Spring is the perfect time to get your vehicle ready for the busy summer driving season ahead. It's wise to have your vehicle checked out before summer's heavy vacation traffic and stop-and-go conditions begin in earnest.
The experts at the nonprofit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence offer the following tips on getting your vehicle ready:
* Read the owner's manual and follow the recommended service schedules. Pay attention to "regular" vs. "severe" schedules listed, and determine which is appropriate for your driving conditions and habits.
* Look for an orderly repair facility with modern equipment in the service bays and qualified automotive technicians on staff, as evidenced by trade school diplomas, certificates of advanced course work and training, as well as national certification of the individual technicians by ASE.
* Flush and refill the cooling system (radiator) according to the service manual's recommendations. The level, condition and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. Make sure the engine has cooled down before removing the radiator cap. Engine overheating is the most frequent summer breakdown.
* Have engine performance problems corrected, such as hard starts, rough idling and stalling. You'll get better gasoline mileage, and you could prevent more expensive repairs.
* Don't neglect your transmission and brakes. Costly repairs can be prevented by routine service. Neglected brakes can create safety issues, too.
* Seek out a qualified auto technician to check the condition of belts, clamps and hoses, but be proactive by looking for signs of wear, cracking or fraying.
* Have a marginally operating air conditioner system serviced by a technician qualified to handle refrigerants. Older units often contain ozone-depleting chemicals that could be released into the air through improper or incompetent service.
* Change the oil and oil filter as specified in the owner's manual. This simple, inexpensive service can increase the life of your vehicle.
* Replace other filters (air, fuel, PCV) as recommended in the service manual.
* Check the condition of tires, including the spare. Let the tires "cool down" before checking their pressure. Uneven wear, "cupping," vibrations or "pulling" to one side indicates problems with your tires or suspension system.