Numerous states in the northeast require an annual vehicle safety inspection. In fact, twenty states require some form of vehicle safety and/or emissions inspection every year.
Although Floridians are not required to perform this annual examination, most multi-point inspections offered by dealerships and service stations will review these basic checkpoints for you. However, dealers and auto repair shops typically charge anywhere from $50 to $120 for a simple 30-minute visual inspection. But, drivers may be surprised by how easy it is to conduct their own free mini-safety inspection in the same amount of time or less. Performing this do-it-yourself inspection thoroughly requires the ability to look underneath your vehicle, remove and reinstall a tire, and basic knowledge of auto-terminology.
The Multi-Point D.I.Y. Vehicle Safety Inspection
Most drivers will find they can follow the protocol of some state governments and conduct a simple inspection every 12 months. The tips below provide a reliable inspection guideline to follow in the days preceding any lengthy road trip:
Tires: Traveling just 40mph puts drivers with worn tires at risk of hydroplaning in adverse weather like a Florida afternoon shower. Balding or worn tires can produce skids on interstate exit ramps. Tread should be at least 1/16” at the most worn spot of the tire. Take a penny and insert it into the most shallow tire tread, with the top of Lincoln’s head going into the tread. If you can see the very top of Lincoln’s head, your tires are worn and need replacing. It is also important to look at your tires for uneven wear. If the outer or inner edges are worn excessively, or if you see a ribbed or cupped wear pattern on either tire edge, have a repair garage inspect your chassis and undercarriage. You may have worn steering or suspension components.
Engine compartment: Look under the hood and, if possible, inspect the engine compartment from beneath the vehicle as well. Look for traces of fluids along each hose and steel line. If any hose or line is moist, sticky, or discolored from seeping fluid, it is important to see a mechanic because this indicates that you have a leak. Identifying a slow leak and repairing it can help prevent a driver from being stranded on the side of the road, facing a tow, or possibly dealing with major repairs.
Drive belts: Keep the hood open and look straight down at the front (RWD) or left-hand side (FWD) of the engine. You should see one or more thick, black rubber serpentine belts stretched across a few pulleys. Check these belts for tears and fraying. Hairline cracks perpendicular to the belt are not a problem, as long as chunks of rubber aren’t missing from the belt’s inner surface. However, cracks running parallel to the rubber belt are dangerous and are indicators of a worn belt. In this case, it is important to have a mechanic install new engine belts because a broken belt while driving can cause the alternator, A/C, or power steering to fail suddenly, presenting a major issue on a road trip.
Brakes and Shocks: To be thorough, remove each wheel and inspect the brakes and suspension. Check disc brake rotors for rust rings or deep groves. An uneven rotor surface is an early sign of worn or malfunctioning brake components. Have your mechanic inspect your brakes in this case. Additionally, examine the shock absorbers and struts and check for fluid or seepage on the shock itself. Any leakage means the shock is worn and should be replaced. Most suspension components must be replaced in pairs (both front or rear wheels at the same time).
Lights: A full exterior light inspection should actually be performed monthly. To do so, turn on all of the vehicles lights, including the high-beams along with your flashers/hazards. Check the side marker bulbs and running lights as well. Next, stand behind the vehicle and have another person apply the brake pedal. Make sure all brake lights are illuminating properly and observe the trunk- or spoiler-mounted third brake light for bulb illumination. Many taillight assemblies consist of multiple bulbs, and too many drivers operate with multiple bulbs out. Monthly inspections will help you catch and replace any burnt out bulbs.
If your vehicle passes the preceding checklist, it would probably pass a typical state inspection in places like New York or North Carolina. Regular inspections can save a driver a lot of trouble and money on major repairs. If you’re not confident doing it yourself, let a state-licensed repair station perform a multi-point check for you at least once each year.