After one of the harshest winters in memory, America’s northern extremities are finally starting to thaw out. Along with chirping birds and sunshine, spring has brought warmer temperatures. But just because nice weather has arrived doesn’t mean you should ignore vehicle maintenance.
For the most part things are pretty mild right now, but scorching heat is just a couple months away. With that in mind here are some important car-care tips to get your ride ready for summer.
Simple But Significant
Winter often gets a bad rap but Pep Boys director of operations Stacey Hamilton said “heat can be just as destructive as ice-cold weather.” It can lead to battery issues and the deterioration of rubber parts like belts and hoses.
Scorching-hot asphalt is another potential threat; as the thermometer climbs so can the chances of tire issues. Hamilton said, “You’re going to gain one to two pounds of pressure for every 10 degrees.” This causes the pressure inside a tire to increase, oftentimes past the manufacturer-recommended level.
Over-inflation of tires can make the center of the tread wear unevenly but that’s not all. Larry Bishop, drivability technician at Dean Sellers Ford in Troy, Mich. said over-inflated tires can degrade a vehicle’s ride quality and worse, they can lead to wheel damage.
Regions that experience all four seasons tend to have issues with potholes. Big impacts caused by these roadway imperfections can bend rims and even cause flat tires. They can also knock a vehicle’s alignment out of whack and Bishop said, “If you don’t get it checked out it’ll wear out tires fast.”
The Mitten State is notorious for its crumbling roads, but Bishop said it’s also pretty rough on cars in Michigan. To help minimize issues like these, follow the manufacturer’s recommended inflation pressure and stick to it in all seasons. This information is typically found on a placard in the driver’s side door-jamb area.
When checking your tires Hamilton said it’s important to do it when they’re cool. If you’ve been driving it’s probably best to wait a few hours before testing the pressure.
SEE ALSO: How Much Air Should I Put in My Tires?
Of course electrical systems can be affected by heat and cold. Hamilton said, “[Drivers] should definitely have their battery inspected.” She also said that it’s important to make sure it’s secured properly; if the battery is sliding around in the engine compartment, it can sustain unnecessary damage.
There are different types of antifreeze on the market, plus some are sold in concentrated form while others are available pre-mixed with water. When topping up your vehicle’s cooling system pay careful attention to what kind of antifreeze you’ve purchased and make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation.
Another helpful suggestion Hamilton made was to get your undercarriage washed to remove any road salt or other detritus from the bottom of your car or truck. She also said, “Look under the hood of the vehicle and remove debris that may have accumulated,” paying special attention to the radiator, which needs unobstructed airflow.
Bishop said having your AC system checked out before summer hits is a good idea and something people often forget about. Don’t wait until it’s 100 degrees to discover your car’s the air conditioning isn’t working; he suggests getting it tested and repaired if necessary before extreme weather hits.
Of course cosmetics count, too. “A good coat of wax is going to help protect the paint in the heat,” Hamilton said. If your vehicle has leather trim it’s also a good idea to treat the material with conditioners to keep it from cracking. This is good advice in both summer and winter.
Better Safe Than Sorry
In case the unexpected does happen, Hamilton recommends keeping an emergency kit in your vehicle at all times. She said road flares, a phone charger and some extra windshield-washer fluid can be life savers. Likewise it’s smart to have a tire inflator handy; products like Fix-a-Flat or Slime can get you on the road again in an emergency, which beats walking or having to wait for a tow truck.
Beyond these items Hamilton also recommended keeping a first aid kit in the trunk and said “a couple bottles of water are great in the summer time.”
Some of these maintenance suggestions are best left to professionals but you can still tackle a number of items yourself. Bishop said, “[Drivers] can check all the fluid levels,” though he admitted this is kind of rare these days. People used to check the oil at every fill up but he noted, “You never see anyone’s hood up at the gas station anymore.”
Tire pressure is another do-it-yourself maintenance item. It’s quick and easy to keep track of, plus pressure gauges are only a couple bucks so there’s no excuse for having over- or under-inflated tires.
The Dealership Difference
For more difficult items drivers can always go to a dealership or garage for vehicle service. “We do all types of repair and maintenance,” said Hamilton. Pep Boys also offers a variety of free services, from battery testing to wiper-blade installation to tire checks.
Modern vehicles are far more technologically advanced than the Saturn V rocket that sent Apollo 11 to the moon. “These cars are getting a lot harder for ‘everyday Joes’ to work on,” Bishop said. Beyond that, automakers are extending service intervals to ever-greater lengths and they’re also eliminating some maintenance points altogether.
Bishop said the transmission dipstick has actually been removed from some models, making it almost impossible for the typical driver to check the fluid, but they don’t really have to. Sometimes parts are sealed for the life of a vehicle, requiring zero maintenance.
Given how technical today’s cars and trucks have become it’s sometimes best to take your vehicle to the dealer for service. Bishop said, “I know coming from a Ford mechanic [saying] ‘take your Ford to a Ford dealer’ is kind of expected,” but he said that some independent garages won’t have the same knowledge and experience.
“We’re constantly training,” said Bishop. Ford technicians go through web-based instruction so they’re aware of the latest procedures and vehicle updates. They even spend time in classrooms to get hands-on experience with the vehicles they service in the field. “I know these Fords inside and out; that’s what I do,” he said.
Ready, Set, Go!
Summer is just around the proverbial corner. Don’t let high temperatures leave you stranded. Get your vehicle’s air-conditioning and cooling systems checked out sooner rather than later and make certain to keep an eye on the tires. These simple steps and the other ones listed above can save you a lot of headaches down the road.
Read more car care information in AutoGuide.com’s Tips and Advice section.