How To Prepare Your Vehicle For Summer Driving

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Warm weather is just around the corner. Is your car ready?

Like winter, the summer driving months have their own unique challenges. While you might not curse a non-working heater, you’ll surely be just as unhappy about an AC system that doesn’t blow cold — or an engine that overheats. Maybe you’ll be wearing a T-shirt and shorts instead of a sweater — but you’ll still be just as stuck.

To dodge the bullet, take time now to think about the following:

Does your car’s AC system work?

Now (when it’s still cold) is the time to check it out; if you wait until you need it, not only will you be sweating, you’ll be waiting in line along with all the others who are trying to get their car slotted in for service.

Just as you’re more likely to get a good deal on a 4×4 in the middle of summer, you’re more likely to be able to get a fast turnaround on AC service while it’s still technically winter (or at least, still feels like it is).

Also, it’s smart policy to run the AC system during the winter months anyhow. Doing so circulates lubricant along with refrigerant — and helps keep the system in good working order.

How ’bout them bulbs?

You might not realize you’re driving around with a burned out brake light — until Johnny Law reminds you (possibly, with a piece of “payin’ paper” for defective equipment).

During the cold months, most of us try to get into and out of the car — and back to where it’s warm — as quickly as possible. So we may not notice burned out lights or other such things. This is why it’s smart to do a “walk around” of the car on the first nice day you get. Have someone sit in the driver’s seat and work the brake pedal and turn signals, emergency flashers and high and low beams. Fix anything that needs fixing.

Wipe away your cares

Next to keeping track of tire pressure, the candidate for Most Neglected Basic Check has to be failure to give the windshield wiper blades a once over — and almost certainly a mandatory replacement with a fresh set. Winter is extra hard on windshield wiper blades; cold hardens the rubber and road salt/debris ruins their “edge” — leaving you in Streak City come the next big downpour.

The general rule is blades should be replaced twice yearly, at the beginning/end of each season. The job is generally very easy; no tools or special skills required. But if you’re leery about doing it yourself, don’t sweat it. Auto parts joints that sell replacement wiper blades will usually offer to help install them (for free) if you ask.

Keeping your cool

Well, keeping your engine’s cool, at any rate. Check your records and makes sure the car’s cooling system is up to date, service-wise.

Belts and hoses are generally good for about four years from new; after that, they should be closely checked to see whether they ought to be replaced (so they don’t burst/fly apart and leave you stuck).

Anti-freeze level and condition should also be checked. You can easily check the level (engine cold!) by removing the radiator cap or checking the level in the coolant recovery tank — and topping off (with the right type) as necessary. Be sure you use the right type of coolant. Red/orange “long life” coolant and standard “green” coolant aren’t supposed to be mixed.

Be aware that even “long life” coolant doesn’t last forever — and unless you like to pay for expensive radiator/cooling system repairs/replacements, have a shop check the condition of the stuff at least every 2-3 years.

General de-gunking

Over the winter, certain areas of your car will accumulate a layer of grime that not only looks nasty, it provides a place for moisture (and eventually, rust) to get where you don’t want it. For example, the door jambs/rocker sills, the underside of the trunk, around the gasket that seals it when closed, etc.

A good time to deal with this is after you wash the exterior of the car. Using an old, throw-away towel, just wipe down the door jambs, trunk lid seal and so on. Usually, the grime comes right up. Your car will look better, the weather stripping will last longer and you’ll probably avoid rust for longer.

It’s also a good idea to pop the hood and check to see whether the drainage/venting area near the cowl (at the base of the windshield) is free of old leaves and so on. Remove/clean that area out as needed.

Inspection detection

Another small item that’s either put on the “do it later” roster or forgotten entirely is making sure all required county/state inspections are up to date.

Many states have both an annual or bi-annual smog check (emissions) as well as an annual state safety inspection — plus county decal and license plate registration, etc.

Some of these require taking a couple hours off to go to a designated inspection station and hope you don’t get stuck behind 15 other cars waiting for the same inspection you need to get. These things are best dealt with on your terms, when it’s convenient for you. Don’t wait until the day before your sticker expires. Git ‘er done ahead of the pack.

It’ll get rid of one more potential hassle before the summer driving season arrives!


Image Credit: Nicholas T

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