The arrival of spring always stirs up a longing for adventure. After months cooped up inside, blue skies and warm weather are reason enough to load up your car and hit the highway.
However, your best planning will be undone if you can’t depend on your car. A breakdown on your daily commute is one thing, but what if your car leaves you stranded in the middle of nowhere? Car care is necessary year-round, but especially before a road trip, so complete these basic maintenance tasks before becoming a horror movie cliché.
Fluids are the lifeblood of any car. Service intervals on your car’s six essential fluids usually depend on mileage, so consider how far you’ve driven since your last one, and how far you plan on driving on your trip, to decide what needs attention.
Oil: You don’t need to be a car expert to know that oil is critical for an engine. It lubricates moving components like the pistons, crankshaft, and camshaft so they can move smoothly without friction. Oil should be changed every 5,000 to 7,000 km. If you’ve gotten an oil change within that range, use the dipstick to check the oil condition and fill level. If it’s black, gritty, or below the minimum, get it checked out right away.
Radiator fluid: Engines produce a lot of heat and the radiator keeps it cool. Radiator fluid, also known as coolant or antifreeze, works to extract heat from the engine and dissipate it through the radiator. A low coolant level will also likely result in overheating, so check your coolant and top it off if need be, and make sure to flush the system at 80,000 km intervals.
Brake fluid: When you push the bake pedal, fluid—yes, fluid—compresses inside the brake lines, forcing the brake pads to clamp on the rotors and slow your car. If you ever notice that the pedal feels spongy or has extra travel, the fluid may be contaminated. Be sure to top off the brake fluid if necessary, and flush it every 60,000 km.
Power steering fluid: Modern cars use power steering to make turning the wheel easy at any speed, but this fluid can also become contaminated, making your steering wheel less responsive. About 35,000 km you’re going to want to get your braking system checked out.
Transmission fluid: Not much ruins a drive like a transmission that jerks when it shifts. Transmission fluid helps gears mesh smoothly, and when it goes bad, uncomfortable shifts can be the result. Fortunately, transmission fluid lasts a long time, and some cars are even sold with so-called “lifetime” transmission fluid. Generally, though, it’s a good idea to replace the fluid at 100,000 km. Increased problems are likely with transmission fluid older than 120,000 km.
Windshield fluid: Long drives mean a dirty car, and there’s nothing on your car’s exterior more important to keep clean than the windshield. After all, you have to be able to see where you’re going. Adding windshield washer fluid is super basic – get a jug of fluid at any gas station, then simply use a funnel to fill up your reservoir if it gets low.