Throughout most of the United States, July and August are the hottest months of the year. The black top sizzles, your ice cream melts, and you instantly start to sweat if you wear anything other than shorts and a tank top.
The summer heat can be hard on you, and the same holds true for your car. Sky-high temperatures can push marginal automotive components and systems over the edge, especially if you’ve been lagging when it comes to car care.
If you’re planning a road trip this summer—or even if you’re just planning on enjoying a staycation—we’ve comprised a list of tips that will help you and your car beat the heat together.
The Essential Summertime Pre-Road-Trip Checklist
Taking a road trip is one of the highlights of the summer season, but if your car breaks down, your exciting adventure can quickly become a real bummer. The following checklist will help you avoid any car-related pitfalls so that you can enjoy a summertime getaway without a trip to the mechanic.
1. Repair Any Known Problems
The summer heat can magnify certain problems, such as a weak water pump or a low A/C refrigerant level. What’s more, it’s Murphy’s Law that anything that can go wrong with your car will go wrong on a road trip.
Now’s the time to repair any known issues that could bring your journey to a screeching halt. Having your car running and driving its best is the most effective way to avoid a breakdown.
2. Take Care of Outstanding Maintenance
Your parents or grandparents probably told you to take care of your car when you were younger. As an adult, however, it can be tough to stay on top of routine maintenance when a billion other things are going on, from taking the kids to soccer practice to scheduling an important meeting with your boss.
If you’ve been postponing routine vehicle maintenance, now’s the time to get up to date. After all, you don’t want a stretched timing belt or worn-out spark plugs to turn on the check engine light, spoiling your summertime adventure.
Luckily, it’s easy to determine what maintenance is due and when. All you need to do is consult the service schedule in your owner’s manual or supplemental service booklet.
3. Check the Fluids
Even if you keep up on routine maintenance, your car may develop leaks between service intervals. That’s why it’s important to inspect all of your vehicle’s underhood fluids before setting out on a road trip.
You can usually check your engine oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid (if your car has a dipstick), power steering fluid (if equipped), and coolant from under the hood. But remember: You should never check the coolant by removing your cooling system cap while the engine is hot. Doing so can result in severe personal injury.
Many vehicles also have fluids (e.g., differential fluid) that must be checked from underneath the car. If you have the know-how, you can safely support your vehicle on jack stands and check these fluids yourself.
Otherwise, the next time your car is in for an oil change, you can ask a professional to do the job for you.
4. Test the Air Conditioning System
If your car’s air conditioning (A/C) develops a problem on the way to grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, you probably won’t even notice. But it’s a whole different story when you’ve got the kids loaded up for a summertime road trip and nothing is coming out of the vents but hot air.
To avoid such a scenario, it’s a good idea to check the functionality of your car’s A/C system before you begin your summer road trip. Make sure there’s ice-cold air coming from the vents, and you should be ready to go.
5. Check the Cooling System
Your car can overheat during any season (including winter), but sizzling summer temperatures are more likely to push a failing cooling system over the edge. So, it’s a good idea to check your car’s cooling system before hitting the open road this season.
While inspecting the system, you’ll want to look for obvious problems, such as leaks and deteriorated hoses. Also, take note of whether your temperature gauge is working and your engine is operating at the correct temperature. Most engines run somewhere between 195 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit once they’re warmed up.
6. Inspect the Tires
You didn’t think we’d let you head out for summertime fun before inspecting your car’s tires, did you? Checking tires is a mundane task—we get it. But before you embark on your road trip, you really should take a peek.
To inspect your tires, you’ll first want to look for any obvious signs of damage, such as bubbles in the sidewall or chunks of missing rubber, which indicate the need for replacement.
If everything looks okay, you can move on to measuring your tires’ tread depth with a dedicated gauge. Most professionals recommend replacing a tire when there’s 4/32” of tread remaining at any point.
You’ll also want to check your tire pressure with a dedicated gauge. Inside the driver’s side door jamb, you’ll find a placard that lists the correct tire pressure for your vehicle. Do NOT inflate the tires to the specification written on the tire’s sidewall—that’s the maximum pressure rather than the recommended pressure.
7. Check the Brakes
Regardless of whether you’re driving in the winter or summer, you need all of the stopping power you can get. You (or your mechanic) should check the brakes a least twice a year to ensure they’re in good condition.
If you haven’t looked at your car’s brakes in a while, now is the time to do so. Most professionals recommend replacing a set of brake pads (and machining or replacing the rotors) when there’s 4mm of friction material left. Pads with 3mm of friction material or less are considered unsafe and should be replaced right away.
8. Check the Lights and Wipers
We hope you don’t encounter rain on your summer road trip, but you want to be prepared in case you do. Check your car’s wipers by turning on both the wipers and washers to ensure the wipers produce a streak-free sweep, leaving the windshield clear. If you find the wiper blades are worn-out, you’ll want to replace them immediately.
You’ll also want to check your car’s exterior lights. Have an assistant help so that you can check the function of all of the lighting, including the brake lights and reverse lights. Fix any inoperative lamps before you depart.
9. Inspect the Battery
Extreme heat can cause a borderline battery to fail. If your engine has had issues cranking—or you question your battery’s health for any other reason—have a professional test the battery before your trip this summer.
10. Top off Your Tank
The last thing you need to do before hitting the open road is top off your car’s fuel tank. After that, crank up the tunes, roll down the windows, and get ready for a road trip you’ll never forget!
Are you looking for more ways to keep cool this season? During the Summer of 2022, you can score up to 70% off MSRP on engine cooling essentials, such as radiators, thermostats, and water pumps. We’ve also got you covered when it comes to cooling your car’s cabin, with up to 70% off on air conditioning compressors, condensers, and more. Click here for details!
Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.