Warm summer temperatures can be hard on a vehicle. Heat expands the air in the tires and makes your cooling system work harder. Harsh sun can accelerate wear on hoses and drive belts. With the right precautions, though, you can minimize the toll that heat and sun take on your car.
Here are five tips for "summerizing" your car. Most of these can be done at home, with very few tools needed.
1. Check air pressure and remove winter tires: Snow tires are essential in the winter, but they're no help in the summer months. Plus, you'll wear out winter tires much more quickly by using them on warm, dry pavement. Remove the winter tires and use summer or all-season tires instead.
Ideally, you'd want to have two sets of wheels: one mounted with snow tires and another with summer or all-season tires. This removes the hassle and added cost of getting the summer tires remounted and balanced.
Regardless of what you do with the wheels, it is important to check the air pressure in your tires. It's critical to have properly inflated tires. Proper inflation assures the best possible contact between the tires and the road. An improperly inflated tire can overheat, potentially leading to a blowout on the highway.
Check your owner's manual or the driver side door jamb to find the correct tire pressures. You'll want to check the pressure when the tires are cold, so the morning is usually the best time. Properly inflated tires will also last longer and improve gas mileage.
2. Check the A/C system: You're going to need the air-conditioner in the summer months, and chances are you didn't use it much in the winter. Run the A/C for a bit to see if it still blows cold. Pay attention to any strange noises or odors. Follow this guide to check your air-conditioner yourself, or have your mechanic inspect it. The system may need cleaning, have a leak or need to be recharged.
3. Inspect the wiper fluid and wiper blades: Visibility is always important, and you may have used the wiper fluid often to de-ice the windshield. Check the wiper fluid reservoir and top it off if necessary. Some folks also may opt for a solution that helps clear the glass of bugs.
Take a look at the wiper blades, too. In most cases, we recommend replacing these in the winter, since the heat can dry out the rubber. But if summer storms are common in your area, you should consider replacing them now. Run the wipers with the fresh washer fluid and see whether or not they streak the windshield.
4. Perform an under-the-hood inspection: You probably haven't cracked open the hood all winter, and who can blame you? But now that the weather is warm enough to spend an afternoon outside, it's time to give the car a quick inspection. Make sure the engine is cold before doing so. Here are a few items to check:
Battery: Check for corrosion on the battery terminals. The corrosion can be cleaned off with baking soda and a toothbrush. Just be sure to check the battery again a few weeks later, to see if the corrosion has come back. This could be a sign of a more serious issue. Most modern batteries are considered to be "maintenance-free," which means they don't need to be topped off with water.
Oil: In the past, the conventional wisdom was to switch to a heavier oil in the summer and a lighter oil in the winter. This is outdated advice and shouldn't apply to any car built in the past 10-15 years. Modern cars have very specific oil needs, and the engines are designed to withstand a wide range of temperatures with the factory oil. Make sure you check your owner's manual to see what type of oil your car needs.
If your maintenance light is on and you've been putting off the oil change due to the cold weather, now's the time to take it for service. In the meantime, check the oil level. If the oil is low, top it off now and keep an eye on it. If you're a do-it-yourself person, or want to be, here are step-by-step illustrated instructions and video on how to change your oil.
Coolant: Take a look at the coolant in the reservoir, checking both the level and its condition. You want clear, not cloudy. If you need to top it off, use the pre-diluted mixtures for convenience. This video will go into greater detail on how to check the coolant and what to look out for.
Brake fluid: If the brake fluid level in the reservoir looks low, this is one instance when you shouldn't top it off. In many cases, the brake fluid will drop to match the wear on the pads. A low level could also be a sign of a leak in the brake system, in which case topping it off is only delaying the inevitable repair. If you're running low on brake fluid, take the car to your mechanic or dealer for a closer look at the brake system.
5. Wash and wax the car: Road salt and grime from melted snow are hard on a vehicle's clear coat, paint and undercarriage. The summer is the best time to give your vehicle a detailing. The weather is more amenable to washing the car on a sunny weekend, and the cleaning job will last longer, too. Take your car to the car wash to get a detail, or follow these recommendations on how to do it yourself. If you're short on time, here's a way to clean your car without washing it.