Summer’s here! And that means it’s time to swap out the snow tires and give the heater a much-needed vacation.
But just because the extreme cold is over doesn’t mean your car’s safe from the elements. In fact, the heat can be just as harsh as the cold. And everyone knows an overheated engine or broken AC can spoil a summer road trip.
Thankfully, with a little prep work, you can keep your car running smoothly all summer long. Below is a checklist of summer car maintenance tips. Some you can do on your own, but others are probably best left to your trusted mechanic.
Summer car maintenance that you can do…
You don’t have to leave all the fun to the experts. If you’re a DIY-er, you can do this stuff on your own:
1. Check your oil
Oil helps keep your engine lubricated, which reduces friction (and heat buildup) under your hood. During the summer, when your engine is more likely to overheat, it’s going to want as much lubrication as it can get.
But checking your oil is super easy. And if you’re low, adding more oil is easy too. Just don’t confuse adding oil with changing oil. You should still get an oil change every 5,000 miles or so.
2. Heck, check all your fluids
If you remember back to high school chemistry, heat causes liquid to evaporate. And all those fluids in your car have very important jobs to do, like lubricating and cooling.
Topping off your fluids at the start of the summer can help you avoid overheating. If you’re unsure about which fluids to use or how much to add, ask your mechanic for help.
3. Inspect your tires
As outside temperatures fluctuate, so does tire pressure — cold temperatures cause tire pressure to drop while hot temperatures cause it to increase.
So, first things first: make sure your tires are properly inflated. You can usually find your tire’s recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) in your owner’s manual or on your driver’s side door. To ensure an accurate measurement, always make sure you haven’t driven for at least 3 hours.
Keep in mind that improper inflation can affect your car’s handling. Underinflated tires are especially problematic because they tend to lower your gas mileage and wear down quicker. In more extreme cases, the combination of heat and low pressure can cause your tire to blow.
Also, check your tires for damage and wear. Hot roads can intensify heat buildup and cause weak tires to weaken even faster, especially if they’re not properly inflated.
4. Wash and wax your car
Keeping your car shiny and clean may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it can actually save you from major costs down the road. Dirt and dust scratch away at your car’s top coat … you know, the one that protects the paint from fading and peeling in the sun.
Paint damage is more than just unsightly, though — it can actually be damaging to your car’s structure. When paint peels away, it leaves your car susceptible to rust.
If you don’t drive often, you may want to consider covering your car. A cover will protect it from sun and other corrosives like sap and bird poop, which get even more corrosive in the heat.
Summer car maintenance that the mechanic should do…
Unless you know your way around an engine, it’s best to leave some of the more technical stuff to the experts. When you make your appointment, be prepared with a specific summer checklist:
1. Get a radiator checkup
A winter of salted roads can eat away at your radiator’s core, which can lead to leakage and, ultimately, an overheated engine.
The mechanic can check for damage and clogs (a clogged radiator makes it harder for coolant to pass through) and flush your cooling system if necessary.
2. Check your battery
If you live in cold weather, you’ve probably experienced a dead battery more than once. But did you know the heat can pack a pretty mean punch too? Heat causes battery fluid to evaporate, which can lead to corrosion.
If it’s been a while since you bought your last battery, ask the mechanic to give it a look.
3. Put your AC to the test
It’s so much better to find out your air conditioning needs a tweak before the temperature becomes unbearable. If your AC feels weak, it could be blocked or need more Freon.
While you may be tempted to save the money and just roll down the windows, consider this: the belt that’s powering your air conditioner may also be powering other parts of your engine. In fact, ignoring a weak AC could actually cause your engine to overheat.
If you do experience an overheated engine or a blown tire, being prepared can help you get through these situations a lot more smoothly. Take advantage of that big old storage space in your trunk to carry these items:
- Extra coolant (aka antifreeze): a 50/50 mix of coolant and water is your car’s preferred summer cocktail
- Extra water: to mix with the coolant (and to drink if you get stranded for a while)
- A spare tire: even better if it’s full sized
- An emergency kit