Prepare Your Car Before Summer Road Trips
The summer travel season is in full swing. With gas prices averaging $2.09 a gallon nationwide, and Wyoming pricing around 30 cents lower, many Americans might be itching to hit the highways and byways in search of some responsible and socially distant, post-lockdown summer fun!
If you are intending to travel by car this summer, a little prevention and planning up front could help you avoid the consequences of a breakdown—or worse, a highway crash.
During the hot summer months, it’s also important to equip your vehicle with roadside emergency supplies to help keep you or your family safe.
By making sure your car is in good shape and that you are prepared for a “just-in-case’ type scenario, so both you and your passengers can get to where you want to go!
Here’s what you need to check, and how you can be better prepared:
Before you go
Regular maintenance such as tune-ups, oil changes, battery checks, and tire rotations go a long way toward preventing breakdowns. No matter how well you take care of your vehicle, it’s a good idea to perform these basic safety checks before you go on a road trip.
1. Check cooling system
Scorching summer temperatures can put serious stress on an engine and overheating is the number one cause of summer breakdowns, so remember to check your cooling system and fluid levels to avoid problems:
Radiator and coolant levels
The radiator in your vehicle needs water and antifreeze to keep your engine functioning properly. Carefully check your coolant level to make sure the reservoir is adequately filled. The right concentration of coolant is important, usually a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze, but check your car’s specifications.
Get rid of old coolant
The radiator should be flushed every two-to-five years, depending on the type. If it hasn’t been serviced in awhile, do so before you hit the road. If your coolant, looks rusty, sludgy, oily or has particles floating in it, it is time to have your cooling system flushed and refilled using the manufacturer-recommended coolant.
If you do decide to change your coolant liquid make sure you replace it with the same color (type) of coolant or that your car is compatible with other colors. It is not a good idea to mix types of coolant.
Inorganic Acid Technology (IAT) coolant is usually bright green in color, and lasts about 2 years. It is typically found in older cars manufactured before the mid 1990s.
Organic Acid Technology (OAT) coolant is found in color ranges from orange to dark green. It is recommended to be flushed every 150,000 miles or every 5 years. It’s typically used in newer cars.
Hybrid Organic Acid Technology (HOAT) is a mix between IAT and OAT coolants, and is also generally designed for new cars. HOAT coolants tend to be yellow and orange in color, and is recommended to be flushed every 150,000 miles or 5 years. This coolant is typically found in vehicles manufactured in Germany, Europe and Asia.
2. Check fluid levels
Oil becomes more important the hotter the weather gets, as oil helps prevent overheating by lubricating many of the engines moving parts. But, oil breaks down over time.
Check your vehicle’s oil level periodically between changes and add a quart or two of your car manufacturer’s recommended grade, if needed.
When checking the oil, consider the color, clean oil is a clear, golden color, while dirty oil is black or brown. If yours is dark, have a look at your car’s records to see when the oil was last changed.
Repeated, measurable loss of oil could indicate a leak. Keep a watchful eye where you park, as well as on the outsides of the engine for signs of oil leaks.
If the oil looks milky or foamy, it could be contaminated with coolant, and should be checked by a mechanic.
As with coolant, if it’s close to the deadline to have the oil changed, you should probably have it done before you go. Oil changes are generally recommended every 3,000 miles, but manufacturers of many modern cars say to wait until a maintenance-reminder light flashes on your dashboard.
Before you hit the road you should also make sure to check your brake, automatic transmission / clutch, and power steering fluids. If any of these fluids are low they should be topped-off according to manufacturer’s specifications.
3. Check tires (including the spare), check breaks
Your four tires offer a critical connection to the road. Check them at least monthly. In this case, don’t wait for your car’s tire pressure monitoring system to light up on the dashboard.
Remember, summer heat and friction can cause tire pressure to rise, giving you a false sense of security. Check your vehicle’s tire inflation pressure at least once a month and don’t forget to check your spare, if your vehicle is equipped with one.
Proper tire pressure, should be listed on your drivers side door frame or pillar, or in the vehicle owner’s manual. Keep in mind that the correct pressure for your vehicle is not listed on the tire itself.
Well maintained and properly inflated tires can improve vehicle handling, improve gas mileage, and protect you from avoidable crashes. All tires naturally lose some air over time and become underinflated. Underinflation is the leading cause of stresses to a tire and can lead to tire failure and blowouts.
Also, be sure to take some time to inspect your tires tread for signs of excessive or uneven wear. If the tires look unevenly worn, it means your tires need rotation and/or your wheels need to be aligned before you travel.
If the tread is worn down to 2/32 of an inch, it’s time to replace your tires. look for the built-in wear bar indicators on your tires or use the “penny test” to determine when it’s time to replace your tires.
You can check your tires tread by inserting a penny with the image upside down: if you can see all of Abraham Lincoln’s head, your tread depth is less than 2/32 of an inch and it’s time for new tires.
If you notice pulsations, grabbing, noises or longer stopping distances when braking, it’s time for repairs.
4. Check condition of belts, hoses and fittings
Look under the hood and inspect all belts and hoses to make sure there are no signs of bulges, blisters, cracks, or cuts in the rubber. High summer temperatures can accelerate the rate at which rubber belts and hoses degrade, so it’s best to replace them before your head out if they show signs of obvious wear.
While you are inspecting the belts and hoses for wear or damage, make sure to check all hose connections and make sure they are secure. If you see any signs of fluid leakage, you should take your vehicle in to be serviced.
5. Check battery & lights
Hot weather can put a strain on a battery. Car batteries typically have a lifespan of around three to five years. That’s why vehicles between six and 10 years old have a higher frequency of battery-related issues.
If your battery is over the three year mark you should test your battery. You can test your battery with a multimeter or power probe. A fully charged car battery should measure at 12.6 volts or above. It will be higher when the engine is running.
Also remember to check your battery to make sure the posts and connections are free of corrosion, which presents itself as a white powdery residue.
If you are uncomfortable checking your own battery, many auto parts stores offer free battery testing.
If you don’t have a multimeter or probe, you can do a test of your electrical system by starting the car and turning on the headlights. you should be one the lookout for these telltale signs of a failing battery:
– lights dimming at starting
– power drain when turning on the air conditioning
– slow cranking when you start the car
When you’re out on the road, your safety and the safety of others, depends on properly functioning head and tail lights! Headlights aren’t just for you to be able to see the road, but to help other drivers to see you.
Make sure all of the lights on your vehicle are in working order to help prevent accidents.
Check your headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers, interior lights. if you are towing a trailer, be sure to check your trailer brake lights and turn signals. a failure of the trailer light connection is a common problem and can be a serious safety hazard.
6. Check wiper blades
Weather can definitely be an issue this time of year. If you get caught in a mid-day or afternoon summer thunderstorm, you want to be able to see where you’re going.
Reduced visibility can become an issue very quickly, especially if your wiper blades are worn or torn. In addition, roads can become very slippery within the first few minutes or rainfall, as the rain mixes with the oil and dirt on the road. Your first defense is being able to see what’s going on in the road in front of you.
Wiper wear and tear
After the heavy toll imposed by winter, windshield wiper blades may need to be replaced.
In addition, much like rubber belts and hoses, wiper blades are also vulnerable to deterioration in summer heat.
Examine your blades for signs of wear and tear and for deformity on both sides. Wiper blades can fail to work properly in both directions if the are deformed.
When to change wipers
if your wipers look rough, invest in new ones before you head out on a trip. Many auto parts stores offer free installation when you buy new wiper blades.
7. Check air conditioning
While this one doesn’t seem to be an issue of life or death, under most circumstances, lack of air conditioning in the brutal summer heat can affect people who are in poor health or who are sensitive to heat, such as children and older adults.
Not to mention, the lack of efficient and functioning A/C could very well seem like a matter of life and death, once tempers start rising in a vehicle full of hot and grumpy family or friends!
A marginally performing air-conditioning system may fail in hot weather, according to the A.S.E.
To test, put a thermometer in your car’s vent while the air conditioner is running and see how cool the air is getting.
If your A/C is not cooling properly, you could try to replace cabin air filters that clean the air entering the heating and air-conditioning system in newer cars. Check your owner’s manual for information on location and replacement timetables. However, if a leak or loss of refrigerant is the problem, then it’s likely time to visit a mechanic.
Pack an emergency roadside kit
According to recent transportation data, summer — not winter as many might expect — is the most dangerous driving season. This is even more reason to be prepared for the summer driving season. Even if you’ve prepared your vehicle for the trip, whether you are driving 5 miles or 500 miles, it never hurts to have an emergency roadside kit in your trunk. Even a well-maintained vehicle can break down. Don’t take any chances to ensure that your next road trip is a safe one!
Your emergency kit should include:
• Cell phone and charger
• First aid kit
• Hazard triangle, road flares, or a brightly colored distress flag
• Jumper cables
• Tire pressure gauge
• Emergency flat tire repair and/or spare tire
• Jack (and ground mat) for changing a tire
• Work gloves and a change of clothes
• Basic repair tools and some duct tape (for temporarily repairing a hose leak)
• Water and paper towels for cleaning up
• High-calorie, non-perishable non-perishable food, drinking water, and medicines
• Extra water for the car radiator
• Extra windshield washer fluid
• Emergency blankets, towels and coats