Vehicle Preparation – Part 2, by Traveling Mechanic

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

You should look and feel along the total length of all hoses. Any unusually soft or hard areas are of concern. Any bulge or area worn more than half of the hose thickness is a sign of imminent failure and needs replacement as soon as possible.

There are several things that will cause your vehicle motor to run hotter than expected. The typical cause is that the flow of air through the radiator may be partially blocked. A no-cost or low-cost solution is to take your garden hose and blow water from the motor side of the radiator toward the front. This reverse flow will often remove most of the bugs and rocks. You can shine a flashlight through the core. Any blocked light will show you where any remaining problem areas are located. I have also found several cases where leaves have managed to get between the air condenser coil and the front of the radiator. This trash blocked the airflow through both. A few minutes with an air or water hose removed the problem. The result was an improvement of air conditioner performance and slightly lower motor water temperature. I recommend that you place metal window screen meshi in front of the condenser and radiator If your location has lots of bugs or trash. This screen will block the ability of things to get into unwanted places.

Carefully examine the water flow path that it takes inside the radiator. The water flow will be either from side to side or top to bottom. Carefully place your hand on a part of the front of the radiator fins. Place your hand at approximately one half of the fin flow path. Cautions: Some electric radiator fans can turn on unexpectedl.. This area will be hot to the touch. Move your hand, with the same orientation, to another group of the fins. All of these groups should all be at approximately the same temperature. If a group of fins is dramatically cooler this means that there is minimal or no flow/cooling, which should be occurring, in this area. It’s time to visit the local radiator repair shop for rework.

Next, you should take your vehicle to anyone that sells vehicle batteries. They will typically do a battery life test of your battery at no charge. It is my experience that most batteries seem to fail within 3-6 months after the end of warranty period. If you live in a part of the country that can get below zero in temperature then a battery with a higher cold cranking amp rating is recommended. I also recommend that you should consider replacing the battery cables with their 6-volt equivalents. The larger wire gauge will allow more current to flow to the starter. This lower wire loss gives a faster motor rotation. This faster turning can often start a large motor that turns over very slowly when cold.

Under-body checks:

First, before you do anything, carefully block the front and rear tires so the vehicle can’t roll. Verify these blocks are working by attempting to push the vehicle in both forward and reverse directions. I like to additionally place a tire and wheel under the vehicle body. This gives extra protection for anyone under the vehicle should a jack fail.

Background – Things under a vehicle tend to become a dirty tan color. Look for any darker colored path. The dark stain, if found, indicates something is leaking or worn.

Jack up each tire in sequence. Spin each tire and listen to the sound. You will hear a bearing rolling sound. You should not hear any rubbing or scraping noise. You can repeat the test on the other side of the vehicle to verify if something needs attention. If one side is quiet and the other side has a noisy scraping sound then you have caught a problem.

You should check the brake pad, or brake shoe, thickness on both the front and rear. It is common to need to replace the front brakes three times for every two changes of the rear brakes.

Jack up each tire in sequence. Carefully rotate each tire back and forth in approximately one fourth turn segments. Verify that all universal joints (“u-joints”) turn without delay. Worn joints will exhibit a slight hesitation before moving during rotation direction changes. Next attempt to pull/push each u-joint from side to side. There should be no side motion possible. Rotate the u-joint 90 degrees and repeat. Do this test at all u-joints.

Attempt to pull the top or bottom of the tire sideways. No motion should occur. Any motion is an indication that the ball joints are excessively worn. Replacement is slow. It is often faster, thus less expensive to replace the individual control arms.

Have someone rotate the steering wheel in approximately 90-degree arcs. Verify that all steering parts move together without delay. Slight movement delays at each change of direction indicate worn parts. Replacement is needed.

Items En Route:

I/we believe that the mantra “two is one and one is none” applies here. Here is how we reduce risks;
1. We have traveled the planned route and know some items to watch for.
2. We carry both state maps and a topographical
3. We requested a AAA “Trip-Ticket” guide to the route last year.
4: I listen to several state Highway 511 updates monthly. Dialing a telephone area code and then 511 will almost always get you road condition updates without any cost.

Note: Some mountain highways may close during the winter. Verify that all roads that you plan to use are open.

We plan expected fuel usage at 10 MPG. We expect to actually get closer to 15 MPG. We plan to carry enough fuel such that we don’t have to stop at service stations. I found out that my employer uses rubbing alcohol as part of the product cleaning process before shipment. I suspect this may be a standard practice. These 5-gallon containers are thrown away after emptying. I got some containers, over a six-month period, simply by offering to remove them. I will fill these with fuel and discard them during the route as they are emptied.

The wife has planned and prepared all meals for use during the trip. The result is lower stress for her and faster human fueling stops.

Personal Note: We have found that road travel speed minus 10 MPH matches the overall distance and travel time spent in motion. This allows us to do the what/where/when travel planning and to match the actual fairly close.

The wife serves as co-pilot during the trip. We use the maps and the GPS to advise on upcoming road changes. We also listen to the weather channel stations to get timely updates. We are also listening to both national and local news.

We have equipped all towing and towed vehicles with mudflaps. This addition reduces risk of rock damage to anyone following behind a vehicle. The flaps also tend to reduce the dust cloud raised by the vehicle.

If you plan to travel on graveled roads be aware the rocks in the road material come in two versions: 1.) River rock – smooth rounded surfaces which is easy on tires and 2.) Crushed rock – This rock has fairly sharp edges. This will tend to cause tire failures. You can check how sensitive your tires are to “sharp” by looking at the number of plies. This tire construction rating can be found molded on the tire sidewall. I recommend that stop periodically. Examine what your tires are traveling on. Slow down to reduce tire stress on rough gravel. How many spare tires do you carry?

I strongly suggest talking with someone local about how the nearby gravel road surface(s) change during all seasons. I know a tricky local location on a gravel road. One spot has a clay base under the gravel. Every year at least one vehicle slides into the ditch at this location. Waiting for a tow truck to arrive can often be a long wait if not close to a tow. The cost will also be very expensive.

I carry a 30-foot plastic 30,000 rated tow cable and a handy-man jack. We personally haven’t needed these yet. Several families have been very grateful when we came along the road and pulled their vehicle back onto the road.

I strongly suggest practicing how to fully load each vehicle. This avoids both the delays from both “Is XYZ going” and “where/how” should it be packed. The first items to be loaded should be all first aid kits and fire extinguishers. Just how long is the loading now delay?

An Aside, In Closing

Something that I have never seen presented anywhere is what did you do about any property that you store in you vehicle? I recommend that you do fo your car the same as you do for your house:  Have someone use a phone camera to take LOTS of pictures for all rooms and buildings. Ask your insurance person what their SOP is to determine damage replacement. Don’t be surprised if they say “Here is a blank piece of paper. Write down each item along with cost and age”. Image if you said “Rather than attempting to remember everything here is a collection of pictures to provide firm evidence of what is / was present”. I recommend you copy all pictures to several DVD discs. You should keep a copy. A copy should go to an out of state relative. Offer to keep a copy of their DVD. A copy should be kept at your work. Are you concerned about “sensitive items like guns”? I encrypted those pictures so that they are available only if specifically needed. The encryption also keeps anyone snooping from knowing what critical items you have.

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