As the weather starts to warm, it’s important to make sure your vehicle is ready for summer. Similar to the steps taken prior to winter, routine seasonal maintenance is vital to assure the strain of hot weather won’t cause an unnecessary breakdown.
There are four critical areas of the vehicle to inspect: the tires, fluids, brakes and battery. Since many parts of the country experience consistent heat and humidity during the summer, fixing or tuning the air conditioning unit is also highly recommended.
To help, here’s what you should inspect and look out for before hitting the road. Keep in mind that exact maintenance varies based on specific vehicle models and needs, so the following steps should serve as a basic blueprint.
Editor’s note: Always refer to a vehicle’s owner’s manual for correct part numbers, tire sizes and compatible fluids.
Invest in summer tires
As the season changes, it’s important to swap winter tires for a summer-specific or all-weather set. Tire retailers will install new sets of purchased tires and are a good resource for those who have summer tires but need installing them. Brands like Michelin, Bridgestone and Continental offer great options for reliable summer tires.
Check tire pressure and tread
Tires lose roughly one pound of air pressure each month via regular seepage. Underinflated tires are more likely to suffer a blow-out. Check each tire’s pressure when they’re cold and add air if necessary. Refer to your owner’s manual to find the correct PSI for each tire.
Balding tires can be dangerous while on the road, as they reduce a vehicle’s traction and increase the risk of getting a flat. Each tread should be deeper than 2/32 of an inch. To measure this, place a penny in the tread with Lincoln’s head upside down. If his head is completely visible, the tread depth is too low.
Get an oil change
Regularly changing a vehicle’s oil can have a dramatic positive effect, no matter the season. Oil changes keep engines clean, protect engine components, help maintain and increase gas mileage, improve engine performance and extend engine life.
The benefits of an oil change extend beyond simply refreshing the oil, too. An oil change typically includes replacing or topping off everything from filters and wiper blades to coolant, power steering and windshield wiper fluid. Plus, some oil change businesses can run a quick diagnostic or code check to see if any other issues are lurking.
Keep an eye on fluid levels
Even if a vehicle has recently undergone an oil change, it’s wise to double check fluid levels. Make sure oil, coolant, windshield wiper and power steering fluid levels are at full or near-full. Keep an eye on brake and transmission fluid, as well.
It’s recommended to keep a backup supply of each on hand, especially if a long road trip is on the agenda. Refill bottles don’t tend to take up much room and can be stored safely in the trunk. Always refer to the owners’ manual for compatible fluid types.
Inspect the brake pads
brake pads that are grinding, squeaking, vibrating the pedal or needing more than the usual distance to come to a complete stop should be inspected as soon as possible. Pads can last anywhere from 25,000 to 75,000 miles, but should still be checked roughly every six months – even if none of the warning signs are evident.
Heed the vehicle’s brake warning light, as well. If it comes on, this could be due to a loss of hydraulic pressure, worn brake pads or low brake fluid. Have the brake system inspected by a mechanic.
Check for and clean battery corrosion
Be on the lookout for any battery corrosion or loose terminals, whatever the battery’s age. Corrosion occurs around both the positive and negative terminals and should be cleaned as soon as it’s noticed. Although minimal corrosion isn’t troublesome, hot weather can make it worse..
To clean battery corrosion, remove all attached cables, starting with the negative terminal. A wrench or socket wrench will help loosen the bolts, though it’s important to not touch the wrench to the positive terminal.
Next, inspect the battery for any cracks or additional damage, such as large tears or severely damaged terminals. If any of these are found, consult a mechanic to see if the damage warrants replacing the battery.
If no additional damage is found, mix a tablespoon of baking soda with roughly 8 ounces of hot water to create the solution used for cleaning the corrosion. Clean the battery by dunking an old toothbrush in the solution and scrubbing each terminal. If corrosion appears on either the clamps or cables, use the same solution to clean them.
It’s important to make sure the battery’s terminals, along with the cables and clamps, are completely dry before reinstalling them in the vehicle. Once dry, reattach the cables starting with the positive plug first, then the negative. Set the battery back in place and reconnect the clamps.
Other battery precautions
Even if no corrosion is apparent, a poorly functioning battery can affect a vehicle’s starter and alternator. A lifeless car may be the sign of a failing battery, which should be inspected as soon as possible.
It’s a good idea to double check each clamp, as an unsecure fit may be jostled loose and stop the car. Carry jumper cables at all times in the event of a dead or dying battery.
- Replace the wiper blades: Although rain, snow or sleet may not be as prevalent during the summer months, it’s always a good idea to make sure a vehicle’s wiper blades will still work sufficiently.
- Inspect the headlights: Properly working headlights are beneficial in a number of ways. They’ll help avoid being unnecessarily pulled over by the police but, most importantly, improve safety while driving at night.
- Give the vehicle a wash or detail: It won’t have an impact on a vehicle’s performance, but giving it a good wash or detail can help preserve its finish, especially if it took a beating during the winter.
- Pack an emergency kit: Regardless of the length of a road trip, it’s vital to keep an emergency kit on hand. Preassembled kits tend to feature items like jumper cables, flares, first aid kits or blankets. These can also be custom-assembled to address specific trip needs.