5 Spring Tune-up Tips

Posted on April 1, 2002 by LCT Staff - Also by this author

?You can?t see Canada across Lake Erie, but you know it?s there. It?s the same with spring. You have to have faith, especially in Cleveland.? - Paul Fleischman, Seedfolks

Just when you think winter will never end, spring arrives along with eager prom-goers. On the heels of spring is summer, bringing weddings, vacation travelers and other special occasions that require your transportation services. The last thing you need is an unavailable vehicle due to a mechanical malfunction or breakdown.

With a little pre-planning now, you can count on your fleet taking you through spring and into the hot summer months without any problems. Pay attention to the five items listed below, and your summer business will be a breeze.

Air Conditioning and Cooling System Your customers count on you to give them a cool ride, and we don?t mean just cool-looking. Catching a malfunctioning air conditioning system before summer arrives is crucial for customer comfort. ?One of the most important things to check is the cooling fan in the engine compartment,? says David Knecht, director of maintenance for Greene Classic Limousine in Atlanta. ?If it?s not working properly, then the air conditioner cannot efficiently cool the vehicle.?

The cooling fan works by drawing air through the condenser and then cooling it. If the cooling fan is obstructed or malfunctioning, and cannot draw through enough air, then the air conditioner will not sufficiently cool the interior. ?Also, make sure nothing is blocking the condenser or radiator,? Knecht says.

Check the entire cooling system. The summer heat puts more of a strain on the cooling system, so it should be checked for any leaks, then flushed and refilled with the proper mix of anti-freeze.

Verify that the radiator overflow container is filled to the proper level. An anti-freeze tester should be used to check the condition of the mixture in the radiator.

Tires Always check tires when they?re cold, carefully monitoring tire pressure in the summer months. Keep your tires at the recommended pressure. Heat raises the tire pressure, so overinflating your tires can cause blowouts. Conversely, the hot summer roads can have negative effects on underinflated tires, contributing to blowouts and increased loss of tread. That?s why it?s important in the cooler months to increase the tire pressure by a couple of pounds.

According to Modern Tire Dealer magazine, these seven points should be focused on as summer approaches:

? Proper tire inflation. Tires wear more evenly and last longer if they are properly inflated. Generally speaking, tires are cold when they?ve been sitting for about an hour. Check the inflation regularly, especially if the vehicle will be driven for a long duration, or if the load increases. Also, make sure the spare is properly inflated.

? Load carrying capacity. Tires need to be able to adequately handle the maximum load of your vehicle. When buying tires, know your maximum load, including the total weight of the vehicle and passengers.

? Rotation. Each tire manufacturer has guidelines on how often their tires should be rotated. A general rule of thumb is to rotate tires approximately every 6,000 miles.

? Balancing and alignment. Tires and wheels should be balanced, and then tires can be aligned properly. Improperly balanced tires may result in an uncomfortable ride, and misaligned tires can cause irregular wear, which can decrease the life of the tire and result in handling problems.

? Cleaning. Regularly cleaning your tires helps to prevent cracking and unnatural aging, resulting in longer tread life.

? Speed ratings. The correct size of the tire designed for your vehicle will be speed-rated. When replacing tires, make sure the speed capability is the same or higher than the tires being replaced.

? Tread depth. Replace tires that have 1/16 of an inch of tread depth or less.

Battery Output The summertime puts an even greater strain on your vehicle?s charging system, which can cause the failing of key components. Check the battery, cables, alternator and battery fluid levels to make sure everything is in working order.

If your vehicle uses a dual-charging system, make sure the belt for the secondary alternator is checked. The second battery - the battery running the back of the vehicle - is typically smaller in capacity than the main battery. Typically, this battery is hidden and not noticed until suddenly there?s no power in the back of the car. Check both batteries and make sure this is done by someone who understands how both batteries work.

Brakes Brakes should be inspected once a year, or more frequently depending on your mileage. The master cylinder fluid level should be consistently checked and kept at a full level. The master cylinder holds the brake fluid, and its job is to pump the brake fluid into the brake system. If the master cylinder becomes depleted of fluid, air could get into the system and you could experience loss of braking ability. Also, inspect the outside of the master cylinder for any leaks.

According to Mark Salem, owner of Salem Boys Auto in Tempe, Ariz., a good service technician should be able to read your old disc brake pads to determine if there?s any irregular wear.

?If the inside pad is worn more than the outside one, the caliper needs to be serviced or replaced because the caliper piston is hanging up,? Salem says. ?If the outside pad is worn more than the inside one, the mounting hardware is causing the caliper to hang up and not slide. Replace the mounting hardware and lube the slides. What you want is even wear. However, a slight variation in thickness from one pad to the other is ok.?

Salem says if there isn?t a symptom seen in the wear of the pads, and if there isn?t a fluid leak, don?t authorize a caliper or wheel cylinder repair.

Hoses and Belts Check all hoses and belts regularly, as these items don?t usually fail suddenly, but ... for more information on this topic, check out the April issue of LCT magazine.

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