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How to Get Your Car Ready for Summer

If you live where the summer months get hot, you'll want to take a few things into consideration regarding your car, truck or SUV. It's important to remember that hot weather can be tough on mechanical components. For example, your cooling system has to work harder to keep the engine from overheating, tires have to perform under hotter conditions, and if you have a breakdown, you should be prepared to subsist in hot weather until some form of assistance arrives, or you're able to repair the vehicle yourself.

While there are many similarities between getting your vehicle ready for summer and getting it ready for winter, a couple of differences do exist. These are covered below in the following numerated subjects and corresponding photos. Let's take a look.

1. Remove snow tires. While snow tires work great in the winter, they're not much good in the summer months when there's no snow on the ground. Plus, you'll wear them out much faster by using them on dry pavement. It's a good idea to have two sets of wheels: one mounted with snow tires and one with summer or all-season tires. You can even swap the wheels yourself since you won't have to go to a tire shop to have one set of tires removed and another set remounted on one set of wheels, which could run $40 to $50 each time you do it.

2. Check the tire pressure. Tire pressure is important at all times. It's critical to have properly inflated tires, as this assures the best possible contact between the tire and the road. Read your owner's manual to find the correct tire pressures, and, if necessary, adjust pressures to compensate for the hotter operating conditions -- especially if you're doing lots of high-speed driving on a summer-vacation road trip. Properly inflated tires will also last longer and improve gas mileage.

Because of summertime's higher temperatures, the air pressure in a warm tire rises. Why? Because air is a gas, and gas expands when it heats up. Keep this in mind if you are checking tire pressures. The given tire pressure specifications are for when the tires are cold, therefore the pressure should be checked when the tires are cold.

Also, an improperly inflated tire can heat excessively, potentially leading to a blow-out on the highway.

3. Change the engine oil and adjust the viscosity grade. This isn't as hard as it sounds. Viscosity refers to the thickness of the oil. For example, maple syrup has a higher viscosity than water. Engine oils are sold with different levels of viscosity, and many of them are also multi-viscous, which means the oil's thickness can change depending on its temperature. Generally speaking, the warmer the oil is, the thinner it will be. If the oil is too thin, the engine might not get the proper lubrication.

To solve this summertime issue, you can change your vehicle's engine oil to one that is a little thicker. Even when the thicker oil is cold, it is still not too thick for proper engine lubrication.

Determining what type of oil your car should have during the summer is easy. Simply read your vehicle's owner's manual. The manual will list the manufacturer's oil recommendations for different climates. If you have a dealership or local garage perform the oil change, you can ask the manager what type and viscosity of oil they are putting into your vehicle. Most modern cars have recommended oil grades of 5W-30, 10W-30 or 10W-40 which are all multi-viscous grades.

4. Inspect the belts and hoses. The belts and hoses in modern cars last a long time. But that doesn't mean they don't have the potential to fail. Before summer begins, have the belts and hoses inspected on your vehicle. And if you're not sure when they were last replaced, consider having them changed, especially before commencing a long road trip.

5. Inspect the wipers and wiper fluid. Visibility is always important and our experience tells us that summer storms can be quite severe in some parts of the country. The life expectancy of a wiper blade is one year. If your car's blades are dried out and not making full contact with the windshield, replace them.

Also check and fill your wiper fluid reservoir. A summertime thunderstorm isn't the best time to run out of wiper fluid or to discover your blades aren't performing properly.

6. Check the battery. A battery gives little warning before it goes dead. And it'll likely do so when you least expect it. Hot weather can put additional strain on a battery similar to what is experienced in cold weather. If your vehicle battery is more than three years old, have it tested at a certified automotive repair facility. Also, make sure the posts and connections are free of corrosion. If you're embarking on a long trip, consider replacing the battery if you don't know how old it is. These days, batteries are not very expensive, and it's cheap insurance when you're out on the open road. We also recommend that you always carry jumper cables, as mentioned below in the emergency kit section.

7. Check coolant/antifreeze mixture. The ideal mixture of coolant and water inside your vehicle's radiator is 50:50. If the mixture deviates from this norm, then hot-weather performance (and cold) can be compromised.

If you were to put pure water in your vehicle's radiator, it would boil at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. But if you combine the water with an equal amount of antifreeze, the new mixture boils at a much higher temperature.

You can check the composition of a radiator's mixture by using an antifreeze tester. You can find these at all auto parts stores, and they are inexpensive and easy to use. If the mixture's balance is off, adjust it by adding either coolant or water.

8. Carry an emergency kit inside your car. Things you might consider carrying include the following:

  • a. A flashlight, flares and a first-aid kit.
  • b. Jumper cables.
  • c. Extra clothes and gloves.
  • d. Paper towels.
  • e. Extra washer fluid.
  • f. Food and water.
  • g. Basic tools like wrenches, a ratchet and sockets, screwdrivers and pliers or Vise-Grips.

9. Things to Consider When Removing a Vehicle from Long-Term Storage

Those of you who live in an area of the country where the winters are tough might store a car on a long-term basis to protect it from the elements. If you do that, you'll want to think about a few things before pulling the car out of the garage and hitting the road.

If you changed the oil before putting the car away, then you'll be in good shape when it's time to start it up after a long winter in storage. Before starting the car, though, check the oil level on the dipstick first. Recheck it once the car has been idling for a few minutes.

If you have relatively easy access to the spark plugs, consider removing them and pouring two to three small drops of oil in the cylinders to pre-lube the cylinder walls before startup. This isn't absolutely critical (we know that plug access on some vehicles is very difficult) but would certainly be helpful in prolonging engine life.

In addition to engine oil, check all vital fluid levels. This includes the brake system's master cylinder, the coolant level, the power-steering fluid and the transmission fluid if the vehicle has an automatic transmission.

Gasoline stabilizer poured into the tank before the long-storage is begun is also a good idea. If this was done, you'll be in good shape during startup after the term ends. If getting the vehicle started is a problem and you didn't use any stabilizer, you might need to drain the old fuel and pour in new gas. Replacing the fuel filter might also be a solution to any problems related to getting the vehicle started after long-term storage.

After parking the vehicle for storage, it's a good idea to disconnect the battery. It's also a good idea to remove it from the vehicle, too, if you can. Obviously, if you disconnected the battery, you'll need to reconnect it before starting.

As mentioned earlier, you'll also want to check tire pressure before hitting the road after long-term storage.

Finally, before moving the vehicle at all, thoroughly check underneath it to determine if there are any leaks that might need attention. Tending to this and the other basic concerns noted above will ensure that you'll be set to go after your car has been stored for a long period of time.

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