If you are planning on vacationing this summer, you will need to take your car through its paces to avoid ending up on the roadside. Summertime is particularly demanding on a car. Heat plays a major role in the deterioration of parts that will stop your car in its tracks. So, before you set off on that 200-mile road trip, follow these simple tips to keep your car safe during the summer.
As a reminder, ensure that your vehicle is off and has been given time to cool off before you go poking around under the hood. There are many part of your car that may not look hot until you touch them, so be careful and be sure that the car’s engine is cool.
Overheating is one of the most common issues our shop sees during the summer and is the most common reason for summertime breakdowns. What may be a negligible problem during the colder months can wreak havoc during the summer.
Your car’s engine will have to work harder during the summer, which means more heat. If your cooling system is not up to the task, then the engine will quickly overheat.
- Coolant levels
- Radiator cap (loose caps can cause evaporation). Don’t ever try to remove the cap if the car is hot
- Hoses and clamps
- Dash temperature indicator
If you have not taken your vehicle in for routine maintenance, then now is the time. Coolant, for example, should typically be changed annually. There are additional checks that a mechanic will perform that most people will be too inexperienced to do themselves.
There are many reasons why a battery may bite the dust during the summer. If you have not changed your battery in a while and then decide to go on a road trip and find yourself stuck in traffic with the AC blasting, GPS and phones plugged in and charging, then the battery can quickly begin to fade.
- Age – You should replace your battery every 3-4 years
- Charge – You can charge your battery before you begin a road trip.
- Headlights – Dimming lights
- Cranking – Slow cranking when turning on your car
There are many auto parts stores that will test your battery free of charge (sorry). Take advantage of this as a professional will know which signs to look out for in a defective battery like corrosion.
Many people will find out at the last minute that their AC isn’t working because they don’t turn it on until the temperatures outside really start climbing. Even if your AC is working, you should ensure that its operating at full performance. If your AC is only marginally operating, then there is a chance that it will fail when put under stress as is common during summer.
- Temperature – Place a thermometer into your AC vent to check how cold the air is.
- Cabin air filters – These are paper filters that filter the air coming into your cabin.
- Leaks – Look for refrigerant leaks under the car.
- Controls – Make sure that you can control the speed of the fan and temperature.
If you believe that you may have AC problems, but cannot pinpoint what exactly the issue is, then it is time to bring the car into the shop. There are a number of issues that can affect a car’s AC, from failed hoses and seals to moisture in the lines. A certified mechanic will be able to diagnose and repair such problems.
As with many of the issues presented, bringing your car in for routine maintenance will solve most of these headaches.
Brakes actually go through more stress during the colder months. Driving is generally a lot slower and can be a lot harder on brakes. When the summer months start, make sure that there hasn’t been too much wear and tear at this critical area of your car. Ensure that your breaks are in proper working condition before going on any vacations or road trips. This is one of the most important parts of a car and malfunctioning brakes are very dangerous.
- Strange noises
- Longer-than-normal stopping distance
- Corrosion – check the pads for crumbling, cracks or discoloration
If you notice anything out of the ordinary, then you should have your brakes inspected immediately. Many mechanical problems on cars start off fairly small, but can quickly get out of hand and cost more than the initial repairs.
Tires are another essential part of your car you need to be inspecting regularly. You should bring your car in to have rotations done at least every 5,000 miles. You should also have your tires inspected to see if an alignment is necessary.
Tires will put strain on other parts of your car. Low tire pressure will make it more difficult for the engine to move the car. Proper tire pressure will also have a positive impact on gas mileage.
If you notice your car’s tire pressure symbol pop up on the dash, then you should have the tires examined immediately. Low tire pressures, if left untreated for too long, can lead to blowouts and other expensive repairs.
- Tire pressure – Follow your owner’s manual and check the pressure when its cold outside
- Tire replacement components – Do you have a jack, spare tire, etc?
- Tread – uneven or completely worn tread is a sign of trouble. Use the penny trick on your tread
- Cuts, nicks and nails
- Pulling – Does the car pull more to one side?
Oil lubricates the many parts of the engine and keeps components from damaging each other. This is particularly important during the summer months as it helps prevent overheating. Changing or topping off your oil is an inexpensive maintenance item that goes a long way. Whenever you change your oil, do not forget to change the oil filter along with it.
Check to make sure that you have enough oil in the car and that the color is golden brown. An off color, or too much residue in the oil is a clear sign that you need to have an oil change. If you notice that there is not enough oil in the car, but the color is alright, then just add some oil.
Most modern vehicles will give you an indicator on your dash or screen when you require an oil change. If this is not the case, then simply consult with your manual and keep a note of at what mileage your next oil change should be. Always use the oil grade recommended by your cars manufacturer.
- Dipstick – The oil should come up to the fill line and be a clean, golden-brown color
- Leaks – Oil leaks are very common. Many times, you will smell these before you see them.
General Maintenance Items
Here are some additional maintenance items you should be performing on a routine basis, but especially right before the start of the summer months.
- Gas cap – Loosely fitting or missing gas caps result in gas evaporating from your vehicle
- Belts – Screeching or creaking noises from belts may be a result of cracking. Check for poor tension
- Wiper blades – don’t get stuck in a summer storm without adequate protection from the rain
- Wash and detail – after a stay at the beach, make sure you properly wash the top and undercarriage of the car to get rid of salt residue
- Jumper Cables
- Emergency kit – flares, water, food, basic tools, first-aid kit and a flashlight at the very minimum
Traveling during the summer is fun, but it’s important to be prepared. If you made it through summer in the past without any car problems, then consider yourself lucky. Give your car the due diligence it deserves and you will continue to enjoy it throughout the rest of your vacation.
Adam Chmielewski is the owner at Malone’s Service and Performance, a European automotive repair shop located in Marietta, Georgia. He and his team have been servicing, repairing and upgrading vehicles in the metro Atlanta area for over a decade. Adam is passionate about the automotive industry and seeks to deliver outstanding services and education to everyone that steps into his garage.