9 Summer Maintenance Tips

9: Check Your Tires

Tires are one of the most overlooked parts of a car. According the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), only one out of 10 drivers checks his or her tire pressure correctly, compared with almost seven out of 10 who wash their cars regularly [source: RMA]. But the truth is that an under-inflated, over-inflated, worn down or misaligned tire can be extremely dangerous, particularly in hot summer weather.

Tire pressure changes with the rising temperatures -- approximately one to two PSI (pounds per square inch) for every 10-degree increase in outside air temperature [source: RMA]. Consult your owner's manual or the sidewall of your tire to see what your tire pressure should be and check it with a hand pressure gauge or just let the guys at the service shop do it for you.

An under-inflated tire bulges outward and puts undo pressure on the sidewalls of the tire. With enough heat and pressure, that tire eventually will blow. An over-inflated tire, on the other hand, makes less contact with the road and can lead to hydroplaning in wet conditions.

Use the penny trick to see if you still have enough tread on your tires. Stick a penny in the tread, and if Lincoln's head disappears, you're good. Your local service shop like or specialty tire store can also check your tires for proper alignment and balance.

And don't forget about your spare! There's no point in having a spare tire if your spare is in worse condition than the rest. Make sure the spare is properly inflated and has ample tread depth.

8: Change Oil and Oil Filter

Oil is the lifeblood of your car. It keeps hardworking engine parts running clean, smooth and cool. Most owner's manuals suggest that you change your oil and oil filter every 7,500 miles (12,070 kilometers). Oil change specialists suggest every 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) or three months. If you use AMSOIL your change intervals will be much longer (25,000 miles or 1 year). The fact is, most of us do a lot of heavy driving during the summer when an engine is more likely to overheat. So at least check your oil before you head out on that road trip with the family.

To check your oil, let your car run for a few minutes, then park it on a level surface and shut off the engine. Open the hood and locate the oil dipstick. You're looking for two things here: the level of oil and how the oil looks. If you're low on oil, you can either add another quart or simply change the oil completely. The oil should look brownish yellow and clean on the stick. If the oil is a dark color or there's a lot of dirt and grime in it, then you definitely need an oil change and oil filter replacement.

7: Check Hoses and Belts

The key to summer driving is keeping the engine cool. We're going to talk about the radiator and coolant soon, but first you need to check the hoses and belts. The hoses connected to the radiator help pump coolant to and from the engine block, and the belts run the fan that helps cool the system further. If the hoses crack or the belts snap, the radiator will quickly overheat, leaving you stranded.

Check hoses for cracks, leaks and loose connections. Hoses should be firm, never soft and malleable. Hoses suffer from a slow deterioration process called electrochemical degradation (ECD) that eats away at rubber hose material from the inside. The most vulnerable parts of the hose are those nearest to clamps where the hose connects to the radiator or the engine.

Belts can also be visually checked for cracks and damage. Take note if the belt looks excessively slick or smooth. Remove the belt to make sure that the material hasn't started separating into different layers. Experts say the risk of belt failure rises dramatically after 36,000 miles (57,936 kilometers).

6: Change the Air Filter

Over the winter, your car's air filter can get clogged with salt and other thick debris. A clogged air filter can really lower your fuel efficiency. Replacing a dirty or clogged air filter can improve gas mileage by as much as 10 percent [source: Complete Auto Parts].

But how do you know when to change your air filter? The recommended interval is every 12,000 miles (19,312 kilometers), but that can be affected by the particular road and air conditions in which you drive. If you do a lot of driving on dirt or gravel roads, then your air filter is going to clog up much faster than an air filter in a vehicle that's used strictly for highway driving. The only real way to know if you need to replace your air filter is take it out and give it a quick inspection.

Interestingly, a slightly dirty air filter works better than a totally clean one [source: Complete Auto Parts]. This is because the debris in the filter becomes part of the filtering process, trapping smaller particles that might have otherwise slipped past.

There's no real science to knowing when it's time to replace the filter. If it's really filthy, then it obviously needs to be changed. Otherwise, go with your gut. If you're preparing for a long summer of hard driving, then you might as well replace it. Air filters are relatively inexpensive.

5: Replace Your Windshield Wipers

The summertime is notorious for sudden, violent thunderstorms. When buckets of water are beating against your windshield, you need wipers that really work. Even more so at night, when a rain storm can decrease visibility to 15 or 20 feet in front of your vehicle.

Winter can be tough on windshield wipers. Ice, snow, salt and extreme temperatures make cracks and tears in the rubber that lower the effectiveness of the wipers. If your wipers are leaving visible streaks or take several passes to clear away light rain, they need to be replaced.

When replacing a wiper blade, it's better to replace the whole blade, not just the rubber part. Come to Complete Auto Parts and we'll be able to give you the right blades for your make, model and year. We can even install them if you've never replaced wiper blades before, it can be a little tricky. If you'd like to do it on your own just take your time, read the instructions carefully and everything should work out. It's also a good idea to observe the way your original wiper blades were attached. This may prove more valuable than anything printed on the new wiper blade box. We recommend Michelin Stealth Wiper Blades which we keep a full stock of.

4: Check Your Brakes

Your brakes are the single most important safety feature on your car. Don't put yourself or your family at risk this summer by riding around on worn down or faulty brakes.

Brakes need to be replaced when the lining on your brake pad or brake shoe is worn down past the minimum thickness specified by the car manufacturer or state law [source: Compete Auto Parts]. You can have your brake linings checked at any normal service shop or at a brake specialist.

Here are some signs that your brakes need to be checked:

Your brake pedal becomes very soft and mushy
Your brake pedal is very hard and resistant
Your brake pedal rests too low or too high
Indication or warning lights on the dashboard
Loud and constant scraping and grinding sounds coming from the brakes

Interestingly, squealing brakes are not necessarily a sign of a problem. Brakes squeal and squeak for a wide variety of reasons, including moisture on the brake pads, discs, shoes and drums. You should only become concerned if the squealing becomes a scraping or grinding noise. This is a sign of metal-to-metal contact, which can permanently damage brake parts.

If you notice a brake problem, it pays to have it inspected or repaired as soon as possible. The cost of a brake repair can increase dramatically if even minor problems aren't fixed in a timely manner.

3: Check the Coolant and Radiator

Cars are designed to run hot, but there's a limit to how hot they should run. A combustion engine is most efficient at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius). But if an engine is allowed to get too hot, moving metal parts can actually start to melt and fuse together, causing a variety of internal problems for your engine -- and, you guessed it, a hefty repair bill.

Luckily, all modern cars have an ingenious cooling system that uses a chemical coolant, called antifreeze, and a series of pumps, hoses, thermostats and fans to keep the car at its optimal running temperature. But any problems with this system -- low coolant levels, cracked hoses, loose or broken belts, a leak in the radiator or even a loose or missing radiator cap can cause your car to overheat and break down.

The summertime is tough on cooling systems. Sitting in traffic on a hot day is one of the quickest ways to overheat your car. This is because there's no air flowing across the engine to help keep it cool. A well-tuned cooling system can take long idles in hot weather, but if you have low coolant levels or a busted fan belt, your engine temperature is going to go up -- and fast.

Check under the hood and make sure that your coolant levels are fine. The general rule is to flush your radiator and add new coolant at least every two years. Flushing the radiator is done with a special chemical that cleans debris and build-up on the inside of the radiator. For summer driving, coolant should be added as a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water. You can even buy premixed coolant so you don't have to bother with the measurements.

If you see a small puddle of coolant under your car when it's been parked for a while, then you have a coolant leak. Take it to the service station as soon as you can to get your system checked out.

2: Clean Your Battery

Wintertime is notorious for dead batteries and early morning jumpstarts. But the truth is that hot weather is even tougher on your battery.

Summer heat can speed up the chemical reaction inside a battery, causing the battery to be overcharged [source: Complete Auto Parts]. This can dramatically shorten the lifespan of your battery. Heat can also damage the battery by evaporating internal battery fluid [source: Interstate Batteries].

The best way to keep your battery running smoothly is to keep it clean. Regularly detach the battery cables and wipe off the terminals. Make sure the battery is strapped down tightly and that all connections are secure.

If you suspect that your battery is being overcharged or isn't holding a charge well, take it to a service shop where they can run a quick battery inspection. And if you need to replace the battery, make sure that it's the right battery type for your specific make and model of car. We carry a full line of Interstate Batteries.

1: Maintain Your Air Conditioning

If you've ever lost your air conditioning on a hot summer day, then you know what a big difference a little cool air makes. The best way to tell if your air conditioner has a problem is if it can't generate or maintain air temperatures that are 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) below the ambient outside air temperature.

The most common cause of a malfunctioning air conditioning unit is a low level of refrigerant. This could be caused buy a leak somewhere in the system. Since modern air conditioning systems are complicated creatures, it's best to have a professional check out the problem.

The air conditioning maintenance industry has changed a lot since 1994, when the Federal government outlawed the use of a refrigerant called R-12, known by its brand name Freon. In the past, if your air conditioner wasn't blowing cool air, you'd head down to the service shop, they'd top your car off with a little Freon and you'd be on your way.

The problem is that Freon, a chlorofluorocarbon, is extremely destructive to the ozone layer. Most people needed Freon refills because they had leaks. By simply refilling the leaky air conditioning units, millions of pounds of Freon were entering the atmosphere every year.

If your car was built before 1994, then you need to have your refrigerant checked out by a licensed professional who knows how to dispose of or recycle the material. In some states, it's illegal to refill a leaky system with R-12. However, even older cars can be easily retrofitted to use the newer, safer type of refrigerant called R-134a.

Even if you faithfully follow our 9 maintenance tips, some breakdowns are unavoidable. Do yourself a favor and save some room in your trunk for the following items. They could turn a potential trip-wrecker into nothing more than an unexpected pit stop:

Screwdrivers and wrenches of various sizes
Jumper cables
A jack and tire iron
A can of "Fix-a-Flat" for temporarily sealing and inflating a flat tire
Water for both the radiator and yourself
Emergency flares and reflectors
Gloves
Blanket and towel
Flashlight

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