Pros recommend auto maintenance before holiday trips, weather commence

by By Cristin Parker

With wintry weather taking hold and the holiday travel season just around the corner, now’s the time to give the family jalopy at little TLC.

Local automotive businesses and the Car Care Council (CCC) recommend before hitting the road for the holidays, car owners take a little time to have their vehicles thoroughly inspected to make sure they are road ready.

Thanksgiving is traditionally the most traveled holiday in the U.S. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA) a record 50.9 million Americans traveled 50 miles or more to celebrate Thanksgiving in 2017.

“Historically, the busiest travel days are the day before and the Sunday following Thanksgiving,” Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Phil Wilson said in a statement published at the department’s website. “Thanksgiving is a time to be spent with family and friends, so we want to make sure Texans get to where they need to be safely.”

And as the holidays creep up, so does colder weather, which can wreak havoc on a vehicle’s systems.

“There are several things drivers need to consider as the weather changes, to keep their vehicles in top running condition,” said Jody Gray, owner of Gray’s Automotive in Rusk. “It generally takes an automotive tech less than 10 minutes to check everything under the hood and prep for both holiday weather and road trips.”

The Car Care Council recommends these maintenance tips:

- Check all fluids, including engine oil, power steering, brake and transmission, as well as, windshield washer solvent and antifreeze/coolant. “It’s not enough to check that you have antifreeze in your cooling system,” Gray said. “It needs to be tested to make sure it’s got enough life to last you through the cold months.”

- Check the hoses and belts to make sure they are not cracked, brittle, frayed, loose, or showing signs of excessive wear.

- Check the battery and replace if necessary. Make sure the connection is clean, tight and corrosion-free.

“The colder weather is definitely harder on a car’s battery,” TLC Tire & Auto manager Josh Parker said. “The chemicals in the battery don’t react as fast in a cold battery. That slows down the discharge, which drains a battery’s strength. This time of year we usually see a lot more customers coming in for battery checks.

“Another battery people may not know to check is the battery in the tire pressure sensors. As the weather changes, the air pressure in tires fluctuates, making the tire pressure light come on. Most times, it’s just a matter of adding air but sometimes it can be an indication that the sensor has gone bad. So it’s always a good idea to get that checked out on a regular basis.”

- Check the brake system annually and have the brake linings, rotors and drums inspected at each oil change.

- Inspect the exhaust system for leaks, damage and broken supports or hangers if there is an unusual noise. Exhaust leaks can be dangerous and must be corrected without delay.

- Check engine performance to make sure it is delivering the best balance of power and fuel economy and producing the lowest level of emissions.

- Check the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system as proper heating and cooling performance is critical for interior comfort and for safety reasons such as defrosting.

- Inspect the steering and suspension system annually including shock absorbers, struts and chassis parts such as ball joints, tie rod ends and other related components.

- Check the tires, including tire pressure and tread. Uneven wear indicates a need for wheel alignment. Tires should also be checked for bulges and bald spots. “It’s always a good idea to actually bend down and check your tires up close – especially the front ones,” Allen’s Tires technician Randy Sparks said. “They can look great on the outside but on the inside there may be wires hanging out. Keeping your tires properly inflated and aligned definitely goes a long way in extending the life of the tire, not to mention improving your gas mileage and keeping your ride smooth and quiet.”

- Check the wipers and lighting so that you can see and be seen. Check that all interior and exterior lighting is working properly and replace worn wiper blades so you can see clearly when driving during precipitation. “People forget about the wipers a lot of the time,” Gray said. “But you’ll notice when you turn them on and still can’t see. Drivers also need to remember do not use your wipers in icy conditions – that could damage them. Let them thaw out before you turn them on.”

As a precaution, the CCC also recommends drivers keep important telephone numbers in their cell phone or glove box in case of a travel emergency. Vehicles should have a roadside emergency kit that includes items such as a first aid kit, tire-changing jack, tire pressure gauge, jumper cables, flashlight and blankets.

“The last thing anyone wants during the holiday season is to break down miles from home in the middle of nowhere,” Car Care Council Executive Director Rich White said in a statement published on the CCC’s website.

“It’s always a wise idea to have your vehicle checked out before you leave home to identify any potential problems that can be serviced before your holiday journey.”

Motorists who must drive during bad weather are reminded to drive to conditions – that means lowering your speed when it’s raining or if there’s snow and ice.

Also, allow extra travel time to reach your destination and leave plenty of room between your car and the one you’re following.

The Car Care Council is the source of information for the “Be Car Care Aware” consumer education campaign promoting the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair to consumers.

For a free copy of the council’s popular Car Care Guide or for more information, visit