Before you head out on a summer road trip, get your car in top-notch shape with these essential vehicle maintenance tips.
Guest Post by Matthew Young
Summer, for many people, is the time for vacations and for taking a break from the daily grind. For the family vehicle, this often means more mileage. And although warm, dry days are easy on the car, summer can present some challenges. But if you prepare your car for summer, the driving will indeed be easy when the temperatures rise.
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If preference dictates the use of air conditioning, then a thorough check of the system will be necessary as summer approaches. Hopefully the system was cycled on and off during the winter in order to keep the pumps and seals lubricated. In any case, as summer approaches, turn the system on and make sure that cold air is present in the selected modes and at the appropriate vents. If the air is cool but not cold, if the temperature fluctuates dramatically with engine RPM, or if the air does not blow at the appropriately selected vents, it is time for a trip to the shop. Belts, hoses, refrigerant quantity, seals (checked by verifying vacuum pressure), and the condenser will all be checked for condition. Additionally, at the next oil change, ask the attendant to change the cabin air filter in preparation for the dusty season ahead. During summer, one should be mindful of the draw on engine power when the AC is running. If the car is working hard to climb hills at low speed, for example, it may be time to open the windows.
Hoses and Belts
Photo Credit: Replacing a timing belt of car by Petar Milošević is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
The rubber components under the hood should be inspected as they (belts and hoses in particular) are responsible for the cooling systems for both the engine and the cabin. Belts should be checked for cracking and wear. Slick or shiny spots indicate heat-wear that is a sign of a worn belt. Belts should be replaced as recommended by the manufacturer. Replacement intervals vary from every few years to as many as ten, so it is important to consult the owner’s manual.
In the matter of hoses, it is critical that coolant be able to circulate through the engine. Broken, clogged, leaky, or worn hoses should be addressed immediately. Keep in mind that the chemicals in engine coolant react with the metals in the engine and the resulting electrolysis can cause wear and damage that is unseen. This electro-chemical degradation is unavoidable but can be limited by regular service of the coolant system.
Fluid Inspection: Oil and Coolant
Photo Credit: radiator by EvelynGiggles is licensed under CC BY 4.0.
Verifying the quality and quantity of the cooling/lubricating fluids in the engine is an important summer task. Coolant should be clean, bright, and filled to the approved level. Coolant, when added, must be mixed in a 50:50 ratio with distilled water unless purchased as “pre-mixed.” Coolant should be changed completely every 2 years as a part of regular service.
Photo Credit: step 5 by Robert Couse-Baker is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Oil must be of the appropriate summer grade and should be changed regularly (every 3-5 thousand miles or as recommended). Although warm temperatures are generally better for oil, using the wrong viscosity can be a serious problem as temperatures rise. Light oil, designed to work in the cold temperatures of winter, will be too thin to work in high temperatures and will break down and fail to lubricate engine components. At a spring oil change, make sure to switch to the grade of oil that is recommended for summer use.
As always, any tire, including all-season radials, should be checked for proper inflation on a regular (once a month) basis. Over-inflated tires are more prone to blow out, and under-inflation leads to wear. Both conditions are exacerbated by high summer temperatures, and improper inflation can be caused by thermal expansion as outside air temperatures fluctuate. Beyond proper inflation, changing to a seasonal tire can provided better performance in summer. Summer tires have harder rubber compounds that withstand hot roads better than the soft rubber tires used in winter.
Automotive performance should generally not suffer in the summer. With a regular service schedule, summer driving can be a trouble-free experience. A part of that regular service should be filter changes. The increased dust in the summer can lead to clogged filters. Clogged filters decrease airflow to the engine and thus engine performance. Likewise, as fuel blends are changed in the spring, it is possible that clogged fuel filters can decrease performance. On that same note, keeping a full fuel tank avoids the various problems that arise from running on fumes, such as debris entering the fuel system and condensation in the fuel.
Finally, as in any season, a check engine light should be considered as a warning that something is not running as it should. Be familiar with the instructions in the owner’s manual regarding these caution lights. Some indications, such as a blinking light, may be a signal to stop immediately. A vehicle that drives normally, but shows a check engine light, may be headed toward major damage.
With a few precautionary measures, summer driving can be a pleasurable and trouble-free experience.
For more information about auto maintenance and a free downloadable checklist, check out our article How to Get Your Vehicle Road Trip Ready.
We Would Love to Hear From You
At Backroad Planet, we enjoy dialogue with our readers, especially when they share automotive news and tips. What are your recommendations for keeping your vehicle in top-notch shape? We would love to hear your suggestions. We invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and we always respond!
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How to Get Your Vehicle Road Trip Ready
Thanks for letting me know that I should visit a nearby auto shop if the temperature inside my car fluctuates dramatically. I rarely drive, so I’m not able to check every part and only notice them when I use them for groceries and errands. Since my air conditioning system doesn’t seem to be working properly, I guess I should follow your advice and take the vehicle to a professional.
No matter, whether it is summer or winter, we cannot put anything off related to auto aftercare. Honestly, I feel no shame to say that summer car maintenance is as important as winter car care. The burning temperature of canicular days amplifies the damaging effects on the vehicle that ultimately presents so many provocations to the personal conveyance. Summer’s blazing temperature can not only blemish the cooling system of the vehicle but also stress the engine and other moving components. Thus, taking the summer car care for granted will definitely leave the motorist stranded on the highway.
These are great information regarding the most common car cleaning myths. These facts are very helpful in clarifying these notions. Thanks for sharing.
Glad to help, Margaret!
Hello Matt! Also the battery itself. The blower fan working overtime takes its toll on the battery, Important to get it checked before the summer or, if you haven’t already, act fast. High ambient temperatures is the main cause of battery trouble.
I’m probably one the masses that didn’t know that coolant needed to be changed every 2 years. It’s one of those things that’s out of sight, out of mind until it becomes a problem. Good to know. Thanks for sharing!
Definitely agree with you on the out of site, out of mind thing, Will!
Alignment is also a good point to check which I think could be a good addition to this list.
Proper alignment can help extend the life of your tires, make for a smoother ride, and even save you a few bucks on gas. A quick check-up can let you know if your car is due for an alignment service.
Excellent point, Michael!
Traveling by a well maintained car makes your journey joyful. As due to excess heat in the summer car owner should be aware about its maintenance and take necessary action to prepare it for running on the road. As summer approaches air-conditioner must be in working for cooling the passengers. Belts, hoses, refrigerant quantity, and the condenser will all be checked for condition. As belts and hoses are responsible for the cooling systems for both the engine and the cabin, it should be checked for cracking and wear. Clogged filter should be replaced by good one in order to keep the engine free from getting failure and enhance its performance. Rotation and inflation of tires should be done periodically by a car mechanic for making your car more effective. Thanks for sharing your informative thoughts.
And thank you, Cotar, for sharing your tips!
I didn’t realize that there are harder rubber tires for summer that can help withstand hot roads better. It also makes sense that you’d want to check the tire pressure regularly too. Finding a good mechanic for routine check-ups will probably also help extend the life of your vehicle. I’ve noticed that my brakes are starting to make some noises when applied. It might be time to take them in. I’ll also need to check out the harder rubber tires while I’m at it.
Thanks for sharing your tips, Lucy, especially about the tires!
A routine maintenance is not so bad, to avoid bigger problems in the future and even prevent from even having one.
I agree routine maintenance is the best way to keep your vehicle in top-notch shape!
I never really thought about how important it is to check out the rubber components under your hood. My friend’s radiator blew when we were on our way to Yellowstone last summer and that sure was a pain in the butt. Now I know to check for slick or shiny spots on my belts before embarking on a big adventure! Or better yet, take my car in for regular maintenance to avoid any unexpected issues.
Thanks for sharing an additional tip, Kayla!
When summer comes, many people plan to go outside with their family to enjoy their vacation. But during summer the high temperature may damage few parts of the car. The heat generate expands the tire and that may burst by which you face problem. The heat also affects the cooling system. But if you prepare your car for summer before deciding to go outside, then you can enjoy a safe long drive. You should check every part of your car by yourself or you can take the help of a good mechanic to get your car ready for summer.
Well put, Louis!
This is a great checklist for summer for those who might not be completely familiar with what all needs to be done to maintain their car. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Abby! Glad to help!
These points are essential to think before we plan a trip or going for a long ride. In summer cars may break down if we don’t care about these important points.
Great tips, thanks for sharing with us.
Would definitely save this article for future use. Very informative! Keep it up.
Thanks, Kathleen! Glad to help.
Would be needing this for the coming summer. However, I engage in regular maintenance. Regular vehicle maintenance will not only ensure maximum car performance but will also prevent costly repairs. Sometimes, even the smallest defect that seems irrelevant to you may lead to a major problem which will consequently increase your car maintenance costs.
I agree, Francis! Regular vehicle maintenance is important year round.
With the summer just around the corner, I think your article is going to help me a lot. I recently changed my car and it looks like I know what I have to do. Really don’t want any of those big repair bills just because I didn’t take proper care of it.
Glad to help, Alex! Best of luck with your new vehicle.
After all, safety is our first priority and I’m sure by following the above given helpful tips will ensure our safety and avoid any trouble related our vehicle.
Enjoy your trip to its fullest!
Thanks for sharing! I’m taking a road trip soon and it’s good to remember to make sure the car is in perfect working order.
Thanks for sharing Matthew.
I do work daily as a car mechanic myself but it’s always refreshing to take a look at others’ thoughts and checklists in case there’s anything new I can learn from other people!
I’ll be sure to point people this way for advice when I’m working away and need to get information to people quickly!
Wow, that means a lot to me coming from a professional! I am glad you found this list informative.
What a lovely post. This is a great advice for everyone heading off on a road trip. We should have to be extra careful with our vehicle. I always visit the local store to check the basics before my one day trip when I do a long drive. I was so blessed that they got it fixed and I didn’t have major problems.
Thank-you so much for these lovely suggestions. These suggestions are very helpful. Keep posting and sharing.. 🙂
Glad you found the article helpful, Cortney. Thanks for stopping by!
These are good areas to focus on when prepping your car for a long ride! It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to maintaining your car. Thanks for sharing your advice!
Thank you for your comment, I am glad you like the piece.
As always, safe travels 🙂
I hadn’t thought about having my car’s air conditioning’s filters checked, or having the AC checked over at all. Honestly, I don’t remember when the last time I had the filters changed was! Even though my AC’s running fine for now, I’ll follow your advice and get the filters checked out next time I get an oil change. Thanks for the tip!
You are welcome, always happy to help!
I bought a used car recently and I had everything carefully checked at the garage because there are many summer trips in front of me 🙂
To be honest I only check fuel, oil and tire pressure when I do a long drive. The rest I leave to the garage to check for me 🙂
Same here, Anne! I don’t think it really matters who does the work, but preventive maintenance is always a wise choice.
Hi Anne. I think you are already doing a great job by checking the oil levels and tire pressure. As long as you have the guys at the garage do a thorough check you should be fine 🙂
Have a safe journey!
Great suggestions. I take a ton of road trips, all over 12 hours, and need to be extra careful with my vehicle. I always have a local shop check the basics and one day before my WV road trip, they found that over half my serpentine belt was split in pieces. I was so lucky that they got it fixed and I didn’t have major complications.
Hello Melody. Thank you for reading the article. It seems that you saved yourself from some real trouble in the nick of time. I hope this checklist helps you remember what to inspect before you head out on your summer trip.
Stay safe and happy travels!
Great post. Heading out on a mini road trip next week from San Diego to Tucson and this is a great check list before we go!
Thank you! Safe travels and don’t forget to check back here before you hit the road.
I don’t keep my car – it’s on permanent loan to a friend. But, this is great advice and a useful checklist!
My husband just bought a new car, so hopefully we can skip the summer check up this year, but this is great advice for anyone heading off on a road trip.
Thanks for reading Carol! Congrats on your new car and enjoy your travels 🙂
Thanks for the new info. Yes! It’s a must to check your car before you go or travel to ensure you are safe, too.