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DriveSmart BC – Is Your Vehicle Mechanically Fit?

Being able to go to our vehicle, put our key in the ignition and drive off to whatever destination suits us is a luxury that we seldom consider. I would dare say that for many of us the only time that we really consider our vehicle is when it fails us. Just for fun, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a professional driver and apply the mandatory daily trip inspection to our personal vehicle.

Before we go, we must be certain that we can stop! The service brakes are the first item on our checklist. Open the hood and make sure that the brake fluid level in the master cylinder is above the minimum. Start your vehicle and apply firm pressure to the brake pedal for five seconds. The pedal should not move during the test. Make sure that the brake warning light on the dash lit briefly when you started the vehicle and is now off. Roll ahead and apply the brakes. Your vehicle must stop without delay, pulling to one side or abnormal pedal feel.

The brake test is not done yet. Our final check here is the parking brake. Apply the brake and note that the pedal should not depress to the floor or pull to the end of it’s travel. Choose the lowest gear and try to move ahead. The parking brake must hold you back.

Steering is next. The hood is still up from our brake inspection, so we can visually check all of our steering components. Can’t see the tie rods or other connections? This may mean having to do a bit of crawling under the front of the vehicle. It’s not on the list, but it would not hurt to check the power steering fluid level.

It’s time to see and be seen so it’s time to do a circle check and inspect the lights and reflectors. High beam, low beam, brake, hazard, signal, tail, marker and licence plate lights must all be functional. Lenses must be the correct colour, undamaged and clean.

While we’re moving in circles, remember the tires and wheels as they need to be checked too. Tread depth and proper inflation pressure must be insured. Wheels must not be bent or damaged and all wheel  nuts must be present and properly tightened.

I suppose that we could have checked to make sure that the horn honked when we checked the brakes, but if we didn’t, do it now.

Being able to see properly in bad weather is important so let’s test the windshield wipers. Does the control work properly? Do the wipers move at the correct speeds? Is the rubber undamaged?

Looking out also includes looking back. For most of us, that means three properly adjusted rear view mirrors. One on the outside left, one in the middle and one on the outside right. They must be clean and free of cracks.

Are you carrying any cargo? What is locked in the trunk might not need any securement but pause to think about what you load into the passenger compartment. These items can become deadly missiles in a collision.

Whew, almost done! The last item is our emergency equipment. You may not choose to carry triangles, flares, a fire extinguisher or the like but I would suggest that checking the inflation of your spare tire would be a good thought instead.

If you didn’t notice anything else during all of the checking, you are probably ready to go. Complete your written pre-trip inspection report and carry on!

Oh, did I mention that when you park your vehicle for the day you need to do all of this again? While we are lucky to not have to do this by law, it is up to us to insure that our vehicle does meet basic mechanical fitness and that will require more than turning the key and heading out each day.

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Constable Tim Schewe (Retired)

DriveSmartBC: Where better than average drivers satisfy their curiosity.

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