Preparing your car for summer is important because summertime driving can be so hard on a vehicle.
Especially in Texas.
Your air conditioner works harder. The air in your tires expand in the heat. Any breakdown becomes more miserable if you have to deal with it on a sunny day with triple-digit temperatures. And longer trips carrying luggage or towing a trailer means your engine has to work harder.
Make your summertime driving better by preparing your vehicle for summer before it gets here.
Overheating is the Number 1 cause of summer breakdowns. A thorough check now can avoid serious problems later.
- Cooling systems should be flushed and refilled once every two years. Flushing the system will clean out rust, grease, and sediment that just draining won’t take care of.
- Your owner’s manual will give you the recommended level, condition, and concentration of coolant. Half water/ half coolant is commonly recommended, but check your manual.
- Check the radiator cap and all the hoses and clamps for signs of leaking. A quick look while the engine is still hot from a drive should tell you if there’s a leak anywhere, because you’ll see boiling coolant spraying out. Keep your distance from the hot spray is you see any.
- Train yourself to monitor the temperature indicator on the dash more often in the summer. Catching a problem before the system overheats can save you a lot of trouble and expense.
- If you have a problem, never remove a radiator cap when the engine is still hot. Waiting for the engine to cool is annoying, but not as much as having boiling coolant splash over your hands or into your face.
An AC system that’s having problems now can break down completely when it’s having to work against the summer heat.
- Run the AC and check its performance. Does the air get cold and stay that way? Does the fan speed change when the controller is turned up and down? Do you hear any unusual sounds or spell anything odd from the AC vents?
- If you detect any problems, it’s probably best to take it to a certified specialist for repair, someone with the right training and the right equipment.
- Newer cars often have cabin air filters. Cleaning or replacing these filters will make your AC work more efficiently. Check your owner’s manual for details about your vehicle.
Engines often have to work harder in the summer time, and oil is what makes it possible for the various parts to work together without damaging each other. The oil supply is one of the easiest, least expensive things to get right, but it’s also something to many people neglect.
- Check the car’s dipstick. If the oil comes to the Fill line and is a clean golden brown color, you’re good. If the color is good but the level is low, add some oil. Black oil needs to be changed as soon as you can.
- Change your oil and oil filter as specified by your manual, especially if you make frequent short trips, or extended trips with lots of luggage and/or towing a trailer.
- The old wisdom said to switch to a heavier motor oil in the summer, but this really doesn’t apply to any car build in the last 15 years.
Tires are hugely important to your car’s performance and safety. A little attention now can spare you many problems in the future.
- Check your tire pressure at least once a month, but check it before driving because the heat generated by driving can affect the air pressure in the tire. Proper air pressure will get you the best contact with the road surface, making your steering and braking more effective.
- Check them also for tread depth, uneven wearing, and cupping. Check the sides of the tires for cuts and nicks.
- If you spot uneven wear or the car pulls to one side, get the tires aligned.
- Remember to check the spare as well, and be sure the jack is in good condition.
Winter cold and generally slower driving in the winter months can be hard on brakes. Check your cars brakes now, before summer driving goes into full swing. Few engine malfunctions are as dangerous as failing brakes.
- Low brake fluid probably doesn’t need to be topped up. Instead, it’s most likely an indication of worn brake pads.
- Get the pads checked or check them yourself, if you can. Make sure the pads aren’t discolored or crumbling, and check that the rotors or drums don’t show cracking.
GENERAL CHECKS AND MAINTENANCE
Your car is one of your biggest individual purchases. A few checks and general maintenance will go a long way toward protecting your car from breaking down and prolonging its driving life.
- Check your various filters: air, fuel, PCV, etc. This is especially important if you drive frequently in dusty conditions like dirt or rock roads, or drive near where mowers or farm equipment are throwing up grass, dirt, and dust.
- Examine the belts for tightness and wear. Replace any belts that look worn or show poor tension.
- Check the power steering fluid. It should be clean and up to the appropriate level. This is another quick fix that’s often neglected.
- Get general problems like rough idling or diminished power checked out at a good repair shop. A minor problem can become something more serious if ignored, and you don’t want to risk a breakdown in the summer heat.
- Check your gas cap and the gasket around it for cracks and damage. Replace the gas cap if necessary.
- Summer time means more insects. Clean the headlights, grill, and windshields more often. Make sure the windshield washer reservoir is filled.
- Make sure your car is equipped with a roadside emergency kit and some basic tools. A few bottles of water and book you haven’t read yet would be good to, in case you ever have a long wait for some help.
- Check your battery for corrosion. If you spot any, clean it with baking soda and an old toothbrush. Then check again after a couple of weeks. If the corrosion has returned, it could indicate a battery in need of replacement.
- Summer time weather can be extreme and unpredictable. Make sure you have wiper blades that are up to it, especially if you used them to de-ice the windshield last winter.
- Before summer starts is a great time to wash, wax, and detail the car. The weather tends to be more cooperative without being oppressively hot. And waxing will give your car’s paintjob some added protection from the summer sun.
- If you drove over salted roads last winter, a thorough wash of the undercarriage will get rid of any remaining salt residue. Left where it is, salt residue can damage the finish and the metal.
- If you’re planning a trip that involves towing a trailer, check the condition of the trailer and the hitch before you need them.
For most of us, our cars are one of the most expensive things we own.
With just a few simple checks and some basic maintenance, we can extend the lives of our cars and avoid a lot of problems for ourselves at the same time.
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