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Vacation drive readiness

July 22, 2015
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

There is a procedure performed by most car repair shops that goes by various names, such as: Trip Check, Safety Inspection, Mechanical Inspection, Roadworthy Inspection and so forth.

We call it Trip Check. We use it to prepare our snowbird clientele for the drive home every spring and for our locals who take their vacations by car, usually in the summer. It is designed to make sure the car is up for the job. After spending many months oscillating between home and work and the corner convenience store our cars may have picked up a malady that isn't apparent to us as we make these short trips. Many times these problems don't show up until the car is put under the stress of a longer trip. To add insult to that injury, the problems pop up when you are away from home and familiar surroundings. No friends or relatives close by to render assistance, or a known and trusted mechanic to rely on. The solution? There's only one. The above mentioned pre-trip inspection.

There are a few things to know about these inspections.

n First, yes, some shops are going to tell you that you need something that you don't really need. It happens. This is most often a shop that doesn't have enough work, so they are trying to "make work." Often that is because their main business is selling tires or oil changes at or below cost, so they need to pad their repair work to make a profit. The solution? Simple. Get a second opinion. Don't tell the second one what the first one said. See if they come up with the same thing. Don't tell them about the first diagnosis, because the second shop might see you as an easy sell on that job, even though you don't need it.

n Second, the inspection is a waste of time unless the tires are removed. Brakes and axle seals have to be eye-balled to be checked, and they are not visible with the tires on. You do not know that your brakes are okay just because they seem to work okay. They can work perfectly right up to the time the last of the lining falls off and you begin to grind up a drum or rotor, stranding you and doubling the repair cost.

n Third, everything made of rubber on the car begins to disintegrate as soon as it's manufactured. Tires, seals, belts and hoses are all aging and will fail from age, regardless of mileage. When they get hardened and brittle with age, they have to be changed. They are the most common cause of breakdowns on the road. Weather-checked tires, cracked belts and soft hoses are going to break and only an experienced hand and eye can tell you how much longer they will last.

Fourth, the other thing that quits without any warning is the battery. You read that right. No warning. Don't believe you will know when it's getting weak. In most cases, you won't. The only thing the battery is there for is to start your engine. After that your alternator provides all of the electrical power. That little quick spin it provides to start the engine is easy for it to do when it's young. But inside it is steadily losing (with age) what is similar to "range of motion" in the human body. Then one day you may leave the headlights on or the door open for a while with the engine off. That drain on the old battery will take it near the edge of its' range and when you try to start the car the battery won't have the "range of motion" necessary to do the job. You're stuck. The solution? Simple. One thing only. It's called a "load test," done with a specific testing device. It's like a stress test on humans. You run on a treadmill for a certain length of time. If you die, it means you had a bad heart. We pull a certain amperage out of the battery for a certain amount of time and, if it dies, it saves you a breakdown on your trip.

Nothing lasts forever. Some things last till the day after the warrantee expires.

Larry DeHays is the author of the book "The Car Care World", a compilation of his most popular columns. It is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble,, or at the DeHays Automotive office, 17617 Broadway Ave., Fort Myers Beach. He has been an ASE Certified Technician for 37 years and an arbitrator for the Florida Lemon Law for 16 years. For more information go to or



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