So here we are being asked, requested, directed, etc. – to shelter in place at home. Sure you can get groceries and other essential things, but many of the things we car enthusiasts like to do are currently verboten. No “cars and coffee”, no live racing, no swap meets. Sure you can probably get away with some “drives to nowhere”, but this is also an excellent time to focus on your own vehicle or vehicles and see what you can do to prepare them for the open road – whenever that comes to pass.
Basic maintenance is probably something that you do think about. Probably you change your own oil and may even do your own brake jobs. Perhaps you are really skilled and experienced and do several things to keep your car or truck in shape.
How often have you consulted your owner’s manual? Many of us know that it is somewhere in the glove compartment, but haven’t looked at it…ever! Now might be a good time to browse this book and learn more about your vehicle. Consider that a small team of writers, graphics designers, artists, photographers, and editors spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours creating this publication – all for the car owners benefit.
Inside is a wealth of information. Some things you might not even know about your vehicle, if you’ve never really read the manual. Such as the maintenance schedule:
Usually there are two categories, one schedule for regular maintenance and one for severe duty maintenance. You might want to check the definition of the severe duty and be surprised that your driving just might fit that category.
This is a great time to check your tire pressures. It is recommended that they be checked when cold so this is a perfect time to check them. So what should your tire pressures be set to? That info may be in the owner’s manual, but there should also be a sticker on the driver’s side door jamb with all that information. The pressures might be all the same for both front and rear tires, or they might be different. In any case check the pressures with a great quality gauge.
A dial gauge is nice as are the digital ones now available. While we don’t recommend the “pencil-style” gauges, they will do in a pinch, although their accuracy is often suspect.
While you are checking and adjusting tire pressures rub you hand across the tread feeling for wear and cupping of the tires. Your hands will tell you far more about the condition of the tire’s tread than your eyes can unless you can get your car up on a lift. Excessive wear on the insides of the tread indicates a toe-out problem. Excessive cupping could point to your shock absorbers (or struts) no longer functioning as they should. Granted that few, if any of us, have an alignment machine or a tire machine in our personal garage, but it is still important to know the tires condition.
It is also important to know the age of the tires. Not when you bought them, but when they were manufactured. So how do you tell?
Cast into the sidewall of the tires is a date code:
In the example above it is the four digit numeric – 1715. The first two digits corresponds to the week of manufacture – the 17th week of the year. The second two digits is the year – or 2015. If you have plenty of tread on your tires, but they are 5 to 6 years old, you should consider replacing them. Tire manufacturers and the NHTSA give tires about a six year shelf life before they deteriorate with exposure to the elements and the sun, as this also reduces a tires safety and life.
Above is another example. You can ignore the JJC and focus on the four digits following. It was manufactured in the 4th week of 2019.
If you can safely jack up your car so that you can spin each of your tires you can visually check for foreign objects that might have hitched a ride in your tire (i.e., you have a puncture). While you might expect that any puncture will lead to your tire losing air pressure or even going flat, it is not always the case. Some objects can imbed themselves in the tread and not cause a leak or at least create a very slow leak that the TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) won’t detect right away.
As I said prior, you probably change your motor oil and filter at a regular interval, but how often do you check your brake fluid?
“What”, you say? While you may have a brake job done from time to time, as they do wear out, the brake’s fluid is often overlooked as a maintenance item. Keep in mind that its most important characteristics are that it is not compressible and has a high boiling point (using your brakes creates a LOT of heat). It also is hydroscopic.
What does that mean? It means that it binds with water any time it can. It will grab water right out of the air and over time will get wetter and wetter. Keep in mind that water has a boiling point of 212 F. Fresh brake fluid is well above 300 F and often in the 400s. Adding water lowers the boiling point and introduces corrosion into the brake system.
So how do you tell when to replace your brake fluid? Often you cannot tell by how it looks or how your brakes and clutch (clutch fluid is also brake fluid) are being effected by the water contamination.
There are tools that will measure the % water content. Here is and example that can be had off Amazon. I haven’t seen them available in auto parts stores, although they should be.
It has a AAA battery in it and when the bottom cover it removed there are two prongs that are to be dipped into the reservoir so that the water content can be determined.
Here you can see that it has detected about 2% water content, which is OK, but close to the 3% level that should inspire you to flush and change the fluid in the system.
Here is the same test on the clutch fluid, which on this vehicle, is kept in its own reservoir.
This is looking even better at only 1%.
Of course, if you have an automatic transmission, you don’t have any clutch fluid, but you should check the owners manual for when it needs to be changed out along with the filter.
While you have the hood (bonnet) open be sure to look at the battery terminals for any corrosion. Even if they look clean, check to be sure that they are tight and that the battery hold-down is also in good condition and tight.
The negative terminal above is in great shape without any of the whitish-blue crystals that show corrosion. Here is the positive terminal, that also looks fine.
To show this terminal the red protector was moved out of the way and then put back in place after the photo was taken. This is important!
If you need to clean the battery terminals BE CAREFUL! You are dealing with both electricity and acid. Wear safety eye protection and nitrile or latex gloves.
Remove the NEGATIVE terminal FIRST. I’ll say that again – remove the NEGATIVE post clamp FIRST! Keep in mind that until it is disconnected ANY metal of the car is connected to the battery circuit and an accidental connection to the positive post of the battery will form a circuit INSTANTLY! Bad stuff can happen as a result. So be safe.
Here are tools that can be used to clean the terminals and clamps.
The wire “tooth brush” can work fine, but dedicated battery terminal tools are better.
AGAIN – wear safety eye protection and the gloves described earlier.
Sometimes the terminals stay tight to the battery posts even after their bolts have been loosened. Be CAREFUL. Don’t hammer them or pry with a screw driver. Use a tool designed for the job. Otherwise you risk damage to the post or terminal that could end up costly.
Here is one tool version:
Well, I think that is enough for one day’s car activity. Check your owner’s manual for other items that might need looking into. Don’t forget your windshield wipers as they take a beating out in the sun and elements and likely won’t last 12 months. More like six.
Enjoy the “Stay-in-Place” days as best you can and get those vehicles ready for a safe and trouble free ride!