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Want to Go on This Year's First Track Day? Check These Things First

With Spring in full swing in almost every country in the world, many of you are probably considering going for the year's first track day, the first ride of the season, or other seasonal-vehicle-related events. That is swell, except for the fact that you should consider some preparation before the first event of this kind of the year.
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I am not only referring to an oil change on your occasional-use vehicle. There is more to it than that. The situation is different for motorcycles, but a few things are in common, though. First, before taking your prized track toy or motorcycle for its first event of the season, you should consider taking your time, a few days in advance of that ride, to give it a proper inspection.

The inspection I am referring to is recommended on your daily driver occasionally, but on vehicles that take weeks or months' worth of breaks between uses, it should be the norm. So, a few days before that first ride or first track day, be sure to check if your tires are not flat, and be sure to check the battery.

Be ready to reinflate your tires; their pressure surely has dropped a bit after months of storage. Both issues will ruin your first experience of that year, and they can be solved if you spot the problem early on.

The second thing you need to check involves fluids. I am not only referring to checking the oil level, coolant level, fuel level, and brake fluid level. Hopefully, you already do those checks on a regular basis. Instead, I am referring to a visual inspection for leaks.

If the vehicle sat in the same spot for weeks or months, it could leave an oil puddle or oil marks under it if there was a leak. The same goes for about any fluid except antifreeze or water. The former will leave a strange mark on the floor, form a puddle, or might partially evaporate, while the latter might not leave a trace if it evaporates in a heated garage. If you have a garage to yourself, you can use a couple of newspaper pages to confirm or deny any oil leaks.

While you are on the topic, search for any signs of the presence of an animal. If your motorcycle or car was “visited” by a rat, you might want to check your electrical system, as well as various insulation materials, sponges, and more.

Other wild animals may do harm to your vehicle, as well, so be informed of what lives in your area and be sure they are not in your vehicle. Parking near a pond or near a forest yields various kinds of nearby animals.

If your machine survived the winter without springing a leak anywhere or without becoming a rat hotel, you are ready for the next test. Be sure you have proper ventilation for this one, as it involves starting the engine and letting it run for a bit.

Check for leaks again. It is not the best thing for your engine, and it does not guarantee any issues, but you might spot a stuck thermostat or a water pump that starts to leak. The former issue may lead to the latter, but they may both leak, or just one of them may happen.

In my case, a few years ago, I managed to spot a water leak from my motorcycle's water pump as I was putting on my gear and preparing to lock the garage. I was fortunate enough to have a naked bike, which did not even have a belly pan, so all it took was a close look and the visual inspection I gave the aged motorcycle before each ride.

Needless to say, I stopped the motor after confirming the leak was not just condensation, checked coolant levels, pushed it back into the garage, and scheduled a repair.

If I had not waited for just a few minutes for the idle to settle before letting off the choke, I would have not noticed the leak. In a bike with a full fairing, I may not have been so fortunate, so keep your eyes and ears open for anything out of the ordinary.

With no leaks, noises, or anything else off, it is time to check if your vehicle's lights still work. Turn signals and hazard lights must be checked separately, as do headlights, running lights, full beams, and even reverse lights.

Brake lights are not that difficult to check, even if you are alone – all you need is a reflective surface behind your vehicle for you to look at while you press the pedal. Or you can place something heavy on the pedal, such as a full water bottle, and check the lights visually.

If you have an older vehicle, a multimeter or a dedicated device to inspect the battery charging ensemble would be wise at this point. While the energy to start was there, charging may be a different matter. Guess how I know! Old vehicles will turn you into an amateur mechanic, whether you like it or not.

With the vehicle theoretically ready for action, you must keep your enthusiasm in check. The main idea is to take things progressively, regardless if you are about to drive a racecar or a sports car on the track, or if you are going for a motorcycle ride or even a Sunday drive in your vintage car.

Remember that this is not your daily, so leave more space to brake, especially on the first few applications, and remember that it may not have ABS, while your daily may have it, so adjust accordingly.

Also, just because the pedal is fine for the first three or four presses, it does not mean you are out of the woods just yet. I have experienced brake failures because of old hoses, leaky calipers, and even improperly fixed bolts. I am still here to write about it, so I must have done something right.

So, go for the better safe than sorry route and check everything that might break down on your first outing. Remember that your reflexes might not be as good as they were on your last ride or drive with that vehicle, so be sure to do a couple of practice emergency stops in a safe space before heading out on the track. Do not forget about insurance or registration validity, by the way.



Editor's note: For illustration purposes, the photo gallery shows images of various vehicles, as well as people repairing or driving them. The Nurburgring video embedded bellow reminded me about the vast possibilites of breaking down on your first outing of the year with your special vehicle.

 
 
 
 
 

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