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.
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
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
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
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 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.
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
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:
- Water and food
- Blankets and warm clothing
- Medication if you need it
- Flashlight and batteries
- Cell phone charger
- First aid kit
- Battery-powered radio
- Pet supplies
- Personal hygiene supplies
- Roadside emergency flares and hazard triangles
- Pepper spray
- Pocket multitool
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:
- Compact lithium-ion jumper box
- Torque multiplier for removing stubborn lug nuts
- Basic kit of hand tools
- Tow strap
- Traction mats
And finally, to help protect yourself from infection, you should pack:
- Hand sanitizer (if you can find it)
- Latex gloves
- Surgical masks (once again, if you can find them)
- Softsoap to wash your hands
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!
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.