By Chuck Mai, AAA
Motorists: time to get it together…the outrageous heat of summer is here! Time to prepare your vehicles for days and days of soaring temperatures. (Remember last year in Oklahoma?) Without preventive maintenance, summer’s heat increases the likelihood of vehicle failure, leaving you and your passengers unexpectedly, and dangerously, stranded on the side of the road.
Here are my best summer vehicle maintenance tips:
Before hitting the road:
• Make sure your vehicle is in top operating condition before leaving home.
• Most drivers think battery problems occur primarily in winter, but summer heat can negatively impact your car’s battery even more than the bitter cold of winter. Heat and vibration are a battery’s two worst enemies leading to internal breakdown and eventual failure. Rule of thumb: if your vehicle’s battery is more than two years old, have it checked.
• Check all fluids including the coolant level in the overflow tank and top off as needed with a 50-50 mix of antifreeze/coolant and water. If the engine is cool, check the level in the radiator as well. Never remove the radiator cap when the engine is hot, you can be seriously scalded.
• Have the cooling system flushed and new coolant installed when recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Depending on the type of coolant used, this is typically necessary every two to five years.
• Inspect your filters, belts and hoses.
• Keep tires at normal pressure. Soft tires generate heat, which can lead to a blowout. Inflate them to the pressure indicated on the sticker inside your glove compartment or on the door jamb. Do not go by the pressure molded into the sidewall of the tire – that is a maximum pressure. And don’t forget the spare.
• Even with proper preventive maintenance, summer breakdowns can still occur, so carry a well-stocked emergency kit in your vehicle. The kit should include water, non-perishable food items, jumper cables, a flashlight with extra batteries, road flares or an emergency beacon, basic hand tools, duct tape and a first aid kit.
Once on the road:
• Keep an eye on your gas, oil and engine temperature gauges.
• Should you overheat, pull off the road, shut the engine off immediately and allow the vehicle to cool.
• Make sure you keep a supply of replacement fluids in your vehicle to top off levels that may drop from the extreme use of your engine. Most important is having coolant and engine oil on hand, because those are the ones you are likely to run low on in the middle of nowhere, 100 miles from the nearest service station.
• If your vehicle does break down, stay with it and wait for help to arrive. This is a great time to have a cell phone with you along with a power cable you can plug into the car’s electrical system.