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Maintenance Check: Everything But the Engine
By Wayne Scraba/
Printable version
Degree of DifficultyEasy
Estimated Time120 minutes
120 minutes
Spare Tire
Spare tires can lose pressure over time. Because of this, it’s a good idea to not only check the pressure of the spare, you should also insure it isn’t damaged. This is particularly important in light trucks where the tire may be stored in a vulnerable location (for example, under the truck box). Tire pressure should be same as the rest of the tires (cold) if the spare is a full size model. If the tire is a compact spare, then pressures are often greater. Typically, compact spares are designed to operate at 60-PSI or greater. Recommended pressure for the compact spare will be displayed on the tire sidewall. Keep in mind that compact spares are for temporary use only. You can expect a tread life of no more than 3,000 miles on such a tire, depending upon road conditions. If it has seen use, check the tread wear and the condition, referring to the procedures used to examine tires (above).

Check the Spare - Don’t forget to inspect the condition and pressure of your spare tire. Compact spares such as this mandate higher pressures than regular tires.

Check the Spare Tire
Once you’ve checked the spare, ensure it is properly secured. Cars and light trucks often have jacking and spare tire stowage instructions on the deck lid or adjacent to the jack stowage location. A loose spare tire and jack is dangerous in the event of a collision. Secure them.
Jack, Jacking Tools
It’s a very good idea to take stock of the jack and all associated jacking tools (for example, the lug nut wrench). Using the owner’s manual (or the jack stowage instructions mentioned above), check to be sure all of the various components are in place and in good working order. Most often, the jack system will include a scissor-style jack, with a built in load pad, and a combination wheel wrench/jack handle. If your vehicle has accessory locking wheel nuts or hub cap locks, ensure the key is available and ensure it fits and functions (and is in the car or truck!). Nothing is more frustrating than attempting to repair a flat, and finding the wheel is locked in place with no key. It’s also a good idea to check to ensure that the wrench actually fits the lug nuts. If the vehicle has been fitted with aftermarket wheels, in many cases, the lug nut hex size differs from the OEM wrench size. If that’s the case, be sure you carry an appropriately sized wheel wrench (one that fits the hex). Finally, if the car or truck has aftermarket wheels, in many cases, the lug nuts differ from those used on the original equipment spare. Be sure you have the appropriate number of OEM lug nuts on hand (in the car) to the fit the spare.

Tire Change Essentials - The jack, jack handle and even lug nuts are important. After all, you can’t change a tire without them. See above for a detailed jack inspection process.

Check the Tire Jack, the Jack Handle and the Lug Nuts
Walk around the car or truck a couple of times. Look for the obvious: If it has exposed lug nuts, are they all in place? Are any visibly loose? Is all window glass in good condition? Are there any apparent fluid leaks under the car? With the engine running and the park brake set, are there any exhaust leaks? Check under the car for exhaust system leaks too. Are all of the mirrors intact? Do all of the locks and latches (doors, hood, deck lid) work properly? Is there any loose trim? Are the license plates or vehicle registration (depending upon the country/state) current? Is the insurance current?

Mirrors - Check your mirrors, inside and out. They should be intact and adjusted properly.

Check and Align the Mirrors
If everything in this list (along with the previous segment) passes, you’re ready to hit the open road. Enjoy it.
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