Pre-Trip Checks – External Check
Preparation is important for any trip, whether it is a short jaunt to the store or a cross-country journey. No one wants to have mechanical trouble along the way, especially in remote areas or when they are in a hurry. Doing a pre-trip before starting out in a vehicle can help drivers to detect potential problems before they become serious and leave the vehicle occupants stranded at the side of the road. Starting with external checks can help drivers detect any problems the vehicle may have and avoid trouble later.
Basically, the purpose of pre-trip checks is to find anything that needs to be fixed or adjusted to ensure the best possible driving conditions. Some of these checks are obvious, but people sometimes still forget to allow time for them. For instance, starting even a short trip in winter frequently means clearing ice and snow off the vehicle. If the snow is light and fluffy, this may take only a few minutes. However, frozen rain or thick ice on the windshield could take much longer to remove. Similarly, tree sap or insect droppings in spring will be much harder to clean off than leaves in the fall.
While these types of checks are relatively simple, others are more complicated. The Ontario Provincial Police website lists some of the important checks for truck drivers in that province. Some of the recommendations are specific to trucks, such as checking between dual tires and checking the mud flaps for excess ice or dirt. However, other recommendations can apply to any type of vehicle.
Checking for Damage
The process of driving can be hard on vehicles. Rocks flying out from under the wheels of other vehicles can hit the windshield, attachments between two parts can loosen, and many other problems can occur from wear and tear on the vehicle. A good external check can help to catch some of these issues before they have the potential to cause accidents.
Checking for chips or cracks in the windshield is a good first step. Cracked windshields are potentially dangerous in an accident, besides reducing visibility for the driver. Taking note of any chips or cracks in the windshield will help the driver plan any necessary repairs. Checking the windshield wipers is the next step. The rubber on the blades should be in good condition, not fraying or falling off. The blades themselves should also be in good condition, moving smoothly and cleaning the area they are supposed to cover without knocking into each other or missing spots.
Looking for other signs of damage is also important. Checking the tires for cracks or any obvious leaks can help drivers anticipate any potential problems, while giving them the chance to add air to the tires if necessary.
Paint and Rust
External pre-trip checks are also good opportunities for checking on anything that might cause problems in the future, such as chipped paint or rust spots. As the Driving.ca website explains, the weather in Canada makes complete rustproofing difficult, if not impossible. However, vehicle owners can take certain precautions to help minimize the potential damage from rust.
Although many vehicles come with some degree of rustproofing and mechanics can add to that protection with additional sprays and coatings, vehicles are still vulnerable to the effects of road salt and moisture. Even a small scratch in the paint can start to rust, and a minor problem can become major very quickly.
Another important check is to look under the vehicle for any leaking fluids. When everything is working well, oil and other fluids should stay within the vehicle, not leak onto the ground. A quick check under the vehicle should be enough to see if anything has been leaking. If a pool of black fluid is on the ground, the oil is likely leaking, and other fluids can also leave a stain.
Even when no leak is visible, it is a good idea to check under the hood to ensure that all of the fluid containers are filled to their appropriate level. This may involve opening caps and removing dipsticks, but it is an important step towards ensuring that the vehicle is ready to drive. The Carfax website recommends checking oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze/coolant, radiator coolant, brake fluid, windshield washer fluid and power steering fluid to ensure that they are at the proper levels.
While this step might be more trouble than help on short excursions, such as driving to the grocery store or to work, it can be essential on longer trips, especially on ones that involve driving on highways or country roads. In those areas, a breakdown could mean a long and possibly cold wait for help. Even in cities or towns, however, a breakdown could mean delays and possibly missed meetings and appointments.
Lights and Signals
Other pre-trip checks are not as much about breakdowns as about safety. Before driving away anywhere, even on a trip of a few blocks, drivers should ensure that all of the lights and signals are functioning properly. This check is difficult for one person to do, and it is best to have a second person standing outside the vehicle, watching to be sure that the lights work as they should.
For this part of the external check, the driver should check each of the light settings, including parking lights, daytime running lights, and all levels of headlights, to make sure that they are working. The right and left signal lights are also part of the check, as are the hazard lights. If any of the bulbs are burned out or the wiring is faulty, this is a good time for vehicle owners to take note and to fix the problem or schedule a maintenance appointment if necessary. One way of preventing problems like these is to conduct regular checks of the body of the vehicle to look for any places that are beginning to show signs of rust.
A good external pre-trip check is important for detecting issues before they become major problems. Doing this as often as possible is a good habit to form.