So you have cabin fever and need to get out on the open road before you go crazy? There are some things you need to do before you jump in your car and head out. Below is a walk -- through of how to insure your car is as ready for the road as you are. These are items you can check at home, but in some cases a more extensive check should be done by a mechanic.



Time: 2-3 minutes

Checking your car's engine oil is one of the simplest and most important maintenance activities. Finding and fixing an oil problem before it damages your engine can save you thousands of dollars in repair costs. Running an engine without oil will cause the engine to seize, and you won't be going anywhere. The best time to check your engine's oil is when the engine is warm to the touch. To check the oil, locate the dipstick; most dipsticks will be labeled as "oil." Pull the stick out and wipe the oil residue off the end. Replace the stick and pull it out again; this time look at the end of the stick that was in the engine. You want the oil to be on the "full" line, if it's significantly below the line, take your car to the shop for an oil change and ask them to look for a leak. Also, make sure the oil is clear and fluid, not black and jellylike. If your oil is black and jellylike or at a really low level, take it to a mechanic immediately to check the engine.

Transmission Fluid

Time: 2-3 minutes

Transmission fluid is what keeps your car changing gears smoothly, so be sure to pay proper attention to this maintenance activity. Checking the transmission fluid is just as simple as checking the oil. Look under the hood for the dipstick labeled "transmission." Repeat the same steps as checking the oil. You are also looking for the transmission fluid to be smooth and clean with no metal flakes. If you find chunks or flakes of metal attached to the dipstick, take your car to the mechanic.


Time: 2-3 minutes

If you have ever turned the key to start your car only to have nothing happen, you know the importance of having a fully charged battery. An easy way to check the battery is to put a voltmeter across the terminal (you do have a voltmeter, right?). You can also do a visual check of the battery terminals. You are looking for clean terminals with no corrosion buildup. If the terminals have some corrosion, a simple way to clean them is to use a steal brush and a can of Coke. With the car turned off and the battery disconnected, poor some of the Coke on the terminals and let it settle for a few seconds; take the steal brush and start scrubbing. This will remove the corrosion and increase the electricity flow -- meaning you’ll get a good cranking voltage.

Air Filter

Time: About a minute

Checking the air filter in your car is a good idea before going on long trips because it can save you some money. The cleaner the air filter, the more air that flows into your car's engine, which in return gives you better gas mileage. Checking the filter is another simple process. Locate your air filter under you hood (use your owner's manual if you need assistance). Open the container and remove the filter, check to see how much dirt and dust the air filter has collected. If it's still mostly white, you should be OK with your current filter. If it's black or brown, it's time to replace the filter. Usually, it's a good idea to change it at every other oil change. If you are in between changes, you can always knock some of the dust and dirt out of the filter into a garbage can and reuse it. Put the filter back into the case and make sure the top of the case is secured properly.

Water in Radiator

Time: About a minute

The radiator keeps the engine cool, so it's important to make sure the radiator has water. Make sure the car has been turned off for a while; the radiator cap will be hot if the engine has recently been running. (Newer cars have a plastic reservoir for engine coolant, which should be filled to the "cold engine" or "hot engine" line). Once the cap has cooled, simply unscrew it and if you see water, you are good to go. If not, add some water. If you live in a colder climate you will need to add an antifreeze/water mixture.

On the Car


Time: About a minute

This is a simple but useful task, especially if you are traveling at night. Check all your lighting functions (headlights, brights, taillights, brake lights, both turn signals -- front and back -- and emergency lights). If you don't have someone to help you with the brakes, chock your wheels and put a brick or heavy object on the brake pedal while you walk to the back of the car. If you see that a light is burned, your local automotive parts store will have a replacement.


Time: 2-3 minutes

This is another simple procedure, but an important one nevertheless. Your tires are the only connection you have to the road, so you want to make sure they are working properly. First, get a pressure gauge and a penny. Measure the pressure of each tire; check your owner's manual for the recommended pressure of the tires (usually 30 to 34 pounds). Most gas stations have air pumps to inflate low pressure tires. Next, take the penny and place it into the tread of the tired with Lincoln's head pointing down into the tread. If the tread comes to his head, your tire is good; the more space that is visible above his head, the more wear on the tire. Don't forget to check your spare tire as well; make sure it's inflated and has no damage.

Roadside toolbox

Time: About a minute

Always make sure your car toolbox is complete. Also, depending on the length of your trip and time of year, you might want to pack a few extra things. For example, in the winter leave a spare blanket or jacket in the trunk.

Inspection Point

Your vehicle is an important part of your life, so you want to make sure it's in good working condition. A few maintenance and safety inspections can keep you and your car working together for a long time.

Check Out Other Great Articles on Car Maintenance At AOL Autos:

- Fixing A Dead Battery

- Frequently Asked Automotive Questions

- Tune-Up Tips

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