Every day before I set off for work, I have a little habit: I do a quick walkaround of my car.
While I have the luxury of parking in a garage, one should take a minute or two to give the car a quick check before getting in and driving off. My reason is simple: this can make or break our entire morning and possibly even the whole day.
Like many of you, I maintain my car meticulously to be sure it is in good running condition all the time and ready to go. But the problem is that the roads we pass through aren’t always in the best condition, and something could have happened that we may not have noticed.
What if you ran over a nail last night and didn’t feel it? What if a plastic bag was blocking your radiator grille? What if you didn't notice that your license plate fell off?
What should you look out for when you do a quick walk around the car in the morning? Let's give you a quick run-through of what you should be looking for because that could be the key to a drive that's hassle-free.
Check the wheels and tires
The most important part you should check are the wheels and tires. There is a lot of debris on our road, and sometimes they can work their way into the wheels and onto the brakes. Ask us how we know.
And the most dangerous are sharp pointy metal bits and pieces. If you run over a piece of rebar from a nearby construction site (there are many) then you would likely feel it. But something like a 1-inch nail may not be that obvious and could deflate your tire (partially or fully) overnight.
You don’t have to get down on all fours and inspect each tire individually. Just see if your tire looks soft, and check the tread for any foreign object embedded into it. Here's a tip: use your phone's flashlight function to check; most nails are just bare metal and would probably glint with a little light. If you do find something and the pressure is not too bad, you can try bringing your car to the nearest shop for a quick patch job; just remember to drive slowly. We'd always recommend changing the tire on the spot because it's always better to do that at home.
At the same time, taking a look at the tires gives you an idea if they’re worn or need to be rotated already. If your tire does need to be rotated, you can check our guide here.
If stray cats are living in your area, it’s best to check underneath the wheel well too. Since cars offer some form of protection against the elements, stray cats tend to hide on top of the tire in the wheel well. You wouldn’t want to set off with a hitchhiker.
Visual body inspection
I take care of my car because it’s my pride and joy, and I'm sure many of you feel the same way about your car. However, by the time you get home at night, it's hard to properly inspect the vehicle’s body unless you happen to have a brightly lit garage.
The morning walkaround is really the best time to look for new scratches or dents you may not have noticed the night before. Granted, it’s hard to avoid having minor scratches if you daily your vehicle. But, if you see intentional scratches or key marks then that’s another story altogether. You might also want to rethink where you parked the last time.
If you park outside, you may want to see if your license plates are still there too. You may think it's impossible, but there are many instances where a vehicle's license plates have been stolen. If that's the case then report it right away. Apart from the hassle and fines associated with driving without the license plates properly installed, unsavory individuals like to use stolen plates on stolen cars.
There's also a lot of debris on the road like bits or sheets of paper or even plastic bags. Sometimes these end up blocking your grille, so make sure to double-check because an obstructed radiator is a recipe for a hassle.
Check for and clean off bird poop
Since you’re already on the lookout for scratches and dents, it’s also a good time to look for any bird poop, especially if you're parked on the street with power lines overhead.
Those who are very detail-oriented with their cars will tell you that bird feces is the worst enemy of your car's paint apart from dings, pollution, acid rain, intense heat, grit, and everything else in between. What makes bird poop different if left unattended is the acid content; this could seep into the clear coat and eventually cause the paint to fade on the spot. It’s the same story for bird droppings on the windshield.
How do you get bird droppings off the paint? If the bird poop is still wet, then you can gently wipe it off. Should it be dry, you can get a wet rag or microfiber towel, re-soak it, and wipe it off. The best thing to do is use a quick detailer spray and let it sit before wiping it off after a few minutes.
Remove dust/sand from wipers
Speaking of the windshield, take the time to check the wiper blades are in good condition. And you see dust or sand, clear it.
If dust or sand is accumulating on the wiper blades, it could scratch your windshield the next time you use it. This is especially prominent for those parked near construction sites; workers like to pile gritty sand on the sidewalk (or street) that just gets blown away by the wind.
All you need to do is lift the wiper blade and watch the dust fall, and then wipe the blade itself. Imagine if all the dust or sand that accumulated on the wipers made a pass on your windshield, not good. That's why a lot of cars had problems during the recent Taal eruption; eventually, the drivers ran out of water in the washer system, and the wipers ended up fully scratching the glass.
And you don't fix a scratched-up windshield. You replace it.
One other thing you should do before setting off is making sure all the lights on the car work - headlights, park lights, turn signals, brake lights, etc. It’s relatively easy to check everything too; just switch them on and step out of the car. For the brakes, just step on the pedal and see in the mirror if the rear glows bright red. If you could have someone spot for you, that would be best.
We don't have to say why having all lights working properly is very important.
This one is something you do after starting the vehicle: start your car and move it a few meters from the spot where you parked. Then step out and check if there are any fluids that aren't water. If there’s a little puddle of oil or any reddish-brown (ATF, power steering) or green-ish (coolant) liquid, then that’s a clear sign you need to have your car checked or possibly not even drive it for the time being. If what you're looking at are just small droplets, you'll likely be fine for the time being but you might want to schedule a visit for servicing soon.
Newer cars are unlikely to have any fluids dripping from them if proper maintenance is observed. But for older vehicles or even “project cars”, this should be something you may want to look out for. You don’t want to have your vehicle spewing oil in the middle of the road.
And if you smell gas at any point, then we shouldn't really have to explain what needs to be done.
Bonus: Pop the hood
If you’re not too confident about the fluid level in your vehicle, then you may want to take an extra step and open the hood. Here you can check the fluids (brake, transmission, washer, etc.) to see which are low and need to be topped up. While you’re there, why not check if you still have water in the radiator and reserve tank. Remember to use distilled water and coolant mixed in the proper proportions when topping up.
These simple procedures shouldn't take more than 5 minutes to do, but a quick walkaround might save you from trouble down the road. They say it's better to be safe than sorry, but we say something different.
It's better to be late than on a tow truck.