Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How To Inspect Your Car For The Track

For your safety and the safety of other participants, it is important that you bring a car that is mechanically safe for the track.  There will likely be some sort of safety or tech inspection, but no one will know the car as well as you, so ultimately, it's your responsibility to make sure that the car you are bringing to the event is safe.  If you aren't the mechanic in the family I would suggest learning the basics like changing a tire, torquing the wheels, checking fluids and bleeding brakes.  It isn't uncommon to have to bleed the brakes while at the track because you cooked your brake fluid.

- Fluid leaks:  Look for any significant leaks and get them fixed.  If the engine is wet from oil, but its not dripping significantly, you will be OK.  Significant leaks are anything that leaves a quarter sized puddle after the car has been sitting for an hour.  This is transmission, engine, radiator, brakes, power steering, fuel (want to burn to death?), differential, blinker fluid and any other fluids your car may have that I forgot about.

- Brakes: Check to make sure your rotors are in decent shape and you have plenty of meat on the pads. Even if the fluid looks good and you have good pedal feel it's still a good idea to bleed the brakes to get some fresh fluid in the calipers.  If you change pads then you should bed in the brakes to give you the best possible braking performance. It is also a good idea to bring an extra set of pads in case you wear out the current set on your car.

- Suspension/drive-train.  Check for any loose components especially ball joints, tie rods, wheel bearings, and control arms.  One way to check it is to grab the top of the tire with the car on the ground and shake it.  If there is play or funny noises, you better investigate further.  Then jack up the car, and grab the tire in the 3 and 9 o'clock position and shake it.  Then repeat in the 12 and 6 o'clock position.  Again, you are looking for excessive play or noises that indicating that there are some loose parts.

- Tires:  You should expect to wear the tires pretty significantly, so check them for thread depth, uneven wear, cracking, cuts or damage.  Check them between sessions to make sure you still have meat on them, but I wouldn't recommend going to an event unless the tires have at least half the thread depth left otherwise you might have to retire from the event early.

- Battery:  It must be secured so that it doesn't become a wrecking ball inside the car.

- Wheel Torque.  Bring a torque wrench to check the lugs regularly before, during and after the event. Know what you should be torquing your lugs to because if you over do it you can break wheel studs which the organizers won't like to much.  Plus, think how embarrassing it would be if a wheel came off on the course.

- Steering:  I should feel tight.  Older cars with the conventional steering linkage may have more play, but if its excessive you need determine if you have any worn components.

-Misc:  Safety belts need to be functional.  Tail lights usually need to be functioning.  The inside of the car needs to be cleared of loose items, including the floor mats. No cracks in the windshield. No loose or hanging body panels. No significant rust in structural areas of the car such as the frame, suspension hard points, and strut towers.

Just figure that you could be going 100+ mph into a turn, do you want a mechanical failure to send you into the wall?  If the answer is yes, then please let me know which track day you will be at so I can avoid it.  When in doubt, slow the car to a safe speed and return to the pits and ask someone to help you.  There are a lot of cool people out there, and they will be more than happy to help if they can.  Track days are the most fun when you go home with your car and your self in one piece, so don't worry about getting your moneys worth. 

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