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December 7, 2011

Is Your Car Safe for the Holiday Travel?

Photos courtesy of Ford Press
Whether you plan on visiting your mother-in-law in Bicol or simply want to have some R&R in Baguio, your car needs to be up to the task. Imagine what would happen if it wasn’t. Likely, you’ll find yourself stuck by the side of a deserted road; or worse, be towed away by the highway patrol. Imagine the stress, helplessness and agony.

You have to take matters into your own hands. If you’re planning on taking a road trip this Christmas season, make sure you provide your car with some basic maintenance.

Let’s start by listing the parts in your car that you should check to ensure everything’s in working order. Note that while you may be able to verify some of these on your own, for the most part, you’ll have to rely on a competent mechanic.


If a car were a living organism, then its fluids would be its lifeblood. You must make sure that there’s always enough juice in every part so that the car can function flawlessly. Take note not to overfill these fluids as they’re equally harmful as having little or no fluids at all. If you think of running with a leaky hose, better have it checked and repaired first before zooming off to the provinces. Be aware also that some of these items also have filters that need to be examined.

  • Engine oil
  • Transmission oil (for automatic transmission models)
  • Gasoline
  • Radiator fluid/coolant
  • Brake fluid
  • Windshield washer fluid
  • Power steering fluid
With the exception of gasoline and windshield washer fluid, these fluids must be periodically checked when your vehicle goes in for its periodic maintenance service or PMS.  Check with your owner’s manual as to the recommended interval of each PMS.

Hoses and Belts

If the fluids are the lifeblood of your car, then the hoses and belts are its connective joints. If there’s a loose connection, you might find yourself hitchhiking before you know it. Make sure all hoses and belts are tightly secured. For example, with the engine cold, give the engine belt a tug to make sure there’s not much free play or movement. Check by feel if there are any cracks or abnormal wear as well.


Whatever your car, be it a lowly family sedan or a high-performance sports car, it’s connected to the pavement only through a few square-centimeters of rubber. It’s extremely important to check for tread depth to ensure adequate traction. Some tires provide wear indicators, so check them to make sure you still have enough depth. If your tires don’t have tread indicators, you can use a five-peso coin. Simply put the coin heads down in the tread and make sure that it covers a part of Aguinaldo’s hair. If it doesn’t, then your tread is too shallow.

You may also want to check your wheel alignment and balancing as well.  Not only will this give you even wear on your tires, but ensures that you have a safe handling car.

Lastly, check your tire pressure. The number on the tire’s sidewall is the maximum pressure it can withstand, not the recommended amount.  The recommended tire pressure is usually located on the driver’s door; for some, in the glove compartment, center console or gasoline tank. Or when in doubt, check the owner’s manual for details on your car’s recommended tire pressure. And don’t forget the paramount spare tire, just in case.


Check the headlights, blinkers, tail lights and even the interior lighting. Faulty lights can be very dangerous as other motorists will have a hard time gauging their distance from you on the road. If the bulbs seem to be in good condition, check your car’s fuses too. You may have blown one or two. This can potentially indicate some sort of electrical problem.

Glass and Mirrors

Driving a car requires constant attention, keeping your eyes peeled for obstacles and other traffic. In order to do this correctly, make sure that all your windows are clean, the mirrors are correctly angled and don’t forget to install new wiper blades when they’re worn or cracked. If your car comes with a defogger, check if it functions properly. It should come in handy when going to colder places like Sagada or Baguio.


The car’s brakes are its first line of defense when it comes to safety. Most brake pads nowadays come with a wear indicator (they emit a squealing sound if they’re worn), but make it a point to conduct a through inspection. Check that the brake pedal feels right. If it feels too hard or soft, it might be the sign of something abnormal.

Air Filter

An engine needs air to operate. The air filter keeps the improper particles from entering, but, with time, it gets dirty, becoming less effective.  Check it regularly, but most especially before going on a lengthy road trip.


While it’s true that the more you drive, the more your battery gets charged. But if the battery reached the end of its natural life, you will have difficulty starting your car, especially on cold mornings. The last thing you need is having to jumpstart the car every single day in the middle of nowhere. While you’re at it, make sure that the electrical and ignition systems are good too.

Air Conditioner

If your car’s air conditioning is as breezy as a dog’s breath, don’t waste any time and have a professional look into it. Your road trip’s supposed to be a vacation, not a foray into a sauna or steamship boiler room.

What to Bring

Once you’re certain that your automobile is in flawless condition, stock it with some items that’ll make your life easier while on the road, as well as provide you with some peace of mind.

Towing/Car Club Membership. They cost less than a thousand pesos a year, and yet, provides you with an excellent back-up plan in case something does happen to your car. Automobile club memberships like AAP is a cost-effective way to kiss your worries goodbye.

A fully-charged mobile phone.  Not only perfect for sending lovey-dovey messages every morning, a cell phone is a must when your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Remember though, you’re not supposed to chat with buddies while you’re behind the wheel.

Extra fuses, water and oil. Sometimes trouble springs up without warning—even if you take the necessary precautions. Blown fuses, leaky radiators are common causes of tribulations, so prepare for the worst by taking along extra fuses plus a quart of motor oil and about two liters of potable (drinkable) water.

Emergency tool kit. Again, in the spirit of taking precautions, having a tool kit in your car with all the essential tools can avoid foreseeable troubles. Your kit should contain the tool kit provided with the car (tire wrench and jack, screwdrivers, pliers) plus jumper cables, a utility knife, a flashlight, tire pump or sealant and duct tape.

It always pays to follow a checklist such as this before heading out to the open road. Not only will you drive away without fear or having your vacation hampered by a prolonged visit to a seedy auto repair show, but the money you put into these precautionary measures will save you big bucks in the long run. So, drive on and be safe!

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