Summertime calls most of us out on the roads. You might be planning a summer vacation, traveling on the weekend to a summer cabin, or just spending your evenings out enjoying the hot summer nights.
Before you find yourself out and about enjoying the season, think about your vehicle and some seasonal maintenance. There are a number of things you can do to prepare your car for a safe and steadfast summer of driving.
Beat the Heat
You car's cooling system is critical to your summer driving, with the primary job of keeping your engine cool (your engine can reach well over 200 degrees F). Your cooling system strives for a constant 200 degrees F to protect your engine against corrosion, provide more efficient fuel combustion, and maintain proper oil viscosity.
However, in hot weather, your coolant could reach 250 degrees F and your car could overheat. This is why your cooling system needs extra attention in the summer. But before you get under the hood, make sure your engine is cool―never remove a radiator cap when the engine is hot, or even warm.
To prepare your cooling system for summer, you'll want to check the radiator and hoses for leaks or cracks. Be sure all the connections are snug. The reservoir level should be half full and if it is low, add coolant or antifreeze.
Despite all your efforts to inspect the cooling system and keep your coolant levels up, your engine could still overheat. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge on your dashboard. If you see the engine getting too hot, you can take immediate action by turning on the heat―this pulls hot air off the engine block. Allow your engine time to cool down, because overheating can cause permanent damage to the engine.
Before your air conditioning quits cooling, you can inspect the system for worn or damaged belts. The belt on your air conditioner drives the compressor; without that, you won't get any air conditioning inside your car.
The air conditioner has a condenser that looks similar to a radiator. You can inspect the fins to be sure they are clear of debris. When air moves freely around the condenser, the refrigerant is able to do its cooling job better.
You will get more speed, better handling, and better fuel efficiency if you mount summer tires on your car. In contrast to winter tires, summer tires have a shorter sidewall and a less-aggressive tread.
To change over to summer tires, you need to have a spare set of rims or bring the tires into a shop to be changed. All-season tires are a good alternative if you don't want to bother with specialized summer and winter tires.
If your summer weather pattern includes thunderstorms and rain, you will want to inspect your brakes because wet brakes can be less responsive. What you see when you look behind the tire and wheel depends on whether your car has disc or drum brakes. You might need some brake education; good resources are the owner's manual or your mechanic. Talk to the mechanic about how much braking you have left.
Also ask about the state of your brake pads. Hot weather can increase the temperature of your brake system, causing your pads to wear more quickly. You'll want to keep tabs on how worn yours are.
Towing a boat, camper, or trailer is common in the summertime. Before you hook on and drive off for a vacation destination, though, make sure you have inspected your car and trailer.
There are legal and commonsense rules to follow when it comes to towing weight. Your vehicle is listed for a certain gross vehicle weight (GVW), which is the maximum weight for your car, trailer, and load.
Common sense will guide you on load distribution. You need to balance the weight between your axles and the tongue (hitch). Typically, only 9-11% of the weight is on the tongue. The load must balance on the trailer too―usually 60% in the front and 40% in the rear.
Whenever you are towing, it is a good idea to develop a pretrip inspection habit. Look over the brakes on your car and trailer. Are all the lights working properly? Carefully go over the hitch to be sure it is secure and has safety chains attached. After driving for a few hundred feet, you can pull over and check for any load shifting.
Summer is a fun and liberating season. By inspecting your vehicle's cooling system, tires, brakes, and air conditioning, you can expect a more pleasant, safe, and reliable warm weather driving experience.