Don’t Let Car Problems Ruin Your Summer: Keep Your Car In Top Shape With These Tips

A 2014 TL out in the sun. Image courtesy of

It's easy, with the blossoming promise of spring, to forget that the coming summer is a challenging time for the family sedan. By the time summer arrives, the air conditioner is in full time use, weekly mileage is way up as kids' activities increase and the scorching pavement is testing those tires. If you didn't put a little thought into summer auto maintenance back in March, it's not too late. Consider these ounces of prevention so you don't find yourself by the side of a hot road looking for a pound of cure.

Under the Hood

In large part, auto engines are water cooled and rely on motor oil for internal lubrication. If either coolant or oil run low, you will be stuck or looking for a new car. Aside from oil and coolant, it is worth checking the brake fluids, the power steering, the transmission and equally important, the windshield washer reservoir.

A well maintained car, in good repair, is very unlikely to see much loss of transmission, brake or power steering fluid. These fluids are typically checked and replaced at regular maintenance intervals when other components of their systems are replaced. However, any time the hood is up, it is worth looking at the various reservoirs to see that fluid levels are as expected. Use your owner's manual to learn how to check the various levels (for example, usually transmission fluid is checked with the car idling in neutral).

Likewise, if your car is being given regular oil changes and doesn't leave drips in the parking lot, it is unlikely that it will use much oil or lose much coolant. However, older vehicles can start to burn oil as it escapes past loosening piston rings. The next time you are about half way between 3000 mile oil changes, pull the dipstick and take a look. The oil should still be in the upper half of the acceptable range (between full and add) and should still look about like maple syrup. If it is dark, chocolate syrup colored and sticky, it should be changed. Don't forget to double check and use the recommended viscosity for hot weather.

With the hood up, take a look at the battery. Are the terminals covered in corrosion? They shouldn't be. Are the cables tight? Check hoses and belts. The hoses should be firm feeling and the belts should not have cracks visible where they turn around pulleys. With the engine COLD (seriously!) take the lid off of the radiator. Is there neon green, clean fluid right there? If not, have the radiator fluid checked and possibly flushed.

With your next trip to the quickie lube, get the fuel and air filters changed including the cabin air filter. You and your car should breathe fresh air.

Finally, as you drive this summer, keep your fuel level up above half. The fuel pump in your car lives in the fuel tank and relies on the fluid surrounding it for cooling. A mostly empty tank will leave your fuel pump exposed and overheated.

The Tires

Tires are among the most overlooked safety devices on any car. At any moment of driving, the only thing that separates the speeding automobile from calamity is the purchase of the tires on the road. Coming into summer, head to the tire shop for an inspection. Summer tires are more heat resistant that winter tires. Tire pressure should be adjusted so that hot, expanded tires don't end up over-pressured. Worn tires need to be checked for separation and cracking as well as bald spots. Summer is a hard time for tires. Consider replacing tires in the springtime so that you have new tires in the heat of summer. If, like most people, you aren't going to replace your tires every season, buy high quality all-season tires and have them inspected each spring and fall.


Although summer is not a high use time for windshield wipers, summer thunderstorms can happen quickly and put down a lot of rain. Make sure you have wiper fluid and that your wipers work correctly. Check the lights and signals. Take a peek under the car. Are there holes rusted in the exhaust system? Does the car sound "normal" when idling and when slowing at a stop sign? Any unusual drips in the driveway? Is the check engine light on? Does the air conditioner seem weak or seem to cycle on and off a lot? If there is any question about the general condition of the car's systems, check the owner's manual for more information and pursue the required maintenance to ensure a trouble free summer.

The Summer Emergency Kit

A summer emergency kit. Image courtesy of

No car should be driven without some emergency equipment and supplies in the trunk. Make a commitment to keeping the following supplies in your car at all times.

-Jumper cables
-Fresh Water
-Non-perishable food
-First-Aid Kit

These items will make life a lot easier if you have trouble on the road. In the case of emergency situations, they might even safe your life. Depending on your driving plans, it is worth taking an extra cell phone battery or at least a charger. Also, some duct tape and a can of WD-40 or similar spray lubrication along with a small tool kit is not a bad idea if you are even remotely capable of identifying and fixing a broken part. It often only takes a small effort to limp into a repair station.

Take care of summer maintenance, plan for the unexpected, drive safely.

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