According to a survey conducted by Bridgestone, approximately 80 percent of all Americans take at least one road trip during the summer months. Some will be heading to vacation destinations, others to family reunions or weddings. Some plan to make multiple visits to the lake or beach for weekend getaways, while others just love summer cruising in the summer sun. Although cars typically run better and get better fuel economy during the summer, you could potentially encounter problems if your car is not ready to meet the challenges that warmer weather can present. Here’s what you can do to make sure your car is ready for summer.
Air conditioning and summer go hand in hand, especially in cars, as they heat up rather quickly when you leave them in the summer sun. Before you start using your air conditioning system regularly however, you should inspect all of the components thoroughly to make sure that everything is in working order. Make sure to check the following:
- Are there any cycling or clicking noises coming from the compressor clutch when the air conditioning is turned on and the engine is running?
- Is the condenser clean? Make sure there are no accumulated debris, such as insects or leaves, in the condenser. You can use a garden hose to clean it out.
- Has the cabin air filter been changed recently? These filters reduce the amount of allergens and dust that reach the car’s interior, but they also have a role in the performance of your air conditioning system.
- Are the hoses and belts in good condition? We will discuss this issue in depth later in the article.
If you are unsure about inspecting the air conditioning by yourself, check up with your car dealership or repair shop to ensure everything is working flawlessly. Taking a road trip during the heat of summer can be much more enjoyable if the air conditioning is working properly. Your air conditioning system can place a significant drain on your vehicle’s power. Therefore, no matter how hot it gets, you want to make sure that you do not overdo it.
Fluid Inspection: Oil and Coolant
Your vehicle’s engine and oil filter need to be inspected and made ready for summer’s higher temperatures. Although overall, summer temperatures are good for oil viscosity, some oils cannot withstand the higher operating temperatures and/or humidity that may be encountered during summertime travel. If the higher temperatures make the oil too thin, your engine could suffer from excessive wear and you risk having an overheated engine. Therefore, if you plan to take long trips in areas with high temperatures, you might want to consider using oil with a higher viscosity grade to ensure that your engine will be properly lubricated and cooled.
You should change your vehicle’s oil and oil filter regularly. Your owner’s manual will give you the recommended intervals. Your driving habits and the conditions under which you drive may make it preferable to change your oil more frequently.
Many experts recommend changing your oil every 3,000 miles or every three months, whichever comes first.
Another fluid that is critical to maintain is your coolant. If you normally drive in extremely hot temperatures, you might want to change your coolant every 12,000 to 15,000 miles or annually. Otherwise, the recommendation is every two to three years or 24,000 to 36,000 miles. If your coolant is not in need of a change, you will still want to make sure that you keep it topped off and that the mix is correct. For summer driving, the recommended mix is half water and half coolant. No matter which fluid you have to change, it’s advisable to consult an experienced mechanic.
Hoses and Belts
The hoses and belts on a car are very important — but often overlooked — parts. The hoses that connect to the radiator and your fan belt help keep your engine cool and coolant circulating. The belts also drive the pulleys operating the alternator, water pump, power steering and other important components. If any of these belt or hoses were to fail, you could find yourself stranded on the side of the road, and your car could suffer substantial damage that would need some costly repair. Therefore, if any of the belts or hoses seem at risk of failure, you might want to replace them before you embark on a summer trip. Here’s what you should look after:
- Inspect your hoses for any sign of a leak as well as obvious weak spots, cuts or abrasions.
- Hoses should feel firm rather than spongy or soft.
- Pay special attention to the hose connections, as hoses are most susceptible to damage in these locations.
- Make sure that all connections are properly tightened.
- Automotive hoses are susceptible to electrochemical degradation, which is a breakdown of the material on the interior of the hose that is caused by a reaction between the material and the coolant that flows inside it. Once the lining of the hose has been degraded, the coolant begins to attack the reinforcing wall, which will lead to a ruptured hose.
Belts that show signs of wear, unusual smoothness or cracks are typically nearing the end of their life. The possibility that a belt will fail increases substantially after the belt has been in use for more than 36,000 miles. It is a good idea to remove the belts so that you can examine them thoroughly to make sure that the layers have not begun to separate.
The tires that you appreciated during winter snowfalls are not the best for summer driving. The hot, dry pavement will wear them out quickly, and the properties that make a tire a good performer at below-freezing temperatures can hinder its performance in the heat of summer. If you have winter tires on your car, you should switch to either all-season or summer tires.
Ever since the first all-season tire was introduced, there has been much confusion surrounding the designation. All-season tires are a compromise, designed to help drivers avoid the expense and inconvenience of switching between summer and winter tires. Although all-season tires will perform adequately in the winter, they are more suitable for the other three seasons.
Summer tires, also known as high-performance tires, are engineered for driving at higher speeds. They offer improved traction, especially while cornering. Their rain grooves tend to be shallower than on all-season tires, decreasing their ability to shed rain or snow.
Regardless of the type and model of tire you select, you will want to make sure that your tire pressure is kept at its recommended level. You can find the pressure recommendations in your owner’s manual or on a plaque affixed to your car.
The pressure value marked on the tire itself is not the recommended operating rating; it is the maximum pressure rating for the tire. During summer months, tire pressure will be higher as air expands in higher temperatures. Tire pressure should always be checked while the tires are cold to avoid under- or over-inflation, which could lead to a blowout when the tires heat up.
A car traveling at 60 mph will need approximately 100 yards to stop on dry pavement — if the brakes are functioning properly. The distance increases if the pavement is wet, and summer can bring plenty of sudden, brief rain showers. Whether the pavement is wet or dry, however, worn or malfunctioning brakes can dramatically increase the distance you need to stop your vehicle safely.
Your brakes should be checked at regular intervals, but you may experience symptoms that indicate you need to have them checked sooner. These include:
- A reduced amount or complete absence of brake dust noticed during a visual inspection of your front brakes.
- A metallic screeching or grinding noise when you apply the brakes.
- A vehicle that pulls sharply to one side during braking.
- A vibrating brake pedal while braking normally.
- A brake pedal that is too soft or too unyielding.
- The car wobbles when you brake.
There are numerous factors that can decrease engine performance. A common cause of reduced performance is a dirty PCV, fuel or air filter. These filters need to be changed regularly, and if you have not done so recently, you might want to check up on them before you depart on a lengthy trip and change them if necessary.
Also, from time to time, your vehicle might send a “false alarm” in the form of a warning light. Having the “check engine” light come on when there is nothing wrong with the engine is a common false alarm; nevertheless, you should not ignore it even if your car is behaving normally. This can change rather quickly. You risk damaging your engine and incurring potentially expensive repairs.
It is not advisable to let your gas tank get too low. If you frequently “run on fumes,” you risk letting sediments from the bottom of the tank reach the engine, where they can cause significant damage. At best, these sediments will make your fuel system and engine work harder.
If you drive down virtually any interstate during the summer months, you will probably see a number of trailers and boats being towed. Most of the time, the tow is under control and poses no hazard to other drivers. Occasionally, however, you may see a trailer that seems to be in constant side-to-side motion or that frequently encroaches into a neighboring lane.
Towing is more complex than just hooking up the boat or trailer and driving away. The weight distribution of cargo in the trailer, for example, or the type of hitch used can affect how well the trailer performs under tow.
The weight of your vehicle plays an important part in its ability to tow a trailer or boat. In general, the lighter the vehicle, the less its towing capacity. If you plan to tow a trailer or a boat, consult your user’s manual. It will state the maximum weight that your vehicle can tow.
Summer brings out our adventurous spirit, but the adventure of being stranded by the side of the road isn’t what most of us had in mind when thinking about summer, so make sure your car can handle the heat.
Have you already prepared your car for summer?
Take all the necessary precautions and you will enjoy your summer cruising much more after making sure your car is ready and able to avoid unpleasant surprises.