5 Summer Car Care Tips
Summer is the busiest travel season out of the year, even busier than Thanksgiving.
According to both AAA and the US Travel Association, Summer is the busiest travel season out of the whole year. It makes perfect sense; the kids are out of school, families typically schedule their annual vacations during the Summer, beaches and public attractions are open for business and, of course, don’t forget Summer concert season. That means more and more motorists are packing the roads each weekend to enjoy some Summertime fun and recreation before returning to the Autumn-through-Springtime daily grind. Naturally, Summer brings forth its own challenges with hot weather and sudden surprise storms and while those can certainly put a damper on your plans, nothing puts the brakes on your Summer travel schedule than a car that decides to call it quits. Here are 5 quick and easy Summer preparation tips to ensure that your vehicle won’t leave you stranded on the roadside when you’re headed to the beach or on the back of a wrecker when you should be at the front row seeing your favorite music act perform live.
#1: CHECK YOUR BATTERY
We know that car batteries don’t especially like the cold hence, the reason why manufacturers put such high emphasis on a battery’s capacity for cold cranking amps (CCA). They’re also not too fond of heat either and, in fact, heat can have an even greater negative impact on battery performance than the harsh chill of Winter. The combination of heat and vibration can kill a battery but while there’s not much you can do to control the weather, you CAN take precaution in making sure that your battery is properly bolted down and secured to its mounting points to prevent excessive vibration wear. Find the battery location in your car and attempt to shake it loose by hand. It should not be able to move freely or have any wiggle room whatsoever. If you’re able to knock the battery around, tighten down the battery brackets and mounts so that you can no longer manually move it. This is also a good time to clean your terminals and check your wiring and connections. If you see any crusty buildup on the battery terminals, take a wire brush (or an old toothbrush) and solution of 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1 cup of hot water and clean the corrosion off of the terminals. Spray rinse with cold water and lubricate the terminals with dielectric grease to inhibit the return of terminal corrosion. If your battery is relatively new, say purchased within 1 to 2 years, you shouldn’t have to worry about a replacement but if it has been between 3 to 5 years since your purchase, it would be wise to have it tested by a certified technician to gauge its remaining lifespan. In the rare instance where the battery is over 5 years old, now would be the time to have it replaced with a brand new unit.
#2: ADJUST TIRE PRESSURES, INSPECT PHYSICAL CONDITION
For every 10 degrees up or down in ambient temperature, your tire’s air pressure with either raise or lower. That means, if you had to raise your pressures in the Winter to compensate for the bitter cold, those tire pressures could be dangerously high in the Summer which puts you at risk of tire damage or, in the worst case scenario, suffering a blowout. Consult your owner’s manual or the tire pressure guide located either inside the door jamb or in the trunk for your vehicle’s proper cold/hot tire pressure specs. Your recommended tire pressure will be a numerical value set at pounds per square inch (PSI). NEVER EVER go by the pressure rating that’s embossed on the tire sidewall. This number is in relation to the MAXIMUM TIRE PRESSURE allowed before structural damage can occur. When you drive your vehicle, your tires will heat up from road contact friction which causes the internal air pressure to build. A tire that’s been overinflated to levels at or near maximum pressure is at serious risk of exploding. Always make sure to check your pressures when the car has been parked for at least 4 hours; first thing early in the morning is an ideal time of day to check. Avoid doing any inflating/deflating immediately after the car has been driven or just before or after 3PM. This is generally regarded as the time of day where temperatures will be at their peak. Also, if you park under a partially-shaded area, the pressures may be uneven with part of the vehicle concealed in shade and the other part exposed to sun and heat.
The tire treads are the part of the tire edge which makes physical contact with the road. This is what keeps your vehicle grounded and provides the traction and handling and also significantly contributes to braking performance and steering response. The greater amount of road surface a tire can cover, the greater its traction and ability to “stick” to the road. Tires, regardless of size, can come in a variety of different performance categories such as Winter, Mud/Snow, Economy, Touring, All-Season, All-Season Performance, All-Season High Performance, All-Season Ultra High Performance, Summer High Performance, Summer Ultra High Performance, and Summer Maximum Performance. Be mindful of which performance category your tires fall under and pay attention to the treadwear rating. The treadwear rating is the projected estimated lifespan of your tire’s tread set by the tire manufacturer. Winter tires and super high performance Summer tires tend to have low treadwear ratings, meaning that they are designed to deteriorate quicker than a standard All-Season or Touring tire for the sake of added traction. An easy (albeit, not a very technical) way to gauge your tire’s remaining tread life is to take a penny and insert it into one of the tread grooves (sipes). If the top of Lincoln’s head is covered as though he is wearing a bandana, your tire tread life is acceptable. If you can clearly see the top of Lincoln’s head, that means your tire treads are worn. If the tread surface is completely flat and without grooves or sipes (like a racing slick), your tires are in immediate need of replacement. Tire sipes help direct standing water away from the contact patch in wet or rainy conditions to prevent hydroplaning or aquaplaning. If you see bits of metal wire poking through the tread surface, again, replace that tire (or tires) immediately. Also, check the sidewall for bubbling, bulging, gouges, or dry rot. Unlike a tire tread, sidewalls CANNOT BE REPAIRED, so any of these are serious warning signs of major structural damage. Do not be alarmed if your tire appears brown in color; this is called “blooming”, the phenomena of the tire’s rubber preservatives being pushed to the surface as a result of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It’s ugly and unattractive, but harmless.
#3: INSPECT WHEEL ALIGNMENT, SUSPENSION, & BRAKES
Proper wheel alignment ensures neutral handling and even tire wear. On some cars, wheel alignments can be adjusted to suit performance preferences but for the everyday passenger vehicle, the daily wear and tear of commuting on poorly-maintained public roads can knock the alignment out of spec. If you notice your vehicle pulling to the right or left or your steering response has gone mushy, these are signs that your alignment may need to be reset to factory specifications. Not only will a proper wheel alignment restore the stock handling and steering characteristics of your car, it will also aid in maximizing your tire life—and that’s very useful when taking into consideration that many modern production cars come equipped with stock tires than can range in price from $130 to over $500 a pop. You’re going to want to get as much life as you can out of them.
Your vehicle’s suspension is tasked with multiple jobs. It’s designed to assist the chassis for maximum traction and handling as well as provide the occupants with a comfortable ride. By the nature of certain chassis and suspension setups, there are some suspensions can feel soft and floaty, jumpy and springy, or spine-shatteringly harsh and abrasive. This all depends on the type of vehicle it is and its intended purpose. Family cars are usually fitted with smooth riding suspensions, traditional luxury cars have soft and supple suspensions that isolate the driver and passengers from road harshness, and performance vehicles have hard-riding, rigid suspensions in an effort to minimize energy deflection on uneven surfaces. Analyzing a suspension can be pretty involved but for the regular car owner, there are still some inspections that can be done at home or behind the wheel with the old-fashioned and trusted method of the ‘seat-of-the-pants-o-meter’: how the car feels to you when you drive. Take note of any sharp banging sounds, clanking or clattering, vibration, or any unusual sounds or sensations when driving on familiar roads. These could be signs that something has dislodged, broken itself, or could use a simple adjustment. Sloppy steering can be attributed to worn bushings and tie-rods; an overtly floaty and undulating feeling could be caused by bad shocks/struts; difficulty maintaining a straight line can be the result of worn suspension bushings, bad CV joints, loose sway bars, etc. Bring your vehicle to a qualified mechanic for a professional evaluation before you embark on your Summer road trip.
Brakes. This one should be self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how many people forget about their brakes and wear them down to the point where they’re rendered completely useless or where they actually self-destruct due to the prolonged neglect. Difficulty stopping, grinding or squealing sounds, and steering wheel shudder under braking use can be indicators that your brakes need service. Inspect your brake pads and rotors for usable surface area, as well as physical anomalies such as glazing, discoloring, rust, and even small micro cracking along the rotor face. If you opt to have your brakes replaced, do remember to bleed air out of the hydraulic brake system to eliminate that confidence-robbing ’spongy’ pedal feel. Also, once you’ve replaced your brake pads and rotors (or shoes and drums), you should perform a secondary service known as burnishing or bedding. Each brake parts manufacturer has their own distinct method of the bedding procedure but it is, essentially, forcing your brake pads to melt a thin layer of itself onto the rotor face for the purpose of creating a stable pad-to-rotor mating surface. It involves several hard stops at varying speeds followed by a cooling period where the car is to be driven at a steady pace while avoiding using the brake pedal. This should be done either very late at night or early in the morning on long stretches of road where you will not experience heavy traffic or obstacles such as on a freeway. If available, consult the instructions that may be packaged in with your brand new replacement brake pads.
#4: CHECK FLUID LEVELS: COOLANTS & LUBRICANTS
Like how the heart pumps blood through your body, a car relies on precious fluids to circulate throughout itself—except, that while we humans only have one heart and one circulatory system, cars have multiple circulatory systems such as engine oil and coolant, transmission fluid, differential fluid, transfer case fluid (if equipped with 4WD) and brake fluid that work in tandem during operation. Each vehicle and every driving style has different fluid change intervals that must be adhered to in order to maximize the vehicle’s serviceable life. Check with your owner’s manual and take into consideration your driving habits and environmental conditions as to when exactly these fluid changes should be performed. If anything, you should pay special attention to the engine oil and if you’re planning a long road trip that covers several thousand miles, it’s in your best interest to change the engine oil and engine oil filter before you head out to the highway. Check your coolant levels and adjust/replace accordingly. If you live in an extremely high temperature climate, if you will be sitting for extended periods of time in traffic, or if you will be towing, you may want to consider adding secondary cooling units for your engine oil, transmission fluid, and differential (if equipped). While not entirely vital to your vehicle’s operation, you should also take the time to fill or refill your windshield washer fluid. In certain parts of the country, insect activity will be very high and a mess of splattered bug carcasses on your windshield will obstruct your vision. It’s best to have washer fluid available so you can keep your windshield glass free of stains and smears. Also, check your wiper blades themselves. If the rubber is cracked, ripped, torn, or crumbling away, go buy yourself some new replacements. They’re not terribly expensive. If your car is equipped with an air conditioning unit (and most modern passenger cars and trucks have them as standard equipment, unless deleted by request as in the case of fleet work trucks or high performance cars like the 2014.2015 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28), run your A/C unit for a few minutes and check for cold air output. If the air blowing from the vents is warm or could stand to be cooler, you may require a recharge or replacement of your A/C unit condenser. Like the windshield washers, it is not detrimental to your vehicle’s drivability but it’s Summer, it’s hot out, and you’ll be glad to have it on those days where the sun is exceptionally brutal.
#5: BELTS & HOSES
If you bought your car within the last 5 years, chances are, you can probably trust the condition of your stock engine belts and hoses to be in good condition. That’s because the rubber production technology has vastly improved since even the early-to-mid 2000s. Rubber belts and hoses are designed to be “long life” items with prolonged durability and serviceable life. That being said, it is still rubber and over time, rubber will deteriorate and begin to rot. There’s no getting around it. Factors such as vehicle mileage, use, and environment can have the potential to shorten the estimated life span of the factory-equipped rubber belts and hoses. Check your engine belts (usually, a singular serpentine belt) for cracks and fraying along the ribbed and textured edges which grab the engine pulleys. Replace if necessary. Also, while you’re at it, have a look at the fluid hoses under the hood. Do they feel excessively dry and crumbly? Does one have fresh fluid stains or visible seepage? Prevent a potential leak or blowout by changing out that hose (or hoses) immediately. After all, stopping problems before they have a chance to occur greatly increases your chances of not encountering one down the road.
Happy Summer and Happy Motoring from Discount Starter & Alternator!