You should still check things even if it’s mostly parked up

By | August 12, 2020

That is to say, are you checking everything before you hit the road, or are you just hopping in and going to the shops?

Those of us who own a fun machine (or three) for the weekends (whether it’s registered for the road or only ever sees the track) tend to have a list of things they look at before expecting the vehicle to work properly, reliably, and safely.

For a start, does it start? (In fact, does it even unlock?)

Lead acid batteries are a fabulous invention but they hate getting frozen in the cold, and they really hate being fully discharged, but what they hate the most is being overcharged and having their cells dried out.

You don’t normally notice this in a daily driver because it’s kept at the correct level of charge when you’re driving and doesn’t tend to lose much charge in a couple of days unless conditions are really bad. It may also retain some residual engine bay warmth overnight. You notice when you leave it for a couple of weeks because an old or weak battery won’t still be holding enough charge.

Trickle chargers with automatic overcharge prevention are the best option to keep it topped up without drying it out too fast, and if it is a maintenance battery, remember to check and maintain it with a top-up of demineralised water. Corroded or loose terminals don’t help either, so check those too.

Other simple items might be getting overlooked as well, such as the tyres. These should, even on a daily, be checked every couple of weeks. Have a quick look to see if there’s any obvious damage or uneven wear, and use your own pressure gauge to make sure they’re within the range listed on the vehicle’s tyre placard.

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If one is a tiny bit low, have a closer look then top it up and keep that in mind next time (so you notice if it keeps losing pressure). If one is seriously low, look for the cause of a leak (perhaps a nail or just a dud valve) and have it rectified ASAP (after putting the spare on, not just pumping it up; leaks tend to get dramatically faster, not slower).

Fluids should be checked with some regularity too. Engine oil and coolant can be topped up but you need to question where they went (very small quantities are not a concern, large volumes are). Same goes for auto transmissions, hydraulic clutches, and hydraulic power steering. Low trans fluid can leave you without any drive, low clutch fluid can stop you selecting gears, and low fluid can kill power steering pumps very quickly.

Low brake fluid can indicate worn pads (because the more worn the pads, the more fluid is in the caliper as the piston gets further out to push those pads) or it can indicate a leak. Either way, don’t just top it up without investigating why you need to.

Serious leaks normally tend to show themselves in drastic fashion when the vehicle is running, but slow leaks are easier to notice when the vehicle is parked in the same spot for a period of time (or the exact same spot each time). Apart from preventing the environmental damage that used vehicle fluids cause, don’t ignore what could be an early warning sign of an impending problem.

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Design flaws or just corrosion can come to the fore in some vehicles as well. Has the handbrake stuck on for instance? Some of the mechanisms that operate them can corrode and fail to move as freely. Similarly, if an older vehicle has sat for a really long time (ie. many months) then the brake calipers can also get stuck on after using the pedal.

Steel discs will also corrode in the moist atmosphere, but again, would need to sit unused for a really long time before it becomes a problem.

This is to say nothing about whether you’re now keeping it out of the sun. If so, great. If not, at least fit the same dash covers, windscreen shades and similar items used to minimise heat build-up in summer. And avoid letting it collect leaves if you can too. They can plug drain holes and lead to corrosion.

Sam Hollier is an ACM journalist and a motoring fanatic who builds cars in his shed in his spare time.

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