Summer is the season for beaches, barbecues – and breakdowns. Even though summer means fun, the hotter months have a way of wreaking havoc on your vehicle.
Extreme weather can cause potholes and damage tires, while residue leftover from winter corrodes the components that make your vehicle work. And, with the additional road trip traffic, it’s probably not a surprise that July and August are two of the most fatal months for traffic accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
From small steps such as cleaning the floor mats to bigger ones that require you to pop the hood, there are several ways you can make your ride safer and more comfortable, too. Here are our top tips for keeping your car cool and running this summer.
1) Keep it clean
A long, wet winter can stress your car. Do a full audit, inside and out, looking for potential rust spots on the undercarriage and body. Rust in these spots can indicate a problem with the brake lines or fender wells.
“Although today’s vehicles feature a number of measures to prevent rust, it’s a good idea to stay on top of problem areas and to pay attention to the way the vehicle is handling when you’re driving,” says Nick Cappa communications manager of FCA’s Ram Trucks brand.
Review wiper blades, seals and other rubber components for winter wear and tear. Replace them if needed, and make sure you wash off any road salt or other residue before it has a chance to corrode. Don’t ignore the inside, either. Washing the floor mats is especially important if you live in a snowy state: road salt you track in could corrode the floor boards. When you do wash your car, do it in the shade to prevent hard water spots. A coat of wax every three months helps protect the paint, too.
2) Check the tires
Summer weather makes the air inside your tires expand, putting them at greater risk for a blowout. Avoid over- or underinflating your tires by checking the pressure regularly. Adjust the pressure according to the specifications listed on the sticker on the driver’s side door jamb.
“A lot of people mistakenly think that the correct inflation pressure is on the tire’s sidewall, but that’s not right,” says Jamie Bullis, lead technician at Firestone Complete Auto Care in Minnetonka, Minn. “What’s listed on the sidewall is the maximum inflation pressure.”
Tread matters, too. Check the tread by putting a penny into the tire’s grooves with the Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If you can see Lincoln’s head, it’s time for new tires. Remember to check the pressure and tread of your spare tire as well, so that you won’t be stranded on the side of the road while everyone else is heading to the beach.
3) Look under the hood
Spending 15 minutes every month under the hood of your vehicle may prevent 70 percent of problems that lead to highway breakdowns, according to Deanna Sclar, author of Auto Repair for Dummies.
Squeeze hoses to test for cracks and check for frayed belts that could indicate leaks. Check the battery, as higher temperatures can take a toll.
Don’t forget to monitor your vehicle’s fluid levels, as well. The big five – oil, coolant, transmission, power steering and brake – keep your car running. Low fluid levels could indicate a hose leak or a larger problem. Beware especially of low brake fluid. AAA found that 88 percent of repair shops say drivers skip their brake fluid maintenance.
4) Mind the suspension
Cold winters mean potholes, dips, and bumps come summer. That’s bad news for your suspension. “If a pothole is big enough to eat a tire, there could be additional damage to the suspension,” Cappa says. “A misaligned steering wheel is a sure sign of potential damage or need for adjustment.”
Replacing worn shocks, springs, and joints will make the steering more alert, causing the wheel to react directly and predictably so that you can have more control. A rule of thumb: if you turn the wheel and get little response until it’s at a 30-degree angle it’s time for a tune up.
“As soon as your suspension components start to wear out, your steering feel is going to get sloppy,” says Joe Bacal, a pro driver for Toyota.
AAA recommends checking the shocks by pushing down on each corner of the car after it has been driven. You’ll know the shocks are working properly if the car returns to a stable position after one bounce.
5) Stay cool
Keep air conditioning at a low, steady level instead of blasting it for short periods of time and then turning it off. Using the AC efficiently improves fuel economy and keeps your car in top shape.
You should stay hydrated, too. Thirst can affect your ability to drive a prolonged, monotonous course (like a road trip) in the same way as a blood alcohol content of .08 or a lousy night’s sleep, according to researchers from Loughborough University in Leicestershire, U.K. In a recent study, subjects who didn’t drink any beverages for 10 hours made about twice as many mistakes, such as lane drifting and late breaking, during a two-hour drive simulation.
“Drinking enough water is a big piece of the driver equation,” says Brock Christopher of Porsche’s Human Experience Center. He recommends taking four to six gulps of water every 10 to 15 minutes during long drives.