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
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
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.
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.
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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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