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Car Care Month & COVID-19: Prep Your Vehicle for Emergencies

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April is National Car Care Month—and it’s less than two weeks away. Now, with the exception of our brave health workers and other frontliners who are working hard to fight this global pandemic and ensure that everyone has the provisions they need, most of us have no plans of leaving our homes and going outside. But in these uncertain times, it’s always best to be prepared for all possibilities. This includes making sure that your vehicle is always road-ready for any emergency situation.

CarParts.com’s Chief Mechanic, Mia Bevacqua, has provided some preventive maintenance guidelines (and tips for emergency prep) below to help you get your car in tip-top shape during Car Care Month.

man checking under the hood of his car
This Car Care Month, make sure your car is ready for anything. You never know when you’ll need to drive a long distance to help a family member or gather supplies. 

Automotive maintenance is always an important subject. That’s why, every April, automotive experts and vehicle owners join together to celebrate National Car Care Month.

Now, of course, keeping up your car is more important than ever, due to the global pandemic: COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. The pandemic is changing life as we know it. And the way you care for your car is no exception.

Although experts are advising everyone to stay at home, in my experience, having your car in tip-top condition is essential during times such as these. You never know when you’ll need to drive a long distance to help a family member or gather supplies. 

Furthermore, because the future is uncertain, you never know when you might need to jump in the car and get out of town. Fast.

Your Vehicle Maintenance Guide for Car Care Month 2020

At this point, you’ve probably stocked up on supplies (hopefully you got some toilet paper) to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic. But you might not have done everything to ensure that you have a working vehicle that’s ready for emergencies.

That’s why, in honor of Car Care Month, the team at CarParts.com and I have come up with a list of car care essentials. This information is designed to help you make sure your vehicle is ready for the worst of the worst.

What to check:

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that cars need a lot of TLC. You can’t just fill the gas tank and go—you need to inspect and service your vehicle on a regular basis. Here’s a list of car care essentials that will help ensure your ride is ready when you need it. 

Underhood maintenance items  

checking brake fluid level
Every couple of weeks, you should inspect underhood fluids, such as engine oil and coolant. Check your brake fluid level, too.

You should regularly check certain items under the hood of your car, regardless of whether there’s a pandemic or not. For instance, every couple of weeks, you should inspect underhood fluids, such as engine oil and coolant. 

If you have an older car that’s prone to leaks, you should take a peek at these fluids more often. It’s also a good idea to check the air filter twice a year, along with the belts and hoses.

Many vehicles also have fluids that must be checked from underneath. Examples include transmission fluid, differential fluid, and transfer case fluid. 

You should check these fluids (or have them checked by a professional) at each oil change.

The service schedule 

car owner's manual with warranty and maintenance guide for service schedule
Follow the manufacturer’s service schedule found in your owner’s manual to know when to replace important parts.

To keep your car running right, you must follow the manufacturer’s service schedule. The information, which is found in your owner’s manual, will tell you when you need to replace important parts, such as the timing belt (if equipped) and spark plugs.

Disregarding the service schedule can eventually lead to costly repairs. And that can leave you stranded—often at the most inopportune time.

While we’re on the topic of automotive service, it’s also important to remember to take care of any known problems. If your car has issues (e.g. warning lights or abnormal noises), you’ll want to get them fixed right away to prevent a breakdown.

Lights and wipers

checking wiper blades
Check your wipers on a regular basis.

Lack of lighting or a water-streaked windshield can make driving nearly impossible. And that’s a handicap you don’t need during an emergency situation. So, check your exterior lights and wipers on a regular basis. 

If you find burnt out bulbs or worn out wiper blades, replace them immediately. 

Brakes and tires

worn out tires
Check your tires at least once a month.

Worn out brakes and tires are dangerous during regular times—and they’re even more dangerous in an emergency. During a panic situation, you need all of the traction and braking ability you can get. That’s why you want to check your tires at least once a month. 

Your brakes should be checked bi-annually.

You should inspect the tires for tread wear, as well as sidewall damage. Most professionals recommend tire replacement when the tread gets down to 4/32”. When the tread reaches 2/32” or less, the tires should be replaced immediately. 

bulge on the tire sidewall
Replace your tire right away if the sidewall has visible signs of damage such as bulges.

Likewise, if the sidewall exhibits signs of damage, such as bulges and chunks of missing rubber, the tires should be replaced right away.

As for the brakes, the pads (and shoes, if equipped) should be checked for minimum lining thickness. Most experts recommend replacing a set of brakes when there’s 4mm of friction material remaining on the pads. 

Once the pads reach 2mm, they are considered unsafe and should be replaced right away. Typically, professionals also check the rotors (and drums, if equipped) for minimum thickness. The specification is often stamped into the front of the rotor.  

The gas gauge

car gas gauge pointing to full
Running out of gas during an emergency situation can be extremely dangerous.

One last thing: you want to be sure your gas gauge reads at least half full at all times. Running out of gas during an emergency situation can be extremely dangerous.

What to pack:

Once you’ve got your car squared away mechanically, you’ll want to make sure you have all of the emergency essentials packed.

To take care of yourself and loved ones, you should have the following emergency supplies in your vehicle:

emergency supplies
Some emergency supplies you need to have in your vehicle

To take care of your car in case of an emergency, make sure the jack and the spare tire (if equipped) are present. Also, consider packing:

car emergency roadside supplies

car first aid kit for covid-19
Make sure to have a first aid kit in your vehicle for you and loved ones.

And finally, to help protect yourself from infection, you should pack:

Whether or not some of these items, such as the mask, adequately ward off the virus is uncertain. But it’s best to take all possible measures during a pandemic situation.

Don’t forget to sanitize your car’s interior!

cleaning the steering wheel of a car
Don’t forget to sanitize your car on a regular basis.

During a pandemic, one thing many people forget to do is sanitize their car. To help protect yourself, you should wipe down everything you touch on a regular basis. For example, you should use a disinfecting wipe (or surface cleaner and paper towel) to clean the steering wheel, shifter/gear selector, door handles, and emergency brake. 

The radio buttons and other instrumentation should also be cleaned.

Even when the pandemic is over, you should continue to practice good hygiene—both for yourself and your car. 

The long-term goal is to avoid everything from the common cold to global viruses and make the world a happier, healthier place in the process.

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Author

Mia Bevacqua

Chief Mechanic at CarParts.com

Mia Bevacqua is an automotive expert with over 15 years of industry experience. She holds ASE Master, L1, L2, and L3 Advanced Level Specialist certification, as well as a bachelor's degree in Advanced Automotive Systems.

Throughout her career, Mia has applied her skills toward automotive failure analysis inspections, consulting, diagnostic software development, and of course, freelance writing. Today, she writes for companies around the world, with many well-known clients showcasing her work.

Mia has a passion for math, science, and technology that motivates her to stay on top of the latest industry trends, such as electric vehicles and autonomous systems. At the same time, she has a weakness for fixer-upper oddballs, such as her 1987 Chevy Cavalier Z-24 and 1998 Chevy Astro Van AWD.