Preparing your car for summer driving
When you consider that your car might be covering many miles at a constant high cruising speed for hours on end on a long summer holiday journey, it's easy to see why preparation is important.
Regular servicing should ensure that your car is in good condition but it's worth taking a little time to check the following items.
Engine cooling system: The biggest cause of summer breakdown is overheating.
Hot weather and high speeds make your car work harder – but traffic jams can also take their toll. It's quite common to see cars pulled in with overheated engines in hot traffic jams. To avoid this, ensure that your coolant level is OK by making regular weekly checks – check daily if you are touring.
Checking coolant hoses and drive belts before setting out on a long journey could help you to avoid frustrating (and dangerous) roadside breakdowns. It may be a good idea to get your car serviced before embarking on a holiday.
Make sure your garage checks the coolant strength (anti-freeze) and flushes out the cooling system in line with manufacturer's recommendation.
It might seem odd to talk about anti-freeze when discussing summer motoring, however, the antifreeze solution does more than just stop the water in your engine from freezing, it also acts as a rust inhibitor – at least when it's at the correct strength (old antifreeze solution can actually corrode your cooling system).
Caution: If your engine does overheat, do not remove the radiator or coolant tank cap until it has cooled down for an hour or so – there is a danger of being scalded by super-heated steam. See Overheated Engine for more details.
Fans and air-conditioning:
The chances are that you don't 'chill' the car with cool air fans or air-con much in the winter! Make sure that the systems are working properly and that vents have not become blocked. And it's not just the ventilation systems – if you are running the fans at full blast they will be putting an extra load on your electrical system.
Windscreen and wipers:
Summer thunderstorms can put a lot of strain on the wipers. Check for perished or damaged wiper blades – not forgetting the rear wipers! Also give the blades a wipe at least every time you wash the car.
If you have an older car wear in the springs and joints of the wiper arms can affect their performance.
It goes without saying that you should always have a clean windscreen, this is especially the case in bright sunlight where dazzle can be fatal. With this in mind, ensure that you check your washer fluid level regularly, especially on long journeys where you may be constantly washing dead insects from the screen. Avoid using your wipers on a dry windscreen, the dust and grit that settles in the summer can cause tiny scratches that add to the dazzle.
Plastics used in car manufacturer, and air conditioning, can leave a haze on the inside of the windscreen – this will often be worse in hot weather. Use a proprietary screen cleaner and newspaper to keep your windows clean (newspaper is the best thing ever for cleaning car windows!). Warning: Don't use car polish or polishing cloths to clean the windows; this can leave streaks and smears and affect vision.
Wheels and tyres:
The small footprint of your tyres is the only thing between you and the road. Many drivers do not pay enough attention to the tyres in the winter – after all, who wants to poke around dirty muddy wheels on a cold wet morning …
Check tyre pressures weekly (as a minimum) and follow the manufacturers recommended pressure – in the event of an accident insurers might take a dim view of tyres that had existing damage or that were incorrectly inflated (the long arm of law might well take an interest too!). Under or over inflated tyres affect the cars handling, grip on the road and fuel economy – there is nothing to be gained by adding an extra couple of pounds pressure for luck!
Check tyre pressures when the tyres are cold (unless your handbook stated otherwise).
Remember to check the spare tyre as well! If your car uses different tyre pressure front and back, or when fully loaded, inflate the spare tyre to the highest pressure that your car uses; by doing this you can deflate the tyre to the required pressure.
The law requires that tyre tread depth is at least 1.6 mm across the central three-quarters of the breadth of the tread and around the entire circumference; having said that, it is often wise to change tyres before they reach the legal minimum. In addition to checking the tread depth, check the sides for cuts or other damage.
Damage to the tyre walls can cause the tyres flex too much and overheat – possibly resulting in a blow-out.
BE CAREFUL when running your hands around the tyres to check the tread or the inside tyre walls – there could be tiny bits of glass or other debris that could cause injury.
Every time you get new tyres, or once a year as part of the cars service routine, it's well worth checking the wheel alignment – this can help prevent unnecessary tyre wear. If you encounter a vibration in the steering at certain speeds the chances are that you have one or more wheels that are not correctly balanced – get it checked! It is only a five minute job at a tyre specialist.
With long summer days you might be less likely to notice failed bulbs – all the more reason to include all the lights in your weekly car check.
Keep a set of spare bulbs and make sure you know how to change them. While some modern cars need tools to change bulbs (in some it's even a garage job!), most bulbs can be changed by releasing a couple of spring clips.