Beat the Heat: How to Get Your Car Suited Up for Summer
Old Man Winter can officially go kick rocks because while frolicking in the snow was indeed a blast, rolling with the windows down and the sunroof open is the only real way to go. But before you get out there and coat mother nature with a fresh layer of tire smoke, there’s a little bit of prep to address.
There are a bazillion posts about preparing your car for winter’s wrath, but no one seems to pay as much attention to any of the necessary prep needed in order to keep a car running properly when it gets hot. So in order to make sure we didn’t miss anything, we turned to the product training director at CARiD.com, Richard Reina, an expert on automotive maintenance and all-around badass under the hood.
One of the things that we discussed was that while preparing your car for summer in the spring months and doing the same for winter while it’s fall is crucial, often people will “over maintain” their automobiles. Dealers and shady mechanics can be notorious for convincing drivers that their cars need a particular service when in truth the owner’s manual says a car isn’t due for said service for a long while.
“Most drivers just don’t know better,” Reina explains. “And [since] a lot of them don’t know how to even pop the hood of their own car, they should just pull out their owner’s manual and show what is required.”
But for those of you who do your own maintenance, or have a trusted shop to turn to, there are a few “unscheduled hot weather upgrades” your car could really benefit from. It’s going to get hotter than a Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch in no time, and we don’t want you stranded on the side of the road somewhere.
1. Go ahead and be an oil tycoon
This doesn’t typically pertain to newer vehicles, since they generally run quite well year-round on a synthetic oil with a particular viscosity weight and shouldn’t need oil changes until every 5,000 to 10,000 miles. But as a vehicle racks up miles, the seals on its engine begin to wear, and switching over to a heavier oil with different detergents could be a helpful upgrade in summer months. Do your research before changing up your oil preferences, and look online to see who has had success in the past with running a heavier/thicker oil in your car in the summer, as some cars do better with this method than others. A good rule of thumb is higher temps require higher oil weight/viscosity, while lower temps need lower/thinner engine lubrication.
2. Check your AC
This is an area where service shops rip people off all the time, saying that they need a full flush and leak-down test in order to make sure an AC unit is working properly. If your car is on the older side and nothing cold is blowing out of the vents, chances are you either need a fresh charge of freon, or your heater control switch is stuck in the “ON” position. A full AC system evacuation and recharge should be the last thing on your to-do list, so if tossing in a can or two of refrigerant from an auto store every spring solves the issue for an entire year, go ahead and do it.
But if you find the AC only blows cold for a week or two and then runs hot, go ahead and get a pressure check on the AC unit in order to see what condition your system is in, and just pray that your compressor didn’t lock up.
3. Batteries hate extremes, so check that born-on date
Everyone thinks about their batteries dying in winter, but what no one ever considers is how much strain is placed on our charging systems in summer. Running an AC system, the constant kicking-on of cooling fans, and the incessant pull placed on your alternator from blaring music with the windows down can be really hard on a car’s battery over time.
Pop your hood and see what date is stamped on that battery, and if it’s over three years old it might be time to start considering a new unit. Even if your old battery is still working fine, it’s better to have the local auto parts store drop a fresh one in free of charge instead of running the risk of being stuck in a 100-degree parking lot in August.
4. Coolin’ out, and feelin’ flush
Mechanics make a killing convincing people that they need a radiator flush every summer, when all they really need is a top-off with fresh fluid. This stuff is referred to as both antifreeze and coolant for a reason, as it keeps your engine from freezing to death in winter and overheating in summer. Checking your coolant overflow container levels when the engine is cold should give you an accurate reading, and never, under any circumstance, should you open the radiator cap when the engine is hot.
Now if your car has a bazillion miles and you can’t recall ever giving your coolant system a tune-up, spend the dough and put in a new water pump, thermostat, and some fresh fluid because it’s probably long overdue. Just remember to always use the suggested antifreeze found in your owner’s manual.
5. Take a breather
Your fuel economy and engine’s wellbeing rely on how readily available fresh air is, and a gunked-up filter is only making matters worse. The same goes for your cabin air filter, which is prone to getting clogged with dirt, leaves, and bugs over time, which can wreak havoc on your sinuses if you don’t change it every year or so.
While cheap filters will get the job done, they don’t remove smaller particles, require annual replacement, and ultimately end up in a landfill. If you plan on keeping your car for a while and are prone to being forgetful, Reina and I both suggest dropping the extra cash and upgrading to reusable cabin and engine air filters. They pay for themselves after a year or two, filter more impurities than traditional designs, and are completely reusable.
6. Buy some new rubbers
Tires typically need air, rotation, an occasional re-balance, and an alignment every now and then in order to live a long, healthy life. But what most people don’t consider is that in certain ways summer can be just as tough on tires as winter. Rubber heats up and gets sticky in summer, which is good for traction but not so great for longevity. Throw in a road trip or two, copious amounts of dangerous debris, a few potholes that are leftover from winter, and an impromptu burn out or two, and you’ve got chords popping out of your tires in no time.
Most people tend to go with an all-season tire, and while it may sound attractive to have rubber that can tackle a little bit of everything, you’re basically compromising on all levels. Naturally, if you live somewhere that never sees snow, then you are one of the few individuals who can get away with all-season rubber. But for the rest of us up north, Reina strongly suggests investing in a set of wider wheels and summer tires for warmer months, and putting dedicated winter tires on skinnier stock rims every autumn. It will cost more up front, but the added piece of mind in winter, and the boosted traction levels in summer, will keep you safe and satisfied if you are an aggressive driver.
7. Inspect so you don’t regret
This final tip is a free and easy way to help guarantee that nothing goes horribly awry when you’re out on the open road this summer. Checking fluid levels, battery terminal connections, belts, hoses, wipers, brakes, tires, and lighting will not only give you piece of mind when it’s time to drive, but it will also warn you of any forthcoming issues your car might be facing.
Diminishing fluid levels, oil leaks, excessive engine noise, and brake rotor marring are all warning signs to watch out for, and nipping a problem in the bud now will likely save you from a costly issue down the line. So be sure to inspect so you don’t regret, and for further reading be sure to check out our Auto Academy pieces on choosing the right engine oil, saving on maintenance, air filters, and tire cheats.