CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 ROBERT MORRIS
As the company safety officer for my unit, I was sometimes asked if vehicle inspections were completed. Usually, my response was, “Yes and no.” On paper, you could clearly see the inspections were done; however, I knew in the back of my mind that many had been pencil whipped by a buddy.
At the time, I was fortunate to have been in a unit where we’d gone three years without a private motor vehicle fatality. Because of that, though, I believed many in the unit had a false sense of security. So, as the safety officer, I did my best to provide reason and applicability as to why we were required to do the things we did.
The first step in proper vehicle maintenance is to have it serviced according to the schedule in your owner’s manual. At different mileage intervals, certain maintenance actions should be performed on your car by trained technicians. In addition, should you be stationed in a foreign country like my unit was, there may be other inspections your vehicle must pass before it can be registered or driven.
Beyond these things, however, there are simple checks you can do to help keep your vehicle safe on the road. By simply using your senses, you can often detect common vehicle problems. For example, look at the area beneath your vehicle. Small stains or an occasional drop of fluid under your car may not mean much, but wet spots or puddles deserve attention. You may be losing coolant, engine oil or transmission or brake fluid.
Some problems just smell like trouble, so it’s also a good idea to keep your nose in tune with your vehicle. Here are some odors that sometimes accompany an issue with the vehicle:
• A burnt toast smell — a light, sharp odor — often signals an electrical short and burning insulation. To be safe, do not drive the vehicle until the problem is diagnosed.
• A rotten egg odor — a continuous, burning-sulfur smell — usually indicates a problem in the catalytic converter or other emission-control device. Do not delay diagnosis or repair if you suspect such a problem.
• The smell of gasoline vapors after a failed start could mean you have flooded the engine. If the odor persists, chances are there is a leak in the fuel system, a potentially dangerous problem that requires immediate attention.
• A sweet, steamy smell indicates a coolant leak. If the odor is accompanied by a hot metallic scent and steam is coming from under the hood, your engine has overheated. Pull over immediately; continued driving could cause severe engine damage.
• Your vehicle can also “sound” like trouble. Here are some common noises and what they could mean:
• Squeals — shrill, sharp noises usually related to engine speed — can indicate loose or worn power steering, fan or air conditioning belts.
•Screeches — high-pitched, piercing metallic sounds that usually occur while the vehicle is in motion — are often caused by brake wear indicators letting you know it’s time to have your brakes serviced. Some brake systems are designed to make a clicking or chirping sound as the brakes get to the point of needing maintenance.
•Rumbles — low-pitched, rhythmic sounds — could point to a defective exhaust pipe, catalytic converter or muffler, or could indicate a worn universal joint or other driveline component.
•Heavy knocks — rhythmic, pounding sounds — can indicate a worn crankshaft, connecting rod bearing(s) or a loose transmission torque converter.
•Clunks — random thumping sounds — could indicate a loose shock absorber or other suspension component. Clunks may also indicate a loose exhaust pipe or muffler.
Not all of us are mechanically inclined, but there are some things anyone can do to ensure their vehicle remains in good operating order. Some of the most important things to monitor and check regularly include:
• Engine oil level and cleanliness under the hood
• Antifreeze/ coolant level
• Brake and power steering fluid levels
• Transmission fluid
When checking fluid levels, the engine usually has containers and canisters with fill level lines marked on them. Ensure the fluid levels are not below the minimum line or above the maximum line. You should always keep an eye out for any leaks or worn tubes and hoses. Before servicing any of the above items, however, first consult your vehicle owner’s manual for guidance.
Other things to be watchful for in and around the engine include loose electrical connections, worn or exposed wires, warped belts and clamps for hoses that may be damaged or loose. You should also keep an eye on your vehicle battery from time to time. Check for corrosion, as well as the age of the battery. Batteries should be replaced every five years or so. Most batteries also come with comprehensive warranties.
As you can see, you don’t have to be a mechanic to ensure your vehicle remains in good condition. A little routine maintenance can go a long way. And if you ever notice a problem, take it to a reputable mechanic to have it checked out. Remember, a healthy car is a safer car on the open road.