrosion with a stiff wire brush and a baking soda and water solution. On a maintenance-free battery, check the charge indicator light on top. For a conventional battery, look at fluid levels in each cell and fill to the proper level with distilled water.
Does the brake pedal go more than halfway down or feel spongy? Do you hear grinding? If so, your brakes may need adjusting, or the brake fluid level is low.
Top off your oil, power steering, transmission, brake fluid and windshield washer reservoirs. Change oil and filter if the oil looks or feels gritty.
Check (and clean) headlights (both high and low beam), taillights, brake lights, hazard lights, turn signals, emergency brake, overhead light, horn, air conditioner, heater, fan, windshield defroster and front (and rear) windshield wipers and washers.
Listen to the exhaust system: vibrations, hissing sounds or loud noises may indicate loose or badly worn parts.