Summer Vehicle Maintenance Tips

By Matt Keegan
Last Updated 06/30/2015

Extreme weather can take its toll on your car. During the summer, triple-digit air temperatures are actually much higher inside your car and under your hood, making life miserable for people and machines alike. Hot weather can put your car to the test — here's our list of helpful summer vehicle maintenance tips.

It Starts with Your Owner’s Manual

The first matter for every car owner is to pay attention to their owner's manual. The manufacturer lays out a maintenance schedule that should be carefully followed.

Most people use the standard maintenance schedule, but if you live where high temperatures and humidity or extreme temperature variations are common, then follow the severe duty schedule instead.

Pay Attention to Your Tires

Tires are the only thing that separates your car from the ground. Tasked with holding thousands of pounds of vehicle and payload, your tires should always be in top shape.

Make it a habit to check your tires at least once monthly. If the tread wear indicators are showing or tire tread is down to 2/32 of an inch, then replace your worn tires. Tires should be inflated to the pressure recommendation listed in your owner's manual. Invest in a tire gauge and obtain accurate readings by checking the tires when they are cold.

When it comes time to replace your tires, change them two or four at a time to ensure even wear. Cracking, splitting and bulging are signs that a tire may soon fail. If you are replacing two tires, the new tires are always placed on the rear axle. Don't forget to check your spare too. Finally, tire life is somewhere between six and 10 years, regardless of the amount of wear present.

Consider Your Brakes

One of the top safety features in your car is its brakes. Where the tires separate your vehicle from the ground, the brake system ensures that your car comes to a safe stop every time.

The brakes need attention if the brake pedal feels soft or squishy when applied. Another sign of trouble is a pedal that feels hard and is resistant to your touch. Scraping, squealing, grinding and other odd noises coming from your brakes when you apply the pedal may signal problems with the pads, calipers or other parts.

Check All Fluids

Major moving parts such as the engine and transmission, rely on fluids to keep your car operating and running cool. You can check the oil and transmission fluid levels yourself and have these replaced if dirty.

Keep your windshield washer detergent topped as you will use it frequently when your windshield is dirty. While you are at it, replace your wiper blades if you notice that they are cracked, broken or if the windshield is streaking when the wipers are activated.

Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for flushing and replacing the coolant. Today's cars make that step easier as they have a coolant reservoir to add new fluid. Never open a radiator cap when the car is hot — you could get burned.

Examine Hoses and Belts

While you are under the hood, examine hoses and belts to ensure that they're in top condition. A broken hose can spew coolant on the ground, rendering your car inoperative. A broken belt can shut down the water pump or the alternator.

Cracks, nicks and bulges or mushy spots on the hoses are signs that they need to be replaced. Splitting, fraying and cracking on belts indicate trouble — replace them at once.

If your car has a timing belt (instead of a timing chain), it can break and in certain cars — those with interference engines — cause engine damage. Your owner's manual should explain what type of belt you have. For most owners, replacement of the belt or chain should be handled by a licensed mechanic.

While you're looking around the vicinity of the engine, check the air filter and replace it if it is dirty or clogged.

Check the Battery

How long should your battery last? Typically, you will get three years out of the battery and sometimes as many as five years. The battery terminals should be free of gunk, a maintenance job you can handle yourself.

The first step here is to use a wire brush to clean around the terminals and the connecting cables. You can also apply a stirred solution of one tablespoon of baking soda to one cup of water and apply it to the terminals to remove acid dust build up and to ensure that your battery is adequately connected. Remove the cables and apply, wipe clean with a dry towel and reconnect.

If you are planning a long trip this summer and aren't sure that your battery will make it, stop by an auto parts store and ask a clerk to test your battery. If it needs to be replaced, most stores will install a new battery and recycle the old one.

Keep Your Car Cool

Investing in a $20 sunscreen can help keep your interior cooler and save your dashboard from cracking and fading. If possible, keep your car in the shade.

Washing and waxing your car regularly will prevent the paint from fading and limit sun damage. Purchasing a form-fitting car cover is another way to protect the exterior.