What comes to mind when you think of summer? Weekend getaways, road trips, vacations? Summer road trips are a fun way to rest, relax, and recharge your batteries – but they also take a toll on your car.
Summer driving conditions, including heat, dust, and traffic, affect everything from your tires to your battery, cooling system, hoses, and belts. With the right precautions, you can minimize the toll that heat and sun take on your car and hopefully avoid a scorching roadside breakdown. Here are nine tips for protecting your car from the summer heat.
Keep tabs on your oil
Auto manufacturers used to recommend switching to a heavier oil in the summer, but this advice doesn’t apply to vehicles built in the last 10 to 15 years.
“Generally, drivers with newer vehicles can rest assured that their car will run fine year-round on the same viscosity oil,” said Richard Reina, Product Training Director at CARiD , an online retailer of car parts and accessories. “But if someone is driving an older vehicle with a lot of miles, it might be helpful to upgrade to a heavier oil to compensate for internal engine wear.”
Even if you don’t need an oil change, check your oil levels before heading out on a long trip. “Sometimes vehicles that don’t see much highway mileage will use some oil,” said John Burkhauser, Director of Educational Programs for Bolt On Technology , designers of auto repair software for repair and maintenance shops. “Checking and topping off can prevent engine damage.”
Test your battery
Few things will ruin a weekend getaway faster than a dead car battery leaving you stranded at a rest stop. Check your battery terminal for corrosive buildup and ensure the clamps are right.
“If your battery is more than three years old, get it tested,” Reina said. “It might even be a good idea to get a new unit just as a preventative measure to avoid getting stuck in the unbearable heat.”
Clean your radiator
While you’re under the hood, Burkhauser recommends clearing any debris from the radiator that may be blocking air flow.
“Bugs, dirt, leaves and other debris don’t allow air to pass through the radiator,” he said. “When the air can’t take away the engine heat, the engine runs hotter. Use a garden hose with no nozzle and more flow than pressure and wash the radiator out from inside the engine compartment to the front of the car.”
Top off fluids
You don’t need to replace your antifreeze every year, but you should check to make sure your coolant is filled to the proper level.
“It’s essential to make sure you have enough coolant when the temperatures begin to rise,” said Korey Adekoya, Business Development Manager at Shabana Motors  in Houston, Tex. “If your coolant levels are low, it may cause your engine to overheat.”
You can quickly check coolant levels yourself, but if you decide to top it off, consult the owner’s manual. Different vehicle manufacturers recommend specific water-to-coolant ratios.
Replace air filters
While you’re getting an oil change before hitting the road, say yes to replacing your air filter.
“Dirty air filters prevent fresh air from getting to your engine and your interior, which has a lasting effect on your engine’s well-being and fuel economy,” Reina said. Air filters are easy to replace yourself. You might consider investing in the washable and reusable ones. They’re more expensive initially, but provide better filtration and long-term savings.
Kick the tires
Summer’s heat, UV rays, and ozone all deteriorate rubber, increasing the likelihood of a flat tire.
Burkhauser recommends checking your tires for tread depth. “Summer rains storms dump lots of rain quickly. Tires with little or worn tread can hydroplane very quickly making you lose control,” he said.
While you’re at it, look for uneven wear and check your tire pressure. “Tires low on air pressure will heat up on their own. Adding summer heat can make them reach the breaking point,” Burkhauser said.
Top off the AC refrigerant
Your mechanics might recommend a full flush and leak-down test every summer to make sure your car’s air conditioner is working properly, but you can Reina said you can probably skip this expense as long as it’s blowing cold air.
However, if you’re not getting cold air and you’re driving an older car, check to see if your heater control is stuck in the On position. “You may only need a new heater valve,” Reina said. “Some cars need nothing more than a top-up of AC refrigerant once a year, which is quick and easy to do. If the top-up doesn’t fix it, ask for a test using pressure gauges, which will diagnose the real problem and avoid unnecessary replacement of parts.”
Replace your wiper blades
Summertime can bring big thunderstorms and buckets of water beating against your windshield. Making matters worse, winter driving conditions – ice, snow, salt, and extreme cold – may have done a number on your wiper blades. Test out your blades at the beginning of summer and again before a big trip.
“Heat bakes the squeegee causing them to harden and not clear well,” Burkhauser said. “Worn wipers don’t clear the windshield well resulting in poor vision during summer downpours.”
Summer car care isn’t over once you’re on the road. Burkhauser recommends giving your vehicle a once-over whenever you stop for food or a restroom.
“Look at the tires, lights, pop the hood looking for anything unusual, then check the overall vehicle condition,” he said. “If you see something that’s not right, finding it at the rest stop is much better than finding it on the road and getting stuck someplace dangerous.”