These steps are great for anyone wanting to regularly inspect their own vehicle to ensure they stay safe and efficient. This Instructable is also great for a pre-trip safety check to make sure your road-trip goes smoothly and without incident.
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Step 1: Check the Lights
Good lighting can often make the biggest difference when driving safe. You should always check your vehicle's lighting regularly, and always before a trip. Your vehicle has 2 front headlights, 2 rear tail/brake lights, 2 front turn signals, 2 rear turn signals and either 1 or 2 reverse lights. To check the headlights and turn signals, turn on your headlights, and press the hazard switch. Get out of the car and ensure proper function. To check the brake and reverse lights, have a friend stand near the rear of the vehicle (NOT BEHIND THE VEHICLE) and press the brake pedal, shift into reverse, and hold pressure on the brake to keep the vehicle from moving. Have the friend check to ensure proper function. If you are alone, reverse your vehicle close to a wall or large flat surface; take care not to hit the wall or object. Adjust your drivers side mirror so that you can clearly see the object behind. Press the brake pedal multiple times, if you see a flashing red reflection in your mirror, the lights are functioning properly. If you find any bulb not functioning, replace the bulb or repair the problem immediately. Note that your vehicle may have a different arrangement/design of lights than the Chevrolet Cruze pictured, but the principle is the same.
Step 2: Check Your Tires
First off, visually inspect the sidewall of the 4 tires. Look for any cracks or fractures, and try to notice any bulging or irregularity in the overall look of the tire. Note that discoloration in the rubber is not often pertinent to it's safety. Secondly, aspect the tread of all 4 tires. Look for any objects or large rocks stuck in the tread and pry them out gently with a screwdriver. To inspect the tread depth, use a US quarter coin upside down in the tread. If the rubber touches or covers washington's head you have enough tread to stay safe. If the tread is too short to touch the top of his head, your tires likely need to be replaced soon for maximum grip and to prevent blowouts. Lastly, check the tire pressure of all 4 tires. Using an analog or digital pressure gauge, check that all 4 tires are up to the pressure specified on the sidewall of the tire. If any are low, use a air compressor (available at most gas stations) to add air and bring them up to pressure. Be careful not to overinflated the tires, this is extremely dangerous.
Step 3: Check Your Windshield Wipers and Washer Fluid
Visually inspect your wiper blades. Make sure they are clean and free of cuts, cracks, or worn rubber. If they are dirty, clean them with isopropyl alcohol or glass cleaner with a terrycloth or microfiber cloth. At this point also take time to clean your windows and windshield inside and out to ensure maximum visibility. Also pop the hood and check your washer fluid level. Note that there are many different colors of washer fluid, but always top off with fluid rated for near or below freezing temperatures if you drive in colder climates.
Step 4: Check Your Brakes
Visually inspect your brake rotor for large ripples, cracks, or gashes. If any of these are present or your brakes wobble or groan when you come to a stop, your rotors may need servicing soon. Check the thickness of the pad visually, if it is worn less than 1/8 of an inch (2 quarter coins), they may need to be replaced soon.
Step 5: Check Your Fluids
Using your oil dipstick, check your oil level. Pull out the dipstick and wipe the tip clean. Stick it back in, wait 5 seconds, then gently pull it out again. Check that the level is between the markers. These markers may be a hashed area, full-low lines, or just dashes in the metal depending on your vehicle. At this time take note of your oil color. If it is very dark and black, you may be due for an oil change. (*note* on most modern vehicles oil should be changed every 3,000-5,000 miles but check your owners manual to clarify)
At this time also check your coolant level visually by looking at the expansion tank. Check that the fluid is between the full and low markers. if coolant is low, add premixed coolant/antifreeze to ensure proper operation of your cooling system. (never add pure water or pure coolant unless you are diluting the mixture to your own specifications)
Step 6: Enjoy Your Trip!
One last step you should do regularly or before each trip is to wash and vacuum your vehicle. Clean vehicles are more visible and get better gas mileage, and it always helps keep your vehicle in top condition. Vacuuming your interior will keep your mind clearer knowing you are operating in a clean space.